I know that using the phone while speaking with others and while in meetings is rude.  Because I’ve had a mobile phone for more than 20 years, it is an appendage of my arm or a fixture in my purse.  Like most of us, I have a continuing and growing love/hate relationship with my cell. 

One thing that I love is that I can do things–like go to Wal-Mart to pick up supplies during office hours–because I’m no longer chained to my desk .  Often, however, I’ve found that cashiers have not learned that every person who is talking on the phone isn’t gossiping with their brother-in-law about their mother-in-law. 

One afternoon, I was between meetings.  With time to kill but not enough time to go back to my office, I realized that I could either sit in my suffocatingly, hot car and catch up with my voice mail or I could walk.  I chose the fresh air and strolling through downtown Melbourne.  It is full of quint antique and thrift stores.  I popped into one store while punching the return button of a call I had missed. 

The attendant followed me as I grazed through the store.  Then I found a gold mine of inexpensive, all-but-new suits.  I grabbed a cart and started loading it up with my $3 bargains.  There was no one else in the store.  The attendant worked around the area that I was standing.  As I approached the cash register, my phone rang.  It was a person to whom I needed to speak.  Answering the phone, I saw the familiar frown of strident disapproval cross the attendant’s expression.  I could not miss this call and I had to check out my purchases or be late for my meeting.

After my phone call ended, the attendant said sternly, “Do you know how rude that THING is?”

I smiled as sweetly as possible.  “It may be rude but I could not be shopping if it weren’t for my phone because I would have to be in my office answering the phone.”  Again, smiling as broadly as possible, I said, “We found years ago that cell phones are a lot cheaper than secretaries.”

Yesterday, when checking out some supplies at Wal-Mart, my phone rang again.  Again, it was a call I had to take.  I had everything prepared for the cashier and the transaction went smoothly until I realized that she had forgotten to check out something.  I didn’t find the missing item which was sitting in full view of her until I had put back my credit card and the card holder and I had my packages in hand ready to leave.  “You forgot this,” I said to her.  Immediately, I began to fumble and drop things, trying to manuever my packages, find my card holder and then my card.  My call was interrupted momentarily but I didn’t want to let the caller go.  The cashier was visibly irritated and she looked at the customer behind me as though to say, “Stupid cell phone users.”

Again and again, she gave me and her next customer The Look That Can Kill.  I wanted to say to her, “Sorry, I didn’t realize that the mistake you just made would cause so much confusion.  I really am all right.  I’m not upset with you.”  But I could not get in a word because as soon as I had swiped my card, she turned to the other customer and dismissing me, she said, “FINALLY…”

Cell phones are an unpleasant reality of the business world.  Nevertheless, business executives who could never leave their offices can now take business calls in Wal-Mart or in a crowded restaurant.  Teachers can handle after-hour student emergencies quickly and easily.  And, yes, pastors and other ministers are able to work in the community and not be chained to their desks. 

Are cell phones a genuine pain?  Yes. Aren’t they one part of our modern life that we hate?  Yes.  But admit it.  We love them.