Denver Bar Association
June 2004
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Cell Phone Etiquette? Who Are You Kidding?

by Diane Hartman

I just saw one of those prissy brochures about when NOT to use your cell phones. The writer, whose strident tone was almost threatening, took after folks who find them useful. He even called those callers rude.

I disagree.

Don’t use them in the elevator?? Are you kidding? I love elevator conversations and enjoy every nuance.

"Honey, I didn’t mean it that way." (what way? keep talking mister.)

"No, no, I would never lie to you about that." (about what? don’t get off now.)

"It’s all her deal, not mine." (ah, heck. He just stepped off and I’m left in the middle of his dilemma.)

The column said to turn your cell off when in meetings. Well, how are we going to tell who’s really important and who’s not? Usually meetings aren’t about anything interesting, at least not compared to the one-sided conversation we could be hearing. When someone’s phone plays a Sousa tune and the phone owner runs out of the room, I’m bereft. Just answer it so we all can listen.

What really drives me crazy is that enticing, salacious phrase as I walk by someone and hear "I heard in the strictest confidence that the governor . . ." or "the mayor’s wife said . . ." then I’m left in the dark about the latest buzz.

I heard a cell ring while I was two-stepping on the dance floor one night at the Grizzly Rose. Everyone turned to look (exactly what etiquette calls for, I believe) and the cell owner answered while she kept on dancing. A sight to behold.

Be grateful that all cell phone users talk loudly. While I don’t like soap operas or those reality shows, people on cell phones and what they talk about fascinate me and I make no apologies. I might sidle closer, but usually there’s no need.

If you’ve been to Cherry Creek Mall, you know the need to look spiffy; your ensemble wouldn’t be complete without a Nokia or whatever at your ear. I once spent the better part of an hour with my finger in my ear as I prowled the stores, just so I would blend in. I was inspired by a local columnist who said a reader reported seeing a lady driving in the 8 o’clock rush on I-25, holding a baby’s play phone to her ear. That’s the spirit.

Let’s see: I’ve heard them in the bathroom!! and the person in the stall next to me answered!! so I had unfettered access to her personal call. I tried not to flush at the wrong moment.

I’ve heard them in church. I understand they’ve gone off at funerals (really, shouldn’t that clever tune just cheer people up?)

I once biked next to one of those suicidal delivery people—not only did he have a full cup of presumably hot coffee in one hand, you can guess what he had in the other. I was awed.

One of the best places to use a cell is in the grocery store. At my local Safeway, I can count on seeing some guy with a cell headset hovering around the mayo, wrinkling his forehead. "They have REAL mayo, what other kind is there??" I consider it one of life’s magical moments to see people talking to themselves with all the earnestness of a cow heading for the barn. Oh, and then there’s the part where they get to the checkout line and keep talking, even though the clerk is saying, "Do you want to use this $5 coupon pasted on the cereal? Do you know you’re wanted for a bad check? Have you noticed that man over there who’s holding up the store? And I wonder if you would swipe your precious club card?" Ah, the pleasure of watching someone practice the skills of patience on the other person who is pinpointing, for someone who cares, exactly when he will be leaving the store.

I had a cell phone and loved it. I talked on it in the car, ran a couple of stop signs, slammed on my brakes, avoided horrid accidents only by my chinny, chin-chin.

What stopped me (for a while) was the loss of said phone while canoeing the French Broad River in North Carolina and being with someone who had never been in a canoe before but couldn’t quite tell me that, which led to the tumping over of the canoe and the dropping of the cell to the bottom of the river. The only real survivor, if you want to know, were some turkey sandwiches in a plastic bag that floated. It was the first time I really needed the little thing—to call the canoe rental people and tell them we were wet, stranded and, most important, without Diet Cokes to go with our turkey.

I recently went to the cell phone store, stood in line for an hour and now am back in business. I aspire to be like those people I see walking to work on Capitol Hill at 8 a.m., except that I don’t know anyone who would talk to me at that hour. Unhappily, the magic has worn off and when it rang in my purse the other day, when I was in the dentist’s chair, I didn’t even know what it was (but she did, and boy was she annoyed).

Note: If you have a good story about people on cell phones, email to I’d tell you my cell number but I haven’t figured out how to retrieve my messages yet.

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