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LeBARON: End of an era for Golden Gate Bridge toll takers

People are expensive. They must go. That's the news from the Golden Gate Bridge.

I'm sure you saw or heard that in a month or so there will be no more human toll takers in their booths on the bridge.

That doesn't mean no toll, of course. It's just that technology is so much cheaper than warm bodies. Cameras and transponders and computerized mail do not require money for food and shelter, health care, a pension.

So it's “You there! You with the ‘Good morning' smile and the ‘Thanks' and the ‘Have a nice day.' You're outta here!”

Commuters used to be downright chummy with the people in the tollbooths. They'd line up for their favorite, bring them breakfast, Christmas presents and sometimes leave a tip.

I personally know of one who was more than just a favorite. He had a “regular” who commuted from Marin. She brought him coffee and donuts every morning. Once she got into the wrong line, paid her fare, turned around and drove back to Marin to come back through his line. Her dedication was rewarded. They've been married for 26 years.

A toll taker named Clemmy Mathis was a big favorite in the 1950s. He got more than his share of “gratuities.” Girls often left him T-shirts, panties, bras — and their phone numbers.

There was apparently something romantic about paying your 50 cents to the brother of singer Johnny Mathis.

I'VE KNOWN a few toll takers in my time. A lot of Sonoma Valley residents worked on the bridge; some were classmates at Sonoma High.

Ray McGill is one of them. Ray is retired, lives in Novato and spent 14 years “in the lanes” as he terms it — and another 18 as a sergeant in the bridge patrol.

Like all toll takers, Ray has stories to tell. He remembers the height of the “pay for the guy behind you” fad when “some of the responses were funnier than heck.”

So were some of the things that drivers and passengers were doing besides driving as they came through the lane. He recalls a Friday night shift when a guy with his girl beside him pulled up and, as he handed over his fare, said “Wanna see something funny?”

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