If figure if I’m going to have to pay money to a state government, I might as well keep that money in my own state.
That way, when I get pulled over, I can have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s my own hard-earned money funding the gallant red and blue lights reflecting off my rearview mirror.
Some greedy states, however, have implemented systems to trap visitors into involuntarily leaving large chunks of money behind as they pass through.
I don’t want to point fingers or anything, but one of those states just happens to start with an O and ends with a klahoma.
It does this by installing covert, unmanned tollbooths about every 3.75 miles with hopes that out-of-state motorists will pass through, either oblivious to the booth’s presence, or with an inadequate amount of exact change. I like to call these the Phantom Menace Tollbooths.
A trip to Oklahoma this last weekend reminded me of the state’s tendencies to surprise visitors with inconvenient fees. Unfortunately, a similar trip two summers ago didn’t prepare me any better for this recent predicament.
In normal states—Kansas, for instance—we strategically place turnpikes in very obvious, intentional places.
But in Oklahoma, state legislators went down to the shooting range, hung up a map of the state and peppered it with a shotgun. Every segment of road hit by shrapnel was then made into a turnpike, and therefore requires a toll fee to drive on.
Some of those roads just happen to be in the middle of major cities.
Two summers ago I made a day trip to Oklahoma City with then-girlfriend Hanna to visit a local attraction. The back-and-forth trip seemed to go smoothly. At least I thought it had.
You can imagine my surprise, a month later, when I received a thick envelope from the state of Oklahoma, containing several pictures of my car and a bill for $75.
Apparently—in the middle of the city, for a stretch of only a couple miles—I had been on a toll road. And even more incredible, by not plunking a couple quarters into the plastic urinal-lookalikes they hang on the sides of the road, the state found it justifiable to demand more than 100 times the original toll fee.
I was furious. Hurt. I felt deceived, used and dirty. How dare they? I wanted to take a stand, so I did what any exploited out-of-state motorist would do: I sent a $25 and a $50 bill through a paper shredder and mailed the pieces to Oklahoma with a nasty note.
No, that’s only what I wanted to do. Instead, I politely filled out a check, mailed it in and waited a year and a half to publicly mock the state in this column.
I had mostly forgotten about this incident until last weekend.
While in the Tulsa area for a youth convention, now-wife Hanna and I decided to visit the Oklahoma Aquarium, something we had wanted to do for several months. The drive required us to go across town.
We were seconds away from the aquarium when I saw the dreaded hockey-mask money receptacle.
As we neared it, Hanna began searching the car—a borrowed vehicle—for spare change. All that turned up was a dime: 25 cents less than what we needed.
I pulled past the toll booth and into a roadside parking space, hoping one of the bills in my wallet would magically turn into coins. But after a heated debate, I finally knew what I had to do: Get out of the car with my tail between my legs, approach the next car that stopped at the tollbooth and pathetically ask for help.
This story does have a happy ending, however. First, the man who pulled into the booth next seemed happy to help, and even managed to do it in a way that didn’t hurt my male ego.
But most importantly, the state of Oklahoma won’t be able to send me another outlandish bill.
At least, I don’t think they will. I’m sure their cameras still caught a snapshot of my car pulling through without the ritualistic offering. But the next picture should show me standing next to another car that paid double. I’m hoping the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority will at least be smart enough to figure that out.
But if they aren’t, I’m going to be prepared this time around.
When they send me a ticket asking for an insulting amount of money, I’ll send it to them. In pennies. With a copy of this column.