Stupid Florida and their stupid emergency alert system, I groused.
“What’s up?” asked my friend, Karl. We were sitting in First Editions, our favorite literary-themed bar, for a late lunch. Kurt, the bartender, had just set our lunch orders in front of us: burgers, fries, and a promise not to tell our families what we were doing.
I got an emergency alert system message at 4:45 this morning. It blasted me right out of bed. Didn’t you hear it?
“Nope. For one thing, I have a dumb phone. For another, I turned off the emergency alerts.” Karl took a bite of his burger and washed it down with a drink of Coke. How could anyone do all that while looking so smug?
Why would you do that? I asked. That seems rather uncivil of you.
“Hey, I have good manners and stuff!” Karl protested, cramming another bite of burger into his gaping maw.
“Not uncivilized, you caveman. Uncivil. Uncivic-minded.”
“Maybe I am, but I also don’t get surprised by alerts in the middle of the night. So what was the emergency?”
That’s the kicker. It wasn’t even a real alert! I half-shouted. Some halfwit at the Florida Emergency Management Agency somehow managed to broadcast the TV-only test to the phone setting. So everyone with a mobile phone in Florida was blasted awake at 4:45 in the morning.
Karl laughed so hard I thought he was going to jettison a half-chewed mouthful of beef across the table. He finally choked out, “So what happened to the guy who made that boneheaded mistake?”
According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, they fired the agency that programmed the alert.
“That’s maybe a little extreme,” Karl said. “We’ve got a congressman accused of having sex with a teenager and he gets to keep his job, but make one mistake with an emergency alert, and that guy gets fired?”
It’s Florida, man. Why does anything happen? The governor’s more worried about dudes in dresses than toxic red algae along the Gulf Coast. Still, the alert did affect hundreds of thousands of people, and they’re all royally pissed.
“That’s what you get for having a smartphone!”
Smartphones aren’t the only phones that get alerts, I said. Flip phones get them, too.
“That’s why I turn mine off,” Karl said. “I don’t want to be bothered.”
Your uncivility is staggering. What if it was an Amber Alert notifying you about a child abduction? Or a severe weather alert about a hurricane?
“You mean the five days of frantic shrieking by the newscasters wasn’t warning enough?”
What about a presidential alert notifying us about a nuclear attack or foreign invasion?
“Why would I want to know about that?”
So you can be prepared! I nearly shouted. Don’t you want to know there’s a nuclear missile heading your way?
“Not particularly, no.”
Why not? I demanded.
“What am I supposed to do with that news? Run outside and catch it? Throw rocks at it?”
Well, no… you’d just… you could… well, you’d just know about it.
“Exactly. I’d rather just be blissfully ignorant up until the last minute and then be completely surprised with everyone else.”
Is that why you don’t have a smartphone in the first place? I took a bite of my burger: jalapeños and peanut butter on two patties. Karl made a face — he hated my burger choices.
“No, it’s because I don’t see the need to be that plugged in to everything. Why do I need to let everyone pester me with all kinds of notifications about their social media activity.”
You can turn those notifications off, I said. You don’t have to turn on all notifications.
“I’m not that engaged on social media anyway. I just use it on my laptop.”
You can also check your email whenever you want, I said.
“I do,” Karl said. “I check it once in the morning and once in the evening. Which is about twice as much as I want.”
What if there’s an emergency that someone has to email you about?
“If it’s in an email, then it’s not an emergency,” Karl said with the air of a grumpy old man about to yell at kids on his lawn. “If it was a true emergency, they would call me.”
Seriously, you don’t have any emergencies that people email you about?
“No, and neither do you, Kid! How many blogging emergencies do you deal with in a year?”
None, I guess.
“Exactly. There’s nothing so serious that it can’t wait eight hours.”
But what if it’s really serious?
“I’m an author. What kind of serious problems do you think I have?”
Well, you use too much cologne sometimes.
“Writing problems, jackwagon!”
Some of your endings are a little predictable.
Karl sighed and stuffed the last of his burger into his mouth. “Some days, Kid, I just want to block your number from my phone.”
You can’t, I said. How else can I text you when I’m going to stop by?
“Now that’s something I need an emergency alert for.”