What Did You Expect?

“It’s here!”

Mandy came running into the house, waving a letter in the air. Levar looked up from reading the news and forced a smile. They’d been waiting for this day for months… hopeful for some good news, but mostly dreading it.

Mandy plopped down on the couch next to Levar, poring over the letter. Her hope faded. A frown lit in its place. Even this was but a torch held aloft in distant warning. The firestorm of her eventual grimace was almost too much for Levar to bear.

“So… how bad is it?”

“It’s bad.”

Mandy let the letter fall into her lap. She was lost in thought. How would they move money around to make the commute work? How early would they have to get up in the morning if they couldn’t afford the fast lane? They’d moved to this suburb to have an affordable, high-quality of life. The neighbors were kind. But the jobs were downtown, and that was their life. Get up in the morning. Commute 45 minutes. Work a day. Commute home. If there was an accident, add 15 minutes to the commute either way.

She hadn’t even realized she dropped the letter. Levar snatched it up. “Well… I’ll be shitted.”

“We shouldn’t have bought that Tayata,” Mandy lamented.

Levar grunted. “It was a good investment. It’s a good car. We needed that car.”

“I know, but…”

Her voice just faded away.

The letter made it clear. The interstate highway upon which they depended for a speed commute had been carved up by a bunch of companies. Hondo Motor Company owned the stretch that went halfway to downtown from their house; the other half was owned by Chrestler. The latter wasn’t a surprise; they had their big headquarters downtown. They were always buying this or that and branding the hell out of it. When the feds sold off the interstate highways to private companies, ending their era of regulation of these precious open freeways, everyone in the metroplex knew Chrestler would grab up something.

All the companies had taken to installing the lane radio markers right away. They had some clever process for getting them into the roadways every half-mile or so, and they did it over a month’s worth of nights in what seems like no real time at all. Cars already had transmitters with unique codes¬† (good for theft and tracking purposes, the car companies told us). The combination was inevitable. Now that car companies owned the on-ramps, off-ramps, and all the lanes in between, everyone knew what was coming: progressive lane tolling.

“Why did we buy a fucking Tayata? They don’t own shit anywhere we normally go.”

Mandy was past depression and into the standard “losing your shit” phase. Levar was muttering aloud. “Slow lane is fifty cents a mile if you own a Hondo, five cents more a mile for any other make. Lanes increase in price to the fast lane by 10 cents per mile. Add five more cents a mile for other makes.”

“Chrestler is worst. They own everything close to downtown. It will cost even more once we get halfway to work.”

Levar dropped the letter too. This was the last goodbye from the feds as they abandoned interstate highway regulation. Congress had ceded by law the ownership of highways to private companies. The sales happened fast and furious. The plans went from general tolling to lane-tolling. Want to drive fast? Pay more. Want to drive a car not owned by the company in charge of your highway? Pay more.

“This is shit. This is fuck shit.”

Mandy was losing it. Levar was doing the math now, too.

“We’ll car pool,” he said.

“Everyone is going to try that. We can sell seats in our car but we only have two seats to sell. It will be a race to the bottom to sell seats to get money for the tolling. We’ll wind up giving them away just to get tolling money.”

“Shit.”

They sat in silence for a while. The house creaked, but no other sounds met them. They weren’t listening, anyway. All they heard was the blood rushing in their ears.

“What did we expect?” Levar asked, breaking the silence.

Mandy looked at him. Levar pressed on.

“They did this to the internet. Remember? Want to visit Goggle instead of the search page that pays that cable company? Pay more for your bits. Want to use Factbook instead of Tweeter to talk? Pay more. Want to visit Netshows instead of our streaming site? Pay more.¬† Made cable companies billions.

It was only a matter of time before somebody tried this bull in the real world.”

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