Friday, November 16, 2012

Drama at the Toll Booth: Border Control, Jobs, and Boring Work

by Mike Nelson

The Turkish film Toll Booth was shown on campus on November 7 as part of the Global Lens Film Series. Turkey is not a member of the European Union, yet Turkey is one of the most discussed countries in EU studies. Toll Booth depicted a man who was an exemplary toll booth employee until his father became sick. One day, the man freaked out at work and was consequently transferred to a distant toll booth that has little traffic in order to hide the man from the majority of the public.

While watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think of border control in the EU. One of the most commonly cited successes of the EU is that Europeans can travel without passports throughout the EU, and all EU citizens can seek employment anywhere in the EU. This is called the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area makes internal travel easier, but it also places more importance on protecting the EU’s external border. Many immigrants, both legal and illegal, now just need to find some way to get in the EU and can then move around freely. For example, Italy struggles with protecting its border. The United Kingdom has refused to join the Schengen Area because of these security concerns.

Toll booths can be connected to many political issues. Many toll booth employee positions have been cut in the last two decades because of improving technology. There are toll booth unions that fight against layoffs and for better pay. Governments worldwide invest in infrastructure, such as major highways that require toll payments, to create jobs. In Illinois, tolls are now more expensive if you pay in cash instead of I-PASS. The Illinois rule is difficult for people with bad credit history who cannot have a credit or debit card and thus cannot have an I-PASS.

The film also raises the important question of how mundane but important work can be done over and over by employees. Jobs involving repetition can easily result in burnout and a decline in good customer service. The main character in Toll Booth seemed so tired during and after work because of the non-stop flow of cars for forty hours a week. A similar job with repetition that gets a great deal of news coverage is air traffic controllers. I feel like I read at least one story a year of an air traffic controller falling asleep on the job. The main responses to this issue have been to increase the amount of breaks, offer more pay with bonuses and incentives, and have employees work less hours per week than at other jobs.

From my own experience as a lifeguard, you have to personally put some effort into a repetitive job to keep yourself sane. It can get boring when you watch a body of water for eight hours in a row. I sometimes made up back stories of the swimmers or thought about what I would do if I won a million (or billion) dollars to prevent my brain from turning into mush.

Who would have thought there was so much to consider about toll booths?

Mike Nelson is a first year MAEUS student. He graduated a year early and received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. Mike has studied French, German, and Spanish and will be tackling Swedish starting this fall. He has traveled to Germany and hosted a French foreign exchange student. During the summer, he works as a manager at a water park. He is working as a Graduate Assistant and Teaching Assistant for the European Union Center this year.  

Photo Credit:
"Keokuk Rail Bridge toll booth, Keokuk, 1982." Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Keokuk_Rail_Bridge_toll_booth.jpg. Accessed November 15, 2012.

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