I Can Hang Up Without Uncle Sam’s Help

The wireless phone is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the world’s great inventions. Back when many of us were kids, we consistently tested the laws of physics, uncoiling that phone cord to the outer limits of physical possibility, hoping, praying even, for every inch and that the small plastic connector would hold long enough to make our secretive, teen-age plans or to express our undying love and commitment to that week’s love our life without our parent’s hearing us. We were electronically tethered by a kind of communicative umbilical cord: parents, brothers and sisters, and your crazy Uncle Joe who visited every Thanksgiving, listened in, offered advice, added commentary, or made little kissing noises at the worst possible times. We were veritable oral prisoners, maneuvering cords into hallways and under door frames, performing acts of flexibility that might make a contortionist envious, as we struggled to move outside our family’s auditory zone.

Shout out to Terri Pall and George Sweigert for giving us the cordless phone. They saved teenagers across the world embarrassment, angst, and future back problems from lying on the floor talking on the phone by their closed bedroom door.

And, more importantly, they saved parents from having to listen to the mindless, meaningless conversations our children have with their friends. I’m more than happy to let my kids go to their rooms, outside on the back porch, out to the car–anyplace so that I don’t have to listen to two teenagers have a conversation. If Dante were alive, there would be a special place in the Inferno where sinners were trapped listening to “dude,” “like,” and “whatever.” For eternity.

Unfortunately, though, I now have to listen to equally mindless conversations by people whose lives mean absolutely nothing to me as I walk down the street, sit in a restaurant, walk the grocery aisles, and, after the FAA ruled cell phones are safe in flight, perhaps on airplanes.

Sure, I care that your mother has never appreciated you, your boss is a uncaring jerk, or you can’t decide which toilet paper to buy. Feel free, I say, to share your foibles with the world. I especially like it when you get so wrapped up in your conversation you take longer in the check out line because, of course, I have no place else to be and your life is oh, so important to me.

Listening to your conversation in the grocery store (or at Lowes or the mall or simply walking down the sidewalk) is, though, part of the cost of a free and open society. If, for some odd reason, HEB or Best Buy gets over run with cell phone users who impede my ability to go deeper in debt, I can go someplace else to buy milk, electronics, or other equally unaffordable things.

Because, last time I checked, I am free to shop where I want.

More importantly, stores are free to decide if or when people use cell phones while shopping. McDonalds might think its fine, but the Malibu Kitchen and Gourmet Country Market won’t let you order until you turn off the cell phone.

And, surprisingly enough, they can make that decision without any help from the government.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I’m no fan of shopping on Thanksgiving day, but Walmart has every right in the world to participate and contribute to America’s seemingly endless appetite for avarice, greed, and unbridled capitalism. In much the same way, Hobby Lobby and Chik-Fil-A can stay closed Thanksgiving day or Sunday or any other day of the week.

If I don’t like those policies, I don’t have to shop there. There are plenty of businesses willing to separate me from my dollar bills. Heck, I still don’t buy Exxon gas because of their unconscionable, irresponsible response to the Valdez oil spill, and I avoid Walmart because their hiring practices are, to put it mildly, questionable at best. Sure, I might pay a little more for Susie’s first bike but it’s my money and I’ll spend it where I want. You do the same. Don’t like Starbuck’s liberal, pinko free trade coffee policies? Get your Peppermint Mocha Frappuchino someplace else.

One of the great things about America is that I can develop whatever illogical, contradictory economic morality I so desire.

And one of those desires would be to never, ever, in a million years, fly on a plane that allowed people to talk on cell phones in flight.

But just because I don’t want it, Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Dianne Feinstein, doesn’t mean we need the Commercial Flight Courtesy Act to ban in-flight phone calls. Let’s forget for a moment the horror we should all feel that Congress wants to legislate courtesy of any kind and skip the irony of a self-professed small government Republican proposing legislation with a big government Democrat, and remember that if airlines, travelers, and passengers are all troubled “over the idea of passengers talking on cellphones in flight,” then United, American Airlines, and any other airline can simply choose not to allow talking on cell phones in their planes.

Certainly, we’re all very happy the FAA has banned weapons, cigarettes, and 8 ounce bottles of shampoo since these all constitute a health hazard and a danger to other passengers. We can’t have terrorists with full, bouncy, and healthy hair after all.

If, though, American Airlines decides to let Chatty Cathy talk on her phone in flight from New York to Seattle, I (and this might shock some folks) don’t have to buy a ticket on American Airlines. I can let my wallet do the talking for me and fly with a different airline.

Left to their own devices, airlines might develop a variety of options for passengers: no talk seats, free talk sections, buffer aisles near the exits, or even talk free flights. In the meantime, while I’m tickled pink that Congress seems to have found some semblance of bi-partisanship, I don’t need Uncle Sam’s help hanging up the phone. And neither does anyone else.


About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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