by Mike Todd

To get from his place to mine, my buddy Gimp needs to hop on the PA Turnpike for about two exits. I am referring to Gimp by his nickname, which he’s had for 10 years, in part to protect his identity, and in part because I can’t for the life of me remember his real name. That is, of course, the mark of a quality nickname, though still short of the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a nickname, which is to get the person’s mother to start using it.

Gimp has been a tough sell in this regard, perhaps because his mother has seen “Pulp Fiction,” but I think we’re getting close to sealing the deal with Eyeball’s mom. On Gimp’s first visit here, he called from the turnpike and said, “Was I supposed to do something at that toll booth? There was nobody there to take my money. I just drove right through.”

“Do you have EZ-Pass?” I asked him.

“No. But I purposely didn’t go through the EZ-Pass lane,” he said.

“Was there a ticket hanging out of the machine?” I asked.

“A ticket?” he said, as if I’d just asked him something completely off topic, like the best way to make tartar sauce from scratch or how to train a cat to flush the toilet.

“Dude, did you just get on the turnpike without taking a ticket?” I asked. There was silence on the other end.

Gimp is still holding out on getting an EZ-Pass, a device that could have averted the situation altogether. I can certainly respect his obstinacy. I used to pride myself on going through the full-service lane at toll booths. I thought EZ-Pass was for people who had so lost perspective on life that they thought they couldn’t afford the extra few seconds to interact, however briefly, with an actual human being. A grumpy, wrong-change-giving human being, but a human being nonetheless.

I’d do the same thing at gas stations, never using pay-at-the-pump, instead hoofing it inside to pay the cashier. Besides allowing for one more small personal interaction instead of dealing with a machine, it helped to keep me up-to-date with the latest trends in beef jerky flavoring. Teriyaki’s doing big things.

But eventually I got to thinking  how many toll booth attendants did I invite to my wedding? How many gas station cashiers leave messages on my voicemail saying only, “Dude, call me back,” knowing that I can tell from their voice who called? Despite many years of interacting with toll booth attendants and gas station cashiers, I had not made lasting relationships with any of them, prompting me to rethink all the time I’d been wasting by not just surrendering to the Matrix and letting the machines win.

Besides, if you were to make the attempt to start a relationship with a toll booth attendant, here’s probably how that would go:

•Toll Booth Attendant: Seventy-five cents, please.

•You: You look like a nice person. Want to come camping with me?

•Toll Booth Attendant: Seventy-five cents, please. You’re holding up the line.

•You: Forget about all of them for a moment. Let’s get to know each other. I could be the “exact change” you need in your life.

•Toll Booth Attendant: I’m calling the cops.

So it’s probably just as well to zip on through in the EZ-Pass lane, as Gimp should be doing by now. That day on the phone, I said, “You might as well turn around and drive to Ohio, man, because you’re about to pay like you did.”

“No way,” he said. “I’ll be able to sweet talk ‘em.”

When he finally showed up at my place, I asked Gimp how much the trip had ended up costing him. He didn’t want to talk about it. The turnpike had really taken its toll on him.