...AND AFTER RECEIVING THIS BILL BELOW ONLY LAST WEEK, I NOW REMEMBER THE INCIDENT ALL TOO WELL.
I don't know if you'll be able to click on this scanned image to read what the bill says. But it's from Budget eToll of Great Neck, N.Y. (Why would a place be called Great Neck, anyway?)
And it claims that while I was driving one of their rented cars, I failed to pay a 40-cent toll somewhere around Chicago on Aug. 28.
Either because my "PERSONAL TRANSPONDER FAILED TO WORK" or because I KNOWINGLY OR UNKNOWINGLY FAILED TO PAY THE TOLL.
My personal transponder, whatever that is, works just fine, thank you!!!
Whatever. As a result, I now have to pay a bill of $45.40 US in fines and administration fees.
I've been to Chicago a number of times, mostly to cover Stanley Cup hockey finals, but I've never had to rent a car.
Last summer, I had to cover our baseball team as it wound up its season in Joliet, Illinois, not that far from Chicago.
And then I had to carry on with the team to Gary, Indiana, for the start of the playoffs.
Joliet, as you might have heard, houses one of America's most dangerous prisons, or at least used to. Gary was once America's murder capital. Great assignment.
And now I feel like I've been victimized myself for being a goofy Canajun.
I flew to Chicago, rented the car, tried to make sure I had enough American change for all the tolls I expected to encounter.
I nixed Budget's offer of a car equipped with GPS, got my maps out, and merrily went on my way.
Well, not merrily. I had some nerves.
When you come from Flatland, Canada, a place with few freeways and no toll booths but high taxes (hmmm...so how come our roads are so lousy compared to theirs?), a place you've lived most of your life that you know like the back of your hand...
...And you pile into a car to navigate some of the busiest and most congested freeways, highways and byways of one of the most densely populated areas in North America, you just might have a little trepidation.
It's called ChicagoLand, for gawd's sake. It's another world from what I'm used to.
Long and short of it is, I had the toll booth thingy all worked out on my route.
Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and had to double back about 20 miles to get the correct turnoff for Joliet.
I had to go through two more tolls (unmanned ones) than I planned for. I ran out of change. But I couldn't pull over to get more change.
I'm on about a 360-lane freeway with bumper to bumper traffic at rush hour.
I have some Canadian change, but not enough American change. As I inch up towards the big collector thingie, I try to throw in some Canadian change with the American change I have left.
It won't register as paid.
I quickly jump out of my rental car, run to the guy behind me, explain I'm a stupid Canajun and offer him $5 American for the proper American change -- 40 cents!
Before he can say anything, and with horns blaring at this idiotic, pathetic driver they're all being forced to wait for, I put the fiver in his hands.
Dumbfounded, he reluctantly gives me his change, I run back to my car, toss it in the collector thingie and drive off.
I'm convinced that's where they got me.
I think the collector thingie didn't properly register the amount of change I threw in -- or I did something else wrong -- and so for not paying that 40-cent toll, I'm being dinged $45.40.
What's that, more than a 1,000-per-cent surcharge? I'm terrible at math, but I know it's a lot.
Hopefully the one thing you CAN read on that bill is right at the bottom: BOO HOO!