When I used to commute to Newport, the toll bridge took tokens or cash. It was $2 cash, or 1 token that cost $1– naturally, I bought tokens. After I got laid off, I had about eight of the stupid things left, but managed to use up some more returning a library book, and visiting Don the appraiser. On my last visit, I saw the blinking sign announcing that the bridge would be switching to E-Z Pass, and tokens could be redeemed in the E-Z Pass office. I saw that I only had five tokens left, but $5 is nothing to sneeze at, and the E-Z pass office is only slightly out of my way, so I went.
What I found when I got there was not an office so much as a trailer with three parking spots in front of it. I went in and saw that most of the trailer was taken up with a giant paper-covered table, and a row of metal folding chairs along the perimeter, most of which were occupied by old, old men. There were three frat bro types clearly in charge of the operation and all wearing khaki pants, blue shirts and ties, and looking exactly the same except for a slight difference in height.
“Can I help you?” one of them asked me eagerly.
“Yeah, I want to redeem these tokens.” I showed him the five tokens resting in my palm.
“Do you want to apply that amount to your E-Z Pass account?” he asked.
“No, I don’t have one.”
He looked confused.
“I mean, I don’t need one. I neither live nor work in Newport.”
He looked even more confused, but then rebounded with, “Well, if you want cash back, we can only give you $.65 per token, and we’ll have to mail you a check.”
Clearly I was not going to get an E-Z Pass just so I could redeem these tokens for the full amount, but I did pause for a moment and consider just keeping them as souvenirs. They’re pretty, gold, have pictures of bridges on them. Maybe someday I’d be trying to describe one to someone, and it would be incredibly handy to have a readily available visual aid. Then I pictured my grandfather, The Collector‘s endless outbuildings stuffed to bursting with the things he hoarded, and realized that that was a path best avoided. Even if this seems like a paltry amount of money, it’s enough to buy me an iced coffee, which brightens my day immeasurably. I smiled at the frat bro, and said “I can take a check.”
“Would you like a receipt?”
“No that’s ok.”
So I had to fill out a form, give him my tokens which he threw into a giant bin, and now I’m waiting for a check for $3.25 to arrive in the mail.
There was another woman there at the same time as me who had an entire freezer bag full of tokens (why would a person have so many when you buy $10 at a time?). She seemed baffled by the whole process, and the frat bros kept eagerly volunteering to get her a receipt (which they had to go to another building to do). It was kind of like voting, but with tokens.