That Was Then, This Is….

I got my first cell phone in the summer of 1997. At the time, I was one of the few who had one. Everybody, back then, had land lines. In fact, you weren’t even allowed to list a cell number as a contact on official documents or applications. The thinking went, if you didn’t have a land line you were either homeless or somehow deranged.

So, I’m not being Luddite here. Truth is, as far back as the mid-1980s, when I was starting out in the freelance writing racket I had the idea that there should be a teensy, battery-powered telephone that one could carry around at all times. See, I couldn’t stand the idea of sitting home all day long waiting for sources or editors to call me back. I wanted to be out and about and still able to catch important calls. I imagined that teensy phone to be something I could fit in my shirt pocket as I strolled down North Michigan Avenue, outside the Wrigley Building, on a sunny spring day.

I don’t need to tell you that my mid-’80s musing has become an early ’20s reality. Today, I know few people who still have land lines, mainly those who, shall we say, are d’un certain âge. Again, I’m not Ludd-y. Rather, I’ve been a seer, at least as far as mobile phone tech goes.

All this is preamble to an anecdote. I was bartending at Club Lago, working the lunch shift, in…, oh, I’d say the spring of 2002. The joint was packed, as always. I, of course, was behind the bar and Giancarlo, who with his brother Guido ran the place, was greeting customers at the door and seating them.

Giancarlo was always the most voluble character in any room, especially when the room was his own, literally. He had a wisecrack, a compliment, a philosophical observation for everyone who’d come in the door of his restaurant. This day, three guys, businessmen, judging by their dark suits and purposeful strides, entered Club Lago in a single file. Giancarlo asked, “How many?”

The first held up three fingers. He couldn’t talk, as he had a cell phone pressed to his ear. So did the guy behind him as well as the one behind him. Giancarlo planted his feet and put his hands on his hips. “Why,” he asked, almost dumbfounded, “are you guys together?”

The Apex of Mobile Technology, c. 2002.

Two of the three laughed. The two put their phones in their pockets. The third guy kept rambling into his device, his business clearly either that of a world renowned neurosurgeon advising another such practitioner, wrist deep in gray matter, in the nuances of microsurgery. Either that or he was a member of the US Air Force’s emergency response team and he was giving orders to a B-52 wing to cool its heels at its fail-safe point before turning it loose to incinerate a half dozen Russian cities. He hadn’t the time nor the inclination for laughter.

Anyway, I tell this story because I laughed deeply at the time and it endeared Giancarlo to me more than ever. Why, indeed were the three guys together, going out to lunch, if all they were going to be doing was yapping on the phone to three different people? It was ridiculous, right?

Only it’s de rigueur in the year 2022.

And, yeah, I’m old. But I swear to you, I’m not a Luddite. Not much, anyway.

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