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Friday, January 20, 2006

Phone-Free Zones Obsolete

- There’s rarely any good news about the New York City subway system, and the only worse news than the transit union rejecting the new contract proposal is the word that it’s full steam ahead on a plan to install cell phone service underground. The subway is one place that you can escape the annoyances of the most insidious technological advance of all time. The thought of being crammed on a train, as if that's not bad enough, with the additional irritant of being cruelly subjected to the inane (and always far too loud) chatter of people who become totally oblivious to the fact that nobody gives a shit about their personal lives and business seems too much to bear. This would also deprive us of one of the few remaining sanctuaries from the obligation one feels to keep the phone on and answer it – “Oh, sorry, I was on the subway.” No arguing with that.

Racetracks in New York once were a similar escape from telephones. It used to be illegal to use a pay phone at the track, and though most tracks did have a few as I recall, they would be padlocked during racing hours. The rule was put in place to prevent people from using the phone to relay betting odds to illegal gambling joints. It used to give me a real sense of sanctuary there, to be in a place where there could be no contact whatsoever with the outside world. It was like I might as well have been in Norway. The only drawback was that to respond to “Why didn’t you call me?” with “I was at the track” was, in 99% of the cases, not an acceptable answer, so you had to make something else up. “I had no change” or “I couldn’t find a payphone,” while obviously lame, were often the best I could come up with. People who knew me knew bettor better.

The advent of cell phones, as well as the proliferation of legal off-track betting locales, made the rule obsolete, and though I hesitate to speculate on how long ago that was because those types of guesses usually come up far too short and make me feel old, I’d say, what, 10-12 years? Probably more. Still, signs at the track warn of the fact that it’s illegal to transmit betting information over the telephone, a law that is as much of a joke as the one that outlawed hands-free cell phone use in cars. How you could ever be caught doing that, I can’t imagine; at least until the president decides to illegally wiretap calls from the track on the grounds that you could be relaying the Pick 4 will-pays to members of Al Qaeda.