On a Sunday afternoon last month, when the world had much bigger thoughts on its mind, I did something long overdue: I bought a smartphone. It had dawned on me that there were probably about seven people in America who still didn’t own a smartphone, and I was one. The others were Mennonite farmers in rural Kansas.
I’ll admit it. Just the thought of the Verizon store was daunting.
My son-in-law, who was born after 1975 and automatically knows this stuff, kindly offered to go with me and run interference. At first I thought this was the only logical way to go — for two reasons. First, the older I get and the quicker technology advances, the more I want to put a blanket over my head and hum a Beatles tune when the topic turns to wifi passwords. And second, my whole life has taught me this about myself: I am defenseless against a deft salesperson. There is a reason that no one who loves me has ever allowed me to sit through a time-share sales pitch where they wine and dine you and pay for your hotel room. I’d return owning half of Aruba, and we all know it.
Still, as much as my son-in-law’s offer was tempting, I decided to go it alone. Maybe it was a healthy resistance to giving up a little piece of my independence. Maybe it was pure hubris.
I gave myself a little pep talk in the parking lot and hoped my lips weren’t moving.
The windows of the Verizon store were darkened, but the store was definitely open. I imagined the clerks, probably called Associates or Social Media Specialists. Inside, they’re sizing us up as we approach: “Oh, boy, here comes one who remembers Thin Elvis. Jason, this one’s yours. You’re good with the old ladies.” Or something like that.
I was immediately at ease when a middle-aged woman greeted me and took my information. She was even a little chubby in her mom jeans, which I appreciated. Then I took a seat and waited until “my associate” came to help me. He arrived soon, calling out my name in a chirpy, “This will be fun!” voice.
He was 13.
I’m clear on my phone needs. I told this kid I need a phone that just has a good camera so I can send pictures of my grandchildren to Facebook, Instagram and friends, who will sigh kindly when they see the message is from me. I do not actually plan to talk on this phone. I don’t need to play music or watch Game of Thrones, or get the latest updates on Kylie Jenner or any of the other stuff phones do these days.
I was aware my voice in the Verizon store was too loud and a full octave higher than usual, but I forged ahead.
My associate was a nice boy. As he talked and I had little idea what he was saying, I kept thinking that his parents did a good job raising him. He only pissed me off once, when he casually told me to get “the young people” in my family to help me figure out my new purchase, which of course is exactly what I’d do later that afternoon. He also kept telling me that mine is a basic model with no bells and whistles. I heard a lot about the bells and whistles of other models during our time together, and I knew he was hoping he could sell me the iPhone that most kids in sixth grade now have. No dice, kid.
In the end, I left the store with a phone that didn’t break the bank, one which I’m hoping to fully understand before 2020.
I try not to do nostalgia much, but driving home I kept thinking of how exciting phone calls were once. How the phone would ring downstairs and I’d hear my dad answer and say, “Just a minute please,” and he’d come to the bottom of the stairs and in his deep voice, say: “Linda, it’s for you. It’s a boy.”
I feel good about my new phone. When I get a call or a text now, it makes an adorable little *bing*. It will never take the place of that ring you could hear from every room in the house, or my dad’s soothing voice calling to me, or the excitement of racing down the stairs, not knowing who was on the other end but that it was someone who’d gone to all the trouble of looking up my number and dialing.
Moving on. Growing up. As it should be. I keep telling myself that.
Linda Hummel is a writer based in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, Newsday, the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and many women’s magazines. Click here to follow Linda’s blog, “Just Left Awkward, Suddenly Approaching Old.”