I-95, 2009
July 3, 2020

Toll

Sometimes I dream about tollbooth operators, the half-glimpsed faces with cigarettes nodding on their lips, their left hands forever clutching a quarter and a dime in change. They are the interstate’s guardians, the nation’s unmoved movers among the restless current of people going someplace else.

After looking into the eyes of thousands of travelers and handling their crumpled bills and sweaty coins, these cashiers probably understand humanity better than anyone. The reckless teenagers, hungover commuters, and road-ragers. The cheating spouses and insomniac prophets. The broken-hearted and the hopeful, their belongings jammed in the backseat with plastic-wrapped suits and blouses pressed against the windows like ghosts.

Perched in their nests of space heaters and thermoses, the tollbooth operators watch these vehicles red-shift through the night, darting across state lines in search of fresh lives, hoping to give Plan C or D a shot. In my darkest hours when I tried to drive away grief and confusion, I sometimes thought I saw compassion in their eyes, a look that reminded me of my mother’s hand against my forehead when I had a fever. Maybe they knew I was just another soul searching for deliverance beneath the highway lights.

Each night in 2020 I'm writing a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I want to etch these days into my memory before I forget them. Before the world changes completely.
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