TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- You would think the days of a bridge toll taker are solitary and lonely. And dull. Not so, says Dwayne Redman and Henry Gregorio, veteran toll-takers who work at the Tappan Zee Bridge booth.
"It's just the opposite," says Redman, tearing up as he readies himself for the last three weeks he, and about 60 of his colleagues, will spend at the bridge toll plaza. Starting April 23, passengers will sail through the de-manned, de-activated toll plaza, paying instead through a cashless system. The entire toll booth will be razed. All the Tappan Zee toll-takers have been reassigned to either Yonkers, New Rochelle, or Harriman.
Redman, who is relocating to New Rochelle, is grateful he didn't lose his job during the construction of the New Tappan Zee Bridge. But he is sad, too, because over the years he's built real relationships with motorists who go by every day.
"I've been invited to cook-outs," he said. "I've been given Christmas presents. I love to wave at the children."
E-ZPass, too, has diluted interaction between toll-takers and motorists, but there's more human interaction that we realize.
"People have the impression toll-takers are unfriendly," he said. "But it's not so. We develop relationships. We get to know people."
The life of a toll-taker is not dull either. Sure there are just stretches of time when they're in the booth, passing time with a radio or a book on tape. Over time, toll takers witness a fair share of drama including cars on fire, jack-knifed tractor-trailers, high-speed chases and hit-and-runs.
And let's not forget celebrity encounters.
Gregorio, a 22-year toll veteran, met Keanu Reeves, who was playing a toll-taker in a film, "Henry's Crime." Reeves wanted Gregorio to make him understand the mind-set of a toll-taker.
"It was great," said Gregorio. "He spent a lot of time with us. He bought us breakfast. He took notes. He wanted to hear what I had to say."
Gregorio, who says "my name in Henry, like the river," admits he'll miss the beautiful river vistas when he is reassigned to New Rochelle. "You should see this place at sunset."
Both Redman and Gregorio can see their own retirement on the horizon. Redman plans to collect tolls until he can spend his days fishing and bowling.
The real question to ponder is this: In our highly automated, digital world, how long will it be before toll-takers go the way of eight-track cassette tape?
No one knows.
"Toll takers," Gregorio says, with a long pause. "It's not a job for the future."
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