It was early fall. Still warm enough to sweat with the windows down. To save money, we borrowed a car from an ‘upper classman’. Only those who were seniors were allowed to own a car and park it on post. We were barley 20 years old and fearless. We had the world by the tail, or so we thought.
So we set off for the hour or so drive from West Point, NY to New York City. Michael had been into ‘The City’ before, but this was my first time. Secure in him, I sat shotgun while we whizzed over bridges and witnessed happenings along the road side that I can not share about here. Looking for the the perfect exit, we passed toll after toll. My change purse was quickly dwindling. Commuters had specific coins they tossed into certain tolls and flew through the booths barley slowing down. We, on the other hand had a few bucks in our pockets and I was getting down to the pennies and Chucky Cheese tokens at the bottom of my purse.
The last booth didn’t have an “actual” person working. So making change for 10$ bill was out of the question. We sat in the line scared to death as we quickly came up to the basket in which we were to toss $4.00 or a coin for the equivalent. I had about $1.25 left. We tossed the last coins and waited. Nothing. I tossed a few tokens, thinking I may trick the machine into recognizing them as quarters. Still nothing. Then it started happening. Horns began to blow. Not a polite little ‘toot’ but a New York City ‘bellow’. Not just one car either, but the entire row of cars behind us, all 37 of them.
We began to fuss amongst ourselves. What do we do? I screamed in my best southern drawl, “Run through that thang!” It was padded, how much harm could it do? I’d pay for the damages to his friends car, I promised.
“No way, I can’t run through that thing, we’ll go to jail,” he screamed back.
I didn’t care at that point. I just knew someone was about to shoot us. I’d rather be in jail than dead! Flashes ran through my head, of my Mom at home recovering from surgery, receiving a call….me dead or in jail.
Then a face appeared at his window. An ugly, mean face. I jumped and squealed. I cringed, waiting for the gun barrel, but instead he pulled out a roll of coins. The beloved coins that all the New Yorker’s had. The ones I wish we had read up on before our trip. He said in a very ugly tone, “Give me 5 bucks and you can have one of these.” “YES SIR!” I shouted! I would have given him $20 at that moment. And I’m sure all I had to say was ‘yes sir’ to convince him we were one of those southerners that had NO business in New York City.
Michael passed over the 5 dollar bill and disgustedly the man threw the coin into the basket.
Simultaneously the big, padded, yellow arm raised up.
We floored it and got off at the very next exit. Terrified that if we didn’t, we’d end up at yet another toll.
Well, guess where we exited….
Right smack dab in the middle of Harlem…..