Kindness on the Road

April 10, 2017

Sophie Bernstein, 17, is a high school junior from St. Louis, Missouri. Sophie is passionate about service learning and is an active volunteer in her community. Along with her siblings, Sophie helps to maintain and update, an organization that engages and promotes youth service and she oversees, an initiative to build raised vegetable garden beds in the St. Louis region. Sophie enjoys playing softball for her high school team.

My dad, a thrifty Midwesterner, will tell you that one of the best things about living in the middle of the country is that one does not have to pay tolls to drive on the roads, bridges and majors highways. One can easily sense his irritation when he approaches any tollbooth when driving down the East Coast.

The first time I drove with my family to visit my grandmother in Florida, I was even startled by the vast number of tollbooths that lined entrance ways to major roads and bridges. My dad would always mention his frustration at every single tollbooth, not only for the fee but also for the time it took to have slow down and stop to pay the toll. He always chose the exact change lane since it tends to be shorter, throwing the exact amount into the automated machine so we could quickly continue on our trip.

At the last tollbooth on our most recent family vacation, my dad realized he did not have the exact change for the toll. He was frustrated realizing that we would have to wait in the long line of cars that were also waiting to receive change from the tollbooth worker. Sensing his frustration, I dug through the seats, under the car mats, and even in the glove compartment to search for the exact change without success. We were all hoping we could avoid waiting in that long line of cars that looked like it stretched on for miles. By this point, after a long ten-hour road trip, we were exhausted, crabby, and just wanted to reach our final destination.

When we finally reached the toll worker, he shared that the kind driver in the truck in front of us already paid our toll. The tollbooth employee explained that the past 12 cars had “paid it backwards,” each paying for the toll for the car behind them. Immediately, the frustration and stress of waiting in the long line dissipated for all of us.

My dad then eagerly paid the toll for the car behind us and to this day continues to pay for the car behind us at every toll. According to studies, doing small acts of kindness may lower your stress level. This simple act of kindness definitely started a new trend for my family at tollbooths. Whenever any member of my family sees a tollbooth ahead, we continue the tradition started on our vacation a few years ago, and always gladly pay the toll for the car behind us, spreading simple and random acts of kindness on the roads.