Showing posts with label Smartphones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Smartphones. Show all posts

21 May 2020

Tales From the Waffle House and other 24/7 Adventures


by Eve Fisher

Once upon a time in Hollywood - my Hollywood - I spent an awful lot of time with an old black bluesman named Solomon at a place called Ben Frank's on Sunset Boulevard.  I just looked it up, and it's listed on Rock and Roll Roadmaps, and it still exists, only now it's Mel's Drive-In.  (???)  But I liked it the way it was, a 24/7 place where Solomon and I could meet over coffee and cigarettes and sometimes a little food and endless conversation.  We often got kicked out, not because we were there too long - there was no such thing, at least not late at night - but because Solomon would have a tendency to eventually go off on a rap about how the only religion that embraced the full erotic aspect of God's love was Hinduism (and he waxed very poetic), and then hit on the waitress, who usually thought he was a dirty old man.  Maybe he was, but he was a damn good friend - in fact he saved my life one night at a place called the Free Church, which is a whole 'nother story, that maybe I'll tell another time.  And I love a good long conversation on something besides the weather and politics. 

That - and recovery from hangovers - is what 24/7 restaurants are for. 

Check out Waffle House.

Everyone who's ever lived in the South has eaten at Waffle House more times than they can count.  Open 24-7, there's no where else in many towns open at 3 AM where you can get coffee, breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  If they ever add beer to the menu, no one would ever leave.

The motley assortment of people at a Waffle House at any time must be seen to be believed - Sunday churchgoers and the local homeless all chowing down together - but there are those who only walk by night, and they know where they can come.  Granted, the glaring lighting and 3 sided floor-to-ceiling windows are hard on the hung over.  But that's the price you pay for pecan waffles and an accessible bathroom.

And then there's the floor show:  how many places, other than Benihana's, have their chefs in constant view of the clientele?   I've sat there many a time, feeling a little rocky, watching the master chefs of Waffle House flipping burgers, eggs, and hashbrowns all the while tapping, singing, dancing to the radio and/or joking with each other, flirting with the waitresses, and (in olden days) smoking like chimneys without dropping ash anywhere but the floor.  Amazing.

I remember when the local Waffle House in Bristol, TN was taken over by a Yankee manager.  The guy - young know-it-all type - came in and started giving everyone hell about all kinds of stuff.  Not that anyone was paying attention.  They figured he'd move on sooner or later, and if they had anything to do with it, it would be sooner.

"He wants me to go out and chip weeds in the parking lot," said our favorite late-night waitress.  "Now I ain't doin' that.  And I let him know it.  He said he'd fire me.  I said, when do you think I'm gonna find the time to do that?  He say, you can do it when things are quiet 'round here.  When does he think that is?  Four a.m., and it's pitch dark?  I'm not going out there.  And at five, all them people from the factory come in, they shift over, and I'm running the counter like my ass is on fire?  I don't think so."

Another order he gave - to our favorite day waitress - was that she quit putting raw rice in the salt-shakers.  "Where is that boy from, anyway?  Don't he know that if you don't put rice in the salt-cellars, they gonna turn into Lot's wife?  How else you gonna made that salt flow?  He ain't never been here in July or August, that's for damn sure.  You want your hash browns smothered and covered?"  Hell yes.

There was also the time when the carnival came to town, and apparently one of the carnies made off and made hay with the girlfriend of one of the cooks.  The cook didn't take it well, especially when the carnie showed up at the Waffle House for sustenance before the carnival took off on Monday morning.  Let's just say that no one was chipping weeds in the parking lot that day but the carnie, and it was mostly with his teeth, as the cook bounced him around the asphalt.

And there were always drug deals in the parking lot, the homeless / wino regulars taking a snooze in that back booth that's almost out of sight of the windows, the constant gossip, and the police who ignored all of it, because they wanted a pecan waffle, too.

And we were all snobbish with it.  A Waffle House in Wytheville, Virginia.  Everyone's smoking, including us.  It's raining outside.  Inside, a nice thick haze of cigarette smoke, frying onions, waffle batter, burgers, grease, and coffee.  Perfect.  A car pulls up outside, New York license plates, and a couple gets out.  They walk in, and the woman looks around and asks, "Where is the non-smoking section?"  The waitress didn't miss a beat:  "In New York City."  The couple left, and the entire restaurant clientele stood up and applauded.

Of course, I enjoyed 24/7 restaurants more back in the day when I was apt to be up and around 24/7.  (Now I consider 9 PM seriously late and generally don't answer telephone calls after 8.)  When I was in my early 20s in Atlanta, in between Waffle Houses, the go-to places were the Majestic Diner at Plaza Drugs and Doby's, both on Ponce De Leon.  (Photo at right thanks to GA State Library Digital Collections.)

Doby's Good Food restaurant exterior on Ponce de Leon, 1980Back then the Majestic was just known as Plaza Drugs, and was known for its drugged-up clientele.  We Doby's customers liked to think we were a little more normal, but come on, when you have people walking other people in on a leash at midnight, there's nothing normal going on.  Except for the fact that the walker and walkee were both just showing off.  But at least we knew it was abnormal, and we showed our disapproval by ignoring them, despite their doing everything they could to get our attention.  The waitress' attention.  Somebody's attention.  Anyone's attention.

NOTE:  The worst thing in the world is to be deliberately, flamboyantly shocking and depraved and have no one pay attention.  😉  That is the tragedy of adolescence - temporary or permanent - in a nutshell.

Anyway, I was a Doby's fan, because they had better food.  And it was cheap.  Back in the mid-70s, you could get a vegetable plate (four veg and cornbread or biscuit) for probably $2.00, and breakfast with meat for $2.75.  A 3-piece chicken dinner would run you about $3.25.  I remember this, because we were all poor, doing our starving artist thing in the Little Five Points and North Highlands areas.  Mary Mac's (which is still around) was too expensive for us.

But again, the real purpose of 24/7 restaurants is a place where a group of people could sit over coffee and conversation for hours.  Face to face, laughing, talking, gossiping, arguing, exchanging ideas and dreams, plans and artwork, for hours.  It was great. 

And I think that's what I'd have missed the most if I'd been born in, say, 1990-2000.

Because before the pandemic, the smart phone arrived and ate up the entire attention span of a multi-generational group that apparently had had enough of people, and wanted to spend all their time texting.  From grandmothers to kids, it's been all eyes and thumbs on screen, for years. 

So, why are they suddenly hungering for other people's live company?  I mean, we've all seen it:
  • the people in a restaurant, everyone on their own smartphone, no one talking;
  • the people in a park, on their smartphones, while their kids played and occasionally begged for their attention;
  • the people walking, on their smartphones, never looking up (one walked into our parked car at the grocery store a few years ago, looked at us, shook his head, stepped to the right, lowered his head, and kept going).
Smartphones destroyed riding on subways and buses.  The sights you used to see!  I'll never forget Rughead in Atlanta, who spent all day long riding MARTA, wearing the worst wig in the world, stapled to his head...  Or all the tags of conversation, which I would note down in my little scribble book.  "Ain't no way I'm gonna tell my sponsor everything, even if I am working my program.  I'm not going to prison, even for my sobriety."

Smartphones destroyed the old coffee shops.  Starbucks is simply a vendor of hot liquid; nobody sits and talks there, they're on their tablets or smartphones or laptops, but no one talks.  And coffee shops, from the 1600s on, were all about talk.  That's what they were for.  Ask Samuel Johnson.

Anyway, you'd think the smartphone crowd - like the militia / survivalist types - would be the last people to be bugging out during this time of social distancing.  But no.  Joni  Mitchell was right.  "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."



Maybe some day we'll all get talking again.  And make some new tales to boot.

Stay well, stay safe, stay home.

Meanwhile, Blatant BSP:

Check out stories by yours truly:

"Brother's Keeper" in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May/June 2020.

"Pentecost"  in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology, SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin, editor

"Embraced"  in Startling Sci-Fi.

Startling Sci-Fi: New Tales of the Beyond (The NEW Series Book 3) by [Adam Sass, M. P. Diederich, Eve Fisher, Mike Algera, Brian T. Hodges, Charlotte Unsworth, Jhon Sanchez, Scott Lambridis, Stefanie Masciandaro, Casey Ellis]AHM_MayJun2020_400x570



06 September 2014

Everybody's E-Talkin'





by John M. Floyd


A song that I liked the first time I heard it, back in college, accompanying the opening credits of Midnight Cowboy, started out with "Everybody's talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're sayin' . . ." Those lyrics are as appropriate now as they were then; only the circumstances are different. These days we seem to do most of our talking via e-mails, smartphones, Facebook notes, Instant Messaging, etc., and although I take part in all that as much as anyone else, I'm not sure it's always a good thing. Sometimes, like Harry Nilsson, I'm not sure I hear a word they're sayin'.

There is, of course, a reason for all those news reports about people wandering in front of cars or falling into manholes while looking down at their phones. And it's not just because folks who do that are as dumb as the trees and walls they're running into. They are simply addicted to being in nonstop touch with other people, or to being constantly entertained by some online program or service. God forbid they should be forced to nod a greeting to those they pass on the street, or to think about something on their own.

Hold the phone

How often have you been in meetings, or at lunch, or even at family gatherings, and realized that some of the people around you have never once made eye contact wth you or anybody else there? Instead they're texting or surfing or staring in slack-jawed catatonia at their phones or tablets. Madonna could climb onto the table wearing nothing but cowboy boots and an Easter bonnet and play "Over the Rainbow" on a ukulele, and they'd never notice.


Even worse--and I realize this is nothing new--is when strangers in crowded restaurants or stores or waiting roooms carry on loud phone converstions as if others aren't within an arm's length and hearing every word. I truly hate that. I was in Kroger last week and watched the lady ahead of me check out a couple hundred bucks' worth of groceries, pay the cashier, and leave the store without once pausing her full-volume conversation or taking her phone from her ear or even looking at anyone. When I moved up to get my own items checked out, the cashier just gave me a tired look and tipped her head in the direction of the departing woman and rolled her eyes. I nodded my agreement. I'm convinced that the main reason cell phones don't have cords is so bystanders can't use them to strangle the callers.

Once again, I am not guiltless here. I try not to be rude, but I do love my gadgets, and I admit that no matter where I am, I can't resist occasionally pulling out my iPhone to check e-mail or the weather radar or the Dow Jones. I do, however, try to maintain at least some level of dignity in my life: I don't pump my arms back and forth like an idiot when I speed-walk in the neighborhood, I don't wear too-short neckties, I don't confuse "it's" with "its," and I don't use my cell phone to discuss my sore back or my crabgrass problem or my cousin's gambling debts while I'm in a crowd of people.

E-friends and neighbors

I confess I have strayed a bit from the topic. Phone calls, unless you're FaceTiming or Skyping or video-conferencing, are not e-talking. But e-mail and Facebook and texting are, and I'm not sure I could live without them. As for Facebook, I don't post a lot there, and I generally ignore others' posts about what they had for breakfast today or what TV show they watched last night (I don't care about that any more than they would care about hearing that from me), but I do use Facebook to announce upcoming classes or booksignings, and I like using it to stay aware of what other writers are doing and to keep in touch with otherwise inaccessible friends and classmates. And e-mail? I love it. As a writer, I think e-submissions and e-correspondence with editors/publishers makes life less difficult in a multitude of ways. I also use e-mail and text messages to stay in touch with our three children, and I fell in love with Skype and FaceTime long ago, for the same reason.

As for e-friends, I have quite a few I've never even met in real life, and some of them I feel I know pretty
well. Many include some of my colleagues at SleuthSayers and at the now-retired Criminal Brief mystery blog. When I have had a chance to eventually meet and visit with people I'd been in e-touch with--Leigh Lundin, Herschel Cozine, Liz Zelvin, Linda Landrigan, Steve Steinbock, Melodie Johnson-Howe, Barb Goffman, James Lincoln Warren, Bill Crider, Andrew Gulli, BJ Bourg, Janet Hutchings, Angela Zeman, Jim Doherty, Jeff Baker, and others--I'm usually surprised (and relieved) to find that in person they are exactly what I had expected. And I'm always amazed at how generous e-friends can be, with advice, critiques, blurbs, recommendations, etc.

OMG--Who R U?

One thing that does bother me (more than it probably should) is that statistics confirm that the average person now has far more e-friends than "actual" friends, and spends far more of his/her time in e-contact than in face-to-face relationships. The problem there is that I find myself wondering whether younger people are learning the interpersonal social skills that they'll need later in life. (Observe the teenagers at your next family reunion; I predict that they'll spend most of that time alone and fiddling with their phones.) But, hell, what do I know? Maybe what they'll do later in life won't require interpersonal social skills.

One thing that doesn't bother me a lot (and it probably should) is the security risk of e-friendships. Unless your new e-acquaintance is Tiffani from Bora Bora and she says it's like totally awesome to meet such an amazing guy, I think you can safely assume that most e-friends are legitimate and are who they say they are. Yes, there's always the chance that 25-year-old schoolteacher Mary Jane Tucker might turn out to be 55-year-old Darth Voldemort, currently serving eight to ten for grand larceny--but the truth is, if you're openly looking for relationships, there'll always be some risks anyway, even if the encounters are face-to-face.

E-questions

What are your thoughts, about all this? Are any of you fellow e-mail devotees? (If you're writers, I suspect that you are, almost by necessity.) Do your e-friends outnumber your real-life friends? How much time do you figure you spend on your smartphone? How much would be too much? Do you share my concerns about the lessening of face-to-face social interaction? Do you check Facebook daily and use it for messaging? Do you use Twitter? (I've not yet taken that plunge.) Have you ever blundered into a tree or a lamppost while you were texting? (I've come close, but no cigar.) And my final question:

Do you always, no matter what, read the SleuthSayers blog?

This e-friend is hoping you do.





29 June 2012

Rebirth in a Smartphone


by Dixon Hill
 
SleuthSayers is about Reading and Writing and Mystery. 

At least, that’s how I understand it.

So, this week’s blog is about all three: Reading, Writing, and a very special type of technical Mystery my dad and I experienced this past week.

An odd thing happened to me on Tuesday. 

I became the new owner of a Smartphone with an unlimited data package.

This strikes me as odd, because — up until Tuesday — the only cell phone I had access to was a Virgin Mobile prepaid flip phone that didn’t even text very well. (Not that I have a lot of “texting” friends, at 49 years old.)

Even more striking, perhaps: the computer I use to make my posts on this blog is hooked to the internet via aol dial-up! Which means that I can now access this blog site faster on my phone, than on the computer I use in my office.

I don’t know about you, but I find that fact a bit odd.

( I know: Some of you are still thinking, “DIAL-UP?!? What — has he got a club in the corner that he hunts dinner with, too???” To those folks I would simply say: “It’s not a club; it’s a shillelagh. And it hangs in the sacred spot beside the empty slot where my Kukri (or Khukuri) used to hang. Because – as of last weekend -- my Kukri now hangs on the wall in my 4th-Grade son’s room!” And NO I did not trade my Kukri to my son for a smart phone. He asked if he could hang my copy of the famed Gurkha knife on his wall.)

Nonetheless, I find the fact that my phone can access this website much faster than my work computer a bit of a shock.

It shouldn’t really surprise me, of course. As the son of a guy who taught computer programming at the local university, my childhood was steeped in the belief that we would all be walking around with computers on our wrists by 2050 or so — which now sits just under two-score years away.

I personally thought we’d also all beat the morning rush hour by wearing personal jetpacks, by this time. Evidently, I was wrong about the jetpack thing. And, my smart phone probably wouldn’t fit too comfortably on my wrist, unless I were one of those guys who like to wear gladiator cuff-bracelets that extend half-way to the elbow. On the other hand, I can do things with this new phone that Dick Tracy never even dreamed about — even if he did have a two-way wrist radio!

Not only can I access the internet with my new phone, it’s also easier to read this blog on my phone, than it is on my computer. I mean: I can see the words better. That’s not a huge thing to me, when the person in question is myself. But, it had an entirely different meaning — a HUGE new meaning! — when it came to my 85-year-old father.

You see: my dad got a Smartphone the same day I did; we got them together. 

He’d been out, the day before, with a woman who sometimes comes over to lend a hand. She drove him to an appointment, but made a wrong turn along the way. They got a bit lost. That’s when the woman pulled out her smartphone and brought up Google. She entered the address they were looking for, and her phone (as dad put it) “told her how to get there.”

Dad REALLY wanted that application! I think I know why he wants it, and it makes sense to me. In fact, it’s the whole reason we wound up getting new phones.

And, a magical thing happened at the phone store.

 My dad’s sight was restored.

 I don’t mean that his vision problems were miraculously cured. What I mean is: My dad was able to see something he hadn’t been able to see in over a year-and-a-half

His EMAIL!

To explain: Dad lost all vision in one eye over a year ago, after undergoing his 13th eye operation. And, the vision in his other eye has been deteriorating badly. All this, while my mom was in the hospital, then brought home in Hospice care, and during the next eleven months or so as dad became her primary care-giver (at his insistence), until she passed away six months ago. Since then, he’s had 40/200 vision in his good eye, with only glasses on, and improved (though far from perfect) vision when wearing both glasses and a contact lens. As one doctor put it to me: “It’s sort of like your father has about one-half of a good eye.”

Even wearing both contact lens and glasses, dad hasn’t really been able to see his email messages — or very much else on his computer screen. In truth, he can’t see much on the printed page, either; not unless it’s blown up to about a font size of 75. Instead — in print, or on-screen — he had to puzzle out the blurry shapes he was seeing, piece each letter together in his mind, then mentally assemble the words from those letters, and try to reason out the meaning. And, he did this while under extreme stress (as his wife lay dying), then extreme exhaustion (because he’d worked himself half to death taking care of her). Yet, he insisted on personally handling his finances and other daily business, as he’d always done, as well as sending out letters and emails informing distant friends of my mother’s death. I suspect you can understand the constant tension of working under such circumstances.

 Here’s a bit of mystery about smartphones, however:

Evidently, the magnification system available on the smart phone is quite different from that on a computer. The phone (from what I’ve noticed on mine, at least) is designed so that when you magnify a website, it magnifies portions so that they fit the screen size. Leigh could probably tell us that this has more to do with the way a smart phone interacts with the internet, possibly even that the phone actually interacts with a different part of the net than the computer does. I don’t know: I don’t understand these things, nor do I let that fact keep me up at night.

To me, the important thing is that -- when the phone store guy got dad up on the new smart phone, and dad got to his email account -- I heard him gasp, “I can SEE it! I can REALLY SEE IT!

For the first time since that last eye operation, over a year-and-a-half ago, my dad could actually see his email — because of the particular way his smart phone displayed it.

And, looking at him, hearing the excitement in his voice — seeing that excitement light-up his face! — I realized: I had just witnessed my father having his sight restored.

That dad’s sight was restored through technology is not just incidental.

 He taught computer programming at Arizona State, when the field was so new that he had to invent his own curriculum. That technology provides the only “dad-friendly” reading venue we’ve been able to find, to date, seems somehow fitting. And let there be no doubt: this phone is like a key for my father, unlocking his ability to read and write, once more. I thought he’d eschew typing with the on-screen keyboard, and just opt for the microphone aspect his phone provides, when it comes to writing things into his phone. But, over this week, he’s become pretty adept at using that keyboard too. And he's talking about finding other ways to exploit the new-found doorway back to the world of the written word. 

I find myself constantly reminded of what he told me in the car, as we drove home from the phone store: “Son, I can’t explain . . . . It’s like I’m coming ALIVE again!” 

My father was a voracious reader all his life. But, for the past 18 months, he hasn’t been able to really read at all.

Now, he can read again. It’s had a huge impact on his life. And, when he realizes that his phone can access books, that impact will grow even more. If he can find a way to exploit the phone the way he wants to — Well, even I, a fiction writer, can’t imagine where this will all end.

At the far end of all the thinking I’ve done this week, however, I’ve come to an incontrovertible conclusion: The writer who ignores a technology that’s capable of having such a tremendous impact on the reader, does so at his/her own peril.  I know other writers on SS have covered this topic before.  But, I thought a slightly different "insight" might not be a bad thing.

 See you in two weeks!
 --Dix