Oh, what a foolish risk it was. It really should be illegal. I don’t know why it isn’t. All rational people understand it’s dangerous to drive while listening to Jim Morrison sing “Light My Fire.” Actually, I had been thoroughly reasonable all day, easing out of my motel in San Francisco and carefully driving through the city and safely crossing the Golden Gate Bridge north into lush Marin County and pulling off the freeway in mellow San Rafael and using my innate art radar to determine where the galleries had to be, on Fourth Street, and walking up and down this aesthetically-endowed route and talking to various artists and gallery directors and looking at dozens of delightful paintings and restraining myself with the mandate that I could afford nary a piece I wanted.
You see, I had behaved as a responsible citizen and doubtless would have continued to do so had I not, en route south back to San Francisco, always an ominous destination, decided to enhance my trip with The Doors. Despite the driving beat and incisive lyrics of the first few songs, I’m sure I didn’t speed, though I moved into the fast lane to drive with the big boys. And I did see the toll signs announcing the looming presence of the great orange bridge but by then Jim was wailing, “Come on baby, light my fire,” and I, quite unconsciously, decided I didn’t want to wait in a long, slow toll line, and instead headed for one of the empty lanes to the left, wondering why all those clods kept accumulating to the right.
I’d already grabbed my wallet and was ready to hand over six dollars but the damn toll booth was empty and the doors locked. Sensing I was on camera, I waved and pointed at the booth, extended both palms-up out the window, and tried to look contrite, thinking oh god, this’ll be a five-hundred-buck fine. Looking hard to my right at several lanes with cars emerging from toll booths, I made the decision: I was going to cut across and enter that official building and explain matters. I got through one lane okay, then the next, had to brake hard to avoid a car in the third, and gunned it the rest of the way diagonally across the freeway and into the parking lot where I copied my license number on a piece of paper before dashing inside to announce, “Sorry, it was an accident. Did you see me waving?”
Two members of the Golden Gate Bridge’s Sergeant’s Office, one staffing a computer facing the toll area and the other at the service counter, were quite friendly. The man at the computer asked what kind of car I was driving. “A Honda Fit,” I told him.
He said, “License number…..”
“That’s it,” I replied.
The other officer filled out a form, accepted my six dollars, and said, “If you get a ticket, just send them a copy of this receipt. But I don’t think you’ll get one.”
“How much would it have been?”
A female colleague emerged and handed me a brochure titled “Your Ticket to the Fast Lane” and explained I could save a lot of money using FasTrak, which, once you’ve signed up for a prepaid account, will send you a “small electronic toll tag…that’s easily installed on the windshield inside your car. Each time you use a FasTrak facility, an overhead antenna reads your toll tag and FasTrak automatically deducts the appropriate toll from your prepaid account.”
“How much is the toll then?” I asked.
“Five dollars,” she said.
“That’s twenty-five dollars a week, a hundred a month. I’m just a tourist.”
“It’s good for a lot of bridges, and you only buy the plan you need.”
Damn, you’ve got to be rich to live in the Bay Area. I knew I couldn’t afford a house but was surprised I’d have trouble making toll. I thanked Jim Morrison for enlightenment as I sheathed his CD and put it under the seat.