April 14, 2008

Cell Phone Vigilante

The New York Post published a story about the “LIRR Cell Phone Guy” — a fellow who gets angry at cell phone usage on the train.

By now, I guess all of us have been in this situation. You’re somewhere in public, trying to do something like shop, or perhaps just sit with your own thoughts. Suddenly, someone is shouting at you. But they’re not actually talking to you, they’re shouting into a cell phone.

It’s really annoying. But imagine if you were rustling your newspaper and the college student on the cell phone asked you to quiet down. That’s what happened to this fellow. He got angry, and it even crossed over slightly into the physical, when a lawyer tried to hand the student her card.

He has now survived eight railroad-related arrests without a single charge sticking. That includes a 1994 arrest for admittedly “clocking” a barely 5-foot-tall female passenger in the head with his fist.

I am as annoyed with cell phone users as anyone. I try to limit my usage when I’m out and about. But, really, physical violence? How is this guy able to escape punishment, when he’s hitting and slapping people? New York, are you giving him a pass because he’s a former police officer?

Putting the physical aspect of this aside for the moment (because I can’t imagine how it could be considered OK to hit somebody over their cell phone usage) what are the boundaries of politeness when you are in a situation where the other person is not being polite? It’s easy to be polite to someone who returns that respect. But if someone is being rude, do you feel you’re absolved of any obligation?

Personally, I suppose I feel no special obligation to be quiet for a cell phone user. I’ll whistle in their presence without a second thought — partly because I don’t want to hear your conversation! When someone is intruding on your ears to that extent (beyond the reasonable noise we’re used to) it’s defensive to erect a small bubble of sound around you, for sanity’s sake. But I certainly think you’ve crossed a line if you get in the person’s face and start snapping your fingers. It may make you feel better, but only because you’re attacking them, not because the snapping is soothing to your own ears, as humming, whistling, or talking to oneself might be. These are things people already do to focus their concentration.

I’d rejoice at a story that someone told off a cell phone user and the whole train applauded. When I hear a story like this, however, instead of making me feel that I’m glad there’s someone curtailing loud cell phone users I worry that there are these hyperagressive anti-cell phone loonies on the loose.

We’re in a transition period during which we are not in agreement about public cell phone etiquette. But when the consensus comes down, I’m pretty sure physical violence will be off the list.

Posted by James at April 14, 2008 9:55 AM
Create Social Bookmark Links

The man's an abusive, egotistical overbearing piece of trash who is probably grew up in an environment similar to what he acts out on people.

This tool has to be careful. There are people going off a lot harder for a lot less these days.

Someday, he's gonna' get in the wrong person's face, and find a couple of .22 or 9mm slugs in his chest cavity...or a shot of pepper spray on his cornea.

Equally unacceptable, but it might make me snicker...

Posted by: Bull at April 14, 2008 12:01 PM

As in poker, when you make a move you'd better be ready for someone to come over the top at you.

Posted by: James at April 14, 2008 12:24 PM

I swear I know how to spell "vigilante."

I should read my own headlines.

Posted by: James at April 14, 2008 12:41 PM

I ride the LIRR every day. I only wish I was on this guy's branch so I could sit in his car and not have to move because:

1) some earrogant cellphone user is shouting a conversation about nothing to everyone in a 20-foot radius and refuses to quiet down

2) some person with a "personal" electronic entertainment device has it set so loud that I can hear his/her music/movie/whatever through his/her earplugs

3) some people mistake their LIRR seats for a bar or living room and are talking in person loudly enough for people in the next section to clearly hear exactly who said what to who at Sheila's party and what the manicurist's opinion was on Angela's boil and how the kids are planning to take their SUVs to the Hamptons this weekend

I've tried earplugs, MP3 players with headphones set loud enough to make my ears hurt, and special noise-cancellation headphones. I've tried asking nicely with a smile, asking not-so-nicely without a smile, coughing my throat, twitching my paper, shooting clean and dirty looks, and I am left with getting up to find another seat (or to stand in the vesibule, where train noises might drown out some of the problem).

Yes, I know that I am not guaranteed library silence on my commute. But I remember the good old days, when "being considerate" meant Person A would try hard not to unduly disturb others, and if Person A did, inadvertently, disurb Person B, Person B would generally give Person A a pass since these things happened infrequently. Now it seems that all the Person A's out there don't give a flying feather if they are disturbing anyone else, and if asked to turn it down will turn it up instead to prove a point or something. The Person B's have less patience since they are being asked to tolerate Person A's all the time now instead of occasionally. What, exactly, are they supposed to do? Threaten people, no, but what - roll over and continually tolerate increasing inconsideration?

If the right of a person to swing his arms ends at my nose, the right of a person to make noise should end at my ears! So there. :)


Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at April 14, 2008 12:59 PM

AS much as I'd love it physical violence is out of the question. I'd love it if jammers weren't illegle. they could just set up a few trains with these and if you wanted to talk, get onto one of the cars without a jammer. (I'd really like a personal jammer when I could just shut off the signal so all cell phones in range are shut off, that would be a blast).

patti has a nice little thing she does where someone will be talking on a cell phone and she'll say to the person something like "excuse me?... Oh i thought you were talking to me". I've certainly made noise / looked at people funny and they do sometimes get the point. Someday I'll try Patti's approach but with a twist. I'll just start responding to that person's conversation. At least then you can have some fun with it.

Or you could just take away their phone and step on it (or you could take it away and tell them you'll give it back when they learn some manners then hand it back when they or you leave the train).

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at April 14, 2008 1:17 PM

I agree that this yoyo has gone to far. He is no better than the idiots he is flying off at.

In considerate cell phone use is just the latest example in a long slippery decline of manners. Fifty years ago, most people behaved respectfully towards their fellows in public. There were generally accepted norms of behavior that most people would never have dreamt of breaching.

I'm not sure what the answer is here, but I can only assume that public behavior is going to get worse.

Posted by: Kitten Herder at April 14, 2008 1:26 PM

Perhaps we'll all walk around with noise cancellation devices (not really technologically practical at this point) or loud white-noise generators.

I like Patti's approach -- start talking to the person and responding to their conversation. Or, if you're with others, start talking about their conversation.

I sympathize with the riders of the LIRR, believe me. I just think that this guy isn't actually helping.

Posted by: James at April 14, 2008 1:41 PM

I ride the MBTA Commuter Rail every day and have for about 17 years. Since the introduction of cell phones, my ride has become, shall we say, less relaxing--one of the reasons I take the train.

At first, cell phone blatherers were really bad-- I'm sure you all know my story about the woman and her loud 7 A.M. discussion of her hysterectomy that I put a stop to--but then there emerged an unspoken etiquette and things are better now. However, new to the mix are students (college and younger) who haven't encountered this etiquette and I and others help them to learn it.

I’d rejoice at a story that someone told off a cell phone user and the whole train applauded.

One afternoon, a few years ago, a guy went on at top volume about his work. I got up, went over, and asked him (but in a tone that was more like "do it or else") to lower his voice because I could hear him X seats away. Several passengers thanked me.

Another situation recently was with a kiddie who was taking the train home from his special expensive my-parents-have-too-much-money school. On and on he went, and the passenger in front of him turned and said "Louder, please!" Kid didn't get it, so I shouted over to him that the train isn't his school bus and he needs to be quiet. After complaining to the person on the phone, he hung up.

I often feel like resorting to violence, but I find making the person feel like a fool works better, and it's far more satisfying. Like Bob wrote, I'll say, "What? Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were talking to me!" or my favorite, which I use with idiots who walk around talking on one of those microphone jobbies:

"Oh! I thought you were a crazy person!"

Like MJ, I often end up putting in my ear buds and listening to the radio--not for the enjoyment of the music, but to drown out the ignorant, obnoxious idiots who afford no courtesy to their fellow passengers.

Posted by: Patti M. at April 15, 2008 8:35 AM

One day on my morning train a woman was blathering about something on her cell phone. People cleared their throats, rattled their papers, and a few got up and moved. Finally, another woman seated nearby tapped CellYell's shoulder and told her she was being very loud and asking her to keep it down. CellYell ended her call - and then proceded to scream full-volume at the woman who had asked her to keep it down.

So what did all those paper-rattling, throat-clearing passengers do?

They sat there and ignored CellYell's verbal assault on the woman who intervened.

When CellYell started to get in the other woman's face, the woman got up and moved toward the vesibule. I got up and stood with her. CellYell continued her diatribe about how the intervening woman was the only person being disturbed and I interrupted to say, "No, you were bothering me too. And you were bothered too, weren't you?" I said, looking at a man seated near me. Put on the spot, he had to admit that CellYell had, in fact, disturbed him. Another person sheepishly admitted he too had been bothered by CellYell, and CellYell finally sat down and shut up.

I would rejoice at a story where someone told off a cell phone user and the whole train applauded. But my experience is if you're the one to go out on a limb, don't expect applause - or even backup, if it comes to that.


Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at April 15, 2008 1:31 PM

MJ, incidents like that are why I dream of having a personal-size Taser (see http://www.taser.org/taserc2-4.html).

Now available in festive colors!

Posted by: Patti M. at April 15, 2008 1:44 PM

Copyright © 1999-2007 James P. Burke. All Rights Reserved