In which Debby pays her toll fine

If you are a “time is money” person, you will not be impressed that Elizabeth and I spent more than two hours driving to Lucca from il Ciocco and back on Monday (June 8) to deal with our €60 toll bill, which turned out to cost a mere €2.80.

Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that it was worth my while to spend the morning schlepping through Tuscany to save €57.20, but I wanted to take care of the fine and be done with it, and I did and I am. And of course, it was an adventure.

The paying-the-fine adventure started at the hotel desk, when the chief “navigator” (i.e., desk clerk) tried to help me find the Italian Highway authority office, the Punta Blu, on a map.

Eventually I decided I’d be safer finding it on Google Maps, but the computer in the hotel business office wouldn’t let me print out an enlarged map. So I decided to go upstairs and see if the conference organizers would let me use their office computer.

Ordinarily I take the stairs, but on this day I was frustrated and tired and in a hurry, so I opted for the elevator. A friendly Australian couple was standing by the elevator.

“How are you?” The woman asked.

“Frustrated,” I admitted.

“Italy?” she replied, knowingly.

“The driving,” I said, and began to explain.

“There’s a couple eating breakfast on the patio right now and they had the same problem!” the woman said. “They’re going to Punta Blu later today – go talk to them. Perry and Sue. He’s wearing blue shorts and sitting right outside the door to the dining room.”

Perry, an outgoing Aussie, told me that I didn’t even have to get onto the highway to access Punta Blu.

“You go to the entrance, and there’s a parking area off to the side before you go to the toll booths,” he promised.

He was very reassuring. I felt so confident – that is, I felt confident right up until the moment that Elizbeth and I arrived in Lucca to get to the highway entrance. The traffic was much heavier than it had been driving in from the rural countryside, and the signs pointing to the highway had pretty much disappeared.

That’s when I knew I’d been fooling myself. Things were not going to go smoothly.

And indeed, they did not. For starters, the parking area near the toll booths was blocked by a gate. Lucky for us, someone was exiting, so we drove through, me praying the whole time that the gate wouldn’t come down and crush the car.

It didn’t. And the parking lot was right in front of us, and it was covered. This was too good to be true. I knew something would go wrong soon.

And it did.

We headed for a pair of official looking buildings. One turned out to be a maintenance garage for the highway authority. The other was a garage with office space. Plenty of cars were parked outside, but both buildings were empty – even though one of the offices, complete with computer equipment, was wide open.

We walked back to the toll booths. Someone had to be in the toll booths, right? Never mind that accessing the tool booths required us to cross three lanes of traffic. I didn’t think I should have to put myself in such danger to pay a fine but what do I know? Italy’s reputation as a world leader and home of great thinkers ended what, 2000 years ago?

Elizabeth and I bypassed the toll booths, which would have required crossing more lanes of traffic. Instead, we climbed the stairs to a little office-like building, and rang the doorbell. When that generated no response, we knocked on the door. When that generated no response, we headed back down the stairs.

That’s when I opted for the last resort: I crossed more lanes of traffic and knocked on a toll booth door. The first toll booth guy, an Italian-only speaker, told me I had to go to Pisa Nord. I thought, there is no way in hell I am getting back on that blasted highway, especially when I have no idea where Pisa Nord is and this guy can’t tell me.

Toll Booth Man #1 directed me to knock on his neighbor’s toll booth door. Toll Booth Man #2 was more helpful. He actually looked at the ticket, told me that I owed €2.80, collected my money, gave me a receipt, and sent me on my way. I was so happy I hugged him.

But I was too hasty in my happiness, because when we went to exit the parking area, the gate wouldn’t go up. I thought about getting back into the line of traffic going through Toll Booth Man #2’s booth, but I was sure it would result in another €60 ticket.

Instead, I parked in full view of the toll booths. Then I went back, crossed six lanes of traffic, and explained my situation to Toll Booth Man #2. He let the next couple of cars through the booth, then shut it down. Armed with a gigantic, 1970s-era walkie-talkie, he walked alongside our car until we came to the gate, at which point he radioed someone and the gate lifted up, and we left.

That’s the most powerful I felt all day, almost as powerful as Chris Christie shutting down the George Washington Bridge. Admittedly, it was only one lane of traffic on the A11 in Lucca, but you have to start somewhere, right?



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