and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
August #1

Revenge on cellphone drivers
© by Barbara Anderson

The Lowell Sun
Sunday, August 7, 2005

If you count forward from the summer solstice, and backward from the fall equinox, we are right smack in the middle of the season.

Labor Day notwithstanding, there is no reason to let go of summer until the leaves begin to change, and we’ve indulged in a few more mystery novels. Interspersed with mind-enhancing non-fiction, I am presently enjoying another Michael Connelly thriller.

Former Governor Bill Weld, who often received memos from me on various policy issues, told me I should write a book. Not, he advised, a political memoir, but a novel – a mystery novel. He then wrote two himself, to set an example.

O.K. I’ll start by sharing an outline of my proposed book with you, for your summer reading experience.

It was, of course, a dark and stormy night. The body was propped upright behind the steering wheel of the parked car, as if the woman had just pulled over; long blonde hair fell softly around her head, which rested against the rim of the open driver’s side window. To the first responders, there seemed to be no visible sign of injury: no blood on her face or clothing, which was untorn, no defensive wounds on her hands which rested on her lap.

Detective Harry Busch and his partner Lenny Bristle arrived and circled the automobile looking for clues. Maybe, someone offered, she had a heart attack. "Or not," said Lenny. "Maybe her death is related to the cellphone jammed in her left ear."

Sure enough, when they lifted her hair, the tip of the phone was visible; the rest of it was deeply buried. Lenny might not have noticed it if it were not ringing, a cheerful little ditty that a bystander identified as the theme from Dora the Explorer, which her grandchildren watched when she babysat. "Makes me crazy" said Mrs. Marbles. "Ovah and ovah, Dora, Dora, Dora the explorah." Mrs. Marbles, obviously, was from Maine.

When the medical examiner arrived he too thought the cause of death was the cellphone in the brain. But who would do such a thing, and why?

Pause here as we fully understand why, even if we ourselves might not be capable of murder.

It was not an easy case to solve; there were thousands of suspects. Harry and Lenny began with visits to neighborhood body shops in an attempt to identify someone who might have already been hit by a cellphone driver and was therefore a superior candidate for phone rage the next time he saw one. People were taken in for questioning after co-workers remember them threatening to chase down the next driver they see go through a red light while talking on a phone. Too many suspects denied having acted but seemed to want to congratulate whoever did.

In an interesting plot twist, the probe expands to including the two detectives. Lenny Bristle had been cut off that evening by a blonde on a cellphone, apparently oblivious to the fact of his existence or anything else. We learn that Harry’s real name is Hieronymous, after the painter, and it seems that every time he sees someone talking on a cellphone, never mind while driving, he wants to scream. But these are red herrings. The perpetrator, you may already have guessed, is Mrs. Marbles, a woman with little patience for a lot of things including the Dora theme, and with a motive. The dead woman, just that afternoon, had driven – again – through the barrier held up by the street crossing guard at her grandchildren’s grade school, this time narrowly missing her namesake, little Jane.

When stopped by a nearby policeman, who got her attention by shooting out her tires (there was no other way), the driver indignantly explained that she was having a very important conversation about the sale at Macy’s, formerly known as Filene’s. "There’s no law against talking on the phone" she huffed. Mrs. Marbles called several politicians, who agreed that, yes, there wasn’t. So she took the law into her own hands. As she explained to Harry and Lenny when they, reluctantly, arrested her, "I didn’t think it would hurt her – I assumed the phone, meeting no resistance, would go in one ear and out the other."

It was hard to find jurors who hadn’t themselves been cut off by cellphone drivers and seen the vacant look in their eyes as they drove an unattended car. I may leave the ending unresolved; should Mrs. Marbles go to jail?

As in Agatha Christie’s "Murder on the Orient Express"; I would have had several people commit the crime but that’s hard to do with a cellphone stabbing. I wish to state that I do not believe violence is a way to settle anything (which is why we have fantasy). And I would normally not support intrusive laws but would wait until a cellphone driver injured or killed someone before taking his phone and car, then sending him to jail for a very long time.

But we don’t even do that with drunk drivers who main and kill; it will never happen with cellphone drivers either.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.