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Viewpoint by Leonard Pitts Jr.: It's time to give up fighting the good fight

March 28, 2002

I am not a dinosaur.

We need to get that straight right from the get-go. I have two computers on my desk. I have a satellite TV hook-up. I have a VCR that does not, thank you very much, flash 12:00.

But I did not have a cell phone until Monday afternoon. My wife has a cell phone. My boss has a cell phone. Several of my children have cell phones. I did not. "Last man in America to get a cell phone," I told the young man behind the counter. He gave me this weak little the-customer's-jokes-are-always-funny laugh.

"Everybody says that," he replied.

Oh.

Did I mention that I am not a dinosaur? 'Cause I'm not, you know. I prefer to think of myself as — judicious. A discriminating consumer unwilling to be pushed into a purchase by fad or fancy. Of course, that's not the way my wife sees it.

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"You are such a dinosaur," she says to me whenever she presses her cell into my hands as I'm about to depart on a business trip. OK, so she doesn't say it in those words, exactly. But I know the thought is there.

A few months ago, I was driving with my 19-year-old when his phone rang. He listened for a moment, then, to my surprise, passed it to me. It was an editor friend of mine. He had called the house trying to reach me, got my wife, who told him I wasn't in and didn't carry a cell, but wait a minute, I was out with my son, who did. My friend, Steve, needed to talk to me about doing a story for his magazine, but he spent the next five minutes noting my distinct resemblance to a certain extinct reptile.

Which I'm not.

It's just — have you noticed that there always comes a moment when what were once luxuries become necessities? I was thinking about this one Friday afternoon recently while standing in the checkout line at the supermarket. There was a time, not so long ago, when Friday afternoon meant hustling your butt over to the bank before it closed at 6, else you'd be without cash for the whole weekend. It wasn't a hardship. It was The Way Things Were.

Now there's a money machine on every street corner, and if tomorrow they all went down and you and I were forced to actually, physically, go to the bank for weekend cash, we'd probably treat it like the Bataan death march. "Oh, my Gawd, I've got to drive all the way to the BANK?"

Luxuries become necessities, and it's a process that always makes me suspicious. Because, while it is surely driven by the natural progression of time and culture, it is also prodded by corporations that survive by creating needs where they don't exist and then filling them. So I've always been wary of the idea that life is not complete without a cell.

With a cell, my hopeful wife would say, you're never out of touch. You can always be reached. This is a sales pitch? Sometimes, I like being out of touch! Sometimes, I don't want to be reached!

With a cell, the dear, persistent woman would say, if the car breaks down, you can call for help. I made sure the car got regular maintenance. Lube and oil every 3,000 miles on the dot.

And I felt secretly superior to all those people walking through the airport with telephones welded to their ears, all those folks sharing private matters with strangers in a restaurant. I felt doubly superior to those people who talk using the hands-free gear; you think it's a mentally damaged person babbling to himself until you get closer and see the microphone dangling near his chin.

I used to be better than those people. Now I guess I'm one of them.

But I'm proud to say I held out as long as I could. Longer than most, in fact. I was the last rebel to sign the treaty, the last outlaw to lay down arms, the last heretic to believe. I was stubborn.

Hey, I am not a dinosaur. But I never said I wasn't a mule.

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