In April, my wife Sherry and I cleared a week’s obligations from our calendars and drove to Cheshire, Conn., to visit our oldest son, Brendan, and our grandson, Cade. They moved there last August from the St. Louis area.
Our visit was during Cade’s week-long spring break from high school, where he’s a freshman. The purpose of our being there was twofold: we wanted to see both of them and their new home, and Brendan wanted us to chauffeur Cade to his daytime baseball practices and games while he was at work.
We spent two days, April 12 and 13, driving to Connecticut. We visited the 14th through the 17th, then drove back April 18 and 19.
Gasoline prices through the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut ranged roughly from $2.29 to $2.69 per gallon. We drove my wife’s 2012 Toyota Prius hybrid because of the mileage it gets. We logged a total of 2,200 miles and averaged 50 miles per gallon.
Our journey was uneventful with one exception. We took turns driving, and I soon discovered there was sometimes a problem on toll roads when I was behind the wheel.
One sits low in the Prius, and my arms are relatively short. Taking a ticket from an attendant when entering a toll road or paying the fee to an attendant when leaving a toll road was not a problem. But we found many of the tollbooths automated. They have no live bodies at work and are monitored by surveillance cameras.
A machine spits out a ticket when you drive up to enter the toll road. Then, when you leave, a machine requires the driver to put his ticket into a slot so it can be read. Numbers pop up in a window to tell you how much money you owe, and you pay by inserting cash or swiping your credit card in the machine.
That sounds like a great system, but I had one problem. The automated machines are fairly high so semi drivers are able to use them as easily as those in passenger cars. But a fellow like me, with short arms and seated in a low car, can’t reach the machines very easily.
So I came up with a plan. When I drove up to one of those automated machines, Sherry would climb out of the passenger seat, walk in front of the car to the machine and handle the transaction.
When the crossing gate (similar to those you see at railroad crossings) went up, I’d scoot through with the car and wait on the other side for her to rejoin me.
The first time we put my plan into effect didn’t go so well. We were in Indiana, and at first all was going according to plan. But when Sherry completed the transaction and swiveled to return to the car, the crossing gate dropped quickly right in front of her. She had no time to stop and ran into it. It broke off and fell to the pavement.
There was a line of vehicles behind us, and she was in no position to make repairs. So when I looked in the rearview mirror, she was picking up the crossing gate and nonchalantly placing it alongside the lane, like this was something she did every day.
When she got back into the car, I remembered and began singing a 1970s rock song by R. Dean Taylor. It’s about a man wanted by the law, and its lyrics go, “Indiana wants me, Lord, I can’t go back there.”
We never heard anything from the “crossing gate police.” So I’m guessing we’re not the first people this has happened to.
Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.