The Long Way Home 6.21.24

Published in the Northshore Journal Friday, June 21, 2024.

In the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the onboard computer HAL has a mind of its own and takes control of the spaceship from astronaut Dave Bowman. 

I thought of that sequence last week when something similar happened at the Fernlund Compound, although IBM was not the tech culprit.

After several nights of restless sleep due to thunder and lightning and a dog frightened by both, I hoped for an uninterrupted sleep.

We had a nice dinner that evening and did our bedtime routines with the dogs and the drugs we take to keep blood pressure and cholesterol in range. My Kindle worked its magic, putting me into a deep sleep before 8:30.

One of our dogs, Fiona, is a powerful alarm barker. Usually, she barks at various mammals skulking through the yard or a late-arriving FedEx delivery. So when I woke to her jumping off our bed, barking, and running into the living room, I figured it was that she was upset about, or maybe some lightning.

After 50 years of dealing with nocturnal disturbances, it is our practice that the Bohunk is our first responder when the dogs start barking. 

As she went out, I was less than half awake. I saw a light flashing in the living room, and I was sure lightning was causing the disturbance. 

I closed my eyes, almost falling asleep, when I realized Becky was coming alongside the bed. In a soft voice, with a tone  I’d never heard before, she bent close and said, “Hun, there’s a man on our porch.” 

Living in the woods, we don’t have and don’t like unexpected midnight visitors.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to wake in the wee hours and react to something, but this time, adrenaline hit hard and fast, and I ran to the door.

Sure enough, there was a man on the porch. He was shining a flashlight, which didn’t help my eyesight or my mood, and as I got to the window by the door, I shouted, “Who the eff are you?”

Ready for a confrontation, I quickly calmed down when he said he was a deputy with the sheriff’s office or words to that effect. I stepped out on the porch, dogs still barking up a storm, so that we could talk.

I’ve only had a nocturnal home visit from Johnny Law once before, so I was taken aback when he asked if we were all okay. We were.

The LEC received a 911 call that disconnected; when they called back, there was no answer. Events like that lead to this kind of welfare check, and that’s a good thing. 

He showed me the phone number and said, “Is this your number?” 


Then he said it was registered to Dan Fernlund, our son who lives next door. 

“Is that his number?” I didn’t know. I remember my home phone number growing up, but he’s just Dan on my phone.  I suggested we go next door and check on him.

Like our house, no doorbell at Dan’s. His doormat says, “Come back when you have a warrant.” I didn’t think about how that looked until later.

His dog was barking loud enough to wake the dead by this time. Dan got her settled a bit and, in true Fernlund fashion, shouted, “What the eff is going on out there.” 

The deputy, who was professional and polite, explained the interrupted 911 call and asked Dan to open the door so he could verify that he was okay. After that, Dan checked his phone to see if the call had been made. 

The phone and his Apple Watch (Dick Tracy phone) were on a charger. He turns his ringer off at night since he isn’t managing dozens of trucks delivering to various Walmart warehouses in the wee hours. 

Sure enough, his phone had called 911, and because it was set to silent, he didn’t hear any ringing when the LEC called back. 

Verifying that all was well, the young deputy (even the damn sheriff is young to me) left to police our rugged and remote county. Before he drove off, I apologized profusely for the call and my less-than-charitable attitude when greeting him.

Adrenaline kept me awake. Despite reading one of the early Virgil Flowers novels, I didn’t get back to sleep until 3:30, when daylight started to appear.

According to the FCC, 70% of all 911 calls originate from cell phones. And time-wasting erroneous calls like the one from Dan’s phone have become a massive problem for law enforcement.

I have no idea why Dan’s phone decided it was HAL and, with a mind of its own, dialed 911 in the middle of the night. But I am grateful that our 911 system works and that we have some fantastic people working in law enforcement to keep us safe.