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Bad calls

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[Times photo: Jill Sagers]
Patti Quigley of Clearwater says a cell phone helped make her birthday dinner a “date from hell.” She says the man who was taking her out to eat and dance spent the evening on the cell phone with his 23-year-old son, while she “spent the entire night sitting along at the table. ... We never danced a step.”

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 30, 2001


From weddings to dinner to class, readers tell their stories of cell-phone horrors.

It was one of life's memorable moments for Leslie Roake, exchanging vows at her wedding. Then a cell phone rang from somewhere back in the church.

"I just tried to block it out of my mind and pretend it wasn't happening," said Roake of Tampa.

But the incident four years ago didn't turn her into an anti-cell-phone crusader. Roake says it didn't ruin her wedding; she knows the person involved was embarrassed and she understands why people need cell phones.

"As a new mom, my phone is indispensable," she said. "Technology is convenient but not always polite."

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Leslie Roake’s memory of exchanging wedding vows is punctuated by the ringing of a cell phone.
Roake carries a cell phone so she can stay in touch with the babysitter, and her husband needs one because he's a doctor. But she says they know when and where to turn it off, and they know to make calls where it won't disturb others.

The problem, Roake and others say, is that too many cell-phone users don't use common sense and manners. They leave their phones on all the time, they don't set them to vibrate instead of ring at performances or restaurants, and they talk oh-so-loud.

Roake was among the St. Petersburg Times readers who responded to an invitation to share their experiences after an April 2 story about the lack of cell-phone etiquette. Not all were as forgiving as she is.

While many of the readers say they have cell phones, no one came forward to defend the intrusions in restaurants, theaters and other public places.

Here are edited accounts of some cell-phone horror stories:

A group conversation

Judith Sallows, Seminole:

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Judith Sallows of Seminole tells the story of a visit to a family restaurant that turned into a conference call.
The rudest people I've come across were sitting in a family restaurant. They were a younger couple with a son approximately 8 or 9, and were with an older couple.

The young woman was talking loudly on the phone, in between bites of food. Then, horror of horrors, the whole restaurant had no choice but to listen to both sides of the conversation. She had turned on a speaker, turned up the volume and set the phone on the table so they could all talk and listen. She seemed oblivious to the turned heads, hostile stares and comments.

Heaven can wait

The Rev. David Miles Burkett, Gulfport United Methodist Church:

As one who has preached for about 35 years, I am accustomed to all kinds of interruptions. There are the usual ones: babies crying, people coughing, sneezing, books falling. Then there are the unusual ones: heart attacks, seizures, fire alarms and one domestic dispute that erupted into a couple fighting in the aisle.

One Sunday, we were hardly past the consecration and were distributing the bread at Communion when behind me the cell phone of my liturgist/reader went off.

Now, she doesn't just have a ringer. She has a tune, the William Tell Overture, as her enunciator. It went off like a cannon shot in the hallowed silence of the sanctuary, while folks were receiving the Body of Christ. She tried to silence it by scrunching it up to her chest, but she couldn't stifle it enough to keep everyone from hearing the whole theme as she slunk out of the chancel into the sacristy to take the call. Though she muttered under her breath, we all could hear her still.

When she returned, trying to be invisible, and sat down in her chair, I deliberately took a wide turn on my way past the altar and whispered, "Who in God's name called you in the middle of worship?"

"Wrong number," she hissed.

The last date

Patti Quigley, Clearwater:

I would like to describe my last date with a man I had been seeing over two years. I call it my date from hell.

He took me to a lovely place for my birthday dinner and dancing to a live band afterward. His 23-year-old son called his "Daddy" on the cell phone at least 15 times during the evening! I spent the entire night sitting alone at the table, embarrassed every time the waiter approached. We never danced a step. He even had to call his son after we left.

The following week, another gentleman took me to a fine restaurant and we had a lovely evening of dancing afterward. He left his cell phone in the car. Can't wait to see him again.

One wedding and a funeral

Susan Namath, Palm Harbor:

We were at my brother-in-law's wedding, and a cell phone went off during the ceremony. It was caught on one ring and quickly turned off. Last year, we were at the funeral of a friend and a cell phone went off during one of the saddest parts of the service. It was also turned off after one ring.

But if people have to be connected to the outside world, they could at least have the courtesy to turn their phones off before a wedding or funeral service begins and let voice mail handle the unanswered calls. If a person can't be without a cell phone long enough for a wedding or funeral to take place, he or she ought not to attend in the first place.

A not so grand time

Mary Lou Fischer, New Port Richey:

My husband took me to the Cafe Grand in New Port Richey to celebrate my birthday. Shortly after we were seated, another younger couple were seated behind me.

The man proceeded to carry on a very loud cell-phone conversation solving problems of family and relatives. After about 10 minutes, we thought our romantic dinner was turning into a bust. My husband asked our server if we could have our table changed. He obliged, and our lovely dinner was saved. The Cafe Grand is one of our favorite restaurants. It would do well to ban cell-phone use.

No class

Nancy Johnson, St. Petersburg:

When I was in college a few years ago, our group was right in the middle of its final presentation for an education class. We had worked very hard on our research, and we each had a part in the presentation.

When it was our turn, the first person started and gave her findings. Just as she introduced the next person, that person's cell phone rang in her purse, which was at her desk. She stopped, walked over to the phone and answered it, then went out into the hall with her conversation, leaving the rest of us with egg on our face. She finally did come back and we did finish, but, of course, on her time schedule. Rude, huh?

A kind of hush

Donna Christensen, St. Petersburg:

We were having dinner at Applebee's, and the place was packed. Clinks and clatters, gaiety and chatter filled the air.

A teenage boy sat at a table next to ours, across from a gentleman who appeared to be his father. A cell phone burbled. No one paid any attention. Not, that is, until the boy wrenched the cell phone from his jacket, clapped it against his left ear, flapped his right hand admonishingly to everyone in the room, and angrily hissed, "Ssssshhhhh!"

Obediently, everyone Sssshhhh'd. For one long, pregnant, stunned moment the room was silent. Then the shock and disbelief were shattered as everyone broke into gales of incredulous laughter and the boy, frowning fiercely, was virtually hooted out of the room.

The cell phone rang again about 10 minutes later. This time, the boy rose quickly from his table and hurriedly exited the room before he said "Hello."

- Dave Gussow can be reached at gussow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4228.

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