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The Tollbooth Lady – I

Perhaps you’ve heard that early in my career, I performed as a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus clown.  I stay in touch with the old crew for perspective and laughs.  I hope you’ll get both when you read this story shared by clown, Craig Ruben:

The first time I saw the old lady at the tollbooth, I thought to myself she must be miserable. I paid her the $1.00 toll. Whereas most of the toll takers in New Hampshire are friendly, saying “Good Morning,” “Thank-you,” or “Have a nice day,” this lady gave nothing, not even a smile. She simply took my dollar.

I drove off, polluted by her negative energy, and spent the rest of the day trying to shake off her bad karma. The next day, having forgotten about The Mean One, I drove through that tollbooth again.  To my disappointment, there she was, again. This time, I gave her a 20 dollar bill and she actually sneered at me. I could see her talking to herself under her breath, “why do people give me 20 dollar bills, can’t these stupid people just give a dollar so I don’t have to make change?”

Commuting to and from work every day, I learned over time that she normally works on the north bound side during my evening drive, but doesn’t work every night.

A week or two went by without a single sighting, and then one evening, there she was. I made a quick mental note not to go through lane 2 in the future. In fact, I avoided lane 2 for quite some time, noticing that lane 1 always seemed to be busier than her lane.  I wondered, “Am I not the only one who despises and avoids her?”

Then one day it dawned on me. I was once a real bonafide clown.  I graduated from Clown College in 1982 and worked with several famous names in the circus. If anyone could make the old lady at the tollbooth smile, I could. So, I made it my mission.

I decided to go through her lane every night.  There she was, my captive audience. Instead of my being her victim, she was going to be a victim of my clowning skills. So, as I gave her my dollar bill, I slowed down enough, and I mustered up the biggest clown smile I could give her. She looked at me strangely.  Clearly, I had caught her off guard. The look on her face said, “who is this guy smiling at me and why?”

The following night, another big smile….and so it went on, without uttering a word. Finally she caught on. I was no longer a faceless commuter going through her booth, but a friendly face.  In time, she smiled back, said “hello,” and even asked me how I was. One time when she asked after me, I admitted to feeling grumpy and miserable. She smiled and with a gentle laugh she said “me too.”

Since I took matters into my own hands, I no longer despise my toll booth lady. Instead, we smile at each other and exchange pleasantries.  Maybe she just needed a friendly face….and I needed a reminder that I am a Clown.

Stay tuned for part two!

2 thoughts on “The Tollbooth Lady – I”

  1. An interesting story… waiting for part two. I’m tempted to start a regional competition by noting that we have some very happy toll-takers here in Maine.

    That leads me to my actual point… while converting the occasional crab is a laudable project, how interesting is it that the negative became the focus? How much energy do we give the happy ones?

    Just askin’!

    1. Susan Landay says:

      Good question. Probably, the answer is “never enough”!

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