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02 October 2006

from Yesteryear's corrupt failed murderous Toll Road to the impossible XpressTollRoute of the Future: the Supercallifragiallisticexpialidocious 407ETR

Figure 1.
click maybe / cliquez peut-être

The Zeta Beam was screwed up somehow -- well, it was my fault because this time I tried to take my pickup truck to Vleeptron, and the Zeta Beam just burped and spat me and the truck into Canada, and I had to drive around Ontario and then drive home.

Which wasn't bad at all. I love Canada. I live in Massachusetts, and the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are my nearest neighbors, a day trip from my home (but you have to take a nifty hi-speed ferry to Nova Scotia).

When I realized I wasn't in the Dwingeloo-2 Galaxy, I decided to bother my old army buddy Ron the commercially successful artist -- the Earth has 4.2 gazillion visual artists, but only 3 commercially successful visual artists who don't have to live most of their lives on the public dole and/or in their girlfriend's apartment.

What do you call a musician who breaks up with his girlfiend? (Answer below.)

Ron lives in the USA state shaped like the palm of the human right hand, and we scrupulously visit one another every decade or two. I'd never met his wife or his kids. Every veteran has an old army buddy named Joe Shlobodewski, so for purposes of bothering Ron every decade or two either on the phone or in person, I am Joe Shlobodewski, Ron's old army pal.

(My Uncle who was in the Army during World War II ended up with an old army buddy who most certainly was NOT Joe Shlobodewski, but that's another story for another time. If you want to hear that story before I'm ready to tell it to strangers in Internet Cafe Sofia, the current asking price is U$1000.)

I drove straight west -- the straightest, flattest, most boring highway drive on Planet Earth. First the western half of the Massachusetts Turnpike, which crosses an imaginary dotted line and becomes the New York State Thruway, both toll roads with toll booths for which you have to stop (even though the Mass Pike is free for me when I drive west) and have an encounter with a salaried human being in the booth.

Here is a good place to mention that the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is having a wonderful season of catastrophic scandals which began when it just murdered an innocent woman when the roof of a brand-new tunnel in Boston collapsed on the roof of her car. (Her husband was driving and wasn't murdered. There is a slim chance he may sue the state. For 11 gazillion dollars.)

(Perhaps "murder" is too harsh a word. The company that designed the new tunnel held the 2-ton concrete roof sections up with glue, the same kind of stuff I have a tube of in my kitchen for household repairs. Anybody can make a mistake. Errare humanum est.)

So now the Turnpike Authority is fair game for all sorts of nasty, mean-spirited, unfair, embarrassing attacks and criticisms on this fine government agency and its officials.

Among which is the way it collects tolls. Typically, when one of its salaried human toll collectors, who is somebody's otherwise unemployable newphew, in a toll booth collects 50 cents from a passing car, the process of collecting the 50 cent toll costs the state $3.50 .

.................. TOLL: $0.50
........................ -----
..... PROFIT TO STATE: $ -3.00

This is how government agencies that are supposed to be financially self-supporting work. They take the toll money and fix the highway. Huge frequent stretches of The Mass Pike are always under construction with hideous gridlock dangerous detours. The Mass Pike was built and first opened in the 1950s. It is Yesterday's Road, and Today is Today, and Tomorrow is -- well, hop in my truck, please buckle your seatbelt (that's the only rule if you ride in my truck, otherwise the cops can pull us over), we're driving to Tomorrow. Which, unfortunately, is located in another sovereign nation.

But not Vleeptron, not some planet several galaxies over. It's not very far away. I drove west to Buffalo and crossed into Ontario over the Peace Bridge. It was about 23:00 and there were about 12 Canadian border guards in paramilitary SWAT-like soots waiting for pretty much only me, so they asked me to park while they searched my truck for the firearms and liquor which Americans are always smuggling into Canada, but they didn't find any, so after about 20 minutes, I was on my way west again, toward Windsor, which is the Canadian city across the Detroit River from Detroit. I went through the skinny dinky little Windsor-Detroit Tunnel at about 05:00, and there were about 12 Homeland Security border guards waiting for pretty much only me, so they asked me to park while they searched my truck for the Ontario grow-op marijuana and high explosives and Jihadist literature which terrorists are always smuggling into the USA, but they didn't find any, so after about 20 minutes, I was on my way west again, toward Ann Arbor, where Ron lives.

Maybe later I will tell you about the wonderful dinner Joe Shlobodewski had with Ron and Missus Ron and Son Of {Ron and Missus Ron}, but this is about how to collect tolls on highways. (But Joe Shlobodewski had 2 Guinness stouts and the cabbage stuffed with ground lamb special, and it was swell.)

Back to Windsor via the bridge, and this time -- maybe around 06:00 -- the cloud of suspicion had lifted a bit and the Canadians took my word for it that I wasn't smuggling firearms and liquor, and waved me through.

I wanted to visit a pal in the Capital City of Canada, Ottawa, which is 0.883 gazillion kilometers on the very far eastern side of Ontario, and when I got him on the verdammt cell phone, he gave me driving instructions. Between me and him was Lake Ontario and Toronto. In Ontario, all roads lead to Toronto. But I didn't have any business in Toronto, so the trick somehow was to avoid Toronto as much as is possible.

A fairly new superhighway called 407 ETR makes it possible. It's about 20 kilometers north of Toronto, designed to be used as a commuter toll road or a toll road for drivers like me who just want to avoid Toronto's heavy urban traffic.

Regular 407 drivers have a transponder -- like an E-Z Pass radio thingie -- which automatically communicates with the superhighway and bills your bank account for your toll. I didn't have a transponder.

I drove east on 407 for about 3 hours; I had a full tank, a go-mug full of Tim Horton's coffee, a bag of Trail Mix, and I didn't even have to pee, so I never stopped. And 407 ETR never asked me to stop, even when I got off at the end. I never encountered a toll booth. Nobody ever has to stop for a toll booth inside of which is somebody's unemployable nephew.

But it was a toll road, and so I owed it money -- probably something around $5. And I still haven't paid it. But I will. I promise. Here's how that works. See Figure 1, Above.

When I got on 407 ETR (Express Toll Route), a TV camera (B) scanned the butt of my pickup truck looking for my rear license plate (A). Presumably, the camera got a view of my license plate (C) which was clear enough for the Supercomputer (D) to de-code the letters and numbers and identify the Issuing Authority (in my case Massachusetts). Then, 3 hours later, when I exited 407 ETR, another overhead camera scanned my ass, found my plate again, and told the Supercomputer that the truck that had entered 3 hours earlier was now leaving.

As I continued on my merry way toward Ottawa, the Supercomputer contacted the Electronic Database of All Motor Vehicles in North and South America (EDBAMVN&SA), which gives the Supercomputer my Name and Address, and the Supercomputer will (presumably) be sending me a bill in the mail (E) for the $5, to my Home (F). Which I will be delighted to pay if it really comes.

I have a hard time believing in Magical Miracles. This can't possibly really be happening. To collect tolls reliably, you must have an otherwise unemployable Nephew of Somebody who also works for the Turnpike Authority.
Everyone knows that.

Notice the absence of an unemployable nephew in a toll booth. Notice the absence of a toll booth. Notice the absence of my truck stopping. Notice the absence of a radio transponder in my truck.

Every vehicle, even if it doesn't owe any money, must always stop at a toll both with an unemployable nephew in it. Everybody knows that. I'm just writing about wild science fiction Futurama Krapola here.

I told you I'd get you to the Superhighway of Tomorrow. 407 ETR, which zipped me past Toronto, usually at 100 kilometers per hour, is the Superhighway of Tomorrow, and if your Volvo or Corvette or your Yugo has a license plate from California or Mexico City or Costa Rica or Panama, 407 ETR would never make you stop, but would by now (Monday morning) mail you a bill for your $5 toll.

That's creepy. (The Future is always creepy the first time you bang into it.) Untouched By Human Hands. No Stopping. No cash (with all sorts of icky cooties) changes hands. No weekly Salary paychecks are paid. No nice fat lifetime Pensions for hundreds of otherwise unemployable Nephews and Nieces and Cousins after they retire from the Toll Highway Authority.

So now I've told you about 407 ETR, a Thing of the Future which is actually Here Right Now, if you're trying to drive past Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

What do you think of it? What do you think are the chances that I really will get a bill in the mail from 407 ETR in a few days or a week or a month? Please Leave A Comment.

Oh, and Abbas -- I didn't want to descend on you by surprise and bother the crap out of you. I'll do that next time. Promise. Boo.

Oh, here's the Answer to the Question: What do you call a musician who breaks up with his girlfiend?



patecoyote said...

Jungsche Assoziationion. Play it loud. As loud as you can.

Abbas Halai said...

actually the 407 is an extremely controversial highway due to it's pricing structure. it's "highway" robbery. literally. it is also advertised as the only highway in toronto that won't get you anywhere near it. it's also a major cash grab for cops who are running under budget end of the month. i personally have a transponder but find very little use for it. winter billing is even worse. remind me some time to tell you how to cheat the billing system. ann arbor kicks ass. i was there three weekends ago. i've been going to my favourite jewish shop for ten years now every month without fail. same with my second favourite burger in the world.

p.s. the detroit/windsor border sucks ass, never take the tunnel. the tunnel is evil. you end up in an area with a black guy selling t-shirts with "2pac rulZ" on them. it's too long a detour. the bridge is good. though the bridge also ended up making me wait at the border for three hours without giving me a reason because my poor pakistani wife needs an i-94 and apparently it takes 3 hours before they can give it to her. the i-94 also only is valid for two days for her so she has to go through that entire three hour process every single time and it's not fun. last time she almost vowed not to go back to the states. i think next time she'll complete that vow do the customs officers.

Abbas Halai said...

oh and the mass pike is quite pretty. the entire toll from buffalo to comm ave is $21.73. i've done it enough times. remind me to write up a post some time on why i hate boston.