Coming home from a performance in Hendersonville, which should have, frankly, included combat pay for having to negotiate down the Saluda Grade at 10 p.m. with a line of big rigs snapping at my heels, I was astonished to see the glow of a cell phone in one driver’s hand as I was passed by one car, whipping ahead of me.
Were they texting? Talking on a non ‘hands free’ device? Dunno. But I was about to allow myself a heaping helping of righteous indignation until I remembered how grateful I was not to have ever hurt anyone, including myself, in that long ago era that pre-dated electronic devices.
Seriously, how are we (of a certain age) not dead?
When I began my twenty-odd years of non stop touring as a stand up, I was 24, still living just north of Atlanta, and trying to figure out if my agent was drunk when I received by itinerary for several weeks of bookings: Columbia, SC, Washington DC, Birmingham, Boston, then Tampa?? At this point, I had had no television appearances under my belt and as a lowly, ‘Opening Act,’ was thrown only gas money to make it to the next gig, which meant driving.
Hours and hours of driving, sometimes 16 hours straight, often all night, no Stepford voiced Siri to hold my hand and direct me to turn left in 700 feet or which exit to take. Under tremendous pressure to get to a show on time, this meant stopping at some poorly lit, closed, gas station to phone an aggressive nightclub manager, barking vague directions amidst yelling at waitresses before hanging up. Jumping back into my car and trying to make up time, this also meant engaging in something every bit as, if not more, dangerous than texting: unfolding a map at 70 miles an hour because you’re trying to see when you’re supposed to merge coming into D.C. And then reading that map, squinting and holding it as close to the feeble interior light as best you could.
Oh, I was not alone in this kamikaze behavior, gentle reader! Countless cars passed me each hour as I throttled back to 65 in order to balance the giant bag of Doritos between my knees and suck down a Big Gulp, too big for the cup holder, that told the story of their drivers being traveling salesmen, the telltale curtain rod affixed from window to window, across the back seat, a week’s worth of suits hanging and swaying. Pulling alongside, it was easy to see them performing the same toe curling maneuver of fighting with uncooperative folds of paper, under the glow of the dashboard lights, desperately looking to see if they were supposed to head north or west in a few hundred feet. A gentle nod of the head was recognition from road warrior to road warrior as we merged back into a sea of bleary eyed civilians, coming off third shift, their headlights being the only other company on an otherwise empty highway.
And yet I haven’t a single recollection of televised PSAs warning drivers, “Don’t map and drive!” Mothers Against Drunk Driving was in full swing and perhaps people were simply focusing on how deadly that behavior often was, as they began leaving bars a bit earlier, plastic ‘to go’ cups filled with Seagrams and 7, firmly in hand, as they strode determinedly to their cars.
So surely thousands, nay, tens of thousands, too impatient to pull off the road for a quick glimpse at the Atlas, were mapping and driving all day long. How we made it safely to our destinations, I’ll never know, but I suspect it was a battalion of guardian angels and in my case, a well worn cassette of Tom Waits.
So kids (and adults who act like kids), NEVER text and drive. Just because your parents and grandparents, in olden days, were as dumb as a sack of rocks doesn’t mean you have to be, too.
Reach PAM STONE at firstname.lastname@example.org.