Many New Yorkers are likely to cross paths with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people on any given day. But most would be hard pressed to top the 12 million or so that Liz Branch has met at work in the last half-century.
Branch, of Bergen, New Jersey, recently celebrated her golden anniversary as a toll collector for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. It's a milestone few others working on the crossings between the Garden and Empire states have hit.
“I never dreamed I’d make it 50 years but I made it,' she said with a smile.
Branch, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, collects tolls overnight at the Holland Tunnel, and had been taking change from commuters since March 1965, when she was one of a handful of women to land the job.
Since then, she's worked through lane changes, plaza redesigns, the start of E-Z Pass and even the blizzard of 1978, which shut down the region.
"A lot has changed since then," she said. "An awful lot."
But there’s one constant in Branch's career -- the never-ending stream of drivers. The Port Authority says she has taken tolls from 12 million drivers -- more than half the population of the entire tri-state area -- in her 50 years. And in that time she’s learned a trick for bringing the rudest drivers down a peg.
"You hold it just enough to keep it from blowing away and when they snatch it they pretty much hit themselves," she said.
Still, she says she has good interactions with most drivers. Her sunny disposition has even gotten her some loyal followers. The Holland Tunnel's general manager, Tony Carvagno, says that some drivers will search for Branch’s toll lanes.
"She gets to know her customers,” he said. “They get to know her. They purposely look for her in the lane at night and drive through her lane."
Branch doesn't plan to hang up her toll collector's jacket any time soon. She said as long as she can make a difference in drivers' days, she’ll be ready to welcome millions more to the Big Apple.