First Person

Pioneer Days

There is a fine line between blind optimism and denial. I was never so keenly aware of this balance than when my cell phone went blank one Sunday afternoon. For weeks the screen would intermittently flash colors and stop working. Sort of like someone slipped it a hallucinogen and it would come down from the trip a few minutes later moving a little slower, but functional.

There was no denying it that Sunday afternoon, though. It was good and broken. I pulled one kid from the throes of Fortnite to Google the hours of the local Zagg and packed up my computer to get some writing done while I waited for the repair. I had to call on all that optimism when there was zero parking anywhere near Zagg. My spirits were buoyed, however, by the fact that there was no one else waiting in line at Zagg. I had the service tech all to myself. I’m sure that tech is somewhere telling all his phone nerd friends about the lady with a phone so old they don’t even stock replacement screens anymore. Yes, my SE is the Triceratops of the Apple world. I trudged back out the door in shame, his disdain evident.

The bright sunlight stung my eyes as I stood forlornly on the sidewalk. Like Laura Ingalls on the prairie known as  Downtown Crown, I was without modern conveniences and reliant on grit.

So, I did what any pioneer would do when faced with such dire circumstances. I went to Starbucks.

Without my phone, I had no way to research more repair options. Thankfully, I had the foresight to ask my eldest to watch his email in case I hit a snag. I turned on my laptop, Googled “cell phone repair in Gaithersburg” and sent him the search results to call each and verify they were actually open at 5 p.m. on a Sunday. His reply was terse because, you know, email is so ‘90s, but it gave me what I needed. One repair place was 10 minutes away. Bingo.

I pulled into the parking lot facing one of those old, two-story buildings where each business simply props a sign in the window instead of paying for permanent signage. This made me nervous, but I thought WWLID (What Would Laura Ingalls Do?), straightened my shoulders and headed for the paint-chipped door.

Despite an OPEN sign clearly visible, the door was locked tight. I reached for my phone to call but put it back in my bag with a sigh. I fished a pen from my bag and wrote the number on my hand before surveying the building and adjacent strip shopping center for a pay phone. I felt old and defeated.

Pulling on the neighboring door, I got a boost when it swung wide revealing a flight of stairs leading to the Dominican Hair Palace. As I came through the door, I could see they were just as surprised to see me as I was to find them open. I asked one of the women to use their phone to call next door. I held up the black screen of my cell phone by way of explanation and they slid the chunky, corded console my way.

I am old enough to remember life before cell phones and often criticize my kids for their reliance on their technology. But the truth is, the world is not set up for non-mobile users. Back in the day, a kid could walk 10 feet and just hit the big ‘O’ on the payphone and they would call your parents collect. No questions asked. Those operators were the original Siri and Alexa.

After getting proof of life through the wall, I bid adieu to my Dominican friends and waited for the door click signaling my access to the cell phone repair shop. I think even good ol’ Ms. Ingalls would’ve gotten tripped up when she realized this was not an English-speaking establishment. I have taken a ton of Spanish classes and spent countless hours on flashcards studying with my kids AND STILL never advanced beyond an impressive version of Spanglish. Somehow, we fumbled through an explanation and follow-up questions with hand gestures and a massive amount of patience.

A mere 15 minutes and $50 later, and all was right with the world again.

There is a fine line between doing as I say and not as I do. This experience proved that I rely on my phone just as much as my kids do, even though I give them grief about that very habit daily. And What Would Laura Ingalls Do? She would own it. So, I got in the car and texted two words to our family group chat, “I’m back!”