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Toll Man by Adam Russ

T he only thing constant in life is change. That’s what

the keynote speaker, some aide to Senator So-and- So, said at my high school graduation more than ten years ago. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but that statement turned out to define my life. Making change is how I make a living. I’m the guy in the Cash Only lane, third booth from the right on eastbound California I-80. You give me a five and I’ve got a one for you already in my hand. You slap me a twenty and I’ll have sixteen back in your eager little palm in less than two seconds. My lane is the fastest on my shift and I’ve got the numbers to prove it. Maybe if I’d changed my method, slowed my pace down just a bit, I would’ve been able to stop it before it got out of control. It started out innocently enough. A small Post-

it note stuck to the back of a one dollar bill. I didn’t see it until I was counting my tally for the night. Hey Toll Man, What’s the best movie of all time?

Like an entry in a chemist’s laboratory notebook, it was written in a neat, perfectly-spaced script. Now, let me say that interaction with the

drivers beyond a simple “Thank you” is strongly discouraged. It slows down the flow and can cause jams. Ninety-nine point nine percent of people don’t bother anyways, so it’s generally not a problem. It’s those point one percent that keep life interesting. People will ask directions, how your day is going, or who you think will win some upcoming election or playoff game. Others will cuss you out (more than you might imagine), throw fruit at you (watermelon twice and a peach pit once), or propose marriage or some other lewd encounter (five times) before slamming on the accelerator and cackling away into the night. But the note attached to the dollar was a first. I gotta admit that it made me smile. Best movie of all time?—That’s an easy one, To

Catch a Thief and here are ten reasons why: (1) Grace Kelly, (2) Cary Grant, (3) Hitchcock, (4) French Riviera, (5) Jewelry Heist, (6) Suspense, (7) The Chase, (8) Murder, (9) Dialogue to die for, and (10) Grace Kelly on


the French Riviera. I’m not sure why I did it, and looking back, I certainly shouldn’t have, but the next day I taped the DVD case of To Catch a Thief to the window of my booth, facing out toward the drivers. I had more interaction that week than I have ever had. I relished the attention. Still, I did my best not to alter my pace. After all, I had a reputation to maintain. I’d smile, nod, and say, “Yeah, great flick. Have a nice day,” and look past them to the next driver. A week later I got the second note. Hey Toll Man, can’t say that I agree with you

there, but still a nice choice. What’s the best song ever played?

This one stumped me. The way I partitioned

my toll cash, I knew that the note had come in the middle third of my shift, during the peak rush hours. Other than that, I had no idea who was writing the notes or what car they drove. This time the small note was taped nearly flush to the back of the bill. I almost missed it during my tally. It took me all night to find an answer. When

I did, I knew that it was right—Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. I found it in the classical music collection I inherited from my father when he died. Reclined on the chair, his arms floating along, at first softly and then with dramatic sweeps as the music increased in intensity, he used to listen to the song over and over again. I hadn’t heard it in years. I copied the song seven times on the same CD and played it loud on the portable stereo in my booth. I listened to the song again and again for more than a week, my father’s memory clinging to me like cologne that smells good in small quantities, but cheap and suffocating when too much is applied. Then I got the next note. Hey Toll Man, never would have pegged you for

a classics guy. Oh well, there’s no accounting for taste. What’s the best book ever written?

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