Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ask not for whom the Bell tolls...

I remember camping.
We used to camp--geez, it seems like every weekend, at least in the summertime. In my early childhood, it was Oastler Lake Provincial Park; later, in my teens, Dad and I would sometimes camp at Grundy Lake, not far from his house.
Camping was about the only time this indoor kid got outside for any length of time, or at least enjoyed being outside. If you click on the image gallery on each park's site, you can get some small idea of why. Panoramas like that are a nickel a gross in the north country, and one of the biggest reasons I want to retire up that way.
Notes for a sketch of camping:
The little Kellogg's cereal boxes for breakfast. The campfire at night to ward off the chill. The heady aroma of mosquito coil. Giant butter tarts. Frolicking on the beach. Hiking the trails, especially the Beaver Dam Trail with its long boardwalk. Dad getting a chipmunk soused on beer. The seaweed in Gut Lake clutching me in its kelpy fingers.
The tent trailer.
I remember the tent trailer.
It was, I believe, a 1970 Trailmaster, and it had the following neat-o features: two mattresses, a table, and a green tent extending out from the side, which you put a picnic table under. And there was your campsite, and a very fine campsite it was. Purists might wince at the trailer and say that real camping involves a tent and only a tent. That's fine. For me, camping always meant sitting at the table in the trailer, Coleman lantern hissing, playing Crazy Eights or King's Corners with Dad, and later going to sleep on the mattresses, rain pattering off the roof. You haven't slept until you've slept in an old tent trailer.
So many years later, my mother and stepfather discussed buying or renting a trailer like that old Trailmaster and going camping. What naive fools we were. We went off to one of those RV dealerships specializing in mobile mansions and asked to be shown their basic tent-trailer model.
We were shown a variety of trailers, none of which met our specifications. Every single one of them had, at the very least, a bathroom cubby and a kitchenette. They all retailed out at the price of a new compact car and absolutely none of them made us think of camping. As my mom said later, if your camper is so much like home, why leave home? We went away resigned to never going "camping" as we thought of camping.

That thought came to me with crystal clarity today when my wife joined the cellular world.
I posted about cellphones over two years ago and my thoughts haven't changed much since. Just today I turned to greet a customer whom I thought was asking me a question, only to find her babbling into a phone. The phones are so small nowadays I thought she was talking to herself. She was obviously shopping on autopilot, only paying minimal attention to her surroundings, and it put me in mind once again of the legions of people who talk and drive. In my world, I'd call it impaired driving.
But Eva has to catch up with the century. She's getting high enough in her company now that 'job creep' is just a matter of time. Job creep is, of course, that phenomenon where you're assumed to be at work even when you're anywhere but. They don't pay you for this, and if you're not careful, "assumed to be" becomes "expected to be" in a very short time, but that's a rant for another post. Besides, she's got trips to make in the next few weeks, and it's winter, and not to put too fine a point on it, but I don't trust anyone on the roads any more. So it's probably a good idea for her to have a cell phone. She can call me if somebody runs into her while talking on theirs.
So: your basic model cell phone, one with which you can make and receive calls. That's all she needs. She has four televisions almost entirely to herself at home and doesn't need to pay any more for the privelege of watching a little two inch screen. Nor does she need a camera, an Internet connection, or the ability to text message, surely the most asinine invention in a long history of 'em. Oh, it'd be nice if she could somehow find a phone that had a little PDA-type thing built in, to keep track of her litany of appointments. But that means BlackBerry country, right? And that means more money than we've got.
So thinking, we moseyed on into a Bellworld store.
Tent trailer redux.
You can't get a basic model cellphone any more. They quite simply don't exist. It's assumed that every last person on earth needs an MP9, camera, Internet, text-messaging, list-features-until-I'm-bluetoothed-phone.
On the plus side, they finally got smart and stopped charging you for incoming calls--the biggest scam ever perpetuated on a willing public, to my mind. And the phones themselves are inexpensive enough. It's not as if you have to use all of those features, right?
We had talked about just getting pay-as-you-go cards, and decided against that...inevitably, the one time you really need the phone, your card will have expired and it'll be a hunk of useless plastic. It's worth the convenience to sign-up long term and just tack it on the Bell OneBill. Cue the TV cameras as I echo my father: I've been very happy with Bell's service so far. If only they could come up with a telephonic version of the spam the last month, 79 of the 90 calls we've receieved have been unsolicited.

I've seen less detail in user manuals for automobiles. This phone might as well be a BlackBerry, as far as I can tell. As far as the PDA is concerned, Eva's got that covered. If she wants real PDAs from her phone, well, I'm sure it'll oblige her there, too; there's just got to be a section on phone-user tongue-kissing in here somewhere.

Meantime, I'd like to go camping.

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