Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I had a bizarre experience recently at the Spring Hill Road exit on westbound Dulles Toll Road. I arrived at the tollgate behind another car driven by a lady. It seemed like love at first sight between the toll operator and her. They seemed to be deep in conversation interminably, while I waited, engine running, getting more and more irritated.

This went on for several minutes. They were laughing and chatting. I honked. The booth operator waved sternly, as if to say, "Shut up and cut it out."

Then he got more comfortable, folded his arms, leaned closer to the driver and continued the conversation, oblivious to me. This is where, I admit, I lost it.

I was determined to get out any way possible. Checking my rear-view mirror for any approaching vehicles, I carefully backed up and swerved into the second lane to bypass this absurd holdup.

This got the attention of the tollbooth operator, who was working both gates and threatened to fine me $100 for backing up. Then he refused to lift the gate for me to pass.

My helplessness seemed to amuse him to no end. Finally, other people showed up behind me and after a lot of yelling, he simply had to let us all go. I rushed off so fast I forgot to pay the toll.

I called the Dulles Toll Road operations center at 703-383-2700 to explain myself and determine what fines I might be facing, and a very helpful lady named Valerie said the only amount payable on my record was 35 cents owed for missing the toll.

I hope somebody advises this particular tollgate operator to take his romantic pursuits elsewhere.

UDAY S. KARI

Fairfax

What an approach that cad has. See an attractive woman and keep the tollgate down while chatting her up. I'm sure many decent tollbooth operators never get a mention. This one seems to be quite the bad apple.

Do other tollgate operators hold drivers hostage? Call the number above and let the Doctor know.

Toll Road Exit Sign Stumbles The Virginia Department of Transportation signmeisters have proved once again that when it comes to baffling signs, they have no equal in our metropolitan area.

Their latest creation is an exit sign on the Dulles Toll Road that reads: "Herndon/Monroe."

What is Monroe, a new town? As in Falls Church, Herndon, Vienna, Monroe?

Perhaps Monroe is like Raljon, that mythical place in Prince George's County created by the late Jack Kent Cooke to honor his sons, Ralph and John.

"Say dear, where would you like to have dinner tonight, Raljon or Monroe?"

If you live in these places, do you have to pay taxes?

In this case, Monroe refers to Monroe Street, site of a new park-and-ride garage that is part of the bus service in the Dulles corridor. That's a fine idea--get people out of their cars. Only let's not keep it a secret.

Putting "Monroe St." on the sign would have done it. A colored park-and-ride symbol would probably be too much to hope for. Saying "Monroe" is not the end of the world. Just sloppy.

Same thing with the commonwealth's non-policy for directions to commercial ventures. The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City gets a state sign; other malls do not. South Riding in Loudoun County gets a state sign, but other private developments do not.

The state's National Rifle Association exit sign at Interstate 66 and Route 50 had to be changed in content and color after angry residents questioned its propriety. There's more, but I tire.

Dr. Gridlock suggested about 10 years ago that an advisory panel of volunteers (try senior citizens) could review these signs and probably make improvements before they go up. That still seems like an idea.

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Thursday in Loudoun Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at drgridlock@washpost.com. The Doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.