December 12, 2001
Hold The Phone

We know we're screwed, less than four minutes into the morning commute.

Traffic heading into The Tube is at a complete standstill, backed up all the way down Webster Street ... past the US Bank and the 99-Cent Store and the stoopid new Der Weinerschnitzel restaurant (*I* was hoping it was going to be a TACO TIME).  Nobody is moving. Nobody is doing much of anything, in fact, besides waiting, and tapping the steering wheel impatiently, and glaring at each other a lot. David and I are too far away to determine the exact cause of the traffic jam, although I can see the flashing lights of an emergency crew, somewhere up ahead. Looks like another morning rush hour fender-bender. Probably some moron with a cell phone.

(Either that, or else they're filming "The Matrix 3" already.)

"Don't worry," David says reassuringly. "You're not going to be that late." And he swivels the Subaru around in the direction of the High Street Bridge. Unfortunately, we swiftly discover, 99.97% of our fellow frustrated commuters have the same idea. That's the problem with living on an island: there are only a certain number of ways on OR off. Within seconds we are stuck in yet another nose-to-bumper mess. 

I glance at my watch: 7:55 a.m., and we haven't even made it onto the freeway yet. Too bad there isn't a way to let my boss know I'm on my way ... just so she doesn't think I've quit or gone on strike or moved to Oregon during my lunch hour or something.

And then it hits me: hold the phone.

I mean that literally. Hold the phone ... as in, hold the CELL PHONE that you're carrying in your PURSE, Stoopid!

Most of the time I forget I even own a cell phone. I rushed out and bought it in September, right after the terrorist attacks -- I get the feeling that a lot of people rushed out and bought a cell phone right after the terrorist attacks, motivated the same way I was, by fear and sentiment -- but I've barely given it two *thought molecules* since I bought it. It lives in a special top-secret zippered compartment in my purse, along with the little charger doohickey and the little ear plug thingamabobs. The only time I ever really think about my cell phone is when the monthly bill lands in my mailbox ... or on the two or three occasions when it's actually rung. Once, when I was standing in the check-out line at the downtown San Francisco Ross Dress-For-Less Store, Jaymi's boyfriend Joel called from TicTac. I felt the phone vibrating inside my purse and I thought we were having an earthquake. And then again, just the other night, Jaymi called when she couldn't get through on the regular phone line. 

("There is Chrismas music coming from your purse," said David that night, mystified, as an electronic version of "Jingle Bells" twinkled merrily from inside the special top-secret zippered compartment.)

I suppose that part of the reason I don't automatically think of using the cell phone is the fact that I still hate cell phones. I find them rude and intrusive and annoying, most of the time, just like 99.97% of the people who use them. I wrote cell phones off as one of those trends I planned to avoid indefinitely ... like hip-huggers, or Chris Rock movies, or ginko biloba body wash.

And now here I am, pulling the Nokia out of my purse and dialing my office from the car. Trés 21st Century, Secra.

I immediately get my own dulcet tones, of course. Hi. You've reached The Dirt Company. Our regular business hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you'll leave a message at the ... I cut my canned self off in mid-schpiel and start punching in extension numbers, hoping I might get lucky and catch a live human being, already in the office ... somebody who can start the coffee and turn the phones off night bell and do all of the stuff *I* am supposed to be doing right now. After repeated attempts to connect with a warm body  --  and repeated encounters with other canned voicemail greetings  --  I finally wind up leaving a voicemail message for JoAnne. (HiJoAnne It's-me-Secra I'monmywayintotheoffice butwe'restuckintraffic I'llbethereassoonaspossible OK?)  I feel a little funny, with this teeny-tiny piece electronic gizmo pressed against my ear  --  it feels like I'm talking into a garage door opener  -- but I manage to get my entire message delivered without being cut off. For good measure, I copy the message to Dawn and to the Office Manager and to a couple of the more reliable environmental techs. (Read this: any of the young environmental techs who weren't doing tequila shooters at the Christmas party.) And that's it. That's all I can do.

Message = delivered.

Butt = covered.

So of course when I finally straggle into The Dirt Company, fourteen and a half minutes later  --  sweaty, winded, lugging Christmas cookies and copier paper and three days' worth of Slim Fast and apples  --  there is nobody in the office yet. No messages on the company voicemail, either, except for mine. In other words: nobody even knows that I was late,  except for the buttload of (unerasable/irretractable) voicemail messages I've left all over the place, like poop in a dog park.

Oh well. Nothing I can do about it now.

Late in the morning -- much, MUCH later in the morning -- my boss comes strolling into the office, with a latte in one hand and an armload of shopping bags in the other. (Someday *I* want to be the boss, Isweartogod.)

"Your assistant called," I say to her brightly. "She's stuck in traffic in Alameda, but she'll be here as soon as possible."


I spend the rest of the day feeling pretty darned smug about the resourceful and responsible way I'd handled the situation. True, nobody really had to know that I was delayed in traffic -- I could have skated on this one, easily -- but I still think I probably did the right thing, calling to leave a message. Plus I got to use my cell phone finally. That's kind of cool. Maybe it might come in handy once in a while, after all.

As a matter of fact, I decide to leave my phone turned on for the rest of the day ... just for the hell of it.

Why not? You never know when I might suddenly hear Christmas music coming from my purse again.

tell 'em secra sent you

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~ nil bastardum carborundum ~

* yeah, i know.
stuff is ALWAYS *dawning* on me lately.
it must be all the ginko biloba body wash i've been drinking.