McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

October 17, 2011

Letter to the editor: Pay toilet in McAlester?

By Butch Garrett
Springfield, MO

McALESTER — Editor: My wife and I hadn’t visited a Mexican border town in about 10 years so we stopped in Nuevo Laredo on our vacation travels. This visit’s amusing item was an aerosol can of blessings. A typical spray can with the label of a Christ-like figure containing “Blessings.” How convenient. I wished I had bought a few cans to spray blessings on my family, friends, pets, home and car.

Less entertaining was the pay toilet in a Mexican shopping center. The facility was not posted or priced but I was informed of my 35 cent purchase upon leaving the restroom. I chalked it up as a typical Mexican scam for tourists.

For the past 30 years, we’ve usually made at least two round trips through Oklahoma each year and appreciate the highways even if the poor people of Oklahoma have to charge for them. This trip we came up from Paris, Texas, and planned on spending the night in Muskogee, a wonderful little city. I cheerfully paid the toll at Hugo and headed for McAlester. I didn’t understand why we would have to pay another $1.75 for such a short trip to begin with and we were exiting within yards of the toll booth. My toll booth attendant became animated and arrogant that I would dare ask such a question. He informed me that the $1.75 was for the last 25 miles I drove.

Do you see the great similarity to the Nuevo Laredo pay toilet scam? Less than cheerfully, I paid the $1.75.

Feeling duped, my vacation plans did change. Typically, our overnight stays cost about $200 for gas, food, lodging and shopping. It was no problem to leave Oklahoma without spending another dime excluding toll fees. The state coffers and the local economy would have been far ahead had I spent the $200 in Muskogee as planned.

Does it make any sense to alienate travelers with pockets full of cash and credit cards for a measly $1.75? If only 10,000 visitors at that exit realize and respond to this literal highway robbery as I did, that’s a $2,000,000 error in judgment for Oklahoma.

I see two solutions to this problem. The most sensible, simple solution is to not charge travelers to exit at McAlester but that makes sense and is too easy, right? Solution number two involves my next trip to Mexico. I will buy aerosol cans of “Brains” and “Conscious” to be delivered to the executive offices of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.