AML in Print

Sacramento Bee
June 11, 2000
Marjie Lundstrom:

There's no call for cellphone boors' behavior

(Published June 11, 2000)

To all those cellphone addicts yak-yak-yakking in restaurants, at the movies, in grocery store lines, on the golf course, in wilderness areas . ...

Baby, it's backlash time.

Like the wave of public disgust that rose in the 1990s over smoking and washed across America's consciousness, a new wave of contempt is building around obnoxious cellphone users.

And it's not just the dangerously distracted drivers.

Last year in New Orleans, two strangers reportedly attacked a man using a cellphone in a Burger King -- he was talking too loudly, they said -- then used the phone to punch the man's friend in the nose.

In San Francisco, New York and other cities, a handful of restaurants have banned cellphones. Some have created cellphone lounges to isolate the talkers.

One California-based restaurant chain, the Cheesecake Factory, prints this request in all its menus: "Please refrain from cigar and pipe smoking and cellular phone use in the dining areas."

Anti-cellphone fever is getting so high that about 100 San Francisco businessmen and businesswomen -- tired of feeling vilified for using their trusty cellphones -- gathered at a restaurant June 2 to draft some etiquette guidelines.

"The demonization of cellphone users has reached a fever pitch," complained San Francisco press agent Lee Housekeeper, who recently felt compelled to leave an empty restaurant and stand in the rain, alongside smokers, to make his cellular call.

"It's becoming politically incorrect to even have a cellphone," he said.

Maybe so in San Francisco, but the love affair with cellphones is alive and well in Sacramento.

At the tony Esquire Grill on the K Street Mall, a state official strolls into the bar with a black cellphone pasted to his ear, ignoring his companion. She stares at her drink; he makes big gestures.

At the nearby Downtown Plaza, a woman takes "Bill's" call on her musical cellphone and chatters away while she and other shoppers pick through the sale cotton/Lycra T-shirts at The Limited. "ARE YOU THERE?" she asks loudly as the reception falters near the capri pants.

Outside Il Fornaio restaurant -- cellphone central -- a woman charging across Capitol Mall nearly smacks into another pedestrian as she wraps up her wireless conversation. "Whoa, almost got you there," she says jauntily, clapping the phone closed.

Part of the problem has been fueled by cellphones' sheer proliferation. By the end of 1999, some 86.1 million Americans used wireless phones, or 31 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association.

Once the exclusive domain of doctors, high-powered business execs and pretentious showoffs, cellphones nowadays are as likely to show up in the hands of a teenager, a truck driver, the car pool coordinator.

Which means they are ringing loudly in ever more places -- at rock concerts, inside museums, at health clubs, in courtrooms, during Little League. A survey this spring by found that 56 percent leave the ringer on and take calls in the supermarket; 50 percent answer their ringing phones on public transportation.

And -- get this -- almost 40 percent take calls in the bathroom.

At the River Stage, artistic director Frank Condon has had to usher cellphone talkers out of the theater, despite pleas to turn phones off before the performance.

"On the one hand, it's nice to get people who've never been to the theater before," he said. "On the other, they act as though they're in front of the television set."

The Sacramento Ballet was disrupted twice this season by jangling phones. One user was mortified; the other was defiant.

"The people around this one hostile man were so mad at him," said executive director Daphne Gawthrop. "I thought we might have an insurrection."

So far, a full-blown insurrection has yet to wash up in Sacramento, where restaurateur Randy Paragary finds most cellphone diners to be fairly courteous. What cracks him up are the customers who settle into the same booth or table and all start jabbering on phones at once.

No one's arguing that cellphones aren't handy. One of the busiest working moms I know -- a successful Sacramento businesswoman, school volunteer and president of her son's Little League -- can't imagine how she would juggle her life without a cellphone.

She isn't the problem. The guy the other day who answered his ringing cellphone at the movie "M:I-2," then shouted so he could be heard over the on-screen action -- he's a problem. The Bay Area job applicant who took a cell call during his interview -- he's a problem and a fool.

In short, cellphones aren't the issue; it's rude people. Wireless communication is just another way for civilized people to balance their lives, and ill-mannered folks to assail us.

"It's nothing more than common sense," says San Francisco etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts of the AML Group, who is helping spread the gospel of cellphone manners.

But then she doesn't know my husband, a normally sensible man who recently took a lengthy business call at a Roseville hamburger joint in front of three bemused friends.

Alas, when it comes to cellphones, some addicts are incurable.

"I had to," he protested. "These were calls I couldn't afford to miss. What could I do?"

I rest my case.