Sunday, May 14, 2006


SO, I'M ON THE WAY to my folks' for Mother's Day, and I have a choice:

1) I can take the the Perimeter, which is a shorter ride, but which suburbanizes the senses with one corporate logo after another babbling above the pine trees - BP, Knights Inn, McDonald's, BrandSmart, etcetcetc.; or

2) I can take Georgia 400, which, though it is about 10 minutes longer, is a much sexier ride under the svelte silver towers of Buckhead, racing the train toward Arts Center Station until it dives into the belly of skyscrapers of Midtown.

No matter how many times I take this route - this weekend ride on this jet black stretch of Georgia 400, which always feels freshly paved - my heart races with excitement. Since I had a little time to spare, I opted for sexiness; but even moreso because it was an opportunity to accomplish my first task from my 101 in 1001 list:

7. Pay the toll for myself and 9 vehicles behind me.

Those of you in other areas of the country may be shocked to know that the toll on Georgia 400 is only 50 cents. So, for a five-note, I could nix number 7 from my list. I reached in my pocket, fingered a ten and within sixty seconds, I was braking at the toll plaza.

"I'd like to do something a little different this morning, " I said. "I'd like to pay for myself and for the next 9 cars behind me."

The cashier's first reaction was mild stankface.

So, I flashed her a 60-watt smile, then watched her stankface dissolve.

"That's really nice of you," she said.

But as she began to count my change, I realized the cause for mild stankface: The toll system is designed such that 50 cents must be deposited in a change basket before the automatic arm will raise to allow a driver to advance. In lanes with a cashier, this means that the cashier must always physically drop 50 cents into the change basket when making change. So, even though I was paying for 9 cars, the cashier would still have to drop in 50 cents for each car.

As she coupled quarters together, I could see a line - 1, 2, 3 cars and growing - behind me. I imagined myself as the 3rd car in the line:

Why in the world is there a line on a Sunday morning?

Why did I choose this line?

What the-

But no sooner than that, the cashier leaned from her window. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five dollars," she said. "Oh, and fifty cents for your toll. That's right, right?"

"Right," I said, smiling to myself. "Have a Happy Mother's Day."

And I just couldn't stop smiling.

As I pulled off, I anticipated the next exchange - Man? Woman? Young? Old? Democrat? Republican? Black? White? Then, in my rearview mirror, I saw an impatient hand rushing out of a driver's side window, frantically waving a dollar bill. Then, I saw the cashier waving off the driver's hand, refusing the money.

I wonder what particular words the cashier said; wonder how she perfected the phrase a little more with each driver; how it struggled divinely on her tongue until, with the 9th driver, it emerged, sweet, lean, and metaphoric, like a fruit:
"Your toll has already been paid."

And I imagined myself on the other side of the toll plaza, pulling up to the cashier and hearing, Your toll has already been paid. I imagined my predictable skepticism. Who? I'd demand, and Why? I'd want to know. Is this a test? A trap? And What did I do to deserve this? I'd wonder to no end.

And as I, in the rearview, watched that driver pull off, watched the next one arrive, watched the toll plaza diminishing behind me, I wondered, How many tolls have been paid in my life which I am reluctant to accept? I thought of Christianity - a toll that was paid. I considered slavery - a toll that was paid. I thought of my Mother and Father and thought - what a toll they have paid. These are the things of which real love is made. It is giving and expecting nothing in return. It is unconditional - ordered and chaotic, for us all, flawed and imperfect, regardless of merit or circumstance.

Here, hurtling down the blackness, on the way to meet my Mother and Father, I approached the speed of light, and I couldn't stop smiling.

And gently, the sky let go.

And, for once, I didn't question when it began to rain.


HarpO'Fly said...

Nice entry. Cool attitude.
The toll thing is a good plan.
Once in awhile I've done it with parking meters, seen someone rush out to avoid a ticket only to find they have 30 min or so still there. They look around in wonder.
I walk on, smiling.
Thanks for this. I needed the reminder

M. Ayodele Heath said...

I've never thought about parking meters. Great idea.