Commentary: Feeling like Mitt on the freeway of life

The Miami HeraldOctober 2, 2012 

Oh, those vulgar masses, creeping along I-95 in their funky Corollas and Civics and Chevys, trapped in the torpor of common folk traffic, while I zip along in the Lexus lane.

That’s me, busting the speed limit and reveling in my 10 minutes of upper-class superiority. Commercial-free rock n’ roll booms from my pay-to-listen satellite radio, cranked up at a volume high enough to drown out any cursing from my lessers. No doubt those ragamuffins, incarcerated in four stagnant lanes of unmoving automobiles, are consumed with class hatred. But a fellow like me can hardly resist the toll lanes, where a refugee of the great hillbilly diaspora can throw off the chains of class distinction for a mere $3, registered on my transponder, automatically deducted from my credit card.

While the freeloaders and moochers and the 47 percenters sit seething , I’m speeding, leaving the rabble in sluggish traffic and my egalitarian values back on the freeway. It’s all I can do to keep from waving bye-bye as I zoom along. Makes me feel so very Mitt.

Nothing captures the spirit of the new two-tiered America like the go-fast pay lanes we’re adding to clogged-up freeways, with variable tolls calculated by the amount of misery suffered over in the proletariat lanes. We like to call this “congestion pricing,” because that sounds so much better than, “See ya, peon.”

The Florida Department of Transportation loves the concept of two classes of commuters (the princes and the paupers) so much that it’s extending the I-95 toll lanes up out of Miami-Dade County to Fort Lauderdale. Meanwhile, contractors are building three reversible toll lanes along I-595 between I-95 and the western reaches of Broward County. In central Florida, Lexus lanes will soon give the privileged a fast alternative to the horrors of I-4.

The I-4 pay lanes won’t shock residents in Orlando, where the Universal amusement parks have been exploiting those long, long lines by selling “express pass” packages to park patrons willing to pay money to jump ahead of those who won’t. The cost of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, according to the website, offers express passes “starting at $29.95,” which will be tacked onto the usual cost of admission. But apparently $29.95 won’t buy what $104 “priority access” passes buy. I guess “jump ahead” becomes a mighty leap.

Other amusement parks across the country have likewise made line-jumping a profitable enterprise. Six Flags offers the “flash pass” to flash by the waiting peasants. Legoland gets $179 for adults and $149 for kids for “premium passes.” (Old fashioned Disney World, however, still won’t charge for the FastPass.)

Airline passengers can pay $9 or $10 to leap ahead of ordinary folks waiting to board, a peculiar privilege given that everyone, even the poor, still arrives at the destination at the same time. (Perhaps the airlines should make the rest of us sit in the planes until the Lexus class disembarks and collects their luggage.) It must be the very status of the thing, the envy we all feel when the Zone One passengers troop past us and disappear down the jetway. That’s what 10 bucks gets you.

A few months ago, the budget-challenged Santa Monica College in California tried to wring a few extra bucks from our two-tiered society, deciding to charge $180 for high-demand classes while keeping less popular courses at $46 a unit. But students, with their quaint, naïve egalitarian notions, objected, with angry, rowdy demonstrations that had to be broken up with pepper stray. Finally, the state’s community college chancellor ordered the public community college to forget the notion of Lexus classes.

That’s just how you’d expect liberal California to react. In South Florida, the rich and the poor have long accepted their relative places in society. At least since the maître d’ at a certain, very famous stone crab restaurant began finding miracle tables, even during the supper rush, for diners who slipped him a very discreet $20.

It was that Miami Beach stone crab priority seating concept that eventually brought us those Lexus lanes out on I-95.

As for the poor, well, let them eat tilapia.

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