I never signed up for the local FasTrak™ thing, even though it seems like it’d be right up my toll lane — it’s futuristic high technology of the future, using lasers and high-frequency cosmic rays to automatically detect your car; it’s tailored to absent-minded types; and it’d be another bill to pay. But I never drove over toll bridges enough to warrant it, and there’s something inexplicable that I just like about doing it the old-fashioned way: you stop, say hello, give a person some money, and there’s a 1% chance they’ll say hello back. Closest I get to Lake Woebegon Days and a simpler time.

When I worked in Berkeley and lived in Marin, I forgot my toll on the Richmond bridge a few times. They’d make me stop and fill out a little form, with all the cars behind me honking and giving me the finger and trying to get around me into another toll lane. (In my defense, there were a couple of times that I paid the toll for somebody behind me, after they asked me to). Still, no FasTrak™ for me.

By this time, it’s become kind of a philosophical issue. I don’t want it because I never had it. And when people try to sell me on it now (it’s easier, and it actually saves you money!) it just sounds to me like body snatchers or pod people.

And growing up in a household that flirted with fundamentalist Christianity off and on, I saw a lot of televangelists with a lot of wacky theories; one of the wackiest being that ATM cards and/or the UPC code were the Mark of the Beast prophesied in Revelations. Maybe some of that stuck with me, because while I’m fine with ATMs and actually think bar code scanners are neat, I’m still subconsciously averse to being part of a big government conspiracy in league with Satan.

So a couple of weeks ago, I was driving back to the city from Marin and got to the bridge before I realized I didn’t have money for the toll. It was late, so I wasn’t backing up traffic, and I just told the guy that I didn’t have any cash on me. Instead of making me fill out a form, he just said, “Okay, we’ll send you a bill.” I asked if I needed to do anything else, and he said that that was it.

I remember thinking at the time, well that’s progress. No hassle for people, and I just get a bill with a little fee tacked on, and the world returns to normal.

Today I got a “NOTICE OF TOLL EVASION” from the FasTrak™ customer service center. It had a photo of my offending vehicle and a reminder that “penalties or fees may be charged if the proper toll is not paid.” Fair enough, I thought, and I’ll just write a check for the five dollar bridge toll and the… twenty-five dollar toll evasion penalty!

That’s right, the penalty isn’t the 5-10 dollars it’s been in the past, but five times the bridge toll itself. The fast and courteous service of your Bay Area toll takers doesn’t come for free, apparently.

But wait! There’s still hope, thanks to the friendly folks at FasTrak™. If you’re a first-time violator, you can have your penalty waived, simply by opening a FasTrak™ account! Once lost as nothing but a mere deadbeat, I can find redemption for the mere cost of a $30 transponder that I affix to my dashboard and take with me wherever I go.

Hail Satan!