Thursday, March 18 – The Conference Call


Vallejo 6:40 a.m.
I’m in the backseat of a black Mercedes sedan. The driver is wearing a green satin shirt and black slacks; long straight very light blonde hair. She makes me think of Meg Ryan – more because of her gestures and voice than her face. “How long does it take to drive to San Francisco?” she asks as we get settled in the car. The front seat passenger is silent, perhaps still thinking about how close she came to being run over by my husband a few minutes ago, who was about to drop me off at the car pool area. She’s dressed all in black, with short black hair, and she was nearly invisible darting across the busy street to the car pool line in the pre-dawn dark.

So I answer the driver’s question. “It averages about 45 minutes. On Friday it could be 30 minutes; on a bad day as much as an hour and a half.” Hard to believe this horrendous commute is only 35 miles.

The driver says she has a conference call coming up and may have to take it in the car, depending on the time.

“I’ve heard they’re going to start charging toll for the car pool lane”, she says as we take off. The carpool toll, which goes into action on July 1, is an issue that pushes my commuter gal button and I give her more information than she probably wants. She was unaware that the regular, non-carpool toll is being raised to $5 and we agree that the $2.50 for carpoolers will still be a good deal.

She checks to make sure the heat is comfortable for us, pointing out a lovely little heat vent just for the back seat (ahh), and we are on our way. Within a few miles she has to take the conference call and asks the front seat passenger to write down the call-in information as she calls it out.

Approaching the Berkeley area, the driver becomes an active participant in the conference call, identifying herself as Lisa and describing an awful sounding accounting procedure to someone named Brian. Traffic slows to about 10 mph as we pass Berkeley and I look out the window at the other lanes of slow traffic. Right alongside us is a huge white truck. As I watch, the truck comes up behind the small sedan in front of it and hits it. My god. What’s weird is that the driver of the sedan doesn’t respond. I am looking right at him and he continues to drive along as though nothing happened. Not a flinch, even. I exclaim, “did you see that truck hit that car!” and Lisa shushes me, since somewhere in space and time at the other end of this call a roomful of people can hear every word I’m saying. She turns around and gestures that yes, she saw it too and pantomimes with her hands the truck hitting the car. We drive on picking up speed as we cross the bridge. The sun is coming up and it looks like we’ve made the trip in about 40 minutes today. We get out at the drop off spot, mouthing ‘thank you’ to Lisa who is still on her conference call.

4 Responses

  1. Incredible! I thought talking on cell phones while driving was illegal in CA?

    • Hi Paul – well, talking on cell phones with them pressed to your ear is illegal in California. It’s still okay to talk on cell on speakerphone, which is why the ridiculous situation with my comment on the truck was heard in the conference!

      I think cell phones being used any way at all are a major distraction. A chunk of our perception goes out the window when we’re concentrating on a phone call, whether we’re physically holding on to the phone or not. From my views as a passenger I see fewer and fewer people using them, and when they do, they apologize to us riders and keep the call very brief. May it continue!

      My Friday March 20 blog talks about the new distraction of the illuminated digital billboards – some think these are an even worse distraction than cell phones!

  2. This is too funny! I am laughing and really enjoying reading your posts.

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