Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Call Waiting

I bit the bullet the other day and bought a new cell phone. The old one was a little flip phone that worked perfectly well, but it didn’t take pictures, text, have a navigational gps or connect to the internet. All I could do was talk to whomever called me, or call someone I wanted to talk to. Worked fine for me, but the kids wanted me to get into the 21st century, so I did. But it is NOT a smart-phone. It’s amazing to me that this piece of machinery, which is smarter than me, is still at the lower end of the technology curve. It takes pictures, texts easily and will connect to the internet if I really work at it, but it doesn’t take my pulse, or count my steps or record my every thought.

I don’t use it very often, unless I am visiting Outside. There I use it so I don’t have to use someone else’s phone to call my kids or check the flight. Because of that I have a very simple plan…so much a year, and if I renew before the due date, it carries over. So far I’m four years ahead and still accruing. The kids suggested we update and start carrying it and LEAVING IT ON so they could reach us by text. I’m not sure what the attraction of texting is, although I am often annoyed by someone talking on their cell phone when I am sitting by them in the theater or in line somewhere. But it also bothers me to see someone unconsciously texting away oblivious to their surroundings. I probably don’t need to tell you I still have a phone or two or three in the house. (digression: have you ever thought about the additions and changes to the language since technology started running our lives? We have ‘snail mail’ and ‘land lines’ now. “Four on the floor” used to be a coveted thing. It won’t be long before it’s the definition of “dinosaur” when driverless cars come to fruition.)

The first phone number I remember was 5F3 (don’t ask. I can barely remember the number on the new phone) and our ‘ring’ was three shorts. Every household had a ‘code’, determined by the last digits of the phone number. So 5F12 would be one long ring and 2 short rings. Everyone on your line, signified by the first digit (5) could hear your ring, and pick up and listen if so inclined. And often they did, depending on what was going on in the family. If there was a new baby expected, or a member of the family was ill or they were just bored and wondering what was going on in the neighborhood, you were apt to be on a teleconference call whether you planned it or not. Social media in action but we called it ‘rubbering”

Our phone was in the dining room, hung so high off the floor that I needed a chair to reach the mouthpiece even at its lowest position if I ever wanted to talk on the phone, which was very seldom, because kids, when I was one, didn’t talk on the phone. It was powered by two huge dry-cell batteries housed in the bottom compartment. I remember Dad having to change them only once. (another digression: did you ever play the game of holding hands while some misguided friend held onto the battery wire and another rang the phone? The object being to see who could hold on the longest. Seemed like the ringer guy was always the one to instigate the game).

By the time I was of phone age, the system had advanced to the phone that signaled the operator when you picked up. We still had the party line, but the rings went privately into each house, and you didn’t know anyone was on unless you picked up when they were talking. Then before long we graduated to the dial system and the world changed…at least I’m sure my parents thought so, although I didn’t ever spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone . But it was easier to call a friend to check on what to wear to school the next day, or every once in a while get a homework assignment, and more than once to listen to a tearful lament about some boy or another.

Remember how it was in the days BC…before cell phones? I tell the grandkids about having to walk five miles because the car broke down and they say “Why didn’t you call Grandpa?” No way to call for help if you were stranded on the road. You had to hope someone would come by with a jump, or a jack. Today is a whole different culture. Now you just call from the grocery store when you forget the list, or text your friend when you are running late and can’t make the lunch date. Takes some of the mystery out of life but learning to use a new phone certainly makes up for that loss.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at

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