I'd been sitting in my doctor’s waiting room for about ten minutes when the older man next to me stuck his phone in his pocket, turned to me, and said, “Let’s talk.” When I greeted his invitation with a puzzled look, he said, “Look around you. Everybody’s doing this.” He mimed tapping on a smart phone. “What we should be doing is talking to each other.”
As much as I was enjoying the crossword puzzle I was absorbed in, I had to concede he had a point. So, I pocketed my phone, shared a fist bump with him, and said, “Okay.”
We chatted for about fifteen minutes. I learned he is a Vietnam veteran who spent over twenty years in the air force. He and his wife have been married fifty years. He recently came back from a six-month world cruise with her that took them to six continents. He knew, and I had met Richard Overton, for several years America’s oldest WWII veteran, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 112.
By the time the medical assistant called my name, I was enjoying myself enough that I was disappointed to leave the conversation. As I followed her into the back hallway, I glanced back at the waiting room, now silent, filled with people staring at their phones.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed something about waiting rooms, be they at a doctor’s office or an auto repair shop. Whereas they used to be stocked with mountains of books and magazines, now you’re lucky to find a twenty-year-old Popular Mechanics. Smart phones have eliminated the need for waiting room entertainment.
Decades later, I still remember diving into the toy box in my pediatrician’s waiting room. When I outgrew the toys, I transitioned to books and magazines. I particularly enjoyed Highlights for Children, even though someone had usually already circled all the hidden pictures. But who can forget the Timbertoes or Goofus and Gallant? You remember Goofus and Gallant, don’t you? The first picture would show a scowling Goofus with a caption along the lines of, “Goofus enjoys kicking puppies.” In the second picture, we’d see Gallant smiling while cuddling a dog over the caption, “Gallant treats animals with kindness and respect.”
The best part of Highlights, though, was the jokes. Even as a kid I thought they were groaners, but I couldn’t wait to read them, anyway. I reveled in such knee-slappers as “What do you call a boomerang that won’t come back? A stick!” Or “What does a cloud wear under his raincoat? Thunderwear!” I’d take this comedy gold back to Herod Elementary and regale my classmates, who would respond with a routine of their own.
Later, I graduated to reading the books in my doctor’s waiting room. During a series of medical visits when I was 12, I read most of Jim Bouton’s groundbreaking baseball book, Ball Four, finding it particularly fascinating because the author had spent part of the season he wrote about with my hometown Houston Astros. Thus, when my classmate Ken Webster suggested the book as a class reading assignment, I was a strong supporter. Alas, one of the girls raised her hand and told the teacher the book contained bad words. That was all the more reason to read it, in my opinion, but, alas, our teacher took a different view.
As an adult, I had the opportunity of stocking my own professional waiting room. Since many of those waiting would be children, I bought a supply of what I thought were great kid books and magazines. I quickly learned I had wasted my money on everything but the Where’s Waldo books. Six months in, my Waldo pile was falling apart. Everything else remained in pristine condition.
These days, when I know I’ll be waiting somewhere, I bring my iPad and work New York Times crossword puzzles. Maybe one of these days I’ll have the gumption to shut it down, turn to the person next to me, and say, “Let’s talk.”
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