Gurney's Inn
May 30, 2007

Jerry's Ink


I wrote this column a few years ago. Since then I have had it up to here with cab drivers speaking in Arabic for a whole ride while I stretch my neck to see if they're crazy or if they're talking on a cell phone. What gets me is you never hear the voice of whomever they're talking to. I suggest they teach Arabic in every school so that our kids will be equipped to foil terrorist plots.


So I'm in Union Station in Washington D.C. waiting for a train and I sit down next to this well-dressed, very large gentleman who is talking away on one of those hands-free remote phones. He's talking pretty loudly, and even though I'm not paying too much attention, I hear the word "love" a few times and start thinking he's a romantic sort who is talking to a girlfriend.

Then I hear the word God, so I think he might be a religious sort of guy. Suddenly the man looks at me and screams, "DON'T YOU WANT TO HEAR THE WORD OF THE LORD?" I frantically start looking for wires going into his ear . . . wires going anywhere. There are no wires. There is no cell phone.

The guy is a nut who is talking to himself. Now I get up to leave and he's screaming at me that the Lord will smite me if I don't listen to his words of "love thy neighbor." I never did like smiting talk, so I start to run with this nut chasing me. I run up to a bar in the station hoping to lose him. The nut screams at me from the doorway. The bartender smiles and says, "I see you've met Henry."

"I thought he was talking on a remote phone," I say. The bartender smiles and says, "A lot of people do." This got me thinking about this whole remote phone business. In the State of New York it is now against the law to hold a phone in your hand while driving. Of course, this is a law that was made by politicians who can talk on the phone for hours in their cars because State Troopers and aides are driving them everywhere.

Let's talk about the hands-free phone speakers that are installed in cars.

They don't work. It doesn't matter how expensive the car, the speaker quality is so bad everyone sounds like they are calling you from the Mummy's Tomb. Is this dangerous? You bet it is. The only way to make out a word is to lean toward the speaker to hear the marbles-in-the-mouth voice on the other side. Are you concentrating on driving? No sir! You're concentrating on listening and that's why this stupid law is going to backfire and cause more accidents than it prevents.

What's even worse is trying to dial a car phone without looking at the number pad. In the old days you picked up your cell phone, put it right up to your face and punched out the numbers while you watched the road with one eye. Now both eyes must go to the phone that's sitting in the cradle at your right. You either use the Helen Keller method and punch out countless wrong numbers or you just ignore the road for a precious five seconds to get your hands-free call started.

And what, pray tell, are your hands-free hands allowed to do? Well the other day, while traveling on the Long Island Expressway, I gave up trying to hear the muffled sounds of a co-worker's voice and shouted out to him, "Go to your computer and I will e-mail you!" So, traveling at 70 miles per hour, I was able to type out a message with both hands on my Blackberry while I steered the car with my knees – a dangerous but totally legal move.

Let's face it, if we're going to get rid of cell phones in cars, let's get rid of all the other real distractions in cars. This means no radios in cars . . . no CD players . . . no music . . . no talk radio . . . no news . . . no pets . . . no more hot cups of coffee that can land in our laps thanks to the rocky roads of New York State. And, most of all, no kids under 16 in cars. How many times have you turned around in a car while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, faced the back seat while you were driving, and screamed at your kids, "If you don't stop fighting I'm going to leave both of you in the Howard Johnson's at the Florence Nightingale rest stop!?"

If we're going to do this car safety thing right, all kids under 16 must be left home propped in front of a television set while we carefully drive off to visit Grandma. Also, if you're caught with one hand off the steering wheel, it's 12 points on your driver's license.

As for me, I plan on becoming a phone outlaw. I will drive responsibly but I'm going to illegally use my cell phone. Yes, I plan to break the law. I will talk with the phone plastered to my ear, ever vigilant that the law is out there ready to hunt me down and take me in. And as the first self-proclaimed, "car cell phone" outlaw, I say to the police, in my best James Cagney voice, "Come and get me, coppers. I'm armed with a cell phone . . . you'll never take me alive." Oooopppppps, wrong choice of words.

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