In The Event Of An Emergency, Please Call…

"Sarah, can you get me Mount Pilot?"

“Sarah, can you get me Mount Pilot?”

Sitting in the back of the bus has its advantages. I could see the guy coming from almost the front, stopping to say something to every person he passed. As he got closer I could hear what he was saying: “Can I use your phone?”

Please, I thought, please let someone before me say yes. If he got to me I’d feel awkward because there was no one behind me and while I didn’t recognize the guy there was a chance he’d become a regular rider. If I saw him every day, or even a few times a week, there’d be the same awkwardness and I’d have trouble explaining to my wife that we had to move so I could start taking a different bus route.

And then someone right in front of me said, “Sure” and handed the guy their phone. Lucky break. But, I thought, if he’d gotten to me I would have lent him my phone. If I didn’t have a phone and needed to make a quick call to someone I’d hope for a kind stranger, and let me emphasize I’d make the call as quick as possible.

The guy dialed and sat down.

“Hey, is Gary there? He’s not? Is this Bianca? Hey, how are you doing? Yeah, I’ve been at the public library all day. Let me tell you what I read…”

The guy had been reading some really interesting stuff at the library, and it sounded like Bianca had some lengthy opinions of her own about it.

“Is Dave around? Oh, yeah, let me talk to him.”

Dave had a surprising amount to say.

“That’s great. Thanks Dave! Put Bianca back on.”

I listened with eager anticipation wondering if Gary would arrive in the midst of this conversation.

“Well listen, I’ve enjoyed talking to y’all but my bus stop is coming up. Yeah, I’ve gotta get going. Tell Gary I called if he comes in.”

The total conversation clocked in at over fourteen minutes. I wonder what would have happened if the person who lent their phone had wanted to get off before the guy got to his stop. Or, for that matter, how Gary was supposed to call someone who didn’t have his own phone.

If someone ever asks to borrow my phone I’ll only let them on the condition that Gary is there to answer.

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  1. Ann Koplow

    I continue to be amazed at how many people in the world do things I would never do and don’t do things I would easily do. Isn’t it grand? I’m so glad you do something I do, too, Chris — blog.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It was such an odd situation I wonder if it was a psychological or sociological test of some sort to see how people would react. Even now I’m more than a little surprised a camera crew didn’t jump out and start asking the owner of the phone, “What were you thinking when the conversation went on so long?”

  2. Laura Neacsu

    WOW! I definitely did not expect that to happen… I thought he would call his wife or kid to say he’s on his way back or on his way TO SOMEWHERE! … what’s the definition of ‘good manners’ in this situation? thank you for sharing!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you for commenting! In such a situation I’d think good manners would be to make the conversation as brief as possible. Now the owner of the phone is never going to want to lend out his phone to anyone and next time someone asks it could be a real emergency.

  3. mydangblog

    Maybe he was secretly a spy and the whole conversation was some kind of code. with “public library” actually being a blacksite, and Gary was his handler. Also, maybe I’ve been watching too much “The Blacklist.”

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Oh great. Now I really feel bad for the poor person whose phone got used because the guy should have used a burner phone, and now James Spader in a fedora is going to show up on that person’s doorstep.
      Wait a minute. That sounds pretty cool. Wow, next time I’m going to jump up and say “You can use my phone to call ‘Red’!”

  4. Sarah

    Buses are definitely places where stories happen. Ugh! What a guy! I think I would have let him use my phone, too, and been resentful the whole time. I mean, really. What do you say when someone SEES that you have a phone and asks to borrow it? I wouldn’t be that quick on my feet. Do you say it’s broken? You’re out of minutes? (I guess that would work, but one look in to my eyes and I think he’d know that I have a plan.) Anyway, I feel your pain. I took the bus to college and right beside the school was the area’s psychiatric clinic. Outpatients were often on the bus. I had some very interesting conversations (no offense to the mentally ill.) I’m just saying that bus rides were an adventure, sometimes, for sure.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I bet they were some interesting adventures–I used to visit a park next to a clinic and had occasional and very interesting conversations with some of the patients.
      It’s probably a good thing I keep my phone in my pocket most of the time, even on the bus, although I’m often listening to podcasts or music, so I don’t know how I could get away with saying “I don’t have a phone. I just have earbuds stuck in my ears for no particular reason.”

  5. Gina W.

    Hmmmmm, well that’s just, odd. I was expecting you to say something like, “The stranger took the phone, licked it all around the edges and handed it back”. A fourteen minute conversation is just rude. I feel less likely to give my phone to strangers in the future, unless I see visible blood or a foreign object protruding from their body. And even then I’ll give a time limit and a no-lick warning.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Now I want to rewrite the story and make so the stranger did lick the phone. That would be funnier. Or at least weirder, although it’s still pretty weird that someone would take a stranger’s phone and make a call that long on it.
      From now on if someone asks me if they can borrow my phone I’m going to say, “What do you plan to do with it?”

  6. Michelle

    It still astonishes me how some people feel so at ease with taking advantage of others’ kindnesses. As you say, the phone owner might be less inclined next time, which sucks. I know I’ve certainly become less likely to give charity to people on the street after one girl went straight into a shop to buy smokes, another one abused me for not giving her enough, and another guy – who I’d handed my drink to hold while I dug my purse out of my backpack – DRANK SOME OF IT. THROUGH THE STRAW. I have never before or since been so close to throwing a drink in someone’s face. I didn’t, but I didn’t give him the money either. I swore at him (a lot, but only mentally) and threw the drink in the bin. Bastard!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The idea that someone would take a sip of a stranger’s drink, through the straw no less, leaves me flabbergasted. Although there is a benefit: it’s not every day that I get to use the word “flabbergasted”.
      Sometimes I see people on the streets holding signs asking for money and it always makes me sad, especially when they say they need food and I’m pretty sure they’re not always going to spend the money on food. But for a while there was a guy holding a sign that said, “Won’t lie. Want beer.” Quite a few people gave him money. I think they appreciated his honesty.


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