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Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2002
For someone who has been around long enough to remember when touch tone phones were a novelty, you'd think I would have learned something by now.

By the way, I'm serious about the touch tone thing. Dad worked for the telephone company and brought a toucher home one day. The whole neighborhood came over.

I've had a cell phone since the time that cells evolved out of plant life. My first one was a car unit with a bulky box that went under the seat and a nifty uterine antenna and a cord attached to the handset. All sorts of visual clues to identify me as a mobile and dashing rouge with urgent communication needs. And it worked fine until I had it stuck between shoulder and ear and managed to wrap the cord around the steering column in the middle of a hard right turn.

I've had three or four portable phones since then and all have done the job with varying levels of success. Although I've never really been comfortable with the whole idea of being instantly accessible. People tend to call me with the most trivial of requests and questions simply because they can. My children take special delight in calling when stumped for an answer to a homework question, which inevitably leads to heated replies when I'm dangling off a ledge with a power saw in hand, trying to remember if it was Pizarro or Balboa who did in those poor Incas.

One thing's for sure. Once they get you on a calling plan the cellular carriers will do practically anything to keep the cash rolling in. Yesterday I'd finally had it with my current cell phone - carried by Sunny Phone Co. The battery kept cutting off and the rate plan was spiraling out of control. As soon as we had finished with our daily grind I directed Stu to the nearest Sunny cellular store for a confrontation

OF: "There it is. Pull right up in front and park."
Stu: "Hey look, there's a pizza joint right next door."
OF: "I'm gonna have to get a new phone, I just know it."
Stu: "You want jalopenos on yours?"
OF: "Bastards. If everybody didn't already have this number in speed dial…"
Stu: "Wonder if they have any beer?"
OF: "And for what I'm paying these people a month, my god."
Stu: "Man, I can smell the garlic from here."
OF: "What?"

I entered with a flourish and was waved over by a smiling salesy-tech type of college grad. I made my pitch in a growl, with many demonstrative hand motions and slashing of throat signs.

Salesman: "Let's see. The battery keeps cutting off, right?"
OF: "Frequently and with great derision, yes."

He whipped out a #2 pencil with no point on it and popped off the battery. He laid the phone and battery on the counter and began vigorously scrubbing the metal contacts with the eraser, pausing every so often to blow the crumbs away and inspect his handiwork as if creating some sort of electrical montage. He slapped the two halves back together and shook the phone, slapped it around (something I thought was reserved only for my purview) and finally tossed it on the floor.

I picked it up and was shocked to see that it still worked.

The salesman laughed and patted me on my shoulder. "Happens a lot. The contacts just get dirty and the battery dies on you. Beats buying a new phone, doesn't it?"

I was even more shocked to see that he wasn't going to hustle me out of a hundred bucks.

OF: "Okay, but what about the rate plan?"
Salesman: "Let's see what your account looks like on the computer. Phone number?"

He called up the account and was quiet for a moment. Then, he actually tittered. Giggled. "Uh…you've been with us for a while, haven't you? Matter of fact, hee hee I don't think I've ever snork seen an account this old. You might say your rate plan is gasp outdated."

He managed to contain himself long enough to suggest that I call 611 on the cell phone and talk to a representative. Smiling, he held the door for my exit, and collapsed with a shout of laughter on the other side of the door. I sat in the truck and watched as he gestured at me from his desk to a fellow employee and grimaced as they howled their glee.

It didn't stop me from calling 611. Right in front of the store, you betcha.

Within minutes my plan had increased airtime and dropped $30 a month to boot. Which, I imagine, had the entire sales department at Sunny Phone hooting at the codger who had finally taken his first baby step into telephone awareness. Like this is something I should know and be aware of? Sheesh.

Stu finally emerged from the pizza joint and hopped in with a 10" pie and a fistful of napkins. He passed over a slice with more toppings on it than ought to be legal for something of that size and took a massive chomp out of his own.

"Heh, can you believe it? They'd never heard of anyone wanting a pizza with triple jalepenos before. These kids. Don't know anything these days, I say. Can't tell 'em nothing."

Well, maybe.

I'll call and let you know when I find out.

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