There and back again

So.  A couple weeks ago, Steve and I became involved in a Plot.  It was a Very, Very Sekrit Plot of the most desperate sort.  Most of all, it needed to be kept Sekrit from the Intended Recipient, who not only reads our Facebook pages scrupulously, but is notoriously hard to fool.

We therefore stealthily announced a few days electron-free, and then we scurried out of Maine, down-down-down South, to Gloucester, Virginia, to participate in a Surprise Birthday Party for Aunt Edwina — 75 years!

The party was a massive success; the recipient was surprised; the food delicious, and the family-time priceless.

We left Maine on Wednesday afternoon, overnighted in Rutland, Vermont; charged down to Chambersburg, where we overnighted again, and thence to Gloucester, where we spent two nights, before turning around on Sunday, driving to Fishkill, New York; and, on Monday, driving the Strangely Unpopulated small and back-roads, starting with the Ticonic Parkway, and continuing the theme.

About those back roads. . .there’s a story, there.

We subscribe to what is in Maine called EZ-Pass, and is called other things in other states, but it involves putting your toll money in to an account with the Department of Transportation, and sticking a transponder on the windshield of your car.  You may then zoom through EZ-Pass only tollbooths, and entire EZ-Pass alleyways, never slackening your speed.  It’s a Very Great Convenience, and we have had our transponder since 2005.

. . .Which turned out to be a problem, that we discovered (naturally) at the tollbooth at Gray, Maine, where, instead of the automated system flashing THANK YOU when we passed through, flashed CALL DOT.

Um.  Oops?

Happily, the transponder had a phone number for DOT Customer Service printed  on it, and I, the passenger, had a cellphone.  After some initial confusion, we arrived at the conclusion that the transponder was, after 13 years in the sun, fried.  I mentioned that we were on our way to Virginia, and the young lady said that this was no problem, because there are back-up cameras at the EZ-Pass booths, which take a picture of your license plate.  Our license plate was correct in their files, so tolls would be automatically deducted from our account.

Then, she said, “I will activate a new transponder and send it to you, so it will be waiting for you when you get home.”

“Fine!” I said.  “Thank you very much.”  And gave her permission to deduct the amount for the new transponder from our account.

And so we went on our way, unmolested by the Toll Cops, all the way to Virginia.

It turns out that I should have paid more attention to that word, “activate.”

We were on our way home on. . .perhaps it was Route 88?  I have no brain for route numbers.  In any case, we came to a tollbooth in Southernmost New York state, one that had so recently been brought into the EZ-Pass system that the tollbooths still had gates that came down after Car One had paid its toll, to let it pass, and then came down an inch from the nose of Car Two.

And it was there, at this moderately busy and confused tollbooth, where the cameras had not yet been installed, that we learned the importance of that one word, “activate.”

Our transponder did not open the gate.  The toll worker who came by to see what the hold-up was (and it very quickly was a hold-up), took the transponder into the office, came out and said, “It’s inactive.  Can you just give me a dollar-fifty?”

We gave her a dollar-fifty.  The gate lifted.  We fled.  And we realized that, in order to minimize further aggravation on the rest of the way home, we ought — really ought — to avoid the toll roads.

And, the Back Road Plan was born.

It was an interesting ride, on roads we know pretty well; sparsely populated on a Monday in not-quite summer, and tolerably amusing.  Going over the mountain at Killington, we passed about a dozen cars engaged in The Great Race, going the other way.  We saw moderate amounts of wildlife, and green scenery and arrived home not very much later than we would have done, had we run the big roads (with a working transponder).

Arriving home, we found the new, activated transponder, which has been installed in the car.  The cats were initially Not Very Certain about us, but got over it quickly, sitting with us while we had pizza, a couple glasses of wine, and read our current book out loud.  Everybody piled into the bed for the Long Night Nap, and we got up in time to put out the trash this morning.  Groceries were, in good time, acquired, banking was done, and the Tree Guy contacted for a firm date for taking down the two dead pines.  Tomorrow will be a work-and-laundry day.  Thursday, the Cleaning Guy comes to give us an estimate on bi-weekly cleaning of the house, and, yanno, Life Goes On.

I did take a walk around the back yard today, being pleased with a high temp of 76F/24C as opposed to the 92F/33C we saw in More Southern Climes.  I do like this house, and am very glad we found it.

And that’s my tale for the day, the moral of which is:  Be very careful when activating your transponder.


6 thoughts on “There and back again”

  1. I have, as a native Texan from waybackwhendinosaursroamedhere, studiously avoided the toll roads around here, a decision firmed up by watching the mess in the afternoons when traffic descends from SpeedyToll to Stuck Interstate and people are stuck on the long descending ramp in the blazing afternoon sun while I run counter-current under them. However, the Stuck Interstate has now become stuck both directions, so I’m reverting to the other old highway with-gasp-traffic lights as it runs through former small towns and now the outflow boundaries of Austin. Last time it took me less time to drive a longer distance with traffic lights than on the freeway without ’em.

    I should probably modernize my driving with one of the transponder thingies, but if I take the toll road I would most often use, I miss out on my favorite burger place, my favorite BBQ place, two useful gas stations, and two useful supermarkets.

  2. We have transponders in both our car and micro-mini-motorhome. They are convenient – but we still prefer what William Heat Least Moon dubbed the “Blue Highways”, i.e. the secondary roads and pre-interstate national highways. Best find on our current trip from New Jersey to Wyoming was the little town of Spotted Horse, Wyoming – population 2. A husband/wife team running a roadside cafe in a converted gas station filled with wonderful 1950’s cowboy kitsch. Had an excellent burger and some of the best onion rings I’ve ever tasted.

  3. Glad to hear about the surprise party, and that it was successfully a surprise. Since you had run dark so long I was starting to scan the net worrying that something had happened to you.

  4. Ah, you were in the land of heat…plus humidity.

    I don’t qualify as a native of Gloucester as Mom and Dad were furriners (Westchester County NY) bu i was born in Newport News (closest hospital at the time!) as my dad was studying at VIMS (Virginia Institute of Marine Science). When he got his degree we moved away. 2 years in Rhode Island, and 2 years in Florida, and for various and sundry reasons we moved back. Dad was a professor and researcher at VIMS the rest of his career, and a consultant ‘on-the-side’. I still get there occasionally, as my Mom continues to reside in Gloucester, even though she sold the house (she’s not…quite…finished there, I guess).

    I do not miss the heat and humidity, but find I do miss the un-crowded roads and quieter scenes of my youth, and the seafood restaurants – Route 17 is truly scary now-a-days (So are I81 and I64, which comprise the majority of my trips to and from Mom’s place – though I usually zig east through West Point and approach from the north rather than come past Williamsburg and over the bridge.).

    Glad you made the trip safely!

  5. I grew up in Baltimore, which is definitely part of the East Coast Pressure Cooker. However! There were many reasons for our departure from the region and the summer we were managers of the storage facility on Liberty Road in Randallstown, when the temperatures did not fall below 100F/38C for TEN DAYS AND NIGHTS was one of those reasons. I had long been dissatisfied with Baltimore weather, never mind the air pollution, and that summer was the straw. We moved to Maine that October, and I do not miss the heat and humidity at all.

    Route 17 was our chosen route, it being ‘way less scary than either 81 or 64. The maps said it would take longer, but from what we saw of the backups, when our routes crossed — I don’t think so…

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