It being the day before California Handsfree Day, I was moved to run out of the office down to get a new ear bud to replace my busted three-year-old model. I drove to my friendly neighborhood T-Mobile store, only because that was the only place in the vicinity I could be sure would sell such things.
I don’t really like any cell phone stores. Walking in the front door runs the gamut from salespeople with their backs turned trying to get other people to sign away two years of their lives to a shark tank. They must work on commission, because even when I was looking at measly ear buds priced at $14.99, I was accosted by an extremely helpful sales associate.
“What kind of phone do you have?” she asked.
“Aren’t they pretty universal?” I asked, trying to sound innocent.
“Oh, no, they’re different for different models.”
She encouraged me to get my phone out, but I stubbornly insisted on doing this my way. It’s a man thing, like not asking for directions. Part of it was that if I feared being shunned if I showed them my Sprint phone, or at least they’d insist that none of their ear buds were compatible. I thought I knew better.
I had an idea of what I needed, so I said I was getting it for a friend and I didn’t know the model.
I retreated to my car and popped out the battery, forgetting that all I had to do was turn the phone off and on to see the model displayed on the screen.
I went back in to find that none of the ear buds for sale, certainly not the ones marked “$6.99,” were designated for Sanyo phones like mine. One model, the first one I looked at, seemed to have a plug that looked the right size, but I couldn’t be sure without swallowing my pride and pulling out my phone and trying it.
For a moment, I felt my pride had turned me foolish, but that moment soon passed when I read the package of the bud I’d been examining through its stiff transparent package.
I only realized later that this was a superior ear bud compared to my wispy black plastic one. It had a shiny metallic-looking earpiece and in-line mic. And such a line! Wire mesh that looked like you could tow your car with it. Or not.
The package said, “Treo 600.” My wife had a 650, and I remember our ear buds were interchangeable. On top of that, it showed the thing would fit several other types of phones, too. Almost, one might conclude, universal in the same way that English is the world’s universal language.
At that point, a sensible person would have popped open the reclosable package, made a phone call and ascertained that it worked with my interloping Sprint phone. As Yoda would say, stoop so low I would not.
To mitigate my possible error, it turns out the thing was actually on sale for $9.99.
On the way home, I called 511, my trusted digital friend that listens to me and judges not. So I might have a chance of returning the mismatched ear bud, I left the twist-tie on and held the phone close to my head.
“Oakland International Airport. Is that right?” the computer asked me.
“Yes!,” I said. “Oh, yes.”