Woster: Our phones are never far away anymore

Terry Woster appreciates his cell phone, especially its convenience. But it's OK to put it in your pocket sometimes, too.

Terry Woster
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The other morning as I waited to have blood drawn, a woman talking on a cell phone walked past and through the door to the lab.

Well, it’s no shock to see someone on a handheld phone these days. This one struck me only because the person walked into the lab past a large, legible sign that said cell phones were not allowed past that door. I wondered briefly if the person had missed the sign or had decided it didn’t mean her.

Early in the cell phone craze, I figured use would drop off once people got used to the idea that they carried a phone, camera and computer around in their hip pocket. If anything, public cell phone use is more prevalent than ever — just my observation, of course.

As I waited for my turn in the lab, I heard a big-voiced guy across the room talking to someone about how clueless a lunch buddy had been the previous day. I heard one side of the conversation, but I could guess that the person on the other end of the (wireless) line was basically saying, “right,’’ “yeah,’’ and such stuff.

A few weeks back, at the state cross country finals in Huron, a young woman crossed the route of the runners without looking up from her phone. A runner slowed and swerved to avoid slamming into her. I’m pretty sure she never noticed.


I like cell phones. I appreciate their convenience. At a cross country meet spread across a big golf course, it’s nice to be able to text or call a granddaughter to see where she is and where we might meet. I like that in an emergency, the phone is right there, although mine is usually in a side pocket of the pickup or on the magazine table in the living room.

I can’t seem to get used to having the thing taking up space in my back pocket. When I still worked fulltime, I had a holster so I could carry the company phone hooked to my belt. A young colleague told me I was practically shouting, “I’m a nerd,’’ carrying it that way. He suggested I buy a plastic pocket protector for my pens.

I liked the convenience of a cell phone when I still reported news. People who have never had to memorize the location of every working pay telephone across western South Dakota may not appreciate how nice it is to carry the phone booth in one hand. The day the Wounded Knee takeover ended in May of 1973, I had to take all the notes I could manage and then hop in the rented Chevy and hurry to Pine Ridge to beg workers in the BIA office to let me use their desk phone for a collect call to the Minneapolis bureau. Whenever I remember that, I think how sweet it would have been to have just pulled out a phone and called.

Younger folks may not know how frustrating it was in the early days of mobile phones to bounce in and out of service areas. I remember when professional golfer Payne Stewart's airplane crashed west of Aberdeen in 1999 and the national reporters were climbing haystacks to try to get enough “bars’’ to complete a call.

My big brother, Jim, adapted to mobile phones faster than I did. I remember a morning – early morning – when I was staying with my little brother, Kevin, because our mother was in a Sioux Falls hospital. Kevin was showering when the phone rang. I answered, and Jim asked if I wanted to have coffee. Well, sure, I said. “Unlock the door,’’ he said, “I’m in the driveway with coffees.’’

There is a scene kind of like that in the film, “Moneyball,’’ when general manager Billy Beane signs Scott Hatteberg to a contract. Billy Beane had nothing on my big brother.

Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to people talking loudly in public places and ignoring signs asking them not to use their phones during things like medical procedures. I don’t think I should have to get used to people wandering onto a race course with a phone to their ear.

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