Turtles and Cell Phones, 6/24/13.


About 9 a.m. I got in the truck to drive the 10 miles up the highway to the mail box and the grocery store. For most of the drive the road is flat and straight, with only woods on each side. Once you get near town there is more stuff going on, but it is never really crowded nor busy.

From 200 yards, I thought it was a green plastic trash bag, maybe half full laying in my lane. The road is two full lanes and wide shoulders, and the traffic was light, so there was plenty of room to drive around it. From 100 yards is was obvious that is was an animal, and from 50 yards it was easy to see that it had been a very large turtle.

Above, a soft shell turtle. They are not cute nor cuddly, nor have any of the qualities that most people like in animals they choose to care about. This turtle should not be offended, most people have very little empathy or compassion for other humans they find unattractive or different.


In Florida, as elsewhere, it is common to see animals killed on the road. It is an unpleasant fact of “development.” I am not a vegetarian, and I have killed animals before, but I don’t regard it casually. I try to put some real effort into avoiding unnecessary damage to the environment. I just don’t view my own personal needs or existence as justification for doing what ever a self-absorbed child would do to his surroundings. Most times, I can drive past dead animals and be on my way, but as I moved past this one, I stared at it and thought that it might have been alive for 30 years, only to get killed on this day crossing a road. It made me sick.

100 feet past the remains there was a traffic light and a convenience store parking lot. I pulled in at the same time as a landscaping truck and trailer. A very burly guy in his 20s, covered in tattoos, got out and dug a shovel out of the bed of his truck. We walked back to the turtles remains. It was the largest turtle I have seen in 25 years in Florida. It was as big as a garbage can lid and might have weighed 60 or 70 pounds. The pavement was very hot, yet it didn’t smell nor had it changed color. It had been only a short time since it was killed. It had been run over more than once. It was very hard to imagine how these people, and even the original car, had not seen the turtle, and hit it in broad daylight. Even now, it was still 6 or 8″ tall, and three feet long.

The landscaper didn’t look at me, or speak to me. He was wearing sunglasses and a ballcap that obscured his face. The only thing he said, addressed to no one in particular was, “What a fucking waste.” It came out more sad than angry.

Cars were slowing down from 75 yards back and carefully driving around on the shoulder. The landscaper was waiting for the light to change to walk out into the lane. The cars on the shoulder were slowing the traffic to 15 mph, even though the light was green. It wasn’t a big obstruction and traffic was light.

To my complete shock, in a period of one minute, three drivers came right up the road, slowed with everyone else, and then ran directly over the turtle’s carcass just as if it were a large speed bump. They were all going slow enough for me and the landscaper to see that they were all holding a cell phone to their head. The third person was a woman in a Honda who had to stop for the light in another 50 feet. She momentarily pulled the phone away from her head, looked slightly sideways, and went right back to her conversation. The landscaper stepped out into the lane and looked at the car. For a moment he held the shovel as a weapon and not a tool. The light tuned green and the Honda drove away, oblivious to all of this. The landscaper turned and did his work before the next car passed.

Gus Warren and I flew our Zenith 601XL to Oshkosh in 2005. At a fuel stop we watched a young pilot untie a Cessna 152, preflight it, and fuel it all in five minutes. He did this all while having a single unbroken animated cell phone call. I commented that his flight instructor didn’t teach him anything. Gus pointed out that it might be a bad assumption. For all we know, the guy’s CFI probably did the same thing. Later at AirVenture, I gave three smart ass kids in their 20s a very hard time because they chose to blab on their cell phones in loud voices straight through the National Anthem.  Each of them were bigger than me, but they were scared, evidently coming from a safe suburban background where no one had explained that they weren’t quite as cool as they thought. About a dozen people saw this. Public reaction? Most people saw nothing wrong with talking on the phone during the Anthem. Two people said I shouldn’t have done it because I could affect my sales. The kids I could understand being stupid, they weren’t raised well. The adult reaction was much harder for me to understand. On matters of principal, I don’t factor in money. If someone had later told me I was an idiot because you don’t teach young people that way, and it was a poor display of self-control, I would have listened to them. But I don’t relate to people whose first thought is always “How much money is this going to cost me?”

At Oshkosh 2009, I was reprimanded for refusing to further speak to a guy who had been standing in my booth. He had come in, and just said “So what’s up with these Con-air engines?” I politely started to explain that GM had made 1.8 million. … A second later his cell rang, and without any hesitation or nod to me, he answered it and started a loud conversation. He did not move out of the tent, nor even stop leaning on the display engine. When he hung up 4 or 5 minutes later, I refused to say another word to him. He lodged an official complaint. An understanding EAA staff member took me aside and said he knew the guy was an ass, but all I needed to do was apologize and we could avoid a big hassle. I told him that I appreciated the offer, but just go ahead and write me up.

Today on Jacksonville news, a newscaster bragged that they had never turned off their cell phone on any flight when they were told to. Great, I am really sure that bleach blonde had the electrical engineering degree to evaluate if her cell phone interfered with the flight instruments. I don’t like flying on airlines because of many things, like feeding alcohol to people in exit rows, allowing people to bring too much luggage in the cabin, and now letting them talk  on cell phones instead of reading the safety card, all tell me that the consumer marketing people have more power than the aviators and safety people. I am not comfortable with the task of opening the emergency exit being covered by a guy who came on the plane with a carry on the size of a suitcase, played “Angry Birds” on his cell phone during the safety briefing, and then had several drinks to top off the ones he had in the airport bar.

The NHSTA data for 2011 says that distracted drivers were directly responsible for killing 3,300 Americans. The vast majority of these accidents were drivers on cell phones. It is very obvious that right after any of these accidents it can be determined that the driver was placing a call or texting. They could all be charged with homicide, but this will never happen. It will not for the simple reason that we have a national addiction to cell phones. Expecting today’s people to outlaw cell phones in cars or hold drivers responsible for the results would be like expecting the drunks and winos to write all the DWI laws and insist that they be enforced.

Ask any CFI who does a lot of biennial flight reviews, and they will tell you that pilots who were trained poorly in glass cockpit planes have a very dangerous habit of hardly looking outside the plane, even in the pattern. A CFI friend of mine pointed out that many of these people have a hard time even faking it for the flight review.  He also observed that every one of these people compulsively checked their smart phone on the ground. If you want a specific example, Google search “Cirrus hits glider tow plane.” Looking at screens is an addiction to many people, just like crack. The only difference is that we don’t let crackheads drive cars or fly planes.

Oshkosh 2013? We will see how this goes. My brother-in-law Col. Nerges taught me the very important phrase “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” I will try to go there with no expectation that people will control their addiction when I am answering their question. If I can do this, I will be a far happier person. -ww

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