You can take the hack out of the toll booth, but you can never take the toll booth out of the hack

Toll taker, of course, is only one of the many jobs (as opposed to work) that symbolize Massachusetts’ entire public-sector culture of sloth and waste.

One night last week, I was dutifully listening to a guy lay out a story about a double-dipping hack on two different state payrolls.

But I wasn’t paying full attention until he uttered the two magic words: “Toll taker.”

Instantly, I was all in, because how can you go wrong with a story about a toll collector, even though it’s been years since any of them actually manned — or should I say, nodded off in — the grimy toll booths on the Mass Pike?

By now you’re familiar with one Carl Breneus. His page on the state comptroller’s website tells the story — he’s listed on both the Department of Transportation and MBTA payrolls, full-time, for a total of $134,299 this year, had he not been eased off the DOT mammary just now.

He was a dues-paying member of two legendarily hacked-up unions — Carmen’s Local 589 at the T, as well as Teamsters Local 127, which represents the erstwhile toll takers, many of whom, like Breneus, now have different phony-baloney state jobs.

Breneus was grabbing overtime at both his hack jobs. Of course he was! It’s the hackerama.

After the toll booths (but not the tolls) were taken down, Breneus became a DOT janitor. Say, isn’t “night custodian” the first job Whitey Bulger scored after he was released from Leavenworth? It was a nationwide search.

The tradition continues.

After transitioning to janitor, Breneus then got a second job at the T in track maintenance, another hack holding pen long favored by lesser members of the Bulger clan.

Nobody cared that Breneus was, uh, working two jobs. I’m told the dime was eventually dropped on him by the State Police. Think about that — how bad does it have to be for the State Police to notice that someone else might be … gaming the system?

Toll taker, of course, is only one of the many jobs (as opposed to work) that symbolize Massachusetts’ entire public-sector culture of sloth and waste.

Remember the state senator’s girlfriend who was a drawbridge operator in the Town of Dartmouth? Not to mention the coveted sinecure of clam inspector for the city of Revere, or the horse-urine sample collectors for the State Racing Commission, or the elevator operators at the old courthouse in Pemberton Square …

But toll taker may have been the ultimate blue-collar hack job. It didn’t pay the big bucks, officially, but you were handling cash, if you get my drift.

It was the perfect landing spot for the simple relatives of minor state legislators, the drug-addled daughters of hack judges and the aging, ill-tempered brothers of statewide office holders.

They even had a “school” for toll takers. I always wondered, did they teach the hacks that if somebody gave you a $1 bill, you were supposed to give them back two quarters, not one?

I know for a fact one thing they all learned — if a motorist handed them a $10 bill, they were absolutely required to hand him back two quarters and nine of the slimiest, greasiest one-dollar bills this side of the Golden Banana in Peabody.

It was a dangerous job — approximately 25% of them went out on workman’s comp at one time or another for dropping cash registers on their feet, usually just in time to take the entire summer off.

Occasionally, in an election year, the Pike bosses would reluctantly turn on the surveillance cameras at the toll plazas.

Great hilarity would ensue when the sacrificial arrested toll collectors were dragged into court, usually the BMC. A mother would begin loudly bawling as her dissipated-looking, beer-bellied loser son was hauled out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

For a change of pace, some of the arrested payroll patriots would turn around and give the finger to the TV cameramen rather than their usual victims on I-90 and at the tunnels.

The toll takers never much liked me. The boss of Local 127 once accused me of spitting on quarters before handing them to the boys.

C’mon, man — number one, why would I be spitting on my own hand, in my own car? Number two, I had to deal with those guys every day, and they were Teamsters.

It helped when applying for a toll taker’s job if you’d already been fired from at least one or two other low-level patronage jobs. Remember the Local 127 public servant who was charged with shooting his cocaine dealer in the back, dismembering him and disposing of the body pieces in an incinerator?

When the Pike tried to fire him, the Teamsters filed a grievance for “unjust suspension.” (That guy beat the murder rap, by the way, after the death of the state’s chief witness — his brother.)

In retrospect, the big mistake Breneus made was being on two payrolls that are accessible on the same website. The more foolproof way to successfully double dip has traditionally been to get on, say, the city’s Public Works payroll, “working” nights, while grabbing a day job at the Mass Water Resources Authority (MWRA).

That was the M.O. for Whitey Bulger’s cocaine dealers. I still remember how one of them was arrested as he slept through his overnight shift at the city DPW yard on Frontage Road.

He was resting up for his day job at the MWRA, where he’d been hired by the wife of one of Billy Bulger’s state senators.

Another nationwide search.

The lesson here is that in the future, whenever you’re double-dipping, make sure to get on one state and one local payroll. Even better, a “quasi-public authority.” They never cross-check, obviously.

In the hackerama, it’s called professional courtesy.

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