On the New Jersey Turnpike, cars, road, and people have
converged to create stories that are intensely human and personal—like
the story of toll collector John Hechler.
Hechler saw his everyday transactions with drivers as
opportunities to make them smile. In his tollbooth at Interchange 8A,
he prominently displayed a stuffed animal he named “Spuds McKenzie”
(after the dog that appeared in the popular 1980s BudLight© commercial).
Hechler dressed “Spuds” festively, according to the season
or holiday. Before long, drivers hoping to catch a glimpse of Spuds vied
for “his” lane, creating a community of drivers with Hechler’s
tollbooth as its village center. Ultimately, though, the Turnpike Authority’s
interest in speed took higher priority: concerned about moving as many
vehicles through the tollbooth as fast as possible, Hechler’s supervisors
asked him to remove the dog.