I had never heard of the city Lyketon until my old friend Jessica invited me there. She said that she and a friend had a place in this “new hip city” and wanted me to meet them for dinner. So I said sure, why not, and agreed to meet her there Friday night.
I arrived early to Munch, the “newest hippest grill in Lyketon with the best quinoa burgers.” I hadn’t seen any of the city because I slept through the cab ride, but when I stepped out of the taxi and onto the pavement, I felt uncomfortable. In the dark, it looked like nightlife in a slick and savvy metropolis, but it was the people who were disconcerting. The first man I encountered nearly walked into me because his eyes were locked on some rectangular, glowing object in his hands. His hearing must have been compromised too because there were two white cords that snaked up from the gadget and into his ears. A few seconds later, another woman, with the same get-up as the first guy, whizzed by asking, “Are you already there?” to no one in particular.
A dozen or so more people scurried by before I heard loud chatter behind me. I turned around to see Jessica and another girl, both of whom held their own glowing apparatus.
“Hey Syd!” Jessica waved at me and I walked to over to meet them. She had chopped her long brown locks into a clean, straight bob and had acquired a pair of tortoise shell glasses. “So glad you could come! We have reservations so we can just head on in.”
When we sat down, I said, “Hey, Jessica thanks again-”
She cut me off. “Oh no no, call me Jess.”
I blinked. “But you always hated when people called you Jess.”
“Did I? Well, I go by Jess now. Three S’s. Don’t forget the other S.”
“What are you talking about?” But Jesss with three S’s didn’t respond. She and her friend began poking and prodding and sliding their fingers all over their handheld gadgets in silence.
I cleared my throat and folded my hands on the table. No one looked up. Awkwardly I tried to initiate conversation with Jessica’s friend. “So, what’s your name again?” Then I realized she had never introduced herself.
“Oh my god.” She hadn’t looked up from her little device, but was laughing. I waited for her to explain what set off her fit of giggles, but instead of elaborating, she held the rectangle up to her face while she pursed her lips, widened her eyes, and raised her eyebrows. I heard a faint click! like the snapping of a photo and then she lowered it and resumed rapidly stabbing the thing with her thumbs.
I’d watched the entire action and now was sure she’d look up and introduce herself. I was wrong. So I said, “And, sorry what’s your name?”
“Oh, hi I’m Jen,” she said as she looked up. Jen was blonde, fair-skinned, brown-eyed and sported what looked to me like the same pair of glasses as Jessica. She wore a navy plaid button up and a grey cardigan.
“Hi Jen, I’m Sydney. How do you know Jessic - I mean, Jesss?”
“We met in college and now we’re living together here in city. We got so lucky, like our place is really nice. And you’re Jesss’ friend from high school right?”
“Yeah. Funny story, we actually went to the same elementary school but then she switched schools in the second grade, so we didn’t reunite until high school. It was great because...” I would have continued, but when I looked up, I saw that I no longer had an audience. Jessica was at it again with the old rectangle too, and I couldn’t tell if she was listening or not. When I stopped talking, neither of them noticed so I didn’t continue.
Instead I sought out the identity of their little metal contraptions. “So, I’m just wondering, what are those?”
Both girls perked up. “You don’t know what these are?” Jessica pointed at hers. “They’re ... well, they’re everywhere!” She paused and when I didn’t reply she said, “It’s a phone.”
These did not look like any phones I had ever seen. And they certainly weren’t everywhere because no one I knew back home owned one. I had a telephone and a television in my apartment but nothing as tiny as their gadgets. It must have been another one of Lyketon’s hip claims to fame.
“A phone? But how? I don’t get ... where do you talk into it?”
Jen laughed in disbelief. “Oh my god, this is crazy. You’ve literally never seen an iPhone?”
“An eye phone?” Since when could we talk through our eyes?
Jessica said, “It’s just like any other phone. You put it up to your ear and talk.” She demonstrated and held the phone at the side of her head.
“But then why can you ... touch it? You know, tap your fingers on it. What’s that for?”
“Seriously, Syd?” Jessica glanced at Jen.
Jen leaned in and said, “So you’ve never heard of texting?”
I shook my head.
“It’s when you ... it’s like, you just … Wow I’ve never explained it before,” Jen said. “It’s just a way to send messages on your phone. And the phones have a touch screen so, like, you just type with your fingers.”
“Really…” I had never heard of anything with that capability. “So is that what you’re doing?”
“Me? Right now?” Jen asked. “There’s other stuff you can do too. Facebook. Instagram. SnapChat.”
“Wow okay.” She began to explain about likes and comments and friends and followers, but I couldn’t keep up. Soon I remembered we were at a restaurant and hunger stole my attention. When she was just getting fired up about how she knew Gabe didn’t like her because his best friend on SnapChat was Kim and not her, a waiter approached us to take our order. I hadn’t even picked up the menu. Jen and Jessica clearly didn’t need to because without deliberation they each ordered a Quiller Quinoa Burger.
“Same,” I said. The waiter nodded and walked away.
Jen continued on about good-for-nothing Kim and within ten minutes, the waiter was back with three steaming hot Quillers. Once each plate was set on the table, I said, “Wow, now that’s what I call speedy service!” and reached for my burger.
“No!” Jessica yelped and shot her hand out to stop me.
“What? What is it? What?” My eyes searched the plate frantically to find a bug or band-aid or some explanation for her outburst. But she didn’t respond. Instead she and Jen craned their necks over their phones, which they held horizontally above the table, and tapped their index fingers to the screens.
“I ... I’m sorry what’s wrong?”
Jessica replied, “Nothing. We have to take pictures of the food before we eat. It’s for Instagram.”
“You can take pictures with those things too? Wait, Instant Gram ... which one is that again?”
“Instagram,” she sighed. “The picture one. Mine’s ‘justjesss.’ Three S’s, remember? Anyway, you upload pictures and other people can see them.”
“Oh so just pictures of food?” Whenever they said Instagram I thought of instant graham crackers. My stomach grumbled.
“What? No, it’s pictures of anything. Ugh, I can’t pick a filter. What do you think?” She showed Jen her phone. As Jen advised Jessica, I couldn’t wait any longer so I bit off a chunk of my burger. But as I chewed, I felt uncomfortable because the others were still playing with their phones and their food was untouched. So I replaced my Quiller Quinoa Burger on the plate and sat quietly.
While they did their filterizing and cropping and something else about captions, I scanned the restaurant. At every table, young adults were tapping their gadgets or glancing at them every few seconds while they either engaged in sporadic conversation or sat in silence.
A rustling noise at a nearby table interrupted my people-watching. A man dressed in black was squatting behind a woman’s chair, rummaging through the purse that hung from the back of her seat. My mouth opened to object when his head snapped up and he glanced across the room. I followed his gaze to find another skinnier man standing near a booth on the opposite side of the restaurant. The skinny man snatched a wallet from back pocket of a guy standing by the door, who was hunched over his phone. Then the pickpocket signaled to the squatting man, who nodded and stood up. He snatched hanging purses from every chair he passed until he reached the other man at the booth.
No one else had noticed the thief nor the missing purses. The two men then pointed at our table and I made eye contact with the skinny one. He froze. When the man in black saw me, he dove down behind the booth and emerged with about ten more purses - which he must have swiped from all the other tables - that he began to frantically sling over his shoulders. Shock had glued me to my chair, but now I jumped up from my seat and bolted towards the men.
“Stop them!” I screamed and pointed at the thieves. They dashed out the door and when I followed them outside, they were already well ahead of me. I chased after the men for a block until they turned a corner and I lost them.
I returned to the restaurant expecting a room full of stares, but everyone was as I left them. I arrived back at the table in a tizzy and in between huffs and puffs I said, “Guys ... I…”
Jen and Jessica didn’t look up. Their burgers were still uneaten.
“Guys!” I yelled. Their heads popped up. I saw that their purses hadn’t been taken but I told the girls to check them anyway.
They protested but grabbed their bags and discovered that their wallets were missing.
“How could this have happened? We were here the whole time!” yelped Jessica.
“There were two guys lurking around and they stole from everyone in the restaurant! You’re lucky they didn’t take your whole bag.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” implored Jessica. I stared in disbelief then looked at Jen.
Jen was squinting her eyes and making a face that looked like a mixture of fright and constipation while she held her phone out in front of her face like she’d done earlier. I heard the familiar click! and then her face was neutral again and she started poking the phone with her thumbs.
“Is anyone going to call the police?” I shouted.
Jen said, “No, no there’s an app for that. You just...oh my god, Sam’s here and he says he and his table were robbed too!”
Jen searched the restaurant with her eyes and found Sam at a large table in a far corner. Sam scurried toward us, eyes on his phone, and knocked into a chair on his way. The woman in the chair turned around perturbed. She threw a fit when she saw that her bag was gone and the rest of her table followed suit.
A rising rumble of confusion drowned out the low hum of smooth jazz. People looked up from their phones and discovered that their belongings were missing. Soon, the entire restaurant was in hysterics. People were taking pictures, hurrying around the restaurant, bumping into each other, tripping over themselves. The chaos escalated so quickly that the waiters didn’t even understand what was going on. I heard one young man exclaim, “My phone’s dead! It’s dead! Does anyone have a charger?” I could have sworn I saw a girl in a fetal position by the restrooms cradling a broken phone muttering, “Wi-fi, wi-fi.”
“There were two robbers here! Call 911! Do something!” I screamed. But my voice couldn’t carry over all the ruckus.
No one responded to me and no one was contacting the police. Jen and Jessica had disappeared and all three of our burgers were cold and sitting on their plates.
I took one last good look at the mad house. Thankfully, I’d brought no other belongings other than my keys and some cash, both of which were stuffed into my jacket pocket. I shoved past a frantic lady, dodged a flying phone, and hurried out the door to hail a cab.
“Where are you headed, miss?” the driver asked when I hopped in.
“Food. Anywhere. Just not quinoa burgers.”