Work in a tollbooth?
April 3, 2011 10:54 AM   Subscribe

What's it like to work in a turnpike tollbooth?

I'm curious to hear first or second person stories of what it's like to work in a tollbooth.

What's the relationship like between co-workers?
How has the job changed in the last 20 years?
What amazing things have you seen?
What horrible things have you seen?
What hilarious things have you seen?

I'm sure the job gives (sometimes unwanted) insight into human nature.
posted by kinsey to Work & Money (5 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Not exactly what you are asking, but the documentary The Parking Lot Movie is built around interviews with a bunch of people that work manning the booth at a parking lot. It's really a fun flick, and your instinct about that job providing some interesting insight into human nature is spot on.
posted by COD at 1:12 PM on April 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: (Sorry this is so long)

I didn't work on a turnpike -- it was the Susquehanna Bridge toll on I-95 (the Tydings Bridge) and it was only for the summer during college in 1990 or so I can't really speak to the relationships & the job changes so much. It was an excellent summer job except that it was shift work and as the summer person, the toll sergeant (the boss!) doesn't mind ticking you off (a 7-3, 7-3, 3-11, 3-11, 11-7 week it was NOT fun).

At that time, Maryland collected tolls north and south bound so there were quite a few more employees on each shift. Now it's north bound only. The toll amount as also increased; it was $1 now it's $4 or $5 - I don't know the exact amount because I have a local sticker & use the Rt 40 bridge which is $8 or $10 for an annual pass. This was also the days before EZPass.

Most people don't notice but there's usually a tunnel the workers use under the road and each booth has a stairwell to the tunnel. Going to the bathroom involves getting the Break person or the toll Sgt to come to your booth and then you have to run down the stairs/through the tunnel and into the building. Toll takers usually have very good bladder control and no one's out there guzzling water even on the hottest days. When I worked breaks, I did have to cross traffic lanes (with a cash drawer!) and that was damn scary sometimes.

The first rule of the job (after bladder control) is DO NOT LEAN OUT OF THE BOOTH because some drivers are assholes and they won't slow down. If you leaned out, some people took it as some kind of "Grab The Golden Ring" game. I learned a rocking motion. Lean out & take the money then lean back in. We're also pressing a button for each toll which is tied to the thumper (the lane had a sensor in the road surface that counted the axles. We got assessed by how our button pushes matched the thumper thing (It isn't really called a thumper - I don't remember the official name).

Amazing thing #1: you got cool swag sometimes from tour bus drivers & vendor type people. The country artists' bus drivers gave the most stuff -- one of the girls had Garth Brooks or some other 90s country star go through her lane & give her really great tickets to his show in Baltimore -- like 10th row. The NY Times/USA Today delivery truck always handed over copies of the papers. Flowers, Hostess Cupcakes, Dunkin Donuts, DeBaufre aka Bergers Cookies (a shortbread cookie with a thick chocolate icing on top) etc etc.

Amazing thing #2: people paid tolls with some really unusual money - silver certificates, silver dollars, old coins etc. Some toll collectors didn't care about the unusual stuff but quite a few people did collect coins & bills.

Amazing thing #3: if you don't have the money, tell the toll taker. He/she will have the traffic held so you can pull over and you'll get a ticket. (It was $25 + $1 toll when I worked there). Do not run the toll. During the summer I worked there there were 35 or so runners and only 1 of them got away. The ticket for evading is much more expensive and these days, every lane probably has a camera and they don't even need to chase you.

Horrible thing #1: one morning before a shift, the following came over the intercom: "Toll Sgt, a motorist is reporting that a motorist in another vehicle is shooting at him." And yeah, road rage at 6:30 am. The toll is in a relatively isolated area and there were usually 10 or so people on a shift but really, we worked alone. No one liked to work the last booth on the side away from toll station because people could and did walk up to the booth from who knows where in the middle of the night.

Horrible thing #2: people seemed to mistake toll booth with garbage can. People tried to hand me: dirty diapers, a used tampon (I don't even wanna know), used condoms (ditto), almost empty drink containers etc etc. Gross gross gross. We were not (and probably still aren't) allowed to take anyone's trash.

Horrible thing #3: on my last day (the Saturday before Labor Day), there was a really bad accident on the bridge which caused 15+ mile back ups in both directions and I was working the south bound lanes the traffic side of the bridge. It was not a fun day.

Sort of Hilarious: Other motorists occasionally reported people peeing (from moving vehicles), of people having sex (in moving vehicles), women flashing other motorists, pervs without pants, etc.

Absolutely Hysterical: Women (and some men) would come through, stop their cars, throw it in park and have to get their purses/wallets out of the trunk. Now I get that some people think it's safer putting their purse/wallet in the truck and not everyone realizes the road has a toll (although there are plenty of signs) but why not just keep a couple of dollars on hand?

True story:
The Tydings toll used to have double booth - it was the middle booth and it had doors/windows for the North & South bound. I was working the slower south bound side when the guy in the north side exclaimed "Oh you've got to be kidding me."

A lady was trotting back to her trunk - ooops, she forgot the keys! Gets the keys & trots back to the truck, retrieves $1 from her wallet, closes the trunk, and trots back up and gets into her car. THEN she extends her hand up to the toll window although the guy is standing right there and she just walked right by him.
The guy says, "Ma'am, where are you heading today?"
"Oh, then you'll want to get out more money because there's another toll right over the Delaware line"
"Oh I know. I drive up every month." (yeah a couple of the other toll takers recognized her & she did the same thing every time!)

The guy in the booth turns to me and says: "You want to know the saddest thing? That car has a trunk release."

The absolute best thing: I cashed out my second to last pay check and bought $400 worth of change. That was the one year I never had to scramble for laundry change at school.
posted by jaimystery at 2:59 PM on April 3, 2011 [184 favorites]

It isn't really called a thumper - I don't remember the official name

I did maintenance for a summer at the Bear Mountain Bridge (in New York), we called it a treadle.
posted by Jim Slade at 2:26 PM on April 4, 2011

My friend worked the I95 booth in Litchfield, Maine. It's one of those weird ones in the middle of nowhere - no on ramp, no off rampp, and in the middle of the woods. I think he was in college at the time and it was just a summer gig.

1. The pay was pretty great in many respects. I think he was making upwards of $9/hr (with the night-shift differential) in the late 90s when the minimum wage in Maine was still $5.75 or $6.25. Even better was the triple-time holiday pay. He sure as shit worked July 4th that summer!

2. It being in the middle of nowhere and him working the night shift meant time dragged by. I suspect he was one of only two people working sometimes - one north, one south.

3. Things could get damn boring. There were times where 30 minutes or more would go by without a single vehicle passing through - apparently he read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy books that summer.

4. He said he hallucinated often. Staring down the highway into the darkness, surrounded by a halo of bright lights and flashing signals, he thought he saw all sorts of strange things. Every once in awhile he thought he hallucinated something and then, whoops, it would turn out to be an actual vehicle.

Sorry, that's all I've got.
posted by mbatch at 6:43 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should watch this.
posted by tomswift at 11:17 AM on April 6, 2011

« Older I just inherited my father's record collection....   |   Bookfilter: authors like Calvino, Keret, Murakami Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.