Missing the toll booths 

Ranger Rich

I'm a big fan of cutting-edge science and innovative technology. For example, when my 17-year-old son Chester asked for a BlackBerry a while back, I marched out and bought about 200 of them. Sprinkled them on his cereal for a week.

Kid seems to avoid eye contact with me now. If you can figure out teenagers, let me know.

And last week when our refrigerator stopped working — my wife prefers the phrase "blew up and caught on fire" — I rigged a series of ropes and pulleys and now, with the return of cool nights, we hang meat and other food from the aspen in the backyard. My wife was doing laundry when I told her about our new "treefrigerator." She was so surprised she scraped her knuckles on the washboard and fell into the creek.

But even a technology buff like me had a heckuva time trying to pay my toll via a new computerized system on highway E-470, the road that takes us from our village to Denver International Airport. (Not that our own airport isn't nice, too. Allow some extra time so you can sit and talk with the other two passengers before you board your flight. To Denver.)

But back to the electronic toll system on the road to DIA: In the old days, you'd stop at the toll plaza and hand the nice woman $2.50. She'd say, "Have a nice day," and by golly, you would. On one trip, toll booth lady Mabel looked into my back seat, smiled, reached into a container she kept inside the booth and handed me a nice Milk-Bone dog biscuit, even though I don't have a dog.

But on July 1, all of that ended. Now, thanks to a marvelous system created by brilliant computer engineers and scientists, we breeze past the toll plaza where a sophisticated camera captures a clear image of our license plate and even of us, the drivers, who, in the belief that we are alone, are calmly using our fingers and thumbs to remove things from our noses and ears while singing along with Aerosmith. (Personal note: That E-470 picture of me, taken on July 8, is still better than my driver's license photo.)

And you pay the toll later, which is when the fun really begins. Within a month you get an E-470 toll bill in the mail. You can pay it online unless that system is not working, which is most of the time, or you can pick up your telephone and be unable to pay the bill that way, too.

Option 3, the one I selected, involves putting the bill with other important papers on your kitchen counter and then forgetting about it because you are in your 50s and, frankly, have reached the point when you forget everything. This would include the fact that you do have a dog, and suddenly you know why Mabel in the toll booth had that look on her face when you ate the Milk-Bone.

The point is, I forgot the bill and was a day late in taking care of it. When I went to expresstoll.com to pay, I found out that the fee had jumped from $2.50 to $9.50.

A late fee. I was told by a sweet recorded voice of a woman that if I'd waited 20 days, the charge would have been $70. This made me shout at the recorded woman that for $70 she should "carry me and my $%^&* luggage on your @#$%^& back to DIA" before I remembered that the phone call "was being recorded for quality purposes."

This caused me to panic, yell, "Well, uh, this is Douglas Bruce!" and hang up.

Seriously, after seven long and fruitless phone calls and three whacks at the Web site, which was not accepting payments at that time, I found someone to take my credit-card number over the phone and process the $9.50 fee.

In a techno-world gone crazy, I think I liked the old method of stopping at the toll booth. I liked handing over actual money. I liked having a real person greet me. I liked having her tell me to have a nice day.

Not to mention the free snack.



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