The Back Road: Waiting for red light to turn green

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The Back Road: Waiting for red light to turn green

By Andrew Malekoff

When, where and for what purpose people use their smartphones has become somewhat cliché. It is fair fodder for educators, therapists, humorists, cartoonists, talking heads and, well, almost everyone I know. Still, I decided to add my two cents here.

Increasingly, when I am on the road situated behind another vehicle waiting at a red light and the light turns green, I have to beep my horn to get the attention of the driver right in front of me. On those occasions, it is obvious that they are playing with their phones – texting, looking at social media, whatever.

I often wonder, what is it that can’t wait and requires one’s rapt attention during a 30-second red light?

I walk most mornings, sometimes as early as 5 a.m. Since I live in Long Beach, the 2.2-mile boardwalk is my go-to destination. I rarely see another soul and I like it that way. The solitude of pre-dawn darkness suits me. And sometimes I’m lucky enough to see a breathtaking sunrise.

Although I cherish my morning walks, completely circumventing other people is rare. What puzzles me, though, is that on the rare occasion that I cross paths with another human being, they are often on their phone engrossed in animated conversation.

I have no recollection of ever having had a phone conversation with anyone at 5 a.m. As a lifetime late night talk show radio listener, I am well aware that people do call in the wee hours of the morning. Their calls are usually about conspiracy theories like who really killed JFK or what’s the truth behind Area 51. Or maybe they spotted Big Foot.

I completely understand that some folks can’t sleep and others are lonely. Cross country truckers often call in as well as people working the graveyard shift. Whatever the reason, I think that being able to connect with someone on the other side of midnight gives folks a sense of companionship, no matter how fleeting.

When I’m at the grocery store, on occasion I use my cell phone to call my wife. For example, “Was that Baby Bella mushrooms or shitake?” Or, “I forgot – is it the toilet paper with the red packaging or the blue?”

Although I don’t actively eavesdrop, some of my fellow shoppers are not using their phones solely for shopping advice; rather, they seem engrossed in something much deeper. Could it be a remote book club or a telehealth call? At King Kullen?

It puzzles me when I hear someone engaged in a private conversation in public on their cell phone, whether in the grocery or on the train, for example. Verizon posted a guideline entitled: “Smartphone etiquette tips for any context.”

One of their tips is, “Keep a distance of at least 10 feet from the nearest person when talking on the phone.” Who abides by that? Hardly anyone riding the Long Island Railroad “quiet cars” notwithstanding.

Closer to home, sometimes I can clearly hear my across-the-street neighbor’s conversations from the second floor of my house, even when the windows are closed. I am not exaggerating. In fact, the phone volume is set so high I can hear both ends of the conversation, unless a plane is heading in to land at JFK.

I started this column with the disclaimer that the subject of smartphone use has become cliché and somewhat tiresome I might add.

In any case, I have to stop writing now. The light just turned green.

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