Nothing comes E-Z in Rhode Island, especially the state’s first E-ZPass, which has replaced the tolls on the Newport Bridge. The tolls were gone by St. Brigid’s Day (Feb. 1), but the resulting mess felt more like Groundhog Day, as the inconveniences started to multiply. Some people ordered their devices weeks ago online, and still haven’t received them. Others had to endure an interminable wait in the E-ZPass line just below the bridge in Jamestown. (For the story of my experience, read below.) Last week my editor received her first E-ZPass bill in the mail and it included trips taken through the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge. Turns out that the truck transporting the transponders went through those Middle Atlantic state tolls, and Rhode Islanders who picked up those devices for their own cars also picked up the fees. Just another mess for the R.I. Bridge and Turnpike Authority, which has already seen a half-dozen drivers blow through the bars at the E-ZPass tolls.
Taking its toll
From the moment she stepped through the doorway, the little gray-haired lady with fiery eyes and a sharp tongue made it clear that she was out for blood – Rhode Island blood.
“This is a stupid state,” she said, as the line wound out the door to the makeshift E-ZPass acquisition office at the R.I. Bridge and Turnpike Authority complex in Jamestown. “There isn’t a stupider state in the United States. They should split it up and give it to Connecticut and Massachusetts.”
“They already tried that,” she was told. “Didn’t work. We resisted.”
But the lady didn’t want to hear about history.
“Well, they should try again,” she said. “Anything to get rid of this stupid state.” Random timing being what it is, I had the misfortune of being the person in line in front of the anti-Rhode Islander. Reading the novel I had brought with me in anticipation of a long wait wasn’t possible under the circumstances. She was full of spit and vinegar, poison and vitriol.
“Everything this state does is stupid,” she said.
Most of three dozen or so applicants avoided eye contact and gently ignored her ravings, presumably respectful of her age and frail appearance. A few even commiserated. But she wouldn’t let up.
“I mean, have you ever seen such a stupid thing in your life as this,” she asked, as we filed one by one into the boxy building with bad carpet and slid seat by seat down cheap mismatched chairs to wait for our turn to purchase an E-ZPass. “This stuff would never happen in ‘Joisey.’ That’s where I’m from. ‘Joisey.’”
By now we had established the waiting room rhythm that would tick like a time bomb for the next hour. In a setting that was a cross between “The Office” and the annex to Dante’s “Inferno,” the little old lady ruled as the Queen of Darkness, peppering her speech with liberal doses of “stupid” and “Joisey.”
I tried keeping my head riveted to the middle paragraph of a stripper scene in “The Garden of Last Days” by Andre Dubus III. But Joisey Queen kept interrupting.
“You hear what they removed from those old token machines,” she asked, rhetorically, since no one was answering. “Wads of gum, Peppermint Patties, slugs, Chuck E. Cheese tokens, old Irish money. Nobody even used tokens in this stupid state.”
We all scooted over to the next musical chair. As she got up to move, a man from the seated aisle asked, “Why are you here?”
“I had to come up and be near my daughter,” she said. “Now they’re moving to Florida and I’m going to be stuck here.”
The gentleman next to me leaned over and whispered: “Wonder why.”
She appeared to have no social graces. When a young man took a seat at the table, she blurted out: “Look at him. So young to be carrying so much weight. That’ll kill him.” He was three feet away from her. In surprise, he turned to look and she said, “What a shame.”
Directly in front of us, one of the workers took over for another. She was wearing an attractive blouse that revealed a little cleavage.
“That’s no way to dress for work,” the lady grumbled. Later, as several customers got out of their chairs and workers started preparing for the next wave, the lady said: “Look at this. Not one of them is working.” Even though all of them were working.
Finally, the lady joined me at the table.
“It’s about time,” she said to the woman in front of her. “Well, get on with it.”
“Don’t let her get the pass for 83 cents,” said one guy still in line, finally fed up with the running commentary. “She’s got nothing good to say about Rhode Island.”
The lady ignored him, asking the temp: “Where were you born?”
“Despicable,” the lady said. “Disgusting.”
“You could move,” the temp said, clearly taken aback. “I like it here.”
“I’m stuck here,” the lady said.
“The other 49 states already kicked her out,” said 83-cent man.
“Why is this taking so long,” the lady asked.
“We’ve had some trouble with the system,” the temp said.
“Typical. Stupid Rhode Island.”
“Actually, the system comes from New Jersey,” the temp said.
“‘Joisey.’ I wish I’d never left.”
“So do we,” said 83-cent man. “God help us.”
This week’s question: What Newport Bridge token substitute will you miss tossing the most?