I miss smoking.

Yes, quit pipes and the occasional cigarette or cigar 22 years ago. Don’t mean miss my own smoking. I do miss how smoking helped the dexterity of nearly everyone — that is, people who smoked, which was nearly everyone.

That was not obvious until a few weeks ago. My office moved from little Lowell to working-class Springdale. The 14-mile, one-way commute became 11. It’s two exits closer on the interstate from the Shady Hill manse. But instead of 16-20 minutes’ drive, it’s 20-30, due to more stop-and-go distance to reach the new newsroom.

More time on city streets provides lots of defensive-driving workouts as well as seeing clearly what motorists are doing to cause speeding up and slowing down for no apparent reason, with the occasional crossing of a lane stripe. They’re on their phones.

If only these people smoked, they’d competently drive while fidgeting, often in the form of trying not to burn their fingers or mouths. The nicotine habit would be good practice for the chatting and texting masses.

In the Mad Men days when nearly everyone smoked, it took a knack while steering to pull a cigarette from a pack, tap one end flat, light the other and so on. If you were talking with a passenger and also tuning in a radio station, well there you go. We pipe-smoking drivers alertly mussed with more meddling — knocking out ashes, fuzzy wire cleaners, filling from the tobacco pouch, tamping but not too much, all the relighting.

Off-road use of cell phones is risky, too. The New York Times reports a widespread increase of injuries of walkers stumbling while using their phones. The injuries generally are minor but real. A survey confirms about 1,000 emergency room visits nationwide in 2008 by distracted pedestrians.

The article cites walking and chewing gum — how could it not? — with a researcher noting neither takes conscious effort so injuries are rare. Walking and messing with cigarettes? A little more deliberate and probably statistically insignificant as well.

You may not need to be an active smoker to learn how to safely talk or type on cell phones while on the move. If you smoked and quit, you likely retain those survival skills. It’s like riding a bicycle. Though come to think of it, few smoked and pedaled back in tobacco’s heyday, because ash would get in your eyes.

Klutzes like me don’t need cell phones. Early one morning a couple of weeks ago I was heading to the kitchen in Shady Hill when I saw My Beloved out in the snow-covered yard playing with our new dog, who’d never seen snow before. She was laughing, he was shuttling and prancing. It was buoyant.

I had to join them, even without a coat. I slammed into the glass door with my face.

My nose still hurts.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email