The Mercedes in front of me drifted left, causing irate horn blowing from the red Mini, then overcompensated to the right, narrowly missing a curb. I observed from a safe distance as the driver gesticulated, one hand clutching a cell phone, the other waving above the steering wheel, giving a whole new meaning to "hands-free".
Like any gadgets that become ubiquitous, cell phone behaviors reflect certain personal characteristics and seldom the most appealing ones. In an average day, here are some "cell phone" personalities you might meet:
Unlimited Minutes: I mean unlimited, as in, he never shuts up. This is a person who while talking to you is also talking on his cell phone, because in-person conversation (at least with you) is not sufficiently stimulating. Mr. Unlimited Minutes narrates, aisle by aisle, his journey through the grocery store on a quest for peanut butter, his ride on the Metro, his opinions of other drivers in traffic, and the dimming lights in the movie theater that may finally force him into silence. Conversational quantity, not quality, is his bread and butter.
TMI (Too Much Information): Depending on the time of day, a ride on the subway or a public bus can be eerily quiet, full of exhausted commuters. This is when the TMI strikes. In the silent crowd, our TMI begins to recount, in excruciating detail, the particulars of her hemorrhoids surgery or the unfortunate hygiene failures of an intimate encounter, or her unfortunate discovery of a rash someplace you really, really don't want to find a rash. You can't help but hear the TMI detail oozing open sores, halitosis, body odor and assorted traumatic injuries. You hear the uneasy rustling of other passengers as she describes female troubles using the most correct and clinical terms. ("So she's thinking her hooha is broken, so she was there, scratching herself to beat the band, hand down her panties, right there in the hospital lobby, well, you can imagine. Turns out the little critters were all over her.") We can't help imagine. Too Much Information.
Can You Hear Me Now?: This fellow just got a new phone or a new headset, but sounds like he's living at the bottom of a deep, dank well. Conversations consist of "Wait, what if I adjust this volume level? Or no, this connection should be better synced here. Can you hear me now? What if I use the other headset with the old phone? Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?" Usually, you have no idea why he called in the first place, as it's impossible to piece together much beyond his trademark question.
The Fiddler: Unlike Mr. Unlimited, Ms. Fiddler isn't always on the phone. But she has to be in physical contact with it at all times. She touches it, look at it longingly, rolls it in her hands, fondles it, checks the time, pats it, and turns the ringer off and on, all while waiting for calls that don't come because, actually, it's slightly creepy how attached to her cell phone she is.
Wunderkid (aka Smartypants): Every person the Wunderkid has ever met has a name, associated customized ringtone, small journal entry, address, height, weight, sexual proclivities, family trees, possible disorders and categorized photos of at least three evenings out on the town, all delineated in the address book of his super genius smart phone database. The phone has email access, texting, high resolution camera, internet access, MP3 player, streaming video capabilities, a mouthful of BlueTeeth, and possibly a washer/dryer: sleek, beautiful, and, for the average user, totally mysterious. Our Wunderkid speaks in 124 character Twitter sound bytes.
WonderingKid: This user may have the same phone as the Wunderkid, but lacks any of the techno expertise. He dials by entering the actual numbers (committed to memory), as the address book confuses him. But damn, that phone looks good. And he feels good when he spouts off features he will never use. He also brags about what a good deal he got. The female WonderingKid has several such phones in a variety of colors to coordinate with her outfits.
Call Waiting: This character is so deeply focused on her cell phone conversation, she has no clue what is going on in the world around her. At the grocery store, she parks her cart in the exact center of the aisle, completely unaware that she has made it impossible for anyone to get around her. The grumblings and snide comments from her fellow shoppers and the fact that her 3-year old kid is wandering off into the bakery area go completely unnoticed.
Commitmentphobe: These folks are pre-pay only. No two-year contracts for them. Their computers have multiple firewalls, their e-mail addresses contain no element of their real names, and they like their cell phones disposable with untraceable numbers. All phone numbers are committed to memory, never stored. Send and receive logs are routinely purged. Key lock is always on. The phone itself is seldom turned on, partly to dissuade GPS tracking. Largely, these phones serve as mobile answering machines.
So if you're stuck in traffic one day, try observing your neighbors. Many of them will be alone in their cars, talking to the air, which thirty years ago would have signaled significant issues. With or without medication, Unlimited Minutes will have been talking for several hours by then. Wunderkid will be updating his database. The Commitmentphobe won't make eye contact and will keep her mouth zipped shut, but the Fiddler will look at you and then pat the phone secured in her pocket, her version of mouthing "Call me." As your car creeps forward, be thankful that you're not sharing your car with TMI and learning more about cousin Ella's niece's affair with the mortician. Trust me, you don't want to know.