NJ Garden State Parkway Tokens Pay Tolls to Hell

By Anthony Buccino

Toll booth advocates espouse the logic of strategically placed roadblocks that make the highway more democratic.  For one thing, toll plazas make just about everyone drive at the same speed: zero.

We've always wondered if the old wives who said misery loves company ever spent time, endless smog-filled rush hours in line, attempting to pay a toll on the Garden State Parkway.

In countless hours of studying the pained expressions of obsessed drivers queued before the flashing red and green lights at the roadway obstructions, we have never recorded a smile other than the maniacal grin as someone launches a round metal missile at the urinal shaped receptacle.

 Garden State Parkway toll booth traffic jam, e-zpass Photo-Anthony Buccino

These token tumbling commuters are not happy campers.

If only they knew how happy they should be. They have the privilege of tooling along the Garden State Parkway from the northern most part of the state to the southernmost pausing occasionally to hurl a coin or two.

Toll booth advocates espouse the logic of strategically placed roadblocks that make the highway more democratic.

For one thing, toll plazas make just about everyone drive at the same speed: zero.

For another thing, the lines leading up to the slots will help you sharpen your brain power by testing your mettle.

Regardless of whether you are a right-lane slow poke, a center-lane observer of the posted speed limit, or a left-lane speed demon, any progress you made driving the way you do, will be obliterated as you approach the toll plaza.

The high way authority secretly spent money on sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment that helps to determine which line you are in and then make all the other toll lines move along much, much faster.

And you thought that was an optical illusion.

The revival of Atlantic City has been a great boon to the parkway. In addition to having all the bennies sitting in traffic jams heading to Seaside Heights, the malaise continues all the way past the shore points to happily release these wanton gamblers to another toll road - the ACE into the east's den of iniquity. The road to hell, er, Atlantic City is paved with parkway tokens.

Every day at rush hour and often beyond, motorists are idling from Hillside to Clifton because of the ill-fated placement of two major toll plazas and countless more at exit and entrance ramps in so few miles.

Anyone who could bottle the angst produced daily by those thousands of drivers caught in the hammer could rule the world.

On a good day, that is the rare day when no one else is on the road, the parkway is a pleasant enough roadway on which to enjoy a Sunday ride.

You won't need an engineering degree to see for yourself after driving a few miles that there has to be a better way to pay for this self-perpetuating dictatorship. NJ Garden State Parkway Exit 151 by Anthony Buccino

Fortunately for the hapless suckers who punctuate the parkway every day they can use tokens most of the time. It saves nearly a nickel for every two tokens they use. For every fourteen tolls they pay, it's like getting one free.

The only drawback to tokens, like the E-Z Pass system, is that the highway authority gets your money upfront. That deprives you the opportunity to invest it with the local and international moneylenders and reap huge unconscionable profits on your bag of nickels.

At one point in my career, I aspired to be a toll booth attendant. That was in 1973, that was also before the invention of tokens. Some exit ramps only cost a dime to use.

My dad used to train his homing pigeons on a south course down the parkway. We'd pull up near a Dairy Queen somewhere on Route 22 and let the boids circle into oblivion. They'd be home before us. They didn't have to pay tolls.

I've since cooled on the idea of a career on the parkway. In those days it was a glamour job. You got a nice uniform and happily gave out free maps and directions. Hardly anyone used the highway back then, mainly because there was no gas, so there wasn't a lot of traffic.

Nowadays you get stuck in that little booth, your gloves have holes in the fingertips, you have to put up with grumpy drivers who don't know where they are or where they are going and are mad at you for taking their hard-earned money so they can sit in traffic.

Plus, even though they pay your salary, they either never have the right change, or a small bill. When they do have a token, they get mad at you because some slob wouldn't let them shift over into a token-only lane. Talk about being in someone's crosshairs!

Giving the motorist more bang for his token, the authority has instructed most of its boothies to be nicer to the folks handing over their loot.

The boothies should be polite, say good morning, regardless of whatever time it really is, and if at all possible, smile.

After all, all those old wives couldn't all be wrong when they said misery loves company.

1998 by Anthony Buccino

Rambling Round by Anthony BuccinoThis essay first appeared in Belleville!

Since this essay first appeared, Garden State Parkway tokens have been phased-out. The tolls endure.

Adapted from Parkway tokens pave way to hell

RAMBLING ROUND  Inside and Outside at the Same Time

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Garden State Parkway

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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.

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