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Last day on the job memorable one for Golden Gate Bridge toll-takers

Golden Gate Bridge toll-taker Dawnette Reed is given flowers by Max Hill and his family from San Rafael, Tuesday March 27, 2013, during Reed's last day as a toll-taker.

KENT PORTER/ PD
Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 2:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 2:11 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Dawnette Reed first met the boy when he was several months old and still sucking on a pacifier.

She watched him grow up, from wearing onesies to school uniforms and from being strapped in a car seat to being belted in.

“You're gonna be mayor or president someday,” Reed would say to him.

That connection is now lost. Tuesday was Reed's last as a toll-taker on the Golden Gate Bridge, which at midnight is planning to become the first major span in the nation to convert to electronic toll taking.

The hard reality of the change was evident on Reed's face as a familiar white SUV approached her toll booth around 7:45 a.m. Tuesday.

When the vehicle stopped, Tyler Hill, now 12, stood up through the open sunroof holding a sign that read, “We will miss you.” The boy then handed Reed a bouquet of flowers, as tears started to flow.

“It's going to be hard,” Reed, a resident of Oakland, predicted on Monday, prior to her last shift.

Bridge officials say electronic tolling, which has been planned for two years, is necessary to reduce costs.

The new system is costing $3.4 million to implement, including $520,000 to publicize the changes. It is projected to save the district $16.8 million over an eight-year period.

The savings includes the elimination of 28 full-time toll-taking jobs.

Reed always has worked at the bridge. She started with a summer job in the gift shop when she was 16, and at 26 became a toll collector. She is now 43.

“I wanted it to be my last job,” she said.

So, too, did the Hill family of San Rafael — Max, Sharon and Tyler.

Almost every weekday for years, the family rolled through Reed's toll booth on their way to work, and in Tyler's case, to school.

Max Hill, a hair stylist, recalled one occasion when his son handed Reed his pacifier for her to keep.

“It was just a special connection,” Max Hill said.

Around midnight, the last toll-taker will depart the iconic plaza where for 76 years humans have collected money, helped people with directions, or even — in Reed's case — interrupted people who had intentions of jumping off the span.

“I had the best view in the world,” she said. “You see the fog, and then all of a sudden, it's gone.”

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