Before cellular phones, people used to wave

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, March 25, 2009

People don’t wave while driving.

We used to wave, but thanks to airbags, our hands have moved from the 10 and 2 o’clock to 8 and 4 o’clock on the steering wheel, making waving difficult. With a cell phone in one hand, a coffee mug in the other, and a soft drink in a cup big enough to go swimming in on the seat — waving is challenging. So is using a turn signal.

Back when a yellow light meant, “slow down, the light is going to turn red” instead of “speed up, the light is going to turn red.” Back when most things were closed on Sundays and most of the world was covered with linoleum. Back when the only thing protecting a child from hitting a dashboard fashioned from concrete was a mother’s arm. Minivans should come equipped with a seat belt called, “The Mom Arm.”

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Back when a cordless phone was a disabled phone, we had one telephone in our house. No, not one telephone per room — one in the entire house. I’m not kidding. I had no phone of my own. I had a deprived childhood. Today, if such a thing occurred, my parents would have been turned into the child protection authorities.

We had a solitary telephone that couldn’t even send e-mail. The lone phone was a rotary phone. It had a big dial that needed to be spun around until the index finger became dizzy. If we made a long-distance call, we needed to break for lunch in the middle of dialing. The phone had no call waiting, no voice mail (making popularity difficult to measure) and no speakerphone. It did have an operator somewhere in the cosmos. It was a person — usually a woman — with whom I could exchange words. I can’t remember the last time I talked to a real live operator.

The phone we had was the size of a Mini Cooper. No one dreamed of carrying a telephone around. The brain shriveled at the thought.

The only person who had anything like a cellular phone was Dick Tracy, the detective in the newspaper comics. He had a wrist radio that he used like a phone. Maybe a “Twilight Zone” episode covered cell phones? Rod Serling might have said, “You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind and ringtone. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination and service plan. That’s a text message up ahead — your next stop: the Twilight Zone.”

I have a cell phone. It doesn’t have a rotary dial. I tried to get a dial cell phone, but was told they don’t make them. Cell phones come in colors like gang green, navel orange, and Dorian gray, but I have a simple silver one.

It has games. I don’t know what kind. I grew up playing baseball board games like Strat-O-Matic, Negamco, BLM and APBA. Those games employed cards, dice and the statistics of real players to keep us entertained. The video portion was in our imaginations. We had to rely on our imaginations for our imaginations.

Someone told me that he could no longer find a pay phone. What are cell phones? We use, we pay.

I listened to man bellow into a cell phone during a seminar I attended. He was the kind who would use a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito. The man obviously had the “talk loudly” plan. If he wasn’t going to hear the speaker, no one else was either. A cell phone gave the man the chance to let innocent bystanders know his business.

We need to bring back phone booths so that those who insist on yelling into cell phones at inappropriate places and times would have a place to shout without bothering anyone. A booth would offer privacy not only for the caller, but also for the rest of the people in the immediate zip code.

Soon, phones will be embedded into our teeth. I will be able to dial a number by touching my tongue to my teeth in a certain order. I don’t know how I’ll play games.

I’m not sure what rollover minutes are and I apparently used up all of my free minutes before I got the cell phone. I don’t text-message because I’m not hooked on phonics. I do speak quietly as possible into my cell phone. It’s the call of the mild.

Teddy Roosevelt advised us to speak softly and carry a big stick. Today, Teddy would say, “Speak softly and carry a small phone.”

I’m glad I have a cell phone, but I wish I didn’t have one.

I have to use it to jump-start a Mini Cooper.

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday.