Both Judy and I have been unwilling to get cell phones, and it’s created some difficult situations. Last week I had a speaking gig in St. Charles, Illinois, which is around sixty miles west of Chicago. Sitting in the airport in San Francisco waiting to board, I watched people talking on their phones, playing with their phones, caressing their phones. Maybe I misunderstand, but it often seems to me that people are sitting and staring at them trying to think of somebody to call. That strikes me as peculiar.
At O’Hare, I took a shuttle out to get a rental car. The lady at the desk asked for a phone number, and I gave her my home phone, adding that it wasn’t a cell number, that I didn’t have one—something I always feel I need to tell people now when I’m transacting business.
She said, “We have you down for an economy car. Is that correct?”
She paused and then asked, genuinely puzzled, “Is that by choice?”
“Yeah. I’m not comfortable driving large cars.”
“No. I mean the cell phone.”
“Oh, yeah. I don’t like ’em.”
She laughed as though it were the funniest thing she’d heard all day. She’d asked me the question in the same way that confirmed meat eaters ask why on earth you’d want to be a vegetarian.
After finishing at the desk, I was supposed to call the house that I was to stay in in St. Charles, to let them know I was on my way. But there was no pay phone. So I picked up the car and started driving, keeping my eyes peeled for a phone booth. Google maps had sent me on a bizarre course that I hadn’t bothered to check before leaving. It was like flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles by way of Denver. I was going down some long and slow business corridor, where I assumed it would be easy to find a pay phone, but I wasn’t having any luck at all. I stopped several times to ask, but nobody knew of any. Finally, I spotted one behind an aging gas station. I called the house, but the person on the other end couldn’t hear me at all. The phone’s speaker was broken. So I got back in the car and resumed driving. It was raining hard, growing dark, and I didn’t know the area at all. It was a little maddening. Finally, I stopped at a convenience store and asked the clerk if I could borrow her phone, which she reluctantly allowed, and I got through this time.
It was a bit of an inconvenience for everyone concerned—for me, for the store clerk, and for my host. But I still refuse to get a cell phone. I’ve already gotten tied up in too many of society’s entanglements. Getting a cell phone feels like going one step too far.