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Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: True-life tales from a toll evader

By From page A2 | January 09, 2014

“Immediate Attention Required — Official FasTrak Notice” said the red banner on the outside envelope I received unexpectedly from the “Violation Processing Center” in San Francisco.
Not having a FasTrak pass because I rarely visit San Francisco, I figured this must be some sort of sales pitch until I read further and learned it was from the “Violation Processing Center.” Now they had my attention.
What and how and where did I “violate” something? I did have a dream about the Bay Bridge shortly before it reopened, but it was uneventful and did not involve me violating any regulations.
My only real memory of the Bay Bridge is from that infamous October day back in 1989 when I crossed it on my way to cover the Bay Bridge World Series between the Giants and the A’s, only to learn shortly after my arrival at Candlestick Park that a section of the bridge had failed during a powerful earthquake that struck just minutes before the call went out to “Play ball.” At that point, I doubted I’d ever see Davis again.
I figured it was highly unlikely I had committed a violation on the bridge 24 years ago, and even if I had, I suspected the statute of limitations had already run out.
“NOTICE OF TOLL EVASION” said the ominous words that greeted me as I tore the letter from its envelope. The letter included a sinister-looking black-and-white snapshot of the front grill and license plate of a Honda Odyssey, virtually indistinguishable from the 10,132 other Honda Odysseys cruising the streets of Davis.
I ran outside to see if the license plate letters and numbers on the Honda Odyssey in the driveway matched the license plate letters and numbers of the Honda Odyssey in the photograph from Toll Evasion headquarters. (No, I do not automatically know what our license plate says and routinely lie when I’m asked for such information when checking into a motel on vacation.)
When I discovered the license plate on the violation and the license plate in our driveway were indeed a match, I quickly realized I had some explaining to do.
Because this was a serious violation — an “evasion” apparently — the letter ran to three pages. It was on the third and final page where I read that the Honda in question crossed the Golden Gate Bridge — not the Bay Bridge — at 12:56 on the afternoon of Aug. 17, a Saturday.
Now, you should know that this aging Odyssey has never been particularly nimble, even in its prime. The thought of it roaring through the toll plaza and maneuvering around the toll takers is comical in the extreme. Except this wasn’t funny.
To be honest, I couldn’t remember much about where I was on Aug. 17 or what I was doing on that day, but I do know where I wasn’t. I wasn’t in San Francisco. I wasn’t on the Golden Gate Bridge and I did not evade a toll booth.
I showed the letter to the Red-Headed Girl of My Dreams and, after a few seconds of thought, she realized Aug. 17 was the day she had driven her 18-year-old niece, visiting from Connecticut, to San Francisco to begin her freshman year at USF.
So the law-breaking van was indeed in San Francisco on the day in question.
Furthermore, my sweetheart noted, they don’t physically collect tolls anymore when you cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead, apparently, they send you a bill. While I don’t recall ever seeing such a bill, she says she did give it to me when it arrived in the mail, perhaps while I was watching football on television and not paying much attention to the arrival of a $6 demand.
“If this is your first violation, you may pay the toll only by opening a FasTrak or License Plate account within 30 days of the notice date,” said the NOTICE OF TOLL EVASION.
Fine, but that word “only” is a bit problematic. Are they saying the “only” way to avoid 25 years to life is to open a FasTrak or License Plate account within 30 days, or are they saying I can pay just the toll (the toll only) in this manner and avoid the fine? In any event, I hope they use the money I send them to hire a good proofreader.
In addition to cleaning up the “only” confusion, I’d suggest they take “toll evasion” out of the letter as well. There was no way for my sweetheart to pay the toll on the Saturday in question. And my setting aside an unexpected bill for $6 and then forgetting about it altogether in the heat of the college football season is hardly an “evasion” either.
Welcome to San Francisco. Hope you enjoy your stay.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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