I was sitting in the stunning, Gothic-style Town Hall in Manchester, England, in October awaiting the arrival of Princess Anne for the opening ceremonies of a conference.
The man next to me was bemoaning the fact that he had no idea how his beloved Cleveland Indians baseball team was doing in the American League division series.
"I can find that out for you," I said matter-of-factly, flipping open my new cellphone.
Suddenly the room stilled and everyone stood. Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal had arrived.
"They beat the Yankees, 12-3, and lead the series, 1-0," I whispered. He beamed and gave me the thumbs-up.
It had started innocently enough. I was planning a trip to England and wanted to get international roaming on my cellphone, for emergencies. But it turned out that my phone, a '90s model, wouldn't support international roaming. I had to buy a new one.
I walked into the phone store with the trepidation of a tourist entering a restaurant in a foreign country where she not only doesn't speak the language, she doesn't even recognize the alphabet.
A young man who looked about 12 asked if he could help. I explained my predicament and he plucked a snazzy number off the display and said, "This is the phone for you." I was in no position to argue.
Then it was time to do the math, which the phone company had made ridiculously easy. The phone retailed for $70, but if I signed up for a multimedia package for $14.99 a month for a mere two months, after which time I could cancel without penalty, I could have the phone for $20. It was an offer I couldn't refuse.
I felt like I was watching a strobe light as Junior switched out my SIM card, copied my address book, and described, with the speed of a Saladmaster salesman, the features of my new phone. He showed me the camera, the stop watch, the recorder, and voice mail. Wallpaper and videos and predictive text. He told me how to connect to the Internet, adding, somewhat contemptuously, I thought, "but you'll probably never use it."
How wrong he was.
During my week overseas I became the go-to person for fans following the playoffs. Using the camera, I sent photos of myself in the fabled Lake District to my children. Disdaining the hotel's wake-up call, I set my cellphone's alarm clock each night.
Back home, I check weather and headlines. I downloaded a song for my ringtone (though I think my co-workers are getting pretty sick of the first three bars of "Bennie and the Jets"). I read e-mail.
The key to my conversion was figuring out how to enlarge the text to somewhere around the size of the top line of an optometrist's eye chart. The display only shows about three words at a time, but I can scroll faster than a microfilm reader (look it up, kids).
My popularity seems to be waning now that the baseball season is over. Can I check the local movie listings for you?
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.