Cell phones are great. Just ask the driver in front of you. When the light turns green, she finishes her text, or he searches a song on his playlist. I honk. A minute passes. I honk again and light turns red, prompting the car to bolt across the intersection, leaving you screaming expletives through blue exhaust fumes.
Even worse, I’ll get a phone call when driving. The ring springs from my front pocket among handkerchief, wallet, keys, cough drops, Dramamine, lip salve, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons. I wedge my hand under the seatbelt so that when I crash trying to answer my phone, I’ll live, fingers blindly spelunking into the cave.
Yesterday’s call, for once not an extended warrantee offer on our dishwasher, led to an unplanned outcome.
Driving east along Route 64 looking for the turn into the St. Charles Post Office, I heard the muffled ring. Reaching for the phone and somehow at the same time trying to turn off the recorded book turned up to 11, I finally extricated the needy, whiney tech device and pushed “Answer.”
“Hello?!” I yelled into the phone before I tapped “Speaker.”
“Dad? You there?” came a tiny voice.
Keeping one eye out for my turnoff while the other tried to click my daughter Molly into the car, I sounded like a cross between a raspy Batman and an unhinged Indiana Jones. “I’m looking for…oh, yeah, I just passed it.”
“If this is a bad time…,” she surmised.
“No, it’s great!” I fumed, the post office waving goodbye as I slid past. As if to explain my grumpy, if not psychotic, tone, I added, “I’m trying to mail a letter.”
“I can call back.”
“No, no,” I insisted, spying a possible way back to the post office without going all the way to Randall. I turned right and landed in a one-way lane, high curbs on both sides, escape impossible. Worse still, a fast food menu board loomed ahead.
“I’m in a drive-thru lane,” I announced.
Up ahead, the box cackled to a waiting SUV, “May I take your order?”
What to do? I looked over the anonymous menu board. If forced to eat fast food, I’ll get a grilled chicken something or veggie burger. Here, nothing looked healthy. Besides, I wasn’t there to eat, but simply drive through.
I pulled forward. “May I take your order?”
“Umm, I’ll have one drive-thru. Hold the food and drink.”
Of course, I didn’t say that; what, you think I’d make a fool of myself? I simply told the truth: “I made a wrong turn. I’m turning around.”
Pause. “What kind of idiot ARE you?” the box did not say, but surely thought. “Okay,” it agreed.
I waited for two black 12-passenger monstrosities to receive burgers, fries, Pepsis, whatever, before I coasted by the payment window (smile, nod), and pickup window (smile, nod) while narrating my position to Molly like a jumbo jet approaching O’Hare (“Tower, we have the Pay Here window in sight, over.” “Roger that. Over.” “We’ll be cruising on through. Over.” “Roger that. Have a nice flight. Over.”).
Past the second window, food-less, drink-less, mortified, I turned back toward the post office. I can’t remember if Molly was laughing hysterically or silent with embarrassment for her father, but she stayed with me, calmed my delirium.
Family, either by phone or in person, fosters support. Even though it may have been Molly’s call that disrupted my day, her voice calmed me down and helped shape a self-flagellating narrative.
Most of which rings true.
• Rick Holinger’s book of poetry, “North of Crivitz,” and his collection of humorous essays about life in the Fox Valley, “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences,” are available through local bookstores or richardholinger.net. Contact him at email@example.com.