Constitution has new ring in land of the free (minutes)

October 09, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

There's no point in talking about rude behavior and cell phones any more - that fight is over and the forces of evil have triumphed over the forces of good, and the loud-talking nitwits reign.

If you even bring up the subject of cell phone etiquette now, you're seen as a cranky old guy who's hopelessly out of step with society.

No, the rules of modern life are clear: Everybody must have a cell phone. Everybody must talk on it constantly.

And everybody must talk as loudly as they can, because this is your right as an American.

And even if it's not, it's your right as a Verizon Wireless, Cingular, Nextel, etc. customer with 700 anytime minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile and nights and weekend calling.

Now the cell phone nitwits are even desecrating the historic landmarks of this great country.

This became clear when my wife and I spent a recent weekend in Philadelphia and visited Independence Hall, where we had not been in six or seven years.

If you haven't been to Independence Hall lately, trying to get into the place now is like trying to get into CIA headquarters, only with worse parking.

Security is tight and the whole post-Sept. 11 entrance hassle comes into play: long lines, warning signs, metal detectors, guards barking instructions to empty your pockets and sweeping wands across your body.

Anyway, after we got through security, we were ushered, along with 70 or so others, into a small meeting room, where our tour would begin.

Our tour guide was a brisk, efficient park ranger - Independence Hall is part of Independence National Historical Park - who introduced himself as Ranger Gus.

One of the first things Ranger Gus said was something like: "If you have a cell phone, please turn it off or put it on vibrate, so you're not a pain in the butt and we don't have to take you outside and shoot you."

OK, fine. Sounds like a reasonable request, right?

Then Ranger Gus launched into an overview of the building: its significance as the place where Americans first declared their freedom in 1776, where they established a constitutional form of government 11 years later, etc.

Naturally, five minutes into Ranger Gus' talk - in the middle of a pretty good stemwinder about which famous Americans were present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence - a cell phone rang.

The good thing was: Ranger Gus didn't hear it.

I say this because Ranger Gus seemed like the no-nonsense type who wouldn't take kindly to someone flipping open a shiny Samsung phone and chirping: "Guess where I am! You know that place where Ben Franklin and all those old dudes met?"

OK, that cell phone incident wasn't a big deal.

Whoever had it turned it off quickly.

Then Ranger Gus finished his talk, and we followed him into the Pennsylvania Supreme Court chamber and then into the famous Assembly Room, where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were drafted and signed.

Which is where we had another cell phone incident.

OK, try to picture this in your head: Picture a wonderful old room filled with desks covered with green cloths, atop which sit heavy candleholders, quill pens and inkwells, old books and writing tablets. Picture the antique chair with its famous "rising sun" carving used by George Washington as he presided over the Constitutional Convention and the silver inkstand designed by Philip Syng used for the signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Picture Ranger Gus replicating part of an impassioned speech delivered by President-elect Abraham Lincoln when he visited Independence Hall in 1861.

Now picture someone in the back of the room saying: "What? No, we're still here. I told Brianna we'd meet her at Starbucks in about a half an hour. ... "

Yes, this was what our forefathers had in mind when they conceived this great nation: rude people on cell phones in our hallowed national landmarks, deciding where to meet for a banana mocha frappuccino.

While Ranger Gus emotes as the sainted Abe Lincoln!

Oh, it was a sad, sad moment.

You go through something like that and you think: That's it, there can be no hope for this civilization.

The barbarians have smashed through the gates.

The looting and pillaging have begun.

Poor Ranger Gus.

I give him another six months - a year, at the most - before someone hands him a cell phone in the middle of his Lincoln speech and says: "It's my cousin Brianna. She's at Starbucks. She wants you to do that Lincoln thing again."

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltsimoresun. com/cowherd.

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