Monday, August 3, 2009

Mysteries of the tollbooth

In a comment last month, I wrote that the streetside green boxes where United States Postal Service stores mail are “mysterious in the way that, say, a tollbooth’s interior is mysterious — most people haven’t seen what’s in there.”

I did some searching yesterday, and I stand by my analogy, having failed to find a single photograph revealing a tollbooth’s interior. The Life Photo Archive comes close — but the man talking on the telephone in this photograph is a chief, not a toll collector, and the photograph doesn’t reveal the booth’s contents, at least not to my satisfaction.

The mysteries here are ultra mundane, I know. But still I wondered: What’s the floor like? Is there a pad to ease standing? A step on which to rest one leg? In what sort of chair do sitting toll collectors sit? Is there heat? A clock? What keeps the booth from filling with exhaust fumes? And where, while I’m at it, do the ducks go when the lagoon in Central Park freezes?

Via Google Book Search, I found answers to some of these questions on page 35 of Albert E. Schaufler's Toll Plaza Design (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997). Three excerpts:

Booths typically are framed with a plate/rolled steel, stainless steel, or aluminum exterior and interior skin. Most walls are insulated. Most booths are equipped with electric under-the-counter heaters or hot water units. Air conditioning units are distributed equally between booth-mounted units and central systems. . . . Of 21 facilities that reported use of positive ventilation systems (systems that provide pressurized air to a booth to prevent contaminated air from being drawn into the booth), 15 draw fresh air from a remote location. . . .

The booth floor usually consists of concrete poured after the booth is installed in the toll island, covered by a rubber mat to cushion the hard surface, serve as a static protector, and reduce dampness. . . .

In some instances, unusual fixtures or furnishings can be found in booths such as chairs, portable TVs, toilets, sinks, and refrigerators. These booths are generally single-attendant facilities with no utility building. Such a booth, therefore, is sized and equipped to be a “toll house” rather than a toll booth.
I hope that you found yourself uttering the occasional ah or huh while reading these excerpts. Electric under-the-counter heaters: ah. Toilets: huh.

As you may already suspect, Toll Plaza Design does not provide a photograph of a tollbooth interior, much less a photograph of “unusual fixtures or furnishings.” No — all that the book offers is Figure 20, "Typical single-ended toll booth (for collection in one direction of travel)":

[Click for a larger view.]

The veil remains unparted.

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