That Incident at Connellsburg
by Ralph E. Shaffer
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Syndicated columnist Rick Blaine was sure he had checked his email before leaving the Collins Media office in Briarfield on Friday evening. But there it was, on his cell phone screen about three messages down, the note from an editor on the West Coast who needed a response by 4:00 pm, California time. His watch stood at 6:40 Eastern time so he still had twenty minutes to make whatever change in the column the editor wanted, but he wished he had seen the message before he boarded the commuter bus for home.
Rick worked in the city but lived in suburban Willowbrook on the other side of the mountain range, necessitating a long commute each day. Instead of driving his own car, Rick, like many others working in Briarfield, rode an interurban bus that traversed the range once an hour from early morning until ten at night. The trip through the mountains took forty-five minutes or more; the Statewide Stage Lines bus had to make its way slowly around sharp curves and climb steep hills on the narrow highway. At this point the bus was at least twenty-five minutes from Willowbrook.
The time factor meant that Rick couldn’t wait until arriving in Willowbrook before making that call to California. Using his cell phone, he dialed a familiar number. Then he noticed that there was no service on the cell. He tried again. Still no success.
In a loud, commanding voice he announced from the aisle where he stood: “My cell won’t work. Does anyone have a phone that can make a call from here? I’ll gladly pay for your minutes.”
After a moment of silence, a voice from up front responded: “We’ve been through this before. No system works in this part of the woods. There are no relay towers along this highway.”
For a moment a crestfallen Rick was not quite sure what to do. The editor needed a reply quickly, and Rick wouldn’t be able to respond until after the deadline. While that still might be soon enough, he didn’t want to alienate an editor who had carried his column when most others ignored an upstart youngster in the syndicated column field. In desperation, he turned to the map in the bus book, looking at the route ahead.
At this point in the trip, the highway ran through a national wilderness area, designated as such by the Forest Service. In this particular case, the area had been set aside as wilderness to protect the few remaining bears in the state, forced into the forest here as the rest of the area was developed. As a further protection for the bears, human use of the region was greatly limited. What Rick was interested in was where he could find cell phone service in the next few minutes or where he might find a pay phone, and a wilderness area was not very promising.
On the map, the bus route curved through the mountains on a road almost devoid of civilization. But one small side road intersected the highway, and a quarter mile down that road was Connellsburg, whatever that was. Surely there was a means of making a phone call from there.
He hurried to the front of the bus, briefcase in hand. “Have we passed the Connellsburg turnoff yet?” he inquired, with hope in his voice.
“No,” replied the driver. “Are you thinking of getting off there?”
“Yes. I’ve got to make a phone call before 7 o’clock, and that’s my only chance, unless you know where there is a phone some place else.”
“There won’t be cell service on the bus until we clear these mountains. And I have no idea if there’s a phone in Connellsburg. Never been there, but it’s in the wilderness area, and I doubt that there’s much of anything there now.”
“I have to take the chance. How long before we get there?”
“Just ahead, but I don’t stop at the Connellsburg road.”
“It’s marked as a flag stop on the bus map.”
“We never stop there. If you get off I don’t think another bus will stop to pick you up, regardless of what the bus map shows.”
“I’ll take my chances. Just stop.”
By then, road signs indicated a side road entering the highway, and in the semi-darkness Rick could see the intersection. The bus rolled to a stop, amid some grumbling from the other passengers who wondered if there was a problem with the bus. Rick departed and the bus quickly rolled on.
As the sound of the bus faded away, Rick stood for a moment in the silence of the evening, wondering if he had made the right choice. Ilsa was expecting him for dinner at her apartment, and she would be concerned when he didn’t show.
Dear Ilsa! Ilsa Lund taught English at the local high school while she finished her advanced degree at the university. Her goal was to teach Shakespeare at a liberal arts college somewhere, and Rick had encouraged her during the year that they had known each other.
Were they girlfriend/boyfriend? Not officially, but they had spent a lot of time together after they met via email in response to a comment she had posted that was critical of one of his columns. Whatever the criticism had been, it had no effect on their relationship. They were often seen together, though not usually in a romantic way. But Ilsa would have to wait, and he would have a good explanation of why he missed her dinner.
Noting as he walked that his watch gave him slightly more than ten minutes to find a phone or cell service, he briskly headed down the road toward Connellsburg. At this point the first sign of life appeared, a light in a building not far ahead. He hurried on, to an experience he had not anticipated.
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by Ralph E. Shaffer