We have a great system of highways available to us here in Northeastern Ohio. Back in the days I travelled to art shows to make a living we were eight hours from most big cities east of the Mississippi. Friends in upstate New York would speak enviously of some shows we travelled to. “Man, I wish we could do that one. But it takes two days to get there.” It does, if you live in New York State. Or Maryland. Or Virginia.
Tolls on toll roads were never fun, however. Once I left home with only Tom and Jan’s purple velvet Seven Crown bag of euchre change and a credit card between myself and Philadelphia at the other end of the Pennsylvania turnpike.
Somewhere in the ‘90’s the New York Thruway began E-Z Pass. A transponder on the windshield talked to a receiver in the booth and deducted the toll from a prepaid account. It seemed such a good idea, but I just didn’t get around to it. The Tappan Zee brought me to my knees. One Friday afternoon there was one E-Z Pass lane, all the rest were cash. On Sunday evening there was one cash lane off the island, all the rest were E-Z Pass. When I arrived at the George Washington, another toll bridge, at midnight, and still seven hours from home I knew the next thing I would do. Get an E-Z Pass.
E-Z Pass is brilliant. Slow down approaching the toll booth, the gate is down, the red light says STOP. Roll slowly through the lane, the gate goes up, the green light announces E Z PASS GO and zing, you are through and gone ahead of all those fools who don’t have E-Z Pass. Simple things kept us smiling.
E-Z Pass spread. Reaching for the change in the ash tray one day, and seeing a new gate on the Garden State Parkway: E-Z Pass. Yes! Then E-Z Pass got us through Pennsylvania all the way from the Ohio line to Breezewood. A few months later and E-Z Pass took us all the way to Philadelphia. I came home once on the West Virginia turnpike and found E-Z Pass had come over the weekend; I could slip through another gate, E-Z PASS GO. It worked on all the toll bridges in New York State. It worked in Massachusetts. Big change in a few short years.
After I retired I turned in my transponder. I travelled west to visit Ann in Wisconsin, and those toll booths on the Tri-State in Illinois were like a trip back to the dark ages. Then one day, I-Pass. For anyone who still had an E-Z Pass transponder, no more toll booths. As I didn’t, I ordered my own I-Pass. In their redesign of the Tri-State Tollway in Illinois those civil engineers gave those of us with transponders up by the rear view mirror half a dozen lanes and blue lights looking down, able to read our signal at fifty five miles an hour. Cough. Cough. I subscribe to keeping up with the traffic, slightly over seventy for most of us. I can log onto my account and read my history at will. Those blue lights have never missed me going by.
When Indiana added E-Z Pass they called it I-Zoom. Actually a joke, but what can be expected from a privatized toll road. It’s a lane and gate system, but it works and gets me through Indiana. So, the dots are connected from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, from West Virginia to Illinois. But, wait…
What about Ohio? It was years behind. In fact, for some time the Ohio Turnpike commissioners felt they could conquer twenty years of E-Z Pass history with a little card called Ready Pay. Stop at the booth and insert your Ready Pay card. Unbelievable. My transponder actually cut half an hour or more from my trip to Wisconsin to visit Ann, but to visit Linda, less than sixty miles away, I still carried loose change in my ash tray.
I only used the ash tray for change, but it did collect road dust, and the occasional coffee spill. On one return trip from Linda’s I had only the exact toll and it did require prying some pennies up from the bottom of the ashtray. I tilted the toll into the outstretched hand and took my foot off the brake.
“I can’t take this money. It’s dirty.”
I held out my hand and the money rolled back. I took my foot off the brake again and rolled a few inches.
“You haven’t paid your toll.”
I tilted the change back into her hand. She opened the gate.
I like to think I helped expedite E-Z Pass on the Ohio Turnpike. Ohio now issues transponders and we can E-Z Pass Go through any toll booth. The Ohio Turnpike charges those with an Ohio issued transponder forty cents per month for the privilege. My sister didn’t believe that until she saw it on her monthly credit card statement for her transponder. I suggested she turn it in and get one from New York, or Illinois. She probably won’t.