PAGE THREE | Dispatch From . . .

A Week Stranded Without a Cellphone

(By Lisa Poole -- Associated Press)
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Monday, January 7, 2008

We've been known to express great disdain for cellphones, even though we now have one. So, we were unprepared to feel so technologically naked as we did when we left it at the office one weekend.

I lost my Verizon cellphone in Verizon Center, which is pretty similar to standing on a pier and throwing your phone as hard and as far as you can into an ocean. Nevertheless, I had high hopes I would get my phone back. I called Verizon Center as soon as I got home that night and left a message for housekeeping.

Five days later, when I still had not heard back from Verizon Center, I optimistically boarded a Metro train in Wheaton for the long ride downtown. Verizon Center must be three blocks long. I surveyed the security guards at each of the approximately 25 entrances, and none of them had seen my small black flip phone.

Back on the Metro for a long ride home, I was surrounded by a sea of people texting and chatting and playing games on their cellphones. I leaned back in my seat and tried to convince myself that a break from electronics would be good for me.

In the beginning, not having a phone seemed like a vacation. As far as my friends knew, I was off in an exotic location, unreachable by text or phone. But after a week, instead of leading a life of mystery, I felt like I was stranded on a deserted island.

It wasn't the inconvenience that made me miserable; it was Cellphone Culture. In Cellphone Culture, people don't really make plans; they make tentative plans with an unspoken caveat: "I'll call you when I get there." In Cellphone Culture, it is okay to be late, because you can call -- or not show at all and send a surreptitious text instead. E-mailed or phoned invitations to group functions have become more and more passe as more tech-savvy people send out the vowelless, last-minute group texts: "hppy hr @ clvlnd prk."

People like me, who don't have a phone, end up spending a lot of time hanging around.

I didn't want to buy a new phone because I was three months from my two-year anniversary with Verizon Wireless, an anniversary that is celebrated by being able to choose a brand-new, free phone. The fact that my old cellphone was lost in the mother ship didn't make Verizon any more sympathetic.

When I lived in Baltimore, scowling salesmen would appear at my front door with cellphones, DVD players or packs of athletic socks. Everything was always $10, or $5 if they were in a rush. But in Washington, there are none of these traveling salesmen.

Luckily there is Craigslist, an online bulletin board where the more savvy of these salesmen can still be found.

I decided to stay away from the iPhones ($250, plus an extra $15 to have someone unlock it for you.) I chose a relatively safer option: a $25 cellphone from a woman in Tysons Corner. I tried to imagine the type of person who would go through the hassle of selling a phone for $25 on Craigslist. I figured it would be someone sort of like me, living in a borderline neighborhood whose version of eating out is Budget Gourmet TV dinners.

Instead, I was surprised to pull into a gated community of million-dollar mansions. My dealer was standing in her driveway awaiting my arrival. She seemed pleasant enough, until I pulled out my checkbook. "No checks. This is strictly a cash transaction."

I paid her and drove off feeling like I had just participated in some type of organized crime.

But the next morning I felt better about it and was showing my new phone off to my co-workers when I got paged. It was Verizon Center. The staff had been unable to find my cellphone.

-- Adele Levine, Wheaton

© 2008 The Washington Post Company