A sweltering 4 p.m. at 8:15 and A. I’m sitting in a stranger’s camp recovering from the heat – they have been kind enough to mist me and offer water. Across the street, I see something funny.
A young man and woman – in their early 20s if they were a day – have opened up a toll plaza at the side of the road. They have a surprisingly realistic toll booth, including an arm that rises and lowers mechanically, that the young woman is manning, while the young man is out in the street in a cap and uniform demanding that bicyclists and pedestrians going one way stop and pay the toll.
It’s a classic bit, and well executed. But, I think, they could use a couple of pro-tips. The first one is that if you’re going to pull this off you really have to commandeer a part of the road. Having their toll booth off to the side makes it too easy to ignore – and you really should have more than one person in the middle of the street trying to stop traffic. I don’t mean to sound preachy on this, but trust me, it makes all the difference.
The second tip I offer to him as I step out of the shade and into the line to pay the toll: you need to give people a reason to stop beyond just the fact that a toll exists. Believe it or not it really makes a difference to some people. “Come on you guys,” I shout at some bicyclists ignoring the bit. “The toll supports the roads! If you want roads at Burning Man, you’ve got to pay the toll! Come on, how else can they maintain the roads?”
He gives me a look and picks it up immediately, adding it to his patter. “Toll for road maintenance!” he calls out. “Traffic going this way needs to pay the toll so that Burning Man can have roads next year!”
The kid’s good, I think. Got a promising future.
Standing in line, I see what the “toll” is. You have to display a talent. The young woman behind the booth is great at coaxing the people who have stopped into dancing, or singing, or doing a flip. This is a great bit, and I start thinking about what I’ll do when my turn comes up.
“Road toll!” the young man shouts. “All traffic going in this direction has to stop! Don’t you want to support the roads in Black Rock City?”
Then a cop car … going this direction … pulls up and stops right next to him. The officer rolls downy the window and leans out of it.