I had taken just half a dozen steps into the Caltrain station when I realized that I’d left my cell phone at home. M had dropped me off and was on his way back home to meet a plumber. I was taking the bullet train to San Francisco to meet a friend for lunch and a different friend for afternoon theatre and beer.
I forgot my phone. What would I do without it?
Text is how my friends and I communicate with each other about our meetups. “I’m here.” “I’m running late.” One can not text without a cell phone.
Later, M expected my call to let him know what train I was on home. So he could pick me up at the station..
I should tell him I left my phone, maybe on the bed, I thought.
Oh, surely, he’ll see it, my logical brain interjected.
With still a few minutes before the train was scheduled to depart I spied a pay phone in the station. How long had it been since I’d used one? Ten years? Twenty? Maybe.
I was pretty sure I didn’t have the 50 cents it takes now for a local call so I didn’t even take the time to look. Remember the dime phone call days? I do. Those days are long gone.
Several stickers on the pay phone told me I’d save money on collect calls by dialing #22 or some other code. I saw credit card logos, but no instructions on how to use them. Or maybe the type was too small.
I dialed #22. Said my name when the collect-call audio asked me to. But then the phone went dead.
Well, never mind. I’d use E’s phone when I got to Nordstrom’s Bistro Cafe. I love E. Spending time with her is such a great joy because she is one of the least superficial people I know. I do it as much as possible. We talk about writing and husbands and human nature and theatre and anxiety and grief and … well. I adore her. M. adores her, too. “She reminds me of you!” he says.
On the train I settled in with a book, but was distracted.
What if there’s an earthquake? I wondered. Or an emergency? Would anyone let me borrow their phone?
I visualized asking a complete stranger to borrow their phone and their limited battery time. My mouth made that little twisted thing it does when I’m worried.
But what could I do about it? I read a few pages in my book and then another thought forced its way in.
It’s Saturday. Cabs can be hard to find. Without my phone, I can’t access Uber, the car service that has gotten me to the train station on more than one busy San Francisco weekend.
My lips pursed. Well, I’ll just have to deal with it. Oddly, I was far less anxiety than I thought I would. I was…fatalistic. The phone was back in San Jose. What could I do?
It was a beautiful, late summer day in San Francisco, clear, sunny, warm, but not hot, with a blue-blue sky. Ahhh. I love San Francisco.
E was waiting at the Bistro.
“I left my phone at home,” I told her, after we’d been seated. She dug in her bag for her phone and pushed it across the table to me. I dialed up M.
“I forgot my phone,” I said when M. answered. “I think it’s on the bed.”
“No, it isn’t,” he said. “Do you remember where you left it?”
“Just dial it up, it’ll ring. I’ll try to find a way to call and tell you what train I’m on but if not, I’ll just get a cab home.”
Logistics were a little complicated because I was due home during the same time frame–late–that our home warranty company’s plumber was due at our house. What plumber makes an appointment for Saturday night between six and eight? But it’s hard to complain: our older hot water heater had sprung a leak and we needed a new one. The home warranty covered it. Our copay for the $2,400 water heater was only $400. For that kind of savings, they could come at midnight.
E and I ordered our Crab Louies.
After lunch, I walked half a dozen blocks or so through the Tenderloin to the theatre to meet my other friend. The sunshine was a stark contrast to the rundown buildings in that part of town. I got a little turned around and wondered if I were lost. Ordinarily I’d use my phone navigation. Instead, I asked a cabby who was stopped at a light. He put me back on the right path.
What if L couldn’t make our curtain time and was calling or texting this very minute? I worried.
I saw L. standing outside and waved. She didn’t see me. I jaywalked across Eddy St. dodging winos and garbage and found her in the building.
Old-school methods still worked, it seemed–I’d made it in the city for three hours without really needing a cell phone. So far, so good! We settled into our seats at the Fringe Festival.
Later, at a happy hour, we ordered $3 beer and wine and appetizers.
“I left my phone home,” I told her. She pushed hers across the table.
Online with her Iphone, I looked up the train schedule and then called M to tell him what train I suspected I’d be on later.
“If you’re there, fine and if you’re not, I’ll just take a cab.”
L and I ate and drank and talked and then it was time to leave. We walked outside, hugged goodbye and I looked around. Downtown San Francisco, Saturday night coming on fast–it can be hard to find a cab. When I saw a uniformed guy hailing cabs for guests I headed over to a nearby hotel to join the line. Ten minutes passed, then 15. It was shift change for most of the drivers and they didn’t want another passenger. There were three of us in line. I was second. Between traffic and tourists it was noisy.
The very nice young man in front of me turned and asked, “Do you mind if we let that family with the crying child behind you take the next train?”
I hadn’t even noticed. I kind of did mind, because I had a train to catch. I looked at my watch: I had an hour and 15 minutes till the train I thought I’d be on.
“Go ahead, ” I told him. “Let them go.”
It took about 20 minutes for me to get to the head of the three-person line, that’s how hard it is to get a cab downtown at that hour on Saturday.
“What’s your room number?” the uniformed taxi hailer asked me. Oh dear. I was not a guest at the hotel.
“I don’t have one,” I said and then, quickly, “I was visiting friends here today and have to get back to the train station.”
I mean, seriously? Would he have kicked me out of line, and me with a tip hidden in my palm? Well, it was true: I WAS visiting friends. They just weren’t staying at the hotel.
Finally, a cab dropped off passengers in front of the hotel. I approached.
“No, no!” the Chinese cab driver said, pointing to his watch. “I am off duty!”
The uniformed guy told him I was going to the train station and wasn’t that on his way? The cabby agreed to take me. I tipped the cab hailer and climbed in.
“I was going off duty but Caltrain is on my way,” the cabby said, followed by a whole bunch of stuff that was unintelligible, a combination of his accent and street noise from the open windows.
Some weekends it can take a long while to get through the congestion downtown so I was glad I had more than an hour before my train. I’d make it, easily.
For some reason, we glided through almost empty streets–maybe he knew traffic secrets–and I arrived at the train station in time to take a train that was an hour earlier. Did I want to sit (If I could even find a seat) in the uncomfortable train station and keep company with the homeless people who hung out all day and take the train I’d told M I’d be on? Or should I just get on the the earlier train and deal with contacting M later?
I got on the earlier train. It was not a bullet: I relaxed into the 90 minutes of rolling down the tracks and reading about dreams, coincidence and Jung’s synchronicity.
We approached Sunnyvale station. Just a few more stops to go before San Jose. Digging in my wallet, I found two quarters– a miracle! It was the only change I had, but enough for a phone call at the train station. I wondered if the pay phone I’d used earlier had really died and then I wondered if there were any others. Did I remember seeing one outside the station?
Ding! I heard someone’s cell go off with the same tones I used for texts and breaking news. I wondered if my phone was really in my purse after all, even though knew it wasn’t.
My train rolled into the station an hour earlier than I’d told M. I’d be there. Like me, he’s very prompt so I worried that if I caught a cab, I would pass him on the road. Trudging up the ramp to the terminal I spied not just the one pay phone that I’d killed, but two others. Clutching my two quarters in my hands, I dialed. I could hear M saying “Hello? Hello?” but he couldn’t hear me.
I chose the third phone and tried a collect call. I got through. The plumber had not arrived so M. could not leave.
Cabs were lined up outside the station and I climbed in one. As we came around the corner of our block, I was thrilled to see my home.
Inside, I asked M., “Where was my phone?”
“On the sofa in the living room.”
I had absolutely no memory of being in the living room that morning, much less putting the phone on the sofa.
“And it had slid down between the cushions so when I called it, the ringing was muted and hard to locate.”
But here’s the good thing: I made it through an entire day in another city without my phone and with far less anxiety than anticipated. We really don’t need our phones as much as we think. Most of us lived without cell phones well into adulthood.
Still, our devices make it easier to navigate our world. To communicate.
Other than slight anxiety, the day went smoothly only because no one had an issue. Had either of my friends been trying to reach me to change plans, they would not have been able to. Still, I enjoyed being more engaged with the world around me.
I’ve had mobile phones since the late 1980s when they were “car phones.” That’s more than 25 years. It’s no wonder that leaving it behind feels almost like the loss of a limb or a sense.
It’s been years–maybe a decade–since I’ve left a phone behind. I doubt I’ll do it again any time soon. But I WILL make an effort to engage more in non-phone activities. Like reading on the train. Eavesdropping on conversations. And asking cab drivers for directions.