SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


What's Up With the Droning and Driving?


June 24, 2010

Ketchikan, Alaska - I saw something pretty amazing the other day.

jpg Dave Kiffer

A guy was driving backwards on Tongass Avenue.

Right near the congested construction zone by the Hospital.

He did so for more than a full block before he finally swung into the parking lot he had obviously missed the first time.

While talking on his cell phone.

Yes, he was talking on his cell phone while driving backwards on Tongass Avenue.

I would have made a citizen's arrest except that the Mayor of Houston (MatSu, not Texas) got in trouble for handing out traffic tickets a while back and I am capable of making my own mistakes, not repeating those of others, thank you very much!

So was driving backwards and talking on a cell phone an aberration?

Perhaps, but I also saw a five or six year old boy cruising down the middle of Bawden recently.

On his skateboard.

Talking on his cell phone.
Of course, he blasted right through a stop sign, without looking for traffic or anything else.

Fortunately, a car on Dock Street saw him coming and waited for him to pass, otherwise it would have been ugly.

Come on people, whom is it that you are so interested in talking to that it so important that it is worth risking the health and safety of the rest of us?

I mean, really, what is so danged important on your "self" phone that you can't at least pull over to the side of the road, anyway?

The other day, I was riding with an acquaintance to a business related lunch and her phone went off. Natch, she spent several interesting seconds searching for it in her purse.

With her eyes off the road.

While her car was wandering over toward the other lane.

As a large dump truck was bearing down on us in the opposite lane.

At the time, I would have given anything for a second set of controls in the car, like they had when I was in Driver's Ed, a bazillion years ago.

Which raises the question, do they teach kids how to drive and use cell phones in Driver's Ed, these days?

Oh, don't look so shocked!

I'm sure they stress "just say no" when it comes to cell phones in Driver's Ed.

But, really, what's the point in trying to convince young drivers to not use the blasted things, if they see every adult in town ignoring the advice?

I can just imagine the voice of my old Driver's Ed teacher, Clark Cochrane.

"Mr. Kiffer, please remember to keep your thumbs in the 10 and 2 position as you text while driving, please."

Mr. Cochrane was realist when it came to Driver's Ed.

He told us not to speed. But then noted that ­ on average ­ Ketchikan residents drove five miles per hour over the speed limit.

"If you drive the exact speed limit in Ketchikan, you will get rear ended by a backhoe," he once intoned with a very slight smile.

The classic stereotype of a Driver's Ed teacher is someone as freaked out and jittery as a waterbug on a pond full of caffeine but Mr. Cochrane was usually calm and took things generally in stride.

I'm sure he had pretty much seen everything in his years of teaching Ketchikan kids how to drive.

For example, I had spent several years on motorcycles before taking Driver's Ed.

"Mr. Kiffer," Mr. Cochrane said after a few minutes of my first spin in the Driver's Ed car out on the North Tongass Highway. "You don't need to lean when enter a turn."

Fair enough.

He also had to deal with an awful lot of teenage driving jitters.

For example, one classmate - I'll call her Blondie because that was her hair color then - completely broke down during a lesson when Mr. Cochrane asked her to pull out into traffic.

After a few seconds of not moving at all, Blondie began to cry. First little sniffles, followed finally by huge belly shakes and Ketchikan Creek-sized water pouring down her face.

"Mr. Kiffer," Mr Cochrane said patiently after a few moments. "Would you please escort Miss (censored) into the back seat."

That was definitely "Manna from Heaven" for my 16 year old self. But I resisted the urge to get too excited about taking advantange of the situation (like there is any advantage to being in the back seat of an AMC Rambler Driver's Ed car anyway).

By now, you're thinking "wow, Kiffer is so far off track on this digression, he'll never get back to the point of this column."

That, of course, presupposes there is a point.

Au contrere, mon frères!

The reason for this bumpy trip down Memory Lane is that a few days ago I saw Miss (censored) driving down the street talking into her cell phone and gesticulating wildly with her other hand. I have no idea whom was actually steering the car.

Now, I'm kinda sorry Blondie eventually got over her fear of merging.

So, really, how often is one struck with an absolutely essential need to communicate crucial information to someone else?

Not nearly as often as I see people swinging wide at corners and missing stop signs while chatting merrily along.

This week alone I've had to lean on my car horn three times in parking lots because other cars were in danger of backing into me.

Doing so would have made the Late Mr. Cochrane proud. He always advocated a good stiff "beep to alert the other traffic when necessary."

I digress again.

At any rate, all three of the other drivers were on their cell phones.

Suddenly we have reached a point where everyone in the world is so important that they need to instantly in touch with everyone else.

We all have our "hotlines" tied to our ears and apparently nothing - certainly not paying attention to the road - is as important as plugging in to our portable little blab boxes.

I really don't understand it. What's up with all the driving and droning?

Sure, the parents of the little boy on the skateboard no doubt think it's important for him to be "in touch."

I have heard that bit of twiddle from numerous parents of very young children who say that the cell phone makes them feel their child is safer.

But I know for a fact that the young boy was NOT to talking to his parents.

How can I be sure?

He was smiling.

And I can't even count the number of times I've been around teenagers and have seen them ignore a call because it is from Mom or Dad.

If it's really an emergency will they even pick up?

Don't be so sure.

And if they are trying to get a hold of you, what's to say that you will even answer.

Maybe you'll be too busy prattling on with someone else.

While driving backwards in traffic.



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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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