Cell phone helps track free spirits movements

Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2001

I can see it now.

I answer my cell phone as I drive past Kmart. A recorded message announces the blue-light special on paper towels.

Passing Fred Meyer, it rings again to announce, For the next 10 minutes, bananas are 20 cents off!

On one hand, the New England Journal of Medicine claims drivers using cell phones are four times more likely to crash.

On the other, federal regulators are requiring that cell phone companies upgrade their systems by Oct. 1 to be able to pinpoint the locations of callers. The main purpose is to identify the locations of 911 calls, a third of which now come by cell phone.

But thats not all.

Marketers salivate when they think of sending targeted coupons and advertisements to mobile phones that are carried near shopping areas, says a recent Reuters news story.

When the ads start arriving, my cell phone goes in the trash.

For sure, cell phones are cool. I can remember calling home from the ice on Sheridan Glacier near Cordova and calling my mother in New Mexico from the tops of mountains near Cooper Landing. When my daughters transportation arrangements fell apart in Pennsylvania while we were camped across Kachemak Bay, we used a cell phone to straighten the mess. We had to find the high spots on Glacier Spit in order to talk through the cell site in Homer.

But Ive always had misgivings.

My first cell phone was a birthday present three or four years ago. It was like getting a pair of underwear for Christmas. Im an impulsive guy. As long as I can remember, Ive had an inclination to disappear at will for walks on the beach or to buy some lumber for my latest project. I once missed a surprise birthday party because I hopped on the boat to pick shrimp pots.

My wife, Shana, is forever trying to trace my whereabouts. It was almost a joke when we lived in Homer. Id stop by the lumber store. Thered be a message to call home. Id stop by the fire department, where I was a volunteer. Same message. Id go to the harbor to check the boat. Thered be another message with the harbormaster.

My birthday present was really a thinly veiled effort to track my movements.

For years, I refused to carry it except on trips to the back country, where it only works on the mountain tops. On solo trips, I found it comforting to know that if I ever fell off a cliff, I could climb to the top of the nearest mountain and call for help. Besides, its nice to call ahead for someone to turn on the hot tub.

Of course, it is nice when Shana carries the cell phone. That way, I can figure out when shell be back from Anchorage, or ask her to pick up some ice cream at the supermarket. Its also nice to carry the phone when I drive our 1979 pickup, which refuses to start at inconvenient locations. I just turn off the phone until I need it.

Sometimes I leave it on, but it seems like a mistake.

I left it on last spring so our daughters could reach us when we both attended a conference in Anchorage. We were attending a lecture when I heard J.S. Bach it has a musical ringer first quietly, then steadily louder. All heads turned in my direction while I dug it out of a pocket and fled the room.

It was the Clarion calling with a question for Shana. I slipped back in to give her the phone. She left, completed the call and brought back the phone. As soon as we both were settled, it rang again. I fled the room, but it was another call for Shana. When she came back, I switched off the phone.

On Memorial Day, I was halfway up a mountain near Summit when I heard the music deep within my backpack. I took off the pack, but I couldnt remember which pocket the phone was in. My hiking buddy looked annoyed and disappeared across a snowfield. I finally found the phone.

It was my daughter Amanda calling to ask, Wheres the vacuum cleaner?

When we reached the top, it rang again. She wanted to know if I could pick up a video.

Now, the feds want to know where I am.

By October, Ill be like a brown bear with a radio collar.

Doug Loshbaugh is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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