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Transom Podcast

52 EpisodesProduced by TransomWebsite is an experiment in channeling new work and voices to public radio through the internet, and for discussing that work, and encouraging more. Our podcast offers some tasty little audio morsels to go.


An Open Letter to a Fussy Woman at a Toll Booth

About An Open Letter to a Fussy Woman at a Toll Booth

Toll collection is the second oldest profession.

In Greek mythology, Charon the ferryman (one of the oldest service workers) required that a toll be paid to carry souls across the rivers between here and Hades. Souls unable to pay were left to wander around for eternity searching for the damn place.

This is the story of a nightmarish customer who felt entitled to a free ride across the river Styx.

What it is like to work in a tollbooth

(That, above, was hyperbole.)

In 2005 I was in school and working at the parking ramps. I bugged them for weeks to hire me because the idea of being paid to sit alone in a booth seemed absurd and amazing. Up until then all my income was made through doing magic shows for birthdays and banquets, and I was ready for something that felt a little less exposed. Parking seemed to accommodate the level of introversion I was seeking and provided some spare time to work on a few media projects.

Here is a video from that time.

Personally, I feel that paying for parking is a fool’s errand, but I am also a cheapskate and have burned whole tanks of fuel hunting for a free place to ditch my car. I did not blame any of my customers for valuing convenience, however.

I produced this piece in 2006 through a course in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. The group was led by Jeff Porter, who helped me to focus in on the specifics of my fascination with the tantrum I had witnessed.

This was not intended to be a strong commentary on socioeconomic separation. At the time, my perception was that the low wage working class was rather small, and that we, the members of it, were simply biding our time until becoming doctors and professors, or wealthy and imbued with clout by some other means. This was simply the affect of the times in a liberal arts town like Iowa City, and the basis on which many of us were funneled into school.


I have always felt a bit of sympathy for the woman in this story. I have to assume that this was not one of her proudest moments. Perhaps she went on sabbatical to Tibet following this experience, and is a much calmer person now. Who knows?

While the story is about her, it is certainly not for her. Instead it is a love letter to my friends in the service industry: the overeducated under employed, and the undereducated over employed. It is dedicated to anyone who can state, without looking, how many dollars and cents are in their wallet and bank account. To people who accept work in stations vulnerable to deprecation and demoralizing treatment. It is to any barista who has made me a beautiful design in my latte as thanks for a tip. It is to the bussing crews at buffets who turn tips over to lost and found.

To the messengers and foot soldiers who show up, stand all day, and then walk to job number two. Mainly, it is to the ones who share themselves with the world, rather than assuming the world will be privileged to receive them.

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