This story was originally written in the comments section for the mobile phone blog Droid Life. They held a contest for a protective case giveaway and asked readers about their first cell phone. I thought about mine and then the memories started coming back.
It was 1999 and I was a sophomore in college. The majority of the kids my age still had beepers back then, but a select few had taken the plunge into mobile telephony. Some were drug dealers with the original Motorola flip phones. They weren’t quite Zack Morris bulky, but they still had some heft. Storing them in one’s jeans pocket was easy however, as we all wore baggy pants back then. Others had candybar Nokias that were just as large and heavy. A female friend who I had a crush on had just bought a mobile phone. It was also a Nokia, but it was the smallest model to date. (Back then, before even color LCD screens were introduced, chic was having the smallest phone. Think Zoolander) Being an electronics geek, I was instantly curious and jealous at the same time. And then another friend got a cell phone. My buddy Mike had bought the first Motorola StarTAC. It was the slimmest, smallest, sexiest thing I had ever seen. After playing with his phone for five minutes, I was instantly infatuated.
That summer I worked as a stock boy at P.C. Richards (a local electronics chain in the New York City area). I made shit money but decent cash on tips. I saved up for a couple of weeks and eventually got myself a StarTAC too. I can still vividly remember getting home, unboxing it, thoroughly reading the instruction booklet, and charging it. I then transferred all of my friends’ phone numbers from the “little black book” I use to carry around with me, into the phone. It must have taken me an hour. No, I didn’t have that many friends, it was the first time I was acquainted with cellular text entry. There were no fields for “email” or “address”. Just the name and the number. The memory maxed out at 100 entries.
I had a later model with the fully back-lit green LCD and black text. I thought it was the most advanced thing on the planet. That rough, textured black plastic and the tapered edges made the phone feel so good in your hand. It was small, and light, and even though the antenna was flimsy as crap (nearly everyone who owned a StarTAC had broken their antenna at some point), there was something very satisfying about pulling it in and out repeatedly. As was opening the phone with that superb springy click that let you know it was ready for action. Or the simultaneous click/slap combination upon closing the phone, which not only hung up the call, but also let everyone in the room know that pimpin’ ain’t easy.
My carrier was Bell Atlantic Mobile. A couple years later they became Verizon Wireless and I’ve been with them ever since with the same number and the much sought-after Nine-One-Seven area code. Calls on the StarTAC were relatively clear, but analog-only, with that distinctive “hiss” in the background when reception became spotty. Later models had digital radios (1x), but many in mobile phone circles argued that the analog reception and call quality was superior. They weren’t lying. Until digital had finally fully rolled out, it kind of sucked.
Anyway, back to the girl. So the next time a bunch of my friends were all hanging out in a group, I made sure I had a fresh haircut and my threads were lookin’ good. We were all gathered at a local park one evening when I got a phone call from my dad. Everyone heard the phone ring and said stuff like, “Yoooo, look who’s got a cell phone!”, and “Oh shit, Baller!” Meanwhile, my dad was calling me to remind me about buying milk before coming home, and not to stay out too late. But I distanced myself from the crowd to take the call and I played it off as if I was talking to a girl. The conversation with my dad lasted a minute, but after he hung up, I pretended to be talking to someone else, in order to get the attention of my crush.
To an extent, it worked. She curiously asked who I was taking to “all that time”. I thought I may have intrigued her. But ultimately my tactics failed because she was into older dudes, as most girls are. She started seeing this guy from the neighborhood who was a complete bone-head, but he was older, macho and got into fights a lot, so naturally my crush was all over him. They dated for a while and fought from time to time, and when they did, I went in for the kill! No wait. That’s not how it happened. I was the awesome listener friend who was always there for her to cry on my shoulder, but I never got in her pants.
On one of these occasions she was feeling particularly shitty and called me to hang out with her. I immediately dropped what I was doing like an asshole, because in my delusional infatuation, I thought there was a chance for at least a rebound make-out session. I left the house and enthusiastically ran down the block to where my Plymouth Voyager was parked. I briefly placed my StarTAC on the roof of the car to look for the car key in my pocket, but I got in and drove off with the phone still sitting on the roof. I made the first right turn at the end of my street and the phone slid off the left side of the car into a fairly busy intersection. But I hadn’t noticed it was gone until I got to my crush’s house and I realized I needed to call her to come outside. I looked in every pocket, under the car seats, in the glove box, everywhere.
And then I started re-tracing my steps.
When I realized what I had done, I raced back to that intersection only to find the phone smashed into a million pieces. It never stood a chance. I picked up the pieces and put them in a shoe-box as if the phone were a dead hamster. I never called my crush back that night. I resented her for a few days for causing me to destroy my beloved cell phone.
They didn’t make cases for phones back then, but even if they did, it wouldn’t have mattered. My precious StarTAC was gone. I didn’t have insurance back then, so replacing it hurt my pocket. And the StartTACs weren’t even being produced anymore, so I couldn’t even get the same model. Instead I got an early LG flip phone, also with a monochrome LCD. Very forgettable.
Call it nostalgia, call it a reminder of my naiveness and innocence, whatever, but I still have the remnants of the StarTAC in that shoe-box. Digging it up every few years It brings me back to a simpler time before SMS, and T9. Before, WiMAX, WIFI and SIRIUS. Before we had to get “serious” jobs and start thinking about our future. When MTV still played music, gas was $1.09 a gallon and times were good.