NY Toll Madness – Pop Culture satirist and author, James Campion slams the EZ-Pass.

Reality Check Classics 11/18/97


A ’79 Mercury Cougar, a six pack of Bud cans, warm raspberry Margaritas, three $12 cigars, and an EZ-Pass; for two long hours it was all we had, my burly friend, Willie and myself. We were stuck in a major traffic jam on the approach to the Whitestone Bridge against a backdrop of snow flurries and an angry Mexican on our tail laying on his horn as if a battle ship were about to ram him. It was an education in patience and the art of the swerve. We did not surrender our wits, but sold the better part of our senses to the highest bidder, and it was not the Transit Police.

“Goddammit!” Willie yelled over the pumping radio noise. “What is the fucking point of this EZ-Pass if we have to sit here like trapped rats?!” He had conveniently forgotten he was the one who insisted on driving earlier that day. “You have no cassette deck,” was his reasoning. I did not argue.

“We might as well start on the beer,” I suggested, following closely the agitated tone in Willie’s voice and carefully placing it within the parameters of my own growing rancor.

Yes, of course, drink beer in a traffic jam. This seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It was just a bridge, and, after all, we were crawling. There was little we could do in the way of real damage.

Yes, of course, drink beer in a traffic jam. This seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It was just a bridge, and, after all, we were crawling. There was little we could do in the way of real damage. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The only problem, I was to learn, was that Willie did not handle pressure like the rest of us weary New York travelers.

That’s when we decided to hit the tepid Margaritas.

The Mexican was still leaning down on his horn. Willie rolled down his window. I can still hear its droning squeak. “How about I get out of this car and cram that fucking horn up your ass?!” Willie screamed. The Mexican could not hear him over the horn and the distortion blaring from the overworked speakers in our dashboard. Unfortunately, two sharply dressed black guys in the left lane heard him. They jerked back, immediately thinking the expletive-driven tirade was directed toward them. Down came their window.

By now a yellow-haired woman with thick glasses, driving a blood red Toyota of some kind, began waving her EZ-Pass at us, and started to edge her way in front of the Cougar. Willie did not see her. He had other concerns. “What did you say, fat boy?” the black guy in the passenger seat yelled as steam rose from his gritting teeth. “I’m not talking to you, asshole!” Willie yelled back, flailing his arms and causing his beer to spill about the front seat. I quietly sipped my Margarita, chased it with a cold shot of Bud, and sparked a cigar for us both. It was becoming painfully apparent we were not moving toward any bridge.

“Willie?” I called.

“What?” he blurted, refusing to take his eyes from the two angered black guys. “What do you think that woman’s doing up there?”

Eyeing the woman in the Toyota slipping ahead just inches from our bumper, Willie was incensed. Just as I asked the question, his head turned to watch the wave of her EZ-Pass in thanks for letting her in. It was then that events became hazy.

It took the Mexican 45 minutes to stop blowing his horn, but far less for one of the black guys to exit his car and start pounding on our roof. By now Willie’s bravado had peaked and appeared to take on the mellowing effect of mainlined Prozac. The two of them must have discussed the “asshole” thing and decided it needed physical restitution. But by the looks of the man’s face it would not be without the sacrifice of pain on someone’s part. My cigar was almost done, and through a slight afternoon buzz, I could not think of one solid reason for saving Willie from his own stupid anger. And, most importantly, I could not help but think why in hell we needed an EZ-Pass in the first place?

Willie offered the riled black guy a beer if he’d smack the Mexican, who was back to leaning on his horn.

He accepted.

Willie smiled.

It was time for another Margarita and one last drag on my $12 cigar. I didn’t know anything about an EZ-Pass, but there was nothing hard about this.

First published on 12/1/97 in The Aquarian Weekly. It is included with many others in jc’s new book, Fear No Art available now on jamescampion.com!

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