Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cutting the cord

Tonight I'm spending about my 15th night in Arizona so far this year.

2012 was worse; I spent a whole month, broken up into pieces, in Arizona in 2012.

In case you have never been here, or are unfamiliar with the concept of a desert, it is quite hot in Arizona in August.  At the rental car counter this morning, the clerks were marveling to each other that it was "only" 80 when they were coming in to work today.  One fellow said, "I didn't even turn on the air conditioner."

I had to run an errand this afternoon, which I will talk about in just a moment, and the thermometer in the car said 109 at one point.  I realize that the National Weather Service has not placed official rolling thermometer gear in rental Ford Escape SUVs, but I can attest to today's mind-altering heat.  If what I experienced wasn't actually 109, I want no part of the real thing.

"Just wait," the rental car guy said, "it's going to get really hot this weekend."

If it were regularly that hot in Arkansas, the suicide rate would skyrocket. The principal difference between Arkansas and Arizona is the relative humidity.  ("It's a dry heat," people always say to me when I get back from Arizona, to which I always reply, "so is my oven, but I don't crawl inside.")  Summer in Arkansas routinely brings 90% humidity, while Arizona stays around 10-20%.  In case you were wondering, the relative humidity percentage is the amount of water vapor in the air relative to the maximum amount of water vapor that air can hold at that temperature.  Warm air can hold more water vapor than can cool air, for complex physical reasons that I could explain if you wanted to be even more bored than you were five minutes ago.  It's not that important.

The consequence of all this, though, is that the body's natural cooling process tends to work really well in Arizona and not so well in Arkansas.  When sweat evaporates, it absorbs heat energy from the skin, thereby cooling the skin.  On a humid day, the air can't hold much more water, so your sweat just lies there on your skin, like a lazy teenager on summer vacation.  So, if you find yourself in Phoenix in August, as long as you can get out of the direct sunlight and have occasional access to a/c, you stand a really good chance of not accidentally dying of heatstroke.  The same couldn't be said of 109 degrees in Little Rock.

All of this information is by way of telling you that I'm on another business trip.

I recognized something really important about myself today:  without my phone, I am a little lost child searching for his mommy in JCPenney.

My phone, which as Louis CK reminds us is a bona fide miracle, is both my connection to the work I do and the source of all my knowledge about how to do things. Example:  I'm hungry, so I can use my phone to find a nearby In-N-Out Burger, where I can obtain a very reasonably priced double-double, animal style, add chiles, and a strawberry shake.  I don't need to KNOW where In-N-Out is.  I can find out in 10 seconds.

Even more importantly, my phone keeps me from being bored during the 90% of time on business trips that is wasted on something other than actual business. Today was a typical business trip:  Pack my bags the night before so I don't have to get up when I would rather be going to sleep.  Rise at 5 a.m., shower and get dressed.  Out the door at 6:10 (a little late, but within my margin for error), drive with Michelle to the airport.  Check in at 6:30.  Go through security.  Sit at the gate for my boarding number to be called.  Ride the airplane for 3 hours.  Wait in line at the rental counter.  Get my car.  Grab some breakfast.  Drive to the first appointment.  Spend 30 minutes there.  Drive to next task.  Fail.  Drive to hotel. Wait for them to see if they have an early room.  Check in.  Find my room.  Return three phone calls.  Make notes for my 2:00 hearing.  Iron my shirt.  Change into a suit.  Go to the courthouse.  Wait in the courtroom for the judge to arrive.  Spend 8 minutes in the hearing.  Grab lunch.  Go back to the hotel.  Change into comfortable clothes.  Run three more errands.  Grab a large limeade at Sonic (gotta rehydrate).  Back to the hotel.  Write a blog entry.  Do more work, return phone calls and emails.  Grab a late dinner.  Do more work.  Facebook for a half hour.  Then go to bed, exhausted.  Up first thing in the morning, then back on a plane to Little Rock.

In a 24-hour day, I will have spent roughly one hour doing things that I could not do at home, but because I am not at home, the other stuff I do takes longer and is harder to do.

But I am used to it.

What I am not used to is having my phone die in the middle of all that.

I have been having trouble getting my phone to charge up.  I plug it in; it sometimes charges, sometimes not.  Most of the time it gets in my face by cycling between charging and not charging.  Every time it switches from one mode to the other, it sounds a little beep.  "Duh-dee!" it exclaims, when it feels the warmth of five volts of electromotive force coursing through its circuitry.  "Dee-duh!" it cries, when the power is cut and it contemplates its eventual death.

I don't understand why it makes these noises.  I do understand that they drive me nearly to the point of murder, if not of humans, at least of electrical devices, especially when--as I assume everybody does--I am charging my phone at my bedside in the night while I sleep.

But today, after a particularly frustrating series of en plane Candy Crush games had drained my battery to the low 20s, percentage-wise, by 9 a.m. (Mountain STANDARD Time; this is Arizona, where Daylight Saving Time is viewed as a communist plot) when I plugged it into my trusty car adapter, expecting to hear the familiar song of intermittent power up my device's USB hole.

Nothing.  Oh, moving the phone around produced the occasional rapid-fire duh-dee, dee-duh.  But nothing that would slake my phone's power hunger over the long haul of a day about town.

There are three things that drain my phone battery faster than anything:  Video of any type. Candy Crush (why? why?).  And GPS.  Obviously I am not going to be watching video or playing games in the car.  But GPS is a real necessity.  Even though I know Phoenix pretty well, or at least the layout of the city (which is pretty easy; it's more gridded than nearly any place on earth), I couldn't tell you where to find, for example, the offices of the Arizona Republic, or a convenient UPS Store.  (I did find those by dead reckoning today, however.)

Knowing that my day would be filled with telephone calls, emailing, texting, bluetoothing (I can't resist it in the car; I love to be hands-free when driving), finding the "Store Locator" button on various web pages, and GPS, and realizing that I needed to conserve power wherever possible, I spent most of today in a low-grade panic.

By the time I finished my "must do" tasks today, I was ready to scream.  I don't do well when I can't instantly satisfy my desire to know weird things that the Internet knows, like, for example, is it possible to raise the window-side armrest on a 737?  (If not, why not?  There is a 2- or 3-inch space on that side that's completely wasted.)

And let's not forget those hours of just sitting and waiting, that could be filled with a couple dozen attempts to get past level 147 on Candy Crush.  (Why is it so hard? Why?)

So, at the end of my workday, I bit the bullet and went to the nearest AT&T store.  I explained how my beautiful Samsung Galaxy S III, miracle though it normally is, had worried itself all the way dwn to 2% battery and simply wouldn't accept a charge, no matter which of the three cables I brought with me I plugged it into.  Couldn't be the cord(s), right?

"I trust you," Amber the clerk said, "but they make us verify with one of our cords."

"No problem," I replied.  "You'll see."

Amber plugged it in with some sort of magical cable that was just lying on the desk there, all magicky.  "Looks like it's charging."

"Of course it is," I said, "because you're obviously using some sort of magic cable.  Try it with a regular cable."

She dug through a drawer and pulled out four or five cables of varying lengths, sturdiness, and ages.

"Duh-dee," my traitorous phone chirped each time it sluttily accepted one of these foreign cables.

(As though it were saying, "F--- you!  F--- you!"  Because that's how it rolls.)

Amber started filling out a form, smiling in that way that 100-pound 20-year-old wireless telephone store clerks smile at old dudes who can't manage to get any juice into their phones with the equipment they have on hand.  "We don't keep the replacement phones in this store.  You'll have to go over to Paradise Valley, but they will swap it out for you."

"Oh," I said.  Paradise Valley is 100 miles away, on the other side of Phoenix from where I was. Not literally 100 miles, but a long way.

"They have equipment there that they can use to test your phone," she said, helpfully.

"The thing is, I don't live here, and I really just want get my phone charged for the ride home tomorrow, so could you maybe sell me one of your magic cables?"

"No, not one of these," she said.  My eyes fell.  "But I can sell you a different one."  Fifteen dollars plus tax later, and I was back in business--but not after she tested my new cable to make sure it had the same magic as the ones from her drawer.

I saw from the edge of my comfortable world, even for just a few hours, what it would be like to be without the umbilical-style connection that modern smartphones provide, and I didn't like it, not one tittle or jot.

I worry that I'll never be able to cope if I ever have to go back to BEFORE, when we all stumbled around, ignorant and stupid because we had no way of getting facts quickly or getting in easy, cheap contact with others.

CODA:  As I hit "publish" on this post, my phone's screen lit up.  "Charging completed successfully," it said.  Indeed.

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