Like most folk in Gladstone, we make an annual pilgrimage to Brisbane either for a holiday, to catch a show, or to have our pockets emptied at the shops or casino. It’s also a chance for us to drive on all the new roads which our region has undoubtedly paid for.
Recently I was travelling along a motorway so new that some of the signs hadn’t been erected yet, and as a result, missed my turnoff to the city and was instead funnelled along an exit-less concrete corridor towards the Gateway Bridge, miles from my destination.
Crossing the river I saw that the toll booths had been removed and misguidedly thought that we long suffering taxpayers had finally paid off the bridge debt. Nope. There is now an E-toll system in place which photographed my cars registration plate.
Eventually I located a Main Roads office and enquired about paying the e-toll. “It’s not a Government charge, you can’t pay it here!” snapped the woman at the information cubicle.
“Well, where can I pay it then?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but you’d better pay it soon or you’ll get a hefty fine.”
A bloke standing in line behind me gave me the number, and I tottered off to find a working pay phone. A computer generated voice asked me a list of questions, then demanded my credit card details. As I hadn’t been advised of the fee I asked to speak to a real person.
“If you absolutely must talk with a human being, you dull-eyed moron, then press 0,” responded the computer.
“What’s the problem?” asked the operator.
“Look,” I said, “I’ve accidentally crossed the Gateway Bridge, and just want to pay the toll.”
“Why didn’t you use the electronic option?”
“Because, fool that I am, I wanted to know how much I’m being charged!”
She told me, and then asked for the name of my first born child, favourite colour, shoe size and promotion prospects. I supplied all this, and felt my wallet spasm as the money vanished from my account. “There,” she said, “that wasn’t so hard was it?”
“No miss,” I mumbled. Driving back towards the city, I pondered the fate of all the friendly and efficient toll booth attendants, ‘Sacked in the name of progress and profit, just like the poor old checkout chicks,’ I mused, and missed my turnoff again. Too late I realised my error, and bleating like a herded sheep, drove up the wrong motorway on-ramp for another e-fleecing.