Thursday, January 25, 2007

99 Minutes

Date = 12/30
Time = 5:53 A M (MT)
Phone = 800-***-****
Call Destination = 800 SVC
Minutes Used = 99
Total Charges = $0.00

My longest mobile phone call ever, delineated in all of its colorless basics on our monthly cell phone bill. Possibly my lengthiest conversation of any type. A personal best.

And the day I officially lost my cell phone virginity

"12/30" was the day of our second attempt to return home from New Mexico after our Christmas visit with Monica and Bram.

The day before that we had arrived at the Albuquerque airport around 10:00 A M for a 2:30 PM Dallas flight - during the eighth or so hour of what would prove to be a twenty or so hour snowstorm. The air terminal was busily checking in potential passengers but not receiving or sending out any aircraft. A combination of the rapidly accumulating snow and a pretty intense fog made landings and takeoffs impossible. Planes that should have arrived the night before or earlier that morning hadn't. Still our airline, American, had not cancelled any flights, including the 9:00 A M Dallas flight which didn't have a plane to get on, even if the continually deteriorating weather had permitted it to leave. This very same aircraft was supposed to return later from Dallas and become our 2:30 flight. The 11:00 flight to "The Big D" was also nowhere to be seen.

Mars and I settled into a soft couch in an upper level lounge with a really great view of the lack of activity on the outdoor airport and waited patiently for some official word of what was (or was not) to happen. And we quickly realized that while our catbird seats provided a great view, and a near perfect circle of quiet from the hustle and bustle of the airport - it also was totally immune to the sound of the various public address announcements, some of which we very much wanted to hear. So, restless as always, I volunteered to go downstairs to the boarding gate area and listen for "the word".

Shortly thereafter the agent at our American Airlines boarding gate announced that he would be passing out pieces of paper with the 1-800 phone number that could be used by "those of you who wish to rebook your flight at this time."

"Should we?" several people asked.

"If I were you I would be doing it." He answered. Meanwhile none of the flights were listed as cancelled, or even late for that matter, on the electronic arrival/departure boards. I grabbed a piece of paper and resumed my pacing.

Fifteen minutes later he announced again that he was handing out the phone number. Since there was no one queued up to talk to him I went up and asked specifically about out 2:30 flight. "Oh, it's cancelled." He said. And he quickly spun around with perhaps the realization that he had forgotten to do something, grabbed the microphone, and announced that the 2:30 flight to Dallas was officially not going to happen.

I went upstairs to tell Mars and to call the number on the piece of paper. Stunningly I was immediately connected to a rebooking agent who said we had already been placed on an 8:30 flight the next morning. We went to the kiosk at the airport's Tourist Service desk, found a nearby hotel with a shuttle and a restaurant, phoned, and booked a room. It was my first "emergency" use of our cell phone and I was as impressed as hell - all our problems resolved with less than five minutes of phone time. I, perhaps falsely, attributed our apparent good fortune to the rapidity with which we were able to contact the appropriate authorities - something that we would not have been able to do as easily in our pre-cellular lives. I love technology when it actually does what it's supposed to do.

We got the phone about a year and a half ago. We, actually I, talked about getting one after 9/11 but that urgent need dissipated quickly along with most of the other immediate anxiety occasioned by that event. Eventually we decided it would be an okay idea to have one in case of emergency. I checked out a couple of plans at dealerships and settled on a "Sprint Fair and Flexible Plan" that was offered by an attractive young Hispanic female representative at our local mall. It was the lowest priced of any that I had looked at. Her presentation skills had absolutely nothing to do with it.

The plan included a free phone, which they were out of - but she gave me:

(1) A better model, still gratis, (she must have liked me),

(2) A free one month trial and no start-up fees (additional things she threw in herself because she felt bad that the phone wasn't available and because she no doubt thought me charming - or as Mars suspects she mistook me for Dr. Wilmer, our town's pretty much official pediatrician (and probably hers), whose endomorphic body type, height and Lincolnesque beard are identical to mine),

And (3) an easy to remember phone number (either because she was totally smitten by my animal magnetism or she figured it was shear luck that someone of my age even knew my own name and probably couldn't handle anything much more complicated than all zeros).

So, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, we tiptoed into the communication world of the previous one hundred years. Then, unable to come up with any circumstances when we needed to use it, we turned it off and carried it around with us in that inert state for several months. Every month I perused the bill looking to see if there were any financial penalties for not using the phone and discovering none we continued on with our newly embraced practice of voluntary cell-ibacy.

We took it with us on last year's Christmas visit to New Mexico but I forgot to pack the charger so it died quickly and never was missed. We also brought it and the charger on our May 2006 visit and actually used it a few times - although truthfully never in any situation where it was needed or even where a terrestrial line wasn't available.

And so, armed with our cellular communicator and buoyed by the previous day's telephonic triumphs, we arrived at the airport the next day for our re-booked 8:30 flight. This time our airline wasn't even pretending that anything at all was going to happen that day. We were immediately handed another paper with the 1-800 number and told to call it right now.

So I did.

After I "pressed 1" to talk to a rebooking agent and heard that it was a twenty minute wait until one would become free we settled onto the first available couch and waited.

You really don't realize how totally mediocre a piece of music can be until you listen to it pretty much uninterrupted for close to one hundred minutes and have absolutely no recollection of it all - as soon as it stops.

My right arm cramped so I switched to my left. And then back to the right. Mars held the phone for a while. I worried that I had answered the "Press 1 for..." prompt incorrectly and would end up holding for several hours only to speak to a sales rep for an American Airline VISA card. I pondered the idea of asking Mars to call the same number on a pay phone in case I had accidentally been spun off into some digital state of limbo - doomed to endlessly travel the telephonic universe in search of someone who cared enough to answer.

And I looked around the airport and bonded with my brothers and sisters in arms - tens and twenties of them at a time - all walking or sitting with their cell phone held firmly against their ear - and not saying a single word. Once they were a talking head, now they were more like the walking dead.

Then, while engaged in conversation with another couple, similarly stuck, whom we had met at the hotel that morning, I heard a voice shouting in my ear "Hello, is someone there?"

"Yes! Yes I am here."

Within five minutes we were rebooked onto another airline three days hence. And shortly thereafter we reserved ourselves another hotel room on our still-warm-to-the-touch mobile phone.

An hour thirty-nine of my life that I will never get back - and I didn't even use up my free minutes.

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