Cell phones already do more than their share to increase self-centeredness. Do I really need to hear all the details about last Saturday night's super-cute boy? Do I really need to hear what one businessperson wants another to do (cliche{acute} alert!) "at the end of the day"?

Now cell phones are the centerpiece of another me-first drill: snaring a parking space.

Peter O. Thomas, an uncommonly wise and uncommonly loyal reader from Chevy Chase, was hunting for a parking space in downtown Bethesda the other day. This is a busy piece of real estate, and it seems to get busier by the day. So parking there is not easy. Often, it's not possible.

Peter was doing the round-and-around-the-block minuet when he noticed a person standing in a vacant parking space. That person was clutching a cell phone -- and loudly telling the person on the other end of the call to hurry the heck up.

As Peter watched, aghast, a driver pulled up and the cell-phone clutcher guided him into the space, like a ramp attendant who helps park a commercial plane.

The cell phoner had been the 21st-century version of the bird dog. She had scouted spaces on foot and found one. Via cell phone, she directed her pal the driver (who was scouting spaces from behind the wheel) to the space she had saved with her body.

This isn't the first time that your humble comics-page columnist has written about human space savers in Bethesda. A few years ago, I wrote about a near-fistfight that took place in a public high-rise lot just down the street from the dance that Peter Thomas witnessed.

In that standoff, a human space saver refused to get out of the way of a van. The van's owner-driver started with the shouts, curses and threats. All three were returned. A police officer was summoned. But the officer refused to get involved because he hadn't seen or heard the fracas.

Now, cell phones have been added to the soup. As Peter Thomas points out, that bodes badly for any sane person's sense of fairness. It bodes worse for any innocent soul who simply wants to go to Bethesda, park legally and spend a few bucks -- because it will make finding a parking space that much harder.

Peter points out, correctly, that downtown Bethesda is a clogged circus because so many shoppers arrive by car. He suggests that human space saving would become less necessary if Montgomery County invested in a set of trolleys like those that run between the Bethesda Metro station and Bethesda shopping areas.

Build large parking lots on the outskirts of Bethesda, he suggests. Then ferry shoppers back and forth by public transit. Make schedules regular. Make fares cheap or nonexistent. Poof! Cell-phone- packing space savers just went up in smoke.

Nice fantasy, Peter. May I introduce you to the United States of America, where citizens still believe they have the God-given right to drive wherever they want, any time they want, and find a place to park?

Not only that, but these drive-anywhere diehards really seem to believe that it would all be okay if everyone else would just get out of the way. Public transit? Even via a cute little jitney that goes from a satellite lot to Bethesda Row? Only you and Tinkerbell really believe it's feasible, Peter.

As to the specific issue of cell phone bird dogs, I'd love to see Montgomery County police tell off these selfish souls.

Too often, our police clean up after crimes and aggravating situations. They don't prevent those situations. If they'd patrol downtown Bethesda on foot more often, wonders might replace angst.

In the case of Peter Thomas, incidentally, they didn't.

After half an hour of doing the round-and- around-the-block minuet, he gave up and went home. He spent not a cent.

Is this what the businesspeople of Bethesda want? It's what they're getting, thanks to cell-phone selfishness.

A tad of verse from the always-lyrical Bob Forkish:

Lord, please confine

To super hot places

Those who park cars

By straddling two spaces

Thank you, Lynne Lewicki of Chantilly, for spotting an uproarious vanity plate. It read:


Mystified? Lynne was, too, until she noticed the make of the car on which the plate rested.

An Odyssey.

And finally, if you want to feel really old . . .

I spotted a terrific vanity plate aboard a car parked in downtown Washington. The plate read:


Tarzan fans, you're rolling on the floor, right?

But Tarzan hasn't been a household word for more than 45 years.

Of course, Levey the Brilliant forgot that. He ran the plate past eight people, none of whom are anywhere close to the age of 45.

Not a single one got the joke.

Note to whoever has (or plans to obtain) a tag reading: U TARZAN.

Be prepared to hit blank faces among the younger set.

To contact Bob Levey:

By phone: 202-334-7276.

By fax: 202-334-5150.

By U.S. mail: Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.

By e-mail: leveyb@washpost.com