Planners, Phone Home

July 31, 1991|By Erik Nelson Mike James Patrick L. Hickerson

The chance of a lifetime, I thought. Heaven on earth, I told myself.The chance to work in the foremost planned community in the nation. The wonder of it all.

These thoughts invaded my consciousness as Ifruitlessly searched for a place to make a phone call while traversing Columbia on my way between Clarksville and Jessup.

Getting to that phone was vital: My wife's cousin's 1970 CadillacSedan de Ville, which he had dumped on us before going back home to Germany, decided to catch fire that morning. ("Looked like it was in great shape," one of the firemen told me.)

When I left home for work, the tow truck was four hours late and I couldn't wait. I had to report in to explain the situation to my wife before she arrived to find the blackened hulk sitting in front of our house. If I didn't callfirst to soften the blow, there would be a tent in the back yard with my name on it.

Where, I wondered, would I find a phone conveniently near the road in the American Dreamland?

Bushes and trees mocked me on Route 108, and a little voice kept telling me, "Go into the village center, it's your only hope." No, that would involve navigating the Mobius-strip traffic patterns designed by the world's foremostcity planners.

But then a startling realization: there was a 7-Eleven on Columbia Road. Only a little out of the way, but I could justscoot in, make my call and be on my way in minutes.

I found the 7-Eleven, but, to my horror, it had NO TELEPHONE!

What is this? A 7-Eleven with no telephone? Might as well take out the Slurpees and Big Bites. Was this some sort of Communist plot?

No, I was told later in a brief telephone interview with Assistant Manager Mohammed Sibbique.

"We used to have (telephones) before, but the kids around playing with them . . . were breaking them," he told me, adding it had something do with nobody wanting to be responsible for them.

"I think the (phone) company don't want them," he said, sounding puzzled that I would care.

How can this be? There are whole banks of phonesat 7-Elevens in tougher neighborhoods than any of these Columbia ruffians could ever imagine.

Well, hear this, you wimps who couldn't deal with a little vandalism, and you wimps who perpetrate it: Telephones at 7-Elevens are as much a right as a job behind the counter, and the people will rise up to defend that right.

This attempt to desecrate the one suburban institution that has never failed to providefor the masses may lead to a backlash of biblical proportions.

We'll start by putting gas stations and fast food restaurants with blaring signs on Little Patuxent Parkway. Before you can say "ARC," there'll be shopping strips and diners, cheap motels and acres of parking spaces.

And lots of pay phones.

Remember that the next time yousend a weary commuter to The Mall for a telephone.


In our age of fast-paced communication, it seems necessary to handle nearly all correspondence by electronic means.

I received afax the other day from the FBI, bearing a Department of Justice insignia and several "Classification" headings on the cover sheet. The government agent at the other end of the fax machine is supposed to show just how secret the information is.

Before the material is sent,the agent must check off one of the following boxes: "Unclassified,""Sensitive," "Confidential," "Secret" or "Top Secret."

For years,people have used phones in lieu of face-to-face conversations. Now, our growing use of computer terminals and modems has made it possibleto transfer ideas, expressions and information at the touch of a button.

Our most recent breakthrough, the fax machine, allows top secret ideas of national importance to be conveyed . . . without even somuch as a spoken word! In this age of misinterpretation, misquoting and misunderstanding, there's no room for vagary on the phone.

Earlier this year, a spokesman for a major northeast homebuilding company told me that he would only answer questions that I typed and sent him via the fax machine. He also told me that he would only respond via facsimile.

Is this what they meant in journalism school when they told us to say, "Just the fax, please?"

I also can't help but wonder who gets those "Top Secret" classification cover sheets. I mean,all I rated was "Unclassified" for the bank fraud case the FBI sent me. The agent also checked off "Routine" in the "Precedence" checklist, which also contained boxes for "immediate" and "Priority."

And then the question arises: What's the difference between Top Secret and Secret? Between Secret and Confidential? The differences escape me.

I posed the question to a colleague, and he promptly replied, "Secret is when I have an affair. Top Secret is when the affair is with my best friend's wife -- or when it's with my wife's best friend. They're both Top Secret."

I would appreciate some other definitions of these troublesome terms. My fax number's 750-1121.


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.