As I was walking to work through San Francisco, I passed a crowd on a street corner, waiting for the “walk” signal. There were a ton of folks, and as I’ve come to expect, none of them had any concept that some people might not be doing the same thing they are, so there was no space for me, who was not crossing the street, or waiting for the walk signal, to get by, so I had to put on my annoyed outside voice, and start saying loudly “excuse me, pardon me, get the hell out of my way, do you people even use your peripheral vision anymore?”. As I was doing so, one particularly zoned out drone was staring blankly ahead, blathering away in conversation on his cell phone. The side of the discussion I heard went something like “That thing is important, this thing is important, I’m important, you’re not very important, but you need to do these things I think are important.”

I realized the energy being expended by his non-stop tirade, in the middle of a crowd of people, along with the energy being sucked from the person on the receiving end of the call, plus all the energy being spent to make the call happen, would be better spent painting a picture, or picking up trash, or toasting a bagel.

In any case, I had to walk about an inch from “Mr. Important” to get through the crowd. Close enough to smell his important breath as I passed. Important breath is interesting, it’s not minty, has a hint of coffee, is more humid than less important breath, because the constant making of sounds requires greater lubrication.

It also made me fantasize about a social experiment. One of those things that I can easily imagine, would be amused to witness, and can write the dialogue and set the scene for, but do not have the theatrical personality to pull off myself.

It starts by walking into a group of otherwise disinterested people. This would have a very different, and likely very predictable result if you do it around a group of people who are socializing. This is a crowd waiting for a train, bus, walk signal, Wallmart to open so they can buy stuff for 2/3rds the price that will last 1/3 as long, but think they’re getting a deal, that kind of thing.

It’s absolutely ideal if there’s some Important person talking on their phone, rambling about nothing, but sounding very authoritative doing it.

It starts something like…

“I wish I had a cell phone and some important business to conduct while walking around. Well, I have a cell phone, but it’s an iPhone, and, well, AT&T service is really spotty. Oh, look, there’s AT&T park, humm, service still spotty. Go figure. But I do have a phone, and if it had coverage, and I had someone who I just had to do business with, or just chatty chat while walking to work, or to breakfast, or to the bay so I could jump in and then swim to Alcatraz. Hey, I wonder if I’d get AT&T service ON Alcatraz? I’ll have to swim over one morning and see. Anybody with me? Let’s meet here at 7am tomorrow. We could call each other to sync up, but my phone doesn’t work here, so we’ll just have to meet. Maybe 7:30, I might get stuck in traffic again behind someone holding their phone in front of their face, on speakerphone, somehow thinking they are complying with the HANDS FREE law. Now, I thought it was about as self explanatory a law as you could get. The least number of words, the maximum clarity. However, there they are, with a phone IN THEIR HAND, and somehow, in their world, the one Mr. Important lives in while he’s having a loud, one-sided tirade in a group of people, they’ve decided the law really couldn’t mean hands free, but must mean ‘phone not next to head’. I can’t conceive of this world, or how people who live there get dressed every day, much less figure out how to unlock and start their car.

And, if you follow this person to, you know, just nicely let them know their interpretation of the law is incorrect, and they might get a ticket someday. So, you follow them, from California to Montana, then say “excuse me, very important person, I’m sorry you ran into that moose because you couldn’t see it with your phone in front of your face, but were you aware that holding a phone in your hand, no matter where you’re holding it, is not actually being “hands free?” you will get one of two responses: The first will be a confident and assured “yes it is”, and they will walk away, sipping their chai latte, or the more likely “what the hell do you know, you friggin’ moron, of course it is. My brother’s a cop, and he told me it was OK. You don’t know who you’re dealing with you assh*ole.” This tirade can go on for a very long time. Even longer if they have their phone in their hand. I can virtually guarantee you will not have someone say “really? I never really thought about it like that, let’s have a civil discussion about why you assert this is true, so I can understand it.” If you DO get that response, buy a lottery ticket. But remember, if you’re planning on making a call yourself, swim to Alcatraz FIRST, make the call, swim back THEN buy the lottery ticket, otherwise it’ll get wet, the ink will run, and you won’t be able to cash it in.

OK, so to be clear, meet here, 7am, maybe 7:30, we’ll walk over to the bay no later than 7:45. If I’m not here, head on over, then give me a call when you get there.”