Traffic Jam

It’s not every day an examiner ends up in a prison escort vehicle

by Joel Schwartzman

One particular audit led me in a direction that I would never have dreamed of—and left me with a spectacular story to tell.

I went to do an audit in the engineering support department for a large holding company that built, maintained and collected tolls on bridges and tunnels in a large city. Because of the size of the project and the many locations that were the responsibility of this engineering division, there needed to be several audits in different areas within the city.

For one of those audits, I was instructed to visit the engineering office where all the project work was being controlled for a massive rebuilding project involving three bridges. This office was located adjacent to one of the tunnels in an area not easily reachable by public transportation.

We decided to take the subway to one of the stops and have the tunnel police pick us up and take us to the other side of the tunnel where the auditee’s office was located.

Everything went according to plan. We exited the subway station and called for the car. It arrived within 15 minutes, and off we went.

The calm before the storm

The day progressed without any major problems. The auditees showed me the necessary information, and the day was coming to an end. After the closing meeting, my two escorts from the company’s corporate headquarters and I waited at a specific door at an appointed time for the routine shuttle that would take us through the tunnel and back to the subway for the trip home.

The shuttle arrived, and the three of us got on with other riders. The driver started the engine and proceeded to enter the toll plaza. Suddenly, he stopped adjacent to a toll plaza booth—he seemed shaken. What was going on?

He had realized that the escorts and I were not wearing the proper orange vests we needed to ride the shuttle. He was not going to proceed any farther. Horns from behind started blowing, and the toll plaza supervisor wanted to know what the problem was. The driver indicated that because we did not have the proper vests, he could not take us any farther. Likewise, the toll plaza supervisor said that, because we did not have the orange vests, we could not leave the shuttle and enter the toll plaza, either.

We couldn’t stay on the shuttle, and we couldn’t get off the shuttle. Meanwhile, the engineering manager heard about the problem and called the main engineering office to inform him the auditor was having a security problem.

Later, we found out the engineering manager in the central office had immediately called the security manager at the local engineering office to find out what could be done to solve the problem.

Walk the line

After going back and forth with the toll plaza supervisor, it was decided my companions and I would be escorted off the shuttle, walked across that plaza—with at least 10 rows of traffic ordered to stop—and back to the engineering office. This we did to the music of car horns blasting.

Now the problem was getting back to the other side of the tunnel to catch the subway. After even more discussion, the engineering security manager arranged for a station wagon—used to transport prisoners—to be brought out. The three of us were loaded into the back, driven through the tunnel and dropped off, after which I caught the subway.

Now, I have a story to tell about being a prisoner in a toll tunnel for 10 minutes.

Joel Schwartzman is a senior quality auditor specialist for Enzon Pharmaceuticals in South Plainfield, NJ. Schwartzman earned an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. He is a senior member of ASQ, a certified quality auditor and engineer, and an RABQSA certified senior auditor.

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