WITH THE DAY OF HER WEDDING approaching, Heather McCombs found herself in a prenuptial nightmare. First, her flight from Los Angeles to Newark, N.J., was rocked by turbulence, leaving her sleepless and woozy. Then a storm forced the cancellation of her connecting flight to Albany, N.Y., near her hometown of Saratoga Springs. Worse, her luggage—including her wedding gown—was stuck in transit. Wearily she rented a car, then realized she had almost no money. When she asked the toll collector on the Garden State Parkway what would happen if she couldn’t pay all the tolls en route, he replied, “We haul you down to the state police.”
Walter Jeffries was just kidding, but McCombs, 26, was too rattled to notice. “I just lost it,” she recalls. “I was sobbing.” Startled, Jeffries, 66, a former tavern owner who has worked the Union Plaza tollbooth since 1991, asked what was wrong. When McCombs told him, he reached into his wallet and pulled out a $10 bill. “Take this,” he said, “and go.”
That small gesture not only bailed out McCombs, it sent her off to a “perfect” wedding to press operator Kent Parnau, 32. “I felt better immediately,” says McCombs, a sales assistant at an L.A. printing company. “I felt at peace.” Jeffries says he was only treating her as he would his two grown daughters, and Jeffries’s boss, Jocelyn Rodenbeck-Honan, reveals a fact that suggests Heather might someday consider a second trip through New Jersey: Other tolltakers have helped deliver babies.