Have you ever been the oddball? You know, the kid with the back brace, or the vegetarian at the all-you-can-eat rodeo buffet at the King Ranch in Texas? When you’re traveling, it’s bad enough that you’re “the guy from out of town” when you get there. Nothing intensifies that feeling like driving around unfamiliar roads, holding up traffic with a big rental-car sticker on your bumper. The crème’ de-la crème’ of this embarrassing experience is pulling up to the toll booth without any cash.
Your brain sees it first, “Oh no, did that sign say ‘last exit before toll?’ I think it did. Did I stop at the ATM? I don’t remember…” That’s trouble! There you are, in the full service lane at the toll plaza; in debt to the state of Virginia for 50 cents with a string of angry drivers honking behind you, and all you have is a corporate AMX card, your check-book and your lucky poker chip in your pocket.
Why do states and cities still use toll booths? Who knows? In Minnesota, they just tax you to death when you renew your license tabs every year. I don’t mind, it means I don’t have to drive around with a cigar box full of quarters in the console. EZ-Pass is great if you’re a local, but; what if you’re not? Orlando is the most infuriating; the last time I visited, some of the roads that led out to Cocoa-Beach were 35 cent tolls. Who has quarters AND dimes in their console? I’m convinced they make an extra $100,000 per year from the people that just toss in two quarters because they don’t have the exact change.
There’s no way out of this one. Toll booths don’t take checks, they don’t take credit cards, and in an era where stay-home parents buy everything from diapers to donuts on their check card, you simply must have cash. To make matters even crazier, they don’t make change for large bills an in Virginia, for example, a $20 dollar note is considered a “large bill.” So now… not only do you have to go to the ATM, you have to buy a bottle of water or something to get some smaller change!
Here’s what I do. Since I travel with a GPS, I select the routing preferences to “Avoid Toll Roads.” I see more of the country side and it’s a bit slower, but with the GPS I can’t get lost. Also, if you’re not sure if the city you’ve arrived in has a plethora of toll roads, check with the Information booth before you leave the airport. New York and New Jersey are filthy with them. The tri-state area around Washington, D.C. is rife with them too. Orlando has more than its share, as does Boston. Maybe its an East Coast thing? In any event, this is one travel bit that you want to be prepared for.