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  • Kathy used to bring ice chips to work to share with all the other collectors. She'd pack them in one of those small, red coleman coolers meant for camping or beach trips -- and ride in with them in the passenger seat, like human organs traveling to meet their new placements. Kathy drove a 2005 double beige Saturn with a blanket in the back to either protect the interior or the back seat passengers, I never could tell which.

    Toll booths in summertime are exactly what you'd expect. You do your best. You bring in fans and bottled water. But in the end its still a metal box on an expanse of tarmac. So Kathy would bring in ice chips and pass them around the booths. The ice chips always tasted like menthol on account of Kathy's camel habit. But we'd take them anyway and thank her like the maternal figure she was.

    Every collector has his own way of setting up the booth. It's not a lot of space to work with, but more than most people think. You start with the standards: A mini fan. Dunkins and The Boston Herald. This is more of a matter of allegiance than actual personal preference. Although it's probably a preference for guys like Benny. You could never bring a Boston Globe into the booths. One - it's not practical. There is no reasonable way to unfold a broadsheet paper in the booths. And two - The Herald was built for guys like us. They work at it. You know that somewhere in the offices of One Herald Square there's a team of marketers just trying to put themselves in our heads. Sports. Local Politics. Everything else. In that order. They try hard, so we take the bait.

    In addition to the standards, Kathy's booth had romance novels, two or three built up over years, and a couple of photos of the beach taped to the inside window. Kathy decorated her booth like a cubicle. I used to imagine what kind of an office job she would have had. Accounts payable maybe or an office manager. Something that would require focus and smarts, but not extensive overtime.
    My booth was more impersonal. No pictures. Though I did have an unread copy of the infinite jest laying around and a radio dusted off from my father's garage. I could have brought in an mp3 player and some of those mini iHome speakers everybody has, but I chose not to. There was something I liked about tuning my radio to a single station and feeling flashes of camaraderie when a passing radio snapped into sync with my own. Plus, l liked the scratched familiarity of the DJs voices. We all have our affinities

    [a segment of a longer story ]
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