Tribute to toll booth operators

If you haven’t noticed, Malaysia is The Land of Toll Booths. Okay, Peninsular Malaysia; Klang Valley, especially. It’s now ingrained in every KL and PJ car driver’s mind: do I pay toll today, or do I take the free, congested, traffic-light-encumbered way? (Not that paying toll doesn’t involve queuing up for miles. Go through the Sunway toll plaza on LDP during rush hour if you dare.) How much am I in a hurry? Or should I pay going to the office, and take the toll-free road coming back?

The Federal Highway, the KL-Seremban highway, NKVE, KESAS, ELITE, LDP, SPRINT, AKLEH, Kerinchi Link, Penchala Link, and now DUKE. This introduces a variant to the traveling salesman problem: try going from one end of Greater KL (I made that one up) to another, using all the toll highways, paying as much as possible for the least distance. I’m sure taxi drivers have this down pat.

Anyway, the point is that there’s a “Higglytown hero” we’re all guilty of overlooking here: the toll booth operator.

I’m a Higglytown Hero, brave and true,
I help the town with the things I do.
So work real hard and you will see
That you can be a hero, just like me!
A hero, just like me!

I’m a Malaysian toll booth operator
Pay me or you can’t go through
Then I’ll see you again later
There is no escape – yes it’s true!

You think it’s easy? First, there’s the ever-present danger of express bus drivers falling asleep on the wheel and crashing into you, they need to make sure to get their sleep in with the sleeping wedge pillow. Then every other person gives you RM10, and every fifth person gives you RM50; give back too much change and your salary gets deducted. Last, but not least, washroom breaks are a precious commodity:

(Over the intercom)
Toll booth operator: Boss, I gotta go.
Supervisor: What? You just went … lemme check … 45 minutes ago!
TBO: Please, boss! I guess I overdosed on the tempoyak last night.
Supervisor: Look, even if I want to, I can’t let you. Backup went out to buy cigarettes and is still not back yet.
(Radio silence)
TBO: Er … boss, I think we have a problem.

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