Bill Burton on the Bay

Vol. 9, No. 6
Feb. 8-14, 2001
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Saved by a Cell

I Still Say Ban 'Em While Driving

Can we ever have too much of a good thing?
-Miguel de Cervantes, 1544-1603, in his epic Don Quixote de la Mancha

Of course, we can have too much of a good thing. The perfect example is the cellular phone, which prompts me to remind readers that the famous/infamous Don Quixote was also known as the "Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance."

Yet a cell phone came to my rescue, probably sparing me a most uncomfortable night - if not worse.

But I can assure you that on neither end of the line was a portable phone in the hands of one driving on the highway, nor was it in the hands of one in a theater, checkout line at a market, seated at the next table at a restaurant - or anywhere else to pose a safety problem or nuisance.
In a Pickle

At my end of the line it was in a pair of cold hands part way up Roman Nose Mountain in Garrett County between Deep Creek Lake and Oakland. At the other end of the line it was in the hands of Betty Friend, with whose husband Dick I was to go ice fishing the next day.

On the stove in the kitchen of the Friend's home situated near the top of Roman Nose a few miles more to the east from me were stuffed porkchops cooking, a welcome dinner. And, when I first found myself in a quagmire of darkness, snow and ice, my first concerns were for Betty and her dinner schedule.

Then it dawned on me, there was more to be concerned about, and again might I quote from Don Quixote de la Mancha: "Put you in this pickle." I indeed was in a pickle, a pickle of my own making, and I was in more of a pickle than Betty in her warm kitchen with not much more to lose than a pan of delicious chops becoming overcooked and dried. And more of a pickle than Dick, who I figured was famished by then.

I was seated alone in my old but still adequate station wagon, sideways on a narrow and winding mountain road on a ridge of Roman Nose. Less than two feet ahead of me was a long and steep drop down among hardwoods. Behind me the Subaru's rear bumper was touching snow packed on an incline headed up the mountain.

The temperature, already in the teens, was headed for single digits. The Subaru, though of four-wheel drive, wouldn't budge. The wheels spun on fairly deep snow, the top of which had turned to ice.

I couldn't go backwards; the mountain was there. All alone, I feared trying to pull ahead with enough zest to get some clearance in the back to maybe back down the mountain. If the wheels suddenly took hold, the Subaru, me, all my ice fishing gear and everything else could be hurtling down the ravine.

Funny how things dawn on one in potential deep doo-doo. At first, I was embarrassed. Me, stuck??!! Me, raised in snowy Vermont where I cut my teenage teeth driving roads covered with the white stuff - and plenty of ice to boot - and with vehicles with only two-wheel drive.

How could I explain this? Me, stuck on a mountain with four-wheel drive. At first, I figured I had no choice but face the Friends with a red face. I'd leave the Subaru, hike down the incline, hitch a ride, call the Friends to pick me up, then retrieve the car and gear in the morning.

I quickly discovered that was no choice for an old man in his mid-70s. The snow on the steep incline was covered with ice; I could barely stand up without my feet slipping down the mountain. That's all I needed in the dark, making a misstep - and going over the ridge.

Making the Pickle

How did I get in this pickle? It was dark, wind was blowing fallen snow and a few new flakes were still falling on the remote slippery secondary road that passed by the entrance to the driveway of almost a mile that led to the Friend's house atop Roman Nose. I missed the turn.

I had no choice but to keep driving until I found a place to turn around, which I did. Then in the poor visibility, I made a grievous error. I turned off the road - in all the snow - to what wasn't the entrance to the Friend's driveway. It was an old trail, presumably built for logging years ago.

Again, I had no choice, but keep going. Trying to back down alone in poor visibility and deep, slippery snow wasn't an option. I pushed the Subaru's horsepower, hoping to reach a spot where I could turn around. But the incline got steeper and the snow more slippery.

Eventually I could go no farther. The wheels spun, taking me closer to the edge of the ridge.

I tried backing down. No dice; too slippery. Even without the wheels turning, the car slowly slipped downward on the ice. I had no choice but to put it in gear and back into the high side of the ridge to stop the descent.

Saved by a Cell

At first, I wasn't even sure I had my cell phone with me. I've had it for a couple years, using it no more than a dozen times. I only got it because the family insisted. It now represented the difference between a frigid sleepless night on Roman Nose and a comfy bed and a hot dinner at the Friend's domicile.

Finally, I found it. The battery was low but had enough power for a call - once I remembered how to use it. Amidst the crackling and dead moments, I was able to contact Betty and try to describe where I was - though I couldn't remember my phone's number so she could call me back as they set out to rescue me.

Eventually I saw the headlights of Dick's big and heavy truck, a 4x4 with large wheels and studded tires, slowly rumbling up the trail. On the ice, we managed to push the nose of the Subaru around in the opposite direction, Dick backing slowly and just ahead of me to "catch" the much lighter Subaru if it started sledding on own. We made it.

I ate well, I slept well, all warm and comfy thanks to my cell phone - but this was not the blooming of an all-out love affair with cell phones. Mine had served what I consider a practical purpose, assistance in an emergency. I can also appreciate their convenience when on the road or water. But not when driving.

I'd rather have spent the night shivering and hungry on Roman Nose than have the Maryland General Assembly again hang up on a bill that would ban cell phone use while one is driving a motor vehicle. Enduring a frigid night on a mountain is better than spending one or more in a hospital - or many more in a box under the ground - after having been slammed by someone losing control of a vehicle while chatting on a mobile phone.

But our legislators are not known for their practicality - nor for their concerns about public safety - when an issue is controversial. Rich and powerful lobbyists dangle carrots while hosting sumptuous liquefied dinners in the taverns of Old Annapolis.

The cell phone ban while driving could well go down to defeat again, yet I defy any legislator to give one solid reason why drivers should be allowed to talk on a phone when they should be paying full attention to the road and traffic. Enough said ...

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly