Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Mean Streets of Florida

Thanks to my job and JetBlue I spent Monday in central Florida and while I enjoyed the 84 degrees and this Italian meal from a cute little place called Olive Garden (where they give you unlimited bread sticks! have you heard of this?) the majority of my time in Florida was devoted to desperately digging through the bottom of my laptop bag in search of change. You know what they have a lot of in Florida? Oranges? Oldersters? Mickey Mice? Sure, I suppose, but it is a little known fact that 64.7% of the Florida population is made up of tollbooths. This is the main reason why there was so much voter confusion back in 2000 – tollbooths are notoriously bad at using punch cards.

In my short visit I estimate that I donated roughly $700,000,000.82 to the Florida tollbooth association and quarter appreciation society (on the Florida quarter? A tollbooth with Mickey Mouse ears). While I’m sure that if I lived in Florida and had to get a second job at the local Orange Julius in order to afford the cost of tolls I’d likely be pretty pissed off but for my one day visit my main complaint had less to do with money and more with annoyance.

The tolls on a Florida highway are not for any uniform amount – this means that as you sit at tollbooth #37 praying that your aim is good enough to toss $.62 into the maw of the FL Transportation authority and you peer down the road and spy tollbooth #38 about 700 feet ahead of you there will be no way of knowing exactly how much money you’ll be asked for next. I assume that this random toll system was adopted to offset the monotony of living in a climate that hands you 80 degrees day after day all year long and while I appreciate a surprise even more than your average senior citizen I worry that the system could lead to confusion, car accidents and me defacing a tollbooth with lipstick and spit and the leftovers of a 12 ounce can of Diet Pepsi (which I totally would not dream about doing even once officer.).

As fun as the surprise price tag is the absolute best feature of the Florida toll system is the “exact change” rule that is enforced at roughly 40% of tollbooths. The first time I came across one of these machines changeless I panicked. Afraid that my picture would be snapped and Hertz Rent a Car would hunt me down and throw me into some Florida prison where inmates are forced to accurately toss dirty coins into metal baskets or go without their nightly mai tai I dared not driving through without paying. My first instinct was to get a dollar bill out of my wallet, smile pretty and stare at the basket hoping for some sort of bill accepter contraption. By the time I realized that there was no such input device (and that tollbooths are impervious to the “but I’m cute, please forgive me!” smile) there was a huge SUV pulling up behind me which caused further panic in the form of dropping the dollar bill out the window. I immediately opened my door and started to exit the vehicle before remembering that Florida is technically the south the person behind me was probably armed and FOR SURE wanted to kill me – I left the dollar on the highway and slowly got back in the car. Of course I still had no change and I could see Bubba in the rearview looking for a clear shot. While my travel companion (aka He who Never has ANY Change) dug around in the muck at the bottom of my bag (would that you could pay your tolls in ATM receipts and bobby pins) I twisted around to grab my jacket from the back seat and fish desperately through the pockets while wistfully dreaming of the huge can of change that lives next to my front door back in the heaven of New York City where I’m never expected to drive and everyone takes credit cards. I was eventually able to scrape together the $.50 getting off the freeway fee and for the remainder of my stay in the penis of the USA took to keeping a dollar in coins on the dash at all times.

In California there are no such thing as toll roads (And the streets are paved in gold. And everyone has their own personal ray of sunshine that follows them around. And the cows can talk) so my experience with tollbooths didn’t begin until I attended college in western New York – the land of the NY Thruway. The Thruway may place ridiculous expectations on drivers like “speed limit: 55” and “30 miles for only $75!” but at least they don’t force people to stop every 5 miles to pay a toll. You’re handed a card when you get on the road in Schenectady and you pay one toll when you exit the road for an evening of debauchery in Oneida. This allows traffic to keep moving rather than shuttling cars through a tollbooth once ever 17 feet. Can someone tell Florida to get with the program?


Peter DeWolf said...

Do California cows talk like surfers?

Stephanie said...

I love that you called Florida the penis of the USA.

I might have to borrow that in future conversations about Florida.

ack said...

Excellent Orange Julius reference! Most new yorkers I have talked to have not experienced this joy in their upbringing.

Lisa said...

We have Orange Julius in Ontario, man.

Also, I hate tolls.

Yemil said...

Oh Brianna, I keep forgetting you don't drive around NYC...you haven't experience anything until you're paying upwards of $7 at a toll to cross a bridge or tunnel in the tri-state area. Or better yet, try the New Jersey turnpike - having lived in Miami after being raised in NY - thankfully back in NYC - the NJ Turnpike takes the cake for regular intervals of 5 feet between tolls for nickels and dimes - thank god for EZ Pass.

Anonymous said...

Fastrack baby thats the way to live here in Sunny California. And um LA is full of toll roads that cost like $5+ bucks to go on but you only have to pay when you get off. Or like me have Fastrack and they charge your credit card. Oh and all the bridges are now $4 except golden gate which went up to $6 can you believe it!!! But I have a motorcycle which counts as carpool. Oh yeah!!