Steve Martaindale

Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series

Alone

empty hand

What my hand looks like without a phone in it.

For more than two hours Monday afternoon, I was locked up in solitary confinement.

Well, almost.

It started with jury duty. I’ve never really minded being called for jury duty. In fact, part of me would like to serve. As a writer, a new experience is just another form of research. I’ve covered several trials as a reporter but would like to see another angle on it.

Alas, I have never been empaneled. That was again the case Monday, but we were not set free until about 1:30 p.m.

Let me back up.

About a year ago, when Leah and I returned to our winter home after working in upstate New York for the summer, we decided to sell our little car. It made sense because we abandoned it for 5-6 months every year anyway. Hardly ever does either one of us go anywhere without the other. And, we decided, if such a situation came up, we would deal with it.

For a year, it’s not been a problem.

Monday, however, Leah had a rather important dental appointment in College Station while I had jury duty in Franklin. Together with our base in Rockdale, they form an ugly triangle with drives of 45-70 minutes on the sides.

Dealing with it meant we drove to Franklin together. Leah’s appointment wasn’t until 1, so she decided to wait until 11:40 before leaving. In case I was cut loose early, we could drive into the city together. If she had to leave before I was free, I would call or message her upon getting out. I would get lunch and could kill plenty of time surfing around on my phone.

Then we got to the courthouse annex and encountered sign after sign warning against even carrying a cell phone or other electronic device onto the third floor.

(A side note to court officials. It would have been really nice had you included that information with the summons. People were tromping back out to their cars to stow their phones and I’m sure we were not the only folks relying on them to communicate the unpredictable outcome of the day.)

So, Leah waited downstairs and took command of my phone. I couldn’t lock it in the truck to retrieve later since she had to drive to the dentist.

That’s how I ended up in virtual solitary confinement.

Leah left at 11:40 for the dentist. I was cut loose about 1:30. (I’m not sure exactly when because I couldn’t even tell time without my phone.) Following our plan, I walked to the Dairy Queen and ordered lunch. The receipt had a timestamp of 1:48 p.m. The best-case scenario would get Leah back to me about 3 o’clock.

I ate as slowly as possible.

Using the paper placemat DQ gave me, I started making notes in the blank spaces of the employment application on back, scribbling ideas about topics to write about or research.

I also just sat and looked out the front windows a lot.

Across the highway from the restaurant runs the Union Pacific Railroad, upon which I eventually noticed was considerable activity. Those strange-looking machines they use to work on the railroad were running up and down the line, usually just one at a time. Seriously, they were going both directions, occupying both tracks, never stopping for anything that seemed work-related.

Then I noticed the two street crossings I could see both had orange-vested workers there to stop traffic when needed. It also occurred to me there were a lot of UP trucks running up and down the highway.

Usually, when I’ve seen these machines, there has been a line of them slowly working down a track. To see them running back and forth was confounding; I couldn’t think of what they were up to.

And it was such perplexing things that filled my mind as I sat and waited without the distraction of my phone.

After a long while, I made a visit to the rest room and stopped at the counter to order a mini Blizzard – cookie dough. Using their facility as I was, it only seemed right I should patronize them. Since I had previously bought a meal, the woman at the counter only charged me a dollar. Sweet. The time on the receipt said 3:04 p.m.

Sigh.

I remembered an event from the previous day. Our grandson spent Saturday night with us and we were heading out to church Sunday morning.

He wanted to carry a handheld game to play in the truck.

“It’s five minutes,” Grandma said. “Five minutes without your game will not kill you.”

For the record, he survived both five-minute drives. However, I had more empathy for him as I approached two hours without my phone.

It might as well have been solitary confinement.

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3 responses to “Alone

  1. Mary Gowins October 19, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    I always bring a book or a crossword puzzle book. There always seems to be a lot of hurry up and wait time! 🙂

    Like

  2. Fleet C Ratliff October 19, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Hello Steve, It might help if you go back and read the piece. Is this really what you have become? If so, I guess my word is, “disappointed.” There is a world without cell phones. Maybe it just isn’t in Texas. Or, maybe you’re just too close to College Station. Go Tigers!!

    Like

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