News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Liz Ciancone

September 28, 2010

MS. TAKES: Urgent message: 'Hang up and drive?'

TERRE HAUTE — My Best Friend and I were stopped at a red light the other day. About a half-dozen cars whipped around in front of us, making a left turn. Four of the six drivers had a cell phone glued to one ear and were steering with only one hand on the wheel. One came so close to clipping our front end, I thought the driver might be trying to add to a collection of front bumpers.

Apart from the distraction of the conversation itself, having to steer with one hand seems a recipe courting disaster. Add to that the urgency of a distracted driver trying to beat the light’s turn from yellow to red. The prudent driver doesn’t push the pedal to the floor the instant he gets the green light. It may risk a toot from the impatient driver behind you, but he isn’t the one apt to meet a distracted driver in mid-intersection.

I guess it makes me something of an old poop, but I feel no need for a cell phone. Our sons seem to think we should sign on to mobile phoning, if only to assure contact with the outside world when we are on a trip. They may be right.

Still, I can remember having to lift the receiver off the cradle, crank like mad to rouse the operator, deliver yourself of the telephone number of the person you wished to contact and wait — patiently! — for the operator to work her magic by pulling and connecting what seemed to be an incomprehensible series of plugs and wires. It was so magical that a visit to the telephone office was part of a grade school field trip!

As a caller, you could almost guarantee that the callee would be home — women were in those days.

Maybe it was an improvement to be able to dial the wanted number yourself. It did seem to cut off contact with the operator, however, and she was often a source of whatever tidbit of news was making the rounds in Yorkville, a sort of while-you-wait news source.

Then there was the “party line” where your phone line was shared with one or more other phone subscribers. I’ve had cell phone addicts deplore the lack of privacy in a party line, meanwhile talking loudly in a room crowded with strangers. Those of us on a party line were sometimes inconvenienced, but in case of an emergency, one could request use of the line and the request was universally granted.

That courtesy is gone! Even if I don’t want to listen to the conversation at the next table, I must.

The private line, or even the party line, is as dead as the dodo, but surely safety and courtesy have survived. As one bumper sticker so succinctly put it, “Hang up and drive!”

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to opinion@tribstar.com.

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