The last time I remember being hands free was when I was in high school, riding my bicycle hands free.
No hands on the handlebars while I bicycled with my golf clubs to Green Acres – no kidding – Country Club in Donnellson, Iowa. My 10-speed was a marvel in balance. It certainly helped that Donnellson was flat and the streets well-paved, as well as completely lacking in traffic.
I could maneuver the mile to the golf course without putting my hands on the handlebars, except to make turns. It probably was dangerous, and police probably would pull me over now for hands-free bicycling.
Why I didn’t crumple up into a pile of bicycle and blood is beyond me. But I had hardly a care in the world when I was biking to the golf course or other points in between. And this was before helmets and the notion of traumatic brain injuries. I was just a kid.
Now, hands free takes on a new meaning in Illinois. It’s not about bicycling; it’s about driving.
And, as of Jan. 1, it is illegal to talk on your cellphone while driving if you are holding it up to your ear. Police can pull you over if they see you and give you a $75 ticket first time out. And if you don’t get it the first time, the second time you are pulled over, the ticket is $100. After four times, you could have your license suspended.
I don’t want a ticket. No call is worth $75. And you would have to be plain dumb to lose your license over cellphones.
I’ve had a cellphone for almost nine years; I think it came inside our wedding cake. For all my life, I had been tied to the landline, only it wasn’t called a landline. It was called a telephone, and it was attached to the wall. And if you wanted to make a call, you were attached to the wall.
I was a latecomer to cellphones. In fact, I was anti-cellphone. If I had a cellphone, it meant that I was connected to the world at all times; there was no getting away from it. Of course, if it rang, you would answer it. No matter where you were. In the living room. In the bathroom. Egad. In the car. There was no escaping the world with a cellphone. I wanted that escape.
But I’ve come to find out that I do not receive a lot of telephone calls. And I do not make a lot of telephone calls. I haven’t done a thorough analysis, but I think most of the telephone calls I receive come from my pharmacy, my friendly pharmacy. Completely computer generated.
My good wife comes in second. We’re really never that far apart to need to call.
But call I do on my way home from my Friday evening appointments, talking all the way from the parking lot to our driveway. I make the call to let her know I’m on my way home, giving her a chance to fire up the oven for the pizza.
And I’ve been doing this with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand to my ear holding the phone. It’s never been a problem. Not even close. It’s like talking to someone in the passenger seat. It’s hardly a distraction.
But it is a distraction, according to Illinois state law. And distractions cause crashes.
So, instead of holding the phone to your ear, you have to use hands-free technology, such as a Blue Tooth device, an earpiece, a headset or a speakerphone. The Blue Tooth is out of the question. People who use those devices look like they have cicadas sucking on their ears. Ugh.
An earpiece came with our cellphones, and that is what I am left to use.
I gave it the first try a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t see how it improves safety over a handheld phone. But greater minds than mine prevail in Illinois.
It took several minutes – before I started the car – to figure out how to plug the earpiece into the cellphone. Then I had to fairly jam the earpiece into my ear so it wouldn’t fall out or puncture my eardrum, then I made the call to my wife, and then I started the car. By the time I was in reverse, I was talking on the phone hands free.
The call was amazingly clear compared to the last time I tried using an earpiece years ago. I could hear my wife and she could hear me. Amazing.
But I was afraid the earpiece would fall out if I moved my head too quickly, and that’s enough to get into a crash. I am guessing the more I use the earpiece, the more comfortable I will become, and it won’t be long before it is second nature.
Just like riding a bike. Hands free.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.