On a hot, humid, overbearing Summer’s day, in late July of 1967, I was standing in my cubby hole of a booth, working my Summer job collecting quarters for the Governor on the Atlantic Beach bridge on Long Island. I was dutifully filling in my time. There was a lull in the traffic going to the beach, and I was able to escape for a few moments, my normal lusting after the beautiful girls driving by in convertibles. They were off to have a fun filled day of lying in the sand while bronzing themselves to the cool sounds of “Cousin Brucie.”
Everything was as it should be. America was innocent, yet preeminent. The world seemed fun and full of adventure. My life was filled with girls, cherry pie and coconut cake, and the issues that perplexed me were simple and immediate.
All of the sudden my reverie was broken by the sounds of blaring police sirens. There must have been twenty black, unmarked sedans that appeared out of nowhere, all blaring their sirens and in rapid order pulled up to the station house that was adjacent to the tollbooths. Immediately, as my hearing was slowly returning to normal, out popped at least twenty to thirty serious looking men, wearing FBI jackets, all running with guns extended into the station house. What an entrance!
Oh my God! Nothing like this had happened before. I was sure I must have done something wrong. My lusting over the girls must have become public. They were here to arrest me for indecent thoughts. I couldn’t think of anything else I had done wrong.
On a few occasions my counting had been slightly off by 50 cents at the end of the day, but this couldn’t be the reason to send so many agents. My 50-cent discrepancy couldn’t be worth all this trouble. I promised myself I would personally pay whatever I was off. It couldn’t be more than one or two dollars for the whole summer. As I was preparing to be pulled away in handcuffs, the FBI agents along with some elderly toll collectors came out of the building. I noticed that all these permanent (non-summer) toll collectors were being handcuffed. Some FBI agents were walking down the long expanse of collection booths and were pulling out all the full-time collectors. When they came by my booth, they barely looked at me and kept walking.
At the end of the hour, they had collected almost all the men and a few women who were full-time and led them to a van in handcuffs and departed as rapidly as they came.
I had been spared for all the things I thought I had done wrong. I seemed to have survived whatever happened and finally was able to take a breath and go back to eating my chicken salad sandwich.
When I finally got off work at the end of the day, the sergeant inside the station told me what had happened. It seemed like almost every full-time employee had been arrested and taken away.
This is what I was told on that hot summer’s late afternoon. The tolls were collected based on the number of axels. A car had two axels and was charged 25 cents. If a large truck came through with four axels, it should have been charged 50 cents for it’s axels, plus an additional dollar or two based on its weight. So a truck could be charged $1.50 to $2.50. It seems though for years, these employees had been putting trucks through as two cars (four axels) and keeping the additional money they collected for the weight, for themselves. Over the years, I was told they had taken from our beloved Governor, hundreds of thousands of dollars, which had just now caught up with them. Obviously it’s not fun to steal from New York State, for as I understood, they all went to jail.
Life continued on at the tollbooth. They hired new collectors who were all read the Riot Act. The summer went lazily along with me collecting quarters and enjoying the view. I ate my share of cherry pie on the beach, got burnt to a crisp, swam in the cool salty water of the ocean, and loved my life for the moment. The beach for me was a place where life stood still, at least for the moment. It was a place where the normal rules of the anxieties that fill life were removed. The summer’s I spent as a boy on the beach I was able to undress my anxieties and let the young innocent boy I was come out.