Death And Toll Roads

By Jack Newcombe

December 14, 2011 4 min read

In the 2006 Oscar-winning film "The Departed," Jack Nicholson plays Irish mob boss Frank Costello, a fictional representation of real-life organized crime leader Whitey Bulger. In an early scene, Costello is walking through a bar in Boston and makes small talk with a man as he passes. Costello asks about the man's mother. The man's face immediately expresses sadness, and he says, "Oh, I'm afraid she's on her way out." Costello walks away, straightens his tie while smirking and says, "We all are. Act accordingly."

Time is the single most important resource that any human being has.

That said, we spend much of our time worrying about another resource that we think is valuable: money. Money is no more than a few pennies' worth of paper that society arbitrarily has deemed valuable. Money's value is arbitrary because society could have used bones or clams or jelly beans or any other slang term for currency but instead chose green paper.

Given the fact that time is our most valuable resource and money is our most valuable currency, the best way to utilize money is to buy time.

For example, when driving from Los Angeles to San Diego, one could take Interstate 405 south to I-5 and end up in San Diego's Gaslamp District in about 2 1/2 hours. However, anyone who has driven in Southern California knows that traffic can add hours to any trip, in some cases doubling travel time -- especially when one drives on the 405. To combat this, the freeway planners created a toll road in Orange County. Cars can pay $5 and drive about 30 miles on a nearly empty highway, avoiding all of the congestion on the 405. Taking the toll road might save someone traveling to San Diego as much as an hour of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. In this instance, $5 buys an hour.

Another example can be found in the music industry. In 2000, college students everywhere were illegally downloading songs using Napster, which was then a peer-to-peer file sharing service that allowed people to "share" (give) music files with anyone, anywhere, over the Internet. Napster was shut down for copyright infringement, and what was once free, music, now had a price tag on it, 99 cents per song. That price came from Apple, which built a legal online music store, called iTunes, where anyone could buy nearly any song. However, today anyone with access to Google and a few extra minutes can do some searching and find a peer-to-peer file sharing service similar to Napster -- for example, The Pirate Bay. In this instance, Apple's price of 99 cents (now $1.29) per song is worth the time it would take you to scour the Internet and try to find the desired song for free.

Valet parking costs a few extra dollars and saves you the time it would take to walk to your car. You pay for that time.

A gardener or a cleaning service costs money but saves you the time it would take to water your plants or vacuum your living room, respectively. You are paying for that time.

Buying a first-class ticket can cost considerably more than an economy ticket. However, with that first-class ticket, you can go in a shorter security line, allowing you to arrive at the airport later, and you exit the plane first, allowing you to leave the airport earlier. You are paying for that time.

One of the greatest gifts of life is the fact that we do not know when we are going to die. Ignorance truly is bliss when it comes to our own mortality. Though Jack Nicholson's character is correct that everyone will die eventually, with money we can buy ourselves a few extra minutes here and there to do the things we want to do that make our lives rich. Those minutes eventually will add up to years, and before you know it, you will have bought yourself more time on this earth.

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