Two years ago, I attended a comedy show where one of the performers devoted a large part of his act to his penchant for finding electrical outlets out in public from which he could charge his cell phone. I didn't think much of it at the time, just thought maybe he played a little too much Farmville or texted excessively. Maybe he was homeless. Who knew?
I didn't think much of this last year, either. I mean, I did see tables with electrical outlets in public places. I assumed they were for people on the go who wanted to use their laptops, which made sense. I let it go.
On my way home from Chicago in July, I had a layover in Cleveland (I think - or somewhere - Let's just pretend it was Cleveland). I settled at the Southwest gate, in a cushy seat surrounded by electrical outlets and proceeded to slip my laptop out of my LL Bean backpack. I grabbed the end of the cord with the plug and leaned over. Both outlets were taken. I followed the wires up to a college freshman-aged girl, long, dirty blonde hair, tethered to both her iPod and her laptop. I looked at her for a moment, business end of the plug in my hand, waiting for her attention. She looked up, slightly frightened, then quickly unplugged one of her devices, freeing up the outlet for my laptop. 'How rude!' I thought to myself. 'Hogging all the outlets!'
I got my laptop plugged in and attempted to complete some work, though I found I was continually distracted by people sprinting over to charge their phones at a counter set up directly in my view, and then taking quickly off in another direction. About twenty minutes later, the blonde next to me disconnected her digital IV, packed her things, and herself sprinted off to a nearby gate. 'The nerve!' I thought again, 'And she's not even flying Southwest! What a bitch!'
Over the next several hours, people skulked into Southwest Gate 9 to get their fix. I was both appalled by their brazenness, and somewhat in awe of their catlike reflexes upon identifying an open outlet. 'I should charge money for this' I thought again. 'I'd make a killing!'
And then my mind wandered, as it often does, envisioning this inelegant dystopia where half-dressed twenty-somethings roamed the streets, arms full of mobile devices, jonesing for free electricity. I saw smoke-clouded rooms in which one would have to 'see a guy' with a leather vest and neck tattoo to gain access to an outlet, and intricate West Side Story-like confrontations complete with switchblades and dancing. For electricity. 'It could happen' I assured myself.
By the end of my layover, I had my laptop plugged into the outlet, with my iPod plugged into my laptop, and my phone charging beside it.
Psh. Electricity. It's not that big a deal.
That scenario has continued to take root in my mind. How far would people go to keep their iPhones charged? To use their laptops? How long would companies like Southwest offer this commodity for free? Will there be quarter-machine charging stations all around? And would they take debit cards or digital account balances because no one carries quarters anymore? Would kids stick their fingers and tongues into the outlets? It was crazy.
Last night, during an impromptu trip to pick up Indian takeout, the images in my mind sprang to life. On our way into a parking lot, my husband, seemingly innocuously, picked up my phone, attached to a car charger, and began swiping. I figured he was looking something up, or checking something out, as he often did. Out of the corner of his eye, I saw his right arm rise slowly from the passenger side, phone in hand. Okay, I thought, maybe double checking something? Software update? I still wasn't terribly concerned. And then he looked up at me sheepishly, and said, "I'm...uh, just gonna..."
And then he deftly slipped my phone off the charger and attached his.
If ever you decide to become a pirate, skip the boat-sieging part. Just take over all the electrical outlets you can find.
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