Pieces of Silver


No small thing, the shine

passing from one person

to another…


A poem I’m working on starts this way. It’s growing out of a conversation with a New York City taxi driver in which he offered small “advices” that wound up making a big difference in a terrible family crisis.

The other night I was hurrying to hospitalize a cat and had to stop to pay a toll. Generally I’m frustrated with tollbooths in the East—why do they have them? In Colorado they scan your license plate from under a bridge; you don’t even have to hit the brakes. And don’t say it’s because of antiquated infrastructure—there used to be tollbooths in Colorado, but when something better came along, they ripped the booths right out. People in the East just put up with stuff, I was thinking.

Anyway, the toll was 75 cents and as usual I’d forgotten about the whole stupid idea because back home they just ding your checking account and also parking meters are all credit cards now, so who needs actual money in your car? All I happened to have was this half roll of old dimes I’d been meaning to see about. Maybe some of them would fit into one of the collecting books I had. Somewhere. In one of the boxes packed up in the garage after the move. So that would be back in Colorado? Ish.

I handed over eight really silvery-looking dimes. Oh, hey! said the toll guy, lighting way up. What are these, old dimes? Give them to me.

Who could resist a gap-toothed grin like that? I handed them right over. All the forbearing Easterners behind me just waited while he happily counted them out. No honking or anything.

I’ll let you make some money, he said. Here’s $3 for $2.50 in dimes. This probably means the dimes were worth more than that, but here I’d neatly postponed the moment of reckoning with the boxes back in Colorado indefinitely. And I didn’t even pay the toll.

I was in a strange location with a sick pet. The dimes found someone who understood their worth. This random little exchange of money on the “free”way seemed to light the night for both of us.

I guess that wouldn’t have happened with a scanner.


4 thoughts on “Pieces of Silver

  1. Sweet reading this this a.m. My friend often tells me he feels like 14 shiny pennies, maybe they are worth more than he thinks?

  2. Great post, funny about toll booths. I lived in California all my adult life until 35 years old when I moved back my childhood land, the US Northeast. The only toll booths I knew of in the San Francisco Bay Area were on the bridges, Golden Gate and Bay Bridge in particular.

    But back east there seems to be a little man in a toll booth charging a few coins every ten miles. It’s ridiculous, it seems the fee can’t justify the wage, never mind account for road care. But over time I too have developed this fondness for the toll booth adventure:

    — trying to fly into the fastest lane: 75 to 0 while changing lanes and while
    — fingering the console for coins, then
    — driving into the weird little slot
    — feeling the suspense around whether the toll-person will be nice or not (always yes, but still the suspense)
    — feeling the suspense around whether your quarters are real or whether sirens will roar and cops will descend from every direction
    — yay, green light! i passed!
    — pulling out and trying to get ahead of the guy in the next car over who obviously can’t drive..

    Good times!!

    As an afterthought, you might say that Yankees are way too Yankee for an auto-ping of a checking account. “Hands off my money.” I’ll count out dimes for tolls and quarters for parking meters, and the lady behind me understands completely. Also, we’ll pay cash for most everything else, thank you very much. (We know it’s a sickness.) (But even Suze Orman says ‘only use cash, no automated payments.’ Just sayin…)

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