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, where 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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