I’m at 23rd and 10th, waiting for the bus uptown, checking my phone on the MTA app for the time of the next arrival. The app tells me the bus is five stops away. Among the passengers sitting on the steel bench, there’s a heavy-set woman who’s observing me with a quizzical look. “Five stops away,” I say to her.
“How you know that?” she asks me. I show her my screen. “You can program in the number of any bus and the phone will show you when it’ll get here.” She nods in a kind of smiling bewilderment. Wow, I can hear her thinking, modern technology. She gives me a half smile. “My son, he give me phone like yours,” she tells me. “But I no know how to use.” She shakes her head.
“It’s really not so hard,” I say. “You just have to learn a few moves, like what features you want to tap. It’ll tell you the time, for instance, or the weather, or how to get to Yankee Stadium. You can look up anything.” She’s looking at me impassively. “Anything?”
“Yeah. You want to know what year Napoleon was born? You can look him up on your search engine.”
I see her look of incomprehension; she doesn’t know what a search engine is.
I sit next to her and hold up the instrument so she can see. “Look, you see this bar at the top? If you tap it like this, the keyboard will appear, and you can type in whatever you want to look up, Like Napoleon, say, or how to cook pork chops.”
I get up and move into the street, looking down the avenue for the bus. I see her beckoning to me with her finger. I return to her and she whispers a word to me: “Diarrhea.”
I’m startled. “Diarrhea?” I cry. “Shhh!” she cautions me, “can you find?” “Sure.” I type the word into the search bar: D-I-A-R-R—
–and it comes right up: the Wikipedia definition: a condition in which feces are discharged from the bowels frequently and in a liquid form—–and then, People Also Ask: How long does it last? How do you treat it? Etc.
She’s amazed. She reaches for the phone and I let her have it for a moment. She’s reading avidly. I move six feet into the street to check on the bus –and it’s here! I return to the bench and reach for my phone.
“No!” she cries, “please–!” She yanks the phone away protectively. She’s so enthralled by the info she’s been reading but then realizes she has to relinquish the instrument. It’s mine, it belongs to me. We sit opposite each other on the bus. She’s in a mild state of agitation, thinking about the world of possibilities waiting for her if she will simply start tinkering with the phone her son gave her.
Finally, she leans forward to me: “Thank you.” She says,
And I go on my way hoping she’ll do the follow-up.