The first week of July, I didn’t have $2.50. I remember approaching the Dumbarton toll plaza with the particular mix of indignation and embarrassment reserved for acute moments of being broke. But there was no toll taker at the window to hand me an envelope and a warning to pay by mail within 30 days. Instead, I drove right through the gantries — a camera capturing my license plate number to automatically issue me an exorbitant fine.
The third week of July, I didn’t have $2.50 again. However, I did have a trunk full of books to sell at Green Apple. Enough, I’d hoped, to fill the tank until payday and grab a few things at Trader Joe’s. But Green Apple Books was on the other side of the bridge. I pulled off at Paseo Padre Parkway, the last exit before the toll, and parked in the neon-lit lot of the Taiwanese bakery. I popped the trunk and grabbed the American Heritage Dictionary, ripped out several of its oversized pages and wrapped them tightly around my front and back license plates. By some miracle, the papers stayed on through the tollbooth, obscuring my plates and eluding the fine.
By August, the tollbooth was completely cash-free. And I, like a proper adult, had a new little E-Z Pass transponder on my dashboard to facilitate whizzing through the lane. My car was concatenated to my credit card through the magic of radio frequency — paying my tolls automatically (or at least until my card maxed out). For my convenience, according to the state transit authority, I’d never have to wait in line to pay again. I didn’t even have to slow down.
For my convenience, E-Z Pass could send me updates about billing and travel activity by email, text or message on any one of 17 social media sites, as well as through the touchscreens of select G.E. smart appliances. Oh yes, and projected on the lenses of limited-edition sunglasses (sold separately).
My card would also be billed automatically for traffic violations when traveling 11+ miles over the speed limit.
For my convenience, E-Z Pass could reconcile unsuccessful billing by adding the balance owed, plus any late fees, to my student loan, where it could accrue the same soul-crushing rate of interest.
For my convenience, E-Z pass could “aggregate geo-location trends for peak user experience.” This, as I’ve come to learn, meant my stops at In-N-Out Burger and Cigarettes & More were shared with my health insurance carrier so they could adjust my premiums.
On the subject of healthy living, E-Z Pass could alert a patrol officer if my card on file was charged for more than two glasses of wine or one whisky at select geo-locations and I then started my car within an undisclosed number of minutes. Also, if I didn’t fasten my seatbelt. Or use my turn signal. Or if I surreptitiously parked at the ice cream shop near Trader Joe’s — to be fair, the sign does say “no Trader Joe’s parking” — because TJ’s lot is always too full.
For my convenience, the E-Z Pass could alert the gyms in my area of my repeated geo-location at an ice cream shop, so they could bombard me with offers of personal training and Zumba.
More impressively, the location feature flagged the three or four times I drove past my ex-boyfriend's apartment. (You know, just to see how he was doing and if anyone else was parked outside.) In a gesture that seems generous for E-Z Pass, it did not report me to the authorities or initiate a restraining order. Instead, it opened an OKCupid account on my behalf and created a rather nice dating profile. Of course, it did describe me as being “a curvy girl with a great personality” due to its burger-whisky-ice cream algorithm.
For my convenience, E-Z Pass had me placed in Group 1 of the jury duty selection pool, so I could spend time with up to 11 eligible bachelors, depending on the algorithm and not including the defendants or counsel.
In early November, E-Z Pass reprogrammed my clocks for daylight saving time. It pre-set my radio to NPR so I could have “appropriate” media coverage of the mid-term elections. It reloaded my Starbucks card the first day pumpkin spice lattes were available. And, it bears mentioning, it texted me a “hang in there” kitten meme when I drove past my ex’s place and my own sister’s car was out front.
By December, I took my few remaining books to Green Apple to get a little Christmas money. The maligned dictionary was still banging around my trunk too, as the book buyers had handed it back to me after quickly noticing the missing pages.
While my trips to the gym were up, so were my web searches for pawn shops and part-time jobs. For my convenience, as soon as I’d passed through a tollbooth, E-Z Pass changed my radio dial to Amy Winehouse songs so I could sing along at the top of my lungs. No matter how bad the day had been, there was joy in the freedom to sing and the magnificence of the sun setting on the Bay as I drove the bridge’s span.
For your convenience, E-Z Pass alerted me, E-Z Pass 2.0 can be pre-ordered for January delivery. The 2.0 features a dash cam that records the color of the perfect sunset, saved for picking the right shade of bridesmaids' dresses in the future. The 2.0 can post sunset photos to your Instagram so you can recapture friends who have stopped following your constant automated social posts about E-Z Pass.
“E-Z Pass, I can’t replace you,” I’d said aloud. “You are my only friend.”
The California State Lottery jackpot is now $96 million dollars, E-Z Pass alerted me. Its algorithms had chosen the best numbers for me to play. I drove to Cigarettes & More to get a ticket. But once I got there, I had to pay in cash.
Listen to For Your Convenience on The Story Coterie podcast.