It was a wonderful night until I tried to leave New Jersey.
I’d read my short story “Chokepoint” at the Walt Whitman Arts Center in Camden, and I’d heard sharp, witty poems by West Coast transplant Seve Torres and a virtuosically funny short story by Violet LeVoit, from her collection I Am Genghis Cum.
Everybody was there, even my blogger friend Susan Madrak, an avid Phillies fan who could have stayed home and watched the game but is probably glad she didn’t. (The Cardinals won.)
Heading back to Philly, I got as far as the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge and realized I didn’t have enough cash to pay the toll, which is up to five dollars. The attendant at the toll booth I approached told me no debit cards or vouchers, they don’t do that sort of thing in Jersey.
Her preternatural calm rattled me. She had belladonna eyes and wore large silver earrings and silver eye makeup and speckles of silver paint on her cheeks. Her voice was barely audible. It’s not even Halloween yet.
My only option was to go back to Camden and get cash, the attendant whispered. I tried arguing with her and reached for my wallet to show her my ID. When I looked up she had vanished, but the gate had been raised so that I could loop back around to the city of the dead.
Two cop cars were parked not far from the tollbooths. I knew they’d be on me in seconds if I tried to cross the bridge, so I swerved to the right and took Lonely Avenue to Tombstone Boulevard, which brought me to Nowhere Road and then to 30 East, where I found a gas station convenience store with an ATM. You don’t know the meaning of “desolate” unless you’ve tried to get from here to there in South Jersey at night.
My second attempt to cross the bridge went smoothly. The attendant was a big, smiling woman. I said to her, “It’s no accident, is it, that you can drive into New Jersey for free but you have to pay to get back out.”
“Have a nice night,” she said after I handed her the cash.