Vladislav "Sam" Samsonov was a tollbooth operator for 29 years before he was fired for a small act of kindness.
Sam Samsonov, human E-Z Pass. (NBC 2 via YouTube)
A little kindness goes a long way in this cold, cruel world. It can brighten someone's day, reaffirm their faith in mankind, or even save their life. It can also get your kind ass canned.
Vladislav Samsonov has worked as a toll collector on the Boca Grande Causeway for nearly 30 years. He has a personal relationship with many of the people and families who frequent the Causeway. They affectionately know him as "Sam," and they always seek out his lane, knowing that he'll have lollipops for the kids and treats for the dogs. He's just a nice guy.
In fact, Sam is so nice that he'll occasionally pay for part of a driver's toll out of his own pocket, if they don't have enough cash. That doesn't sit well with his supervisors, just because it subverts the basic idea of a tollbooth. Sam's been warned before about this kind of behavior, but never officially written up. That's why he was shocked when he was abruptly fired for paying $5.50 of a trucker's toll.
Sam's former tollbooth — now cold and empty. (NBC 2 via YouTube)
Sam wasn't officially fired — his supervisors first offered to let him switch from working five days a week to working two. He refused the offer, telling them, "If I can't be trusted for five days, how can I be trusted for two days?" It's sound logic, and it convinced them not to trust him at all. He was terminated.
Sam doesn't need the money. He's a military veteran and has a comfortable income, but he's always kept working for his love of the people. He told NBC 2, "I gave children suckers 20 years ago. Now I'm giving those children suckers for their children." He's planning to do volunteer work with his spare time, but he'll never be able to forget all those suckers, or the smiling faces behind them.
Those faces will miss him too, and not just for his endless supply of suckers. Sam's daughter posted his story to Facebook, where it was flooded with hundreds of comments of support. People shared their favorite memories of Sam and insisted that he should be reinstated at the tollbooth.
Somebody printed the comments for Sam, who was touched. He told NBC 2, "Makes me feel good, makes me want to cry. But bite your tongue and you'll be ok."
It doesn't look like Sam will be back in the booth any time soon, which is OK with his family. They had been trying to get him to retire for years. Let's hope he does take up volunteer work, because his thoughtfulness and old world charm could improve lives many places besides a tollbooth. He's improving mine, and I'm just reading about him. It's like a contact high of kindness.
Here's the full report from 'NBC 2':