Archive

ShareThis Page
Toll taker wannabe waiting for call | TribLIVE.com
News

Toll taker wannabe waiting for call

I’m emotionally spent. The past two weeks have taken their toll.

I’ve spent them wondering if I’ll ever get to don the garb of a Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission employee, an experience I was certain soon could be scratched off my bucket list.

Turnpike Commission CEO Joe Brimmeier recently challenged me not to walk a mile in a toll collector’s shoes — the vocation doesn’t require much walking — but to stand for a few hours in one of their 4- by 6-foot tollbooths.

The invitation came in an Oct. 26 letter to the editor in which Brimmeier accused me of using a recent column to take a cheap shot at his change-making minions.

While he did not reveal the specific source of his ire, I suspect it was a paragraph that noted most toll collectors at the infamous patronage factory possess a unique skill set. They usually are a friend or relative of a state legislator, and they can distinguish between nickels, dimes and quarters.

Brimmeier might have considered that characterization the cheap shot, although nowhere in his letter did he say it was inaccurate.

What he did say was this: “I invite Mr. Heyl to work just one shift in a tollbooth … the experience will change (his) perception. If I’m wrong, the Trib will have material for another column. If I’m right, perhaps the next laugh might come at Mr. Heyl’s expense.”

I wondered if Brimmeier was correct. I wondered if I sat in that booth whether I would share his obvious belief that toll collecting is as noble a profession as, say, disaster relief work or cancer cure research.

So I e-mailed Carl DeFebo, the turnpike’s media relations manager in Harrisburg, to inquire about setting up some time in the tollbooth and pose a few other questions.

“Will I get to wear a turnpike vest?” I asked. “Will I be able to finish the shift if I lose my temper and slug a motorist?”

(That last query was in reference to a federal lawsuit filed against the commission last year by Don Kovac, the agency’s former labor relations manager. Kovac alleges he was terminated after refusing to reinstate a politically connected toll collector fired for assaulting a motorist.)

When DeFebo didn’t respond, I went straight to the big kahuna and e-mailed Brimmeier. When he ignored my message, I went back to bothering DeFebo.

The gist of his message when he finally got back to me was this: Yes, I could work in a tollbooth. Yes, I would be provided a vest. No, I couldn’t punch anyone (apparently you have to belong to the union to be afforded that privilege).

DeFebo said he would check with the agency’s fare collection department to find out how it wanted to proceed. A week later, I haven’t heard another word from him.

This was Brimmeier’s idea, so the foot-dragging is puzzling. It’s almost as though he is concerned about setting a dangerous precedent by having a tollbooth occupied even for a few hours by someone who wasn’t first recommended by a state lawmaker.

These past few weeks have taken their toll. When will I get to take a motorist’s toll?

Only the Turnpike Commission teases know for sure.


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.