Thursday, January 1, 2009

Epiphany on the Parkway

About a week ago, I was driving north on the Garden State Parkway at about 6:00 AM to catch an early morning flight out of the Taj Mahal of international air travel, Newark Airport.

The road was dark and desolate as I approached the PNC Art Center. The sun was just beginning to rise behind and peek above the Vietnam War Memorial, providing an ethereal back light for one of New Jersey's most somber places of honor and remembrance.

Immediately ahead was the PNC Art Center's neon billboard, vilified by many as a grotesque eye sore on a highway that touts its aesthetic sensibilities. No oil refineries here. This isn't the Turnpike, it's the Parkway dammit!

Generally, the neon god they made (if I may quote Simon and Garfunkle) is usually put into service to remind passing motorists when Def Leopard tickets will go on sale and to drink Bud lite, but to drink it responsibly.

This morning the sign flashed two words: Token Redemption.

The sign was already in my rear view mirror before the second half of the message came on that explained that New Jersey motorists had until January 1st to redeem their toll booth tokens for cash. Alas, Easy Pass killed the Parkway token much like the Metro Card killed the NYC subway token.

Being a word geek, I couldn't stop rolling the phrase token redemption around in my sleep-deprived brain. What did it mean?

According to, token used as an adjective can have two meanings:

1) Serving as a token: a token gift; a token male on an all-female staff.
2) Slight; perfunctory; minimal: token resistance.

The same source lists the top definitions for the word redemption as follows:

1) An act of redeeming or the state of being redeemed.
2) Deliverance; rescue.
3) Deliverance from sin; salvation.
4) Atonement for guilt.

So based on the above definitions what does token redemption mean?

Could be that modern society's search for spirituality is often symbolic and shallow. "Let's give small percentage of that money we made from insider trading to charity?"

That there is very little meaningful commitment to doing the right thing or helping others. "Not my problem."

Why does token redemption replay in my mind like an unsolved riddle? Maybe it's the time of year. Maybe it's been a year of hard-to-take headlines. Maybe its knowing too many people who are going through rough times and in turn being forced to put faces to the statistics.

Something to think about in 2009.

Happy New Year.
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