Scaryduck's recent mention of his encounter
with one of Dorset's finest brings to mind one of my favourite exchange of views with a professional denizen of the road.
It was towards the end of my six years of punishment working as a toll booth operator at the world's finest tolled river crossing and pub quiz question* (occasional visitor to these pages, Andy, is still in harness there. Unusually, he still has several brain cells left and functioning. Andy, hello and kung hei fat choy). I was shortly going to be leaving the crossing and emigrating oop north so was in that state of mind whereby I didn't really give a toss but, to be fair, despite my usual placid demeanour it wasn't unknown for me to become slightly impatient with the occasional threat to the gene pool that appeared from time to time. There was a rumour about that we were allowed to use whatever force was deemed to be reasonable if threatened or attacked and that the police would turn a blind eye as the universal excuse could be used, this being that we could maim and kill because we were protecting our takings. Needless to say, very few operators could be bothered as it was easier to slide the window shut, lock the back door and turn your radio up if things got a bit lary.
In the road surface is an electromagnetic loop that counts wheel passes and thus, the back of the vehicle thereby cancelling the previous transaction, resetting the computer and bringing the barrier down. The operator can over-ride or "gate" but this is only used in exceptional circumstances such as a vehicle on blues or a very long wheelbase or rigid towing-bar, both of which could fool the system into thinking the vehicle's gone, bringing the barrier down on the passing vehicle. Some unscrupulous drivers would attempt to tailgate the previous vehicle but this required extremely good timing. Get it wrong or come up against a particularly alert operator who could usually tell what was about to happen and would ask the paying driver to drive away very slowly, and you'd look very foolish. Especially as an operator having to get out of his booth to replace the barrier was usually very upset at being disturbed from his reverie.
Anybody who uses tolls will be familiar with tags. These are screen mounted transponders that operate the barrier automatically as you approach. What drivers don't appreciate is that the operator needs to tell the computer what kind of vehicle is approaching so that the correct amount can be deducted from their account. Depending on the speed of the operator and providing the tag was mounted in the correct place so it could be seen by the readers, a driver with the correct tag would sail through completely unhindered. However as criminality is endemic in Essex, it wasn't unknown for small commercial operators from Basildon or Romford to put a car tag in a van, thinking they could get away with paying the cheaper toll. We'd done our best to mention in the terms and conditions of use that this wasn't de rigeur and actually constituted fraud but as everyone knows, much of the population of Essex thrives solely on urban myth and and the oral tradition, as reading is for poofters. What fun we could have.
There was one particularly obnoxious truck driver who thought that having a tag in his cab made him lord and master of all tarmac. He was in a perpetual hurry and his favourite trick was to tailgate the car in front and expect the barrier to stay up for him. Instead, he was forever having the barrier crash into his screen because we never had enough time to classify him. In short, he was a complete and utter tosser. Not only that, he was blessed with an incredibly short temper and delighted in screaming at us. We could have made his life hell had he given us time to do it but he was doing a pretty good job himself anyway.
One day I was working south plaza, off the bridge into Kent. I was in the middle of the plaza, around lane 20, traditionally one of the busiest for commercials. A little old lady had pulled in and as she paid she asked me a question. I couldn't hear her so I leaned out. I still couldn't hear her so I got out and bent down to hear her ask for directions. I was vaguely aware of a lorry behind but no problem, he could wait, this would take seconds. As I bent forward the full blast of multiple air horns rent the air apart around us. And again. I don't know if you've stood in front of a set of air horns as they've gone off but it's not at all pleasant. And neither was I now. I looked up and recognised the driver immediately. Realising my chance to exact some kind of revenge, I excused myself, strolled purposefully up to the truck, hauled myself up via his mirror and yelled something mildly admonitory at him**, went back, gave my directions and sent the lady on her way. By now the truck had hauled itself right up behind the car so the inevitable happened. He took the barrier off and, laughingly managed to stall his wagon. I got out to retrieve the barrier and take the driver's tag so I could show it to the reader pads, as he'd already passed them. This was a quick-fix we used and 99.999% of drivers accepted that they'd made a mistake, not us, and were soon on their way into the glory that is North Kent. Not this one though, he had a point to prove and was determined to carry it through.
"I'm going to flipping***
put you on your back, you four-eyed jerk***
" he said all angrily like. And loudly. His threat was not without a hint of hubris as this time, he'd met his nemesis.
"Come on then," I invited even louder, and beckoned him down. "Flipping***
try it." I had seen exactly what was likely to happen, shit for brains in his cab, hadn't, the scent of blood clouding his already under-taxed senses. But by this time I couldn't have cared, as I was wielding the barrier, an exquisitely balanced eight foot length of padded carbon fibre pole with a 10lb lump of aluminium on the end, like a baseball bat and felt pretty safe. The driver's door clicked open and there was a satisfying yell: "You kaaaaahhhhnnntt" and an even more satisfying crunch as his door hit an obstacle; an obstacle I'd already seen, hence my upbeat confidence. Nowadays I do believe the pad readers are mounted in the overhead canopy, back then they were on a pole; a pole of between 8 and 10 feet in height and the pad readers were about the size of dinner plates. Park next to one in your Scania and you can try as hard as you like, you won't get your door open. And what's more, you'll damage the pads and I've got your index number. He drove away, shouting. Oh how I LOLed.
*The pub quiz question: "What is the country's longest peripheral motorway?"
Wrong! I think it's the M60 around Manchester. The M25 doesn't go all the way round London, it has a beginning and end. The bit across the river between Dartford and Thurrock is called the A282. I know because I worked in the middle of it.
**Included several swears.
***Coronation St style stunt swearing used here. The much ruder and more full-blooded Anglo-Saxon alternatives were originally used.