Driving without a phone

I was in a hurry. It takes three hours and fifteen minutes to drive to Canberra and I had precisely three hours and twenty-four. Doable but it was cutting it fine. I couldn’t get stuck behind a cattle truck, come across road work or, dare I say it, hit a roo. I threw everything I needed to stay the night into the car and did my final check. Keys, wallet but where was my phone? I ran back inside calling ‘Siri’ but there was no answer. Frantic now, I began turning bags inside out. I was wasting precious minutes. It occurred to me that I might have left my phone at work. Could I drive back to the office and take a different route? No, there wasn’t time. I had to jump in the car and leave.

I was beginning to sweat. Waves of panic came over me. What if I were to break down? The sun was reaching the horizon and the roads were empty. What would I do in an emergency? Then I remembered the long stretches in the journey where there was no reception. My phone was useless in these dead zones, so why should I worry now? I thought back to journeys of the past. I often drove long distances then and mobile phones only existed in our collective imagination. My cars were much less reliable and from time to time, they did break down. The difference was that I remembered many more phone numbers back then and I probably carried a small address book, just in case.

This time, I could only remember my daughter’s number.  It happened to be fortuitous as I was driving to her place. She had managed to get last minute tickets to a show and knew I’d be up to the challenge of getting there. But I knew she would be tracking my journey on her phone and would worry that I hadn’t left yet. So, when I came across a public phone in a deserted small town, I called her. Of course, she didn’t answer. A strange number was most likely a scam caller, so I called again and again. Finally, she picked up.

‘Your phone is at work,’ she said. ‘How are you calling me?’ Clearly, she is too young to have ever relied on phone booths.

The next couple of hours did have their moments. Thunderstorms, pouring rain, potholes and road works all slowed my journey. Still, I arrived with twenty minutes to spare, and we made it to the theatre in time. I could finally relax. By the time I was to return home, I had embraced the experience. I didn’t miss my phone once.

The following day was a Sunday. Could I wait until the next day to retrieve my phone? I thought about it. I really did. But the truth is, I enjoy the many benefits of the twenty-first century and nostalgia for simpler times has its limits, even for me.


Rain has washed away whole sections of country roads. Wherever I look there are potholes, thoroughfares which are no longer passable and ‘rough surface’ signs to alert drivers to the obvious. I recently punctured a tyre as I plunged into a hole much deeper than anticipated and last Thursday, a loose rock hit my windscreen leaving it with a sizable crack.

I have had ample opportunity to ponder the pothole, both real and figurative, as I white-knuckle clench the steering wheel. There have certainly been some rough rides. Last week as I drove along a dark country highway, trying to avoid both kangaroos and potholes, I suddenly found myself going over a flooded roadway. I could hear the safety ads loud and clear, ‘Do not enter floodwaters’ but it was too late. I was already deep in the water and accelerating out. The sun had dropped behind the horizon, and I was left to navigate unfamiliar, rugged roads at night.

While potholes are perilous for travellers, I find solace in the fact that we haven’t been able to bend nature to our will altogether. In the great battle between the elements and bitumen, the elements win every time.

And as I navigate the great and small potholes in my life, I draw some lessons from driving along country roads. If I am lucky to see the pothole ahead, I can always move over to the other side, as long as there is no oncoming traffic. There are often ways to mitigate the great and small disasters in life by course correcting.

Potholes make me slow down. Instead of rushing from A to B, I need to be measured and disciplined to get there safely. This is a lesson I need to learn over and over. When confronted with overwhelm, it is best to slow down and approach tasks with a well-considered plan rather than plough ahead at full speed.

Then there is the detour. At times it is well worth obeying the sign. It may take longer to get wherever I’m going but there’s a reason for the diversion. These roads are often scenic and may lead to unexpected pleasures along the way. A detour whether forced or voluntary can provide insights which otherwise could easily be missed.

I am learning to approach potholes as moments to pause and reflect. They may be an unwanted disruption, but they teach me that I can’t control everything. And ever so slowly, I am learning to accept the things I cannot change.

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