Cell Phone Use In Italy Surpasses The Hamptons,
But The Hamptons Still Maintain
Their Dominance In Rollerblading

Having passed through both the Hamptons and Italy each summer for many years, it has always been interesting to note the lifestyle changes of the two divergent areas.

Up until last year, I would have to say that Hamptonites led Italians in cell phone use. Whether it be on the golf course, on the beach, playing tennis, driving along our highways, Hamptonites prided themselves on their high level of cell phone use. And indeed, it is impressive, surely rivaling any part of the United States, Europe and Asia. But, I am here, just returned from a trip to Italy, to announce that our legendary cell phone use has been eclipsed.

The new market leader, Italy, is an unlikely candidate, until you recall their long-standing dominance in pasta, wine and fashion. As I see it, cell phone use is a natural extension of Italy's national interests. They love to eat and talk. They love to drink wine and talk. And they love to dress up and talk. It is only natural that they should become infatuated with talking on cell phones. As the Italians like to say, "It is on the fashion."

To those of you still clinging to the hope that cell phone use in the Hamptons is nevertheless greater, I would like to relate some of my own experiences. Remember, I am just the messenger.

Upon my arrival at Malpensa, I immediately sensed the new change at the airport. I began observing instances of increased cell phone use, although at the time I did not make the natural deduction that we had, in fact, been surpassed.

I sensed something was up when the senior gentleman waiting in line for his baggage next to me received a call.

"Pronto," he said, answering the insistent burrrring bleat of his cell phone. From the ensuing conversation I was able to deduce that he was talking to his daughter who was outside beyond customs, some 50 meters away, anxious to know whether her father had located his bags coming off the conveyor belt. It was with considerable sadness that the gentleman had to inform his daughter that he was still waiting. He brightened considerably when his daughter began to relate all the family happenings of the last week and his bags did, in fact, roll down the conveyor belt

"Ciao, Maria," he said. He stashed his cell phone, a particular expensive black sleek looking model, in his brief case, grabbed up his bags and hurried off in the direction of customs and his daughter.

This incidence was not significant in itself, but when I looked across the conveyor belt, I saw an attractive Italian lady placing an outgoing call of her cell phone. She was informing her husband or lover that she would be arriving in Milan by taxi in another 40 minutes.

This was strange. I did not recall very much cell phone use the last time that I visited Italy, only a year and half ago. To be sure, there were cell phones in Italy, but certainly Italians weren't using them before going through customs.

On coming out of customs, my brother and I were greeted by one of our Italian suppliers, Roberto Mambretti. I should explain that I have been coming on business to Italy for over 25 years and that we currently import various Italian goods from three different suppliers.

I commented to our supplier about the increased cell phone use that I saw in the airport. He was both animated and disgusted.

"It is the fashion now," Roberto said, "You see them everywhere...little boys, lonely girls, frantic businessmen, prostitutes in the streets, ancient grandmothers, college kids...they all use cell phones...they cannot live without them. You even see them at the beach. It is really stupid sometimes. 'Mama,' said Roberto mimicking the cell phone user on the beach, 'you should see me. I'm at the beach. I look good, Mama. I got my cell phone, I'm wearing my gold chain, I look good.' It's really, crazy. Basta (stop)!"

I was amused, but thought nothing more of it. That evening my brother and I took a walk around the small town of Varese, which is outside of Milan about 30 miles. It is a beautiful old town, well-heeled and well-kept, with a fine town center sporting colonades and a carless shopping center with many handsome shops selling typical Italian luxury goods. I was surprised see nestled among the beautiful shops a movie theater. "Scemo & Piu Scemo" was playing. In Italian, I am told this tranlates as "Stupid & More Stupid". In the Hamptons, it is known as "Dumb & Dumber".

The next day we were in our supplier's large factory. After talking over various business problems, we decided to take a stroll through the factory to see some prototypes that had been prepared for our arrival. I noticed that the plant engineer, Paolo, wore a cell phone strapped to his hip in a holster.

Like a modern day Wyatt Earp of communications, he would whip out his cell phone at the briefest brrruupt/beep of his phone. Usually, he was able to get the phone out of its holster and cut the ring off dead in its tracks in less than two seconds. Sometimes, the call was for him, but more often it was for his boss, Roberto.

"It's for you," Paolo would say despondently, handing over his cell phone to Roberto. This was repeated again and again throughout the day. I counted nine calls coming into Paolo that afternoon. Of the nine, only two were actually for Paolo, the rest were for his boss. But I have to say Paolo was truly ecstatic when the call was in fact for him. A big smile would instantly spread back into his face and blood would return giving him a healthy glow.

If, however, as was more often the case, the call was for his boss, a sad, despondent look would come over his face.

"It's for you, Roberto."

I noticed that during these incidents, Roberto was not particularly happy to be receiving phone calls on Paolo's cell phone. In fact, of the seven calls he got out in the plant, 3 were from his sister, some 200 meters away, and one from his wife. On the third call from his sister, I heard Roberto chewing her out. Clearly, he did not want to be disturbed from our important work. We were busy trying to turn circles into cylinders, not as simple a problem as you might think because of a little problem called geometry.

In any case, I noticed that Roberto not only didn't like receiving cell phone calls on Paolo's phone, he didn't like making them. Although Paolo cheerily offered to lend him his phone, Roberto would walk the twenty meters to the factory production office to make most of his calls. I sensed that two things prevented Roberto from using Paolo's phone: 1) Roberto thought cell phones were kind of phony, 2) Roberto wanted to save Paolo cell phone charges (which he probably was paying for anyway).

Later that night, Roberto explained to us at dinner that he refuses to own a cell phone although both his sister and his wife are equipped with one. It is not Roberto's style.

The next morning, on our way to the factory again, I notice a man sitting in his driveway making a cell phone call. Why is he making a call in his driveway, I ask Roberto. He explains that there is a law in Italy that does not permit anyone to make a call from the their car while it is moving. This is because many people making cell phone calls on the highway have gotten into accidents. But, says Roberto, no one pays attention anyway. They all continue to make their calls driving along at 200 kilometers per hour (120 miles per hour). In fact, it seems that the man I just saw in his driveway is just about the only man in Italy making a legal call from his car.

And sure enough, as we drive to Roberto's factory, I notice no less than five people making cell phone calls at 50 mph or higher.

The next evening after Roberto drops us off at our hotel in Milan, we decide to go out to dinner. We find a restaurant right across the street from our hotel and settle into an always good Italian meal. At a nearby table, I notice two Italian gentlemen enjoying some Grappa and expresso. One of the gentlemen is interrupted by the buzzing of his cell phone. He answers it. The gentleman opposite him almost immediately becomes bored with his grappa and places an outgoing phone call on his cell phone. It is an odd sight: two gentlemen on their cell phones finishing their meal in the restaurant.

The next morning, we come down to the hotel lobby to wait for the daughter of another supplier. She is coming to pick us up and take us to her father's office. In the lobby I notice at least eight people with cell phones. Some are calling out. Some are receiving calls. Some are carrying them around as a very obvious status symbol. Across from where I am sitting is a drop dead beautiful Italian lady with a particularly handsome cell phone: it is wood colored, about the size of a cigarette pack and it beautifully matches her Gianfranco Ferre tan leather handbag.

The daughter of our supplier, Gabriella, walks in. She is also drop dead beautiful. I notice that she has made some changes in the last year and half since I have seen her. Her hair is cut short now, all at the same precise length. She walks very erect and purposely. She is wearing Versace pants and they look great on her. What happened, I am thinking, to the plump little girl I met so many years ago. At the time, she had announced that she wanted to be President of Italy.

She comes up, apologizes for being late, blaming, as everyone does, the Milan traffic and off we go straight back into the Milan traffic. We are at our supplier's no more than 30 seconds when she pulls out her cell phone, a cute little number about the size of a thin TV remote. In between making phone calls, she translates to her father all the business points of our meeting.

That evening at dinner at a popular Brazilian restaurant, Gabriella tells us that this summer in Sardinia, everyone wore their cell phones to the beach in neat little holsters. It was difficult to know, she said, who was receiving a phone call. In twenty square meters you may have 25 people sitting and sunning. When one of the cell phones rang, suddenly twelve people pull out their cell phones and say "Pronto."

Another unnerving problem is this new age of Italian cell phone use, is that it was taking a little time for users to realize that cell phones and water were not compatible. Realization often came when it was too late. Often a bather would hear his cell phone ring its last ring just as she or her was diving into the glorious Mediterranean.

A few nights later, my brother and I made our annual trip to the Galleria. In case you don't know it, the Galleria is the world's first shopping mall. Mankind should have stopped with beautiful example while it was ahead. The Galleria is truly beautiful. It has marble floors, rows of beautiful shops and restaurants and a 200 foot high vaulting, glass pained ceiling that lets the light in. As usual, we decided to have dinner in one of the high-priced restaurants that line the wide marble walkway.

Next to our table, I notice a handsome couple holding hands. In the young lady's outside breast coat pocket, I see a cell phone protruding. It is kind of arranged like a beautiful handkerchief might be. It is perched off to the side of the pocket, with the handsome chrome antenna sticking up in the most modest and tasteful manner. Her boyfriend also has a cell phone. It is visible only when he leans forward to hold her hand. Then his jacket falls forward slightly, revealing a handsome, somewhat larger cell phone in his inside breast coat pocket. It is all very touching.

On the way to the airport, after an exciting ten days in Italy, the cab driver pulls out his cell phone. First, he makes a call to his boss to tell him that he is stuck in traffic and that he might not make it back from Malpensa for a couple of hours. Then he calls his mistress to tell her that he's dropping us off in a few minutes and he will be over in twenty minutes. Finally, he calls his wife to tell her that he might be late for lunch.

So this is the new Italy, I thought. How will we ever regain our former cell phone lead? The answer is, I concluded, that we won't. We have lost our cell phone lead once and for all.

But take heart Hamptonites. We still dominate rollerblading and I am sure that we have a long and glorious future ahead of us. There is one dark cloud on the horizon. That is the fact that Italians use marble almost everywhere. Marble has to be the world's best rollerblading surface. Indeed, when I was at the Galleria, I did see a few rollerbladers whizzing along on the marble walkway. But, they were mostly young kids. It seems, it is not on the fashion for adults to go rollerblading on marble. But this could catch on next year and I would hate to be the man to have to report our demise in this last bastion of Hampton supremacy.

So I have a suggestion to insure that the Hamptons maintain their dominance in rollerblading forever. As you all know, we have many Billionaire philanthropists in the Hamptons. I suggest that we interest one of these billionaires (any one will do) into donating a marble road. This will draw rollerbladers for thousands of miles and insure future supremacy in rollerblading forever.

I can see it now. Imagine, if you can, First Neck or Lily Pond Lane all done in Carerra Marble. It would be the envy of every rollerblader in the whole wide world. And maybe we could interest some savvy town official into having the street name changed in honor of the donor. Think of it, First Neck Lane could be called Via Donald Trump. You can't tell me that the Donald would not go for it.

But even if we don't pave our roads with marble, I still have no doubt the Hamptons, with its unique Esprit de Corps, will find a way to maintain it position at the zenith of all that is happening. I will give you an example of why I am sure this is true. This summer I saw a drop dead beautiful power babe rollerblading her way down Lily Pond Lane. It just so happened that as I as passed by I noticed that she was wearing a black leather cell phone holster. And sure enough, just as I was passing I heard her cell phone ring. In less than two seconds, she had her cell phone out. Without losing her stride, she continued down Lily Pond Lane fielding her phone call and rollerblading at a good 20 mph..

With that kind attitude I can't see how we can lose. The only thing is, when I looked closely at her black leather holster, I thought it said Versace.

Cecil Hoge Jr.

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