In the autumn of 2012, I was traveling in California with my friend Mr. Carolina, and there was a little matter with a bridge in San Francisco.
Mr. Carolina was driving my van, and he thought he was taking the way which would save us the toll. We literally had no money to give to any nice toll collector, so he was trying to avoid them. We saw the “last exit before toll” signs, but it was just one of those driving moments when you don’t know what exactly to do, so he just kept forging ahead. When we got to the toll booth, he very sweetly explained to the lady that we didn’t have any money to give her. (With Mr. Carolina’s Southern accent, who knows, really, how much of what he says any stranger understands? I spent a majority of my time with the man for two months, and even at the end I would sometimes have to tell him I had no idea what he was saying.)
The toll booth worker had a pre-printed card for just such an occasion. We were not the first to arrive at that bridge with no money in our pockets. The card said I would be charged $25, which would increase to $70 if I did not pay up in a timely fashion. I put it out of my mind, deciding I would deal with it when I got a bill.
I expected to have a bill when I (finally) got to Austin, but there was nothing waiting for me. I was out of touch with the woman who was checking my PO box in Taos, but when I got in contact with her, she reported she’d found no letter from the state of California in my box. I told Lou the whole story, and she encouraged me to find out what the status was while still in Austin. Maybe it fell through the cracks, my mailbox checker suggested, but I didn’t expect to be that lucky.
Finally, I told myself I just had to deal with it. If Cali was asking for $70, I would try to talk them down to $25 since I had never gotten a notice in the mail. If they insisted on $70, I would ask for a payment plan. If I decided not to pay them, it would at least be a conscious decision and not just an avoiding of the situation.
The woman I spoke to on the phone was polite and efficient. What was my license plate number? When had the situation occurred? It happened in October and I had still not received a notice? That was strange. I should have received a notice by now. (By this time it was January.) Well, there was nothing in her system. Not a thing. My license plate number did not come up. No record of any toll violation. I could call my department of motor vehicles, but nothing showed up in her system and if there was a violation, it would be in her system. I said thank you very much and hung up the phone feeling quite relieved.
I think the toll booth worker was an angel who let us go on our way toward Northern California. Or maybe it was Mr. Carolina’s bubble of safety that protected us once again. In any case, thank you angels, bubble, kindness of tollbooth worker stranger, whatever saved me from giving my money to the state of California.