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A Bank Robber's Busy Life Calls for a Cell

August 25, 2000|Steve Chawkins

What does the bank robber known as Cell Phone Bandit talk about as he awaits his turn at the teller's window?

Nobody knows.

Last week, Cell Phone Bandit robbed a bank in Thousand Oaks. The FBI figures it could have been his 30th robbery in just a year.

Cell Phone Bandit stands peaceably in line like any other customer. When he reaches the front, he flashes a gun and demands money.

But before he gets there, he yaks into his cell phone about who-knows-what to God-knows-whom:

"Dude! Cell Phone Bandit again! Just calling to find out if you've had time to look at that screenplay. . . . "

"Doc, I need another appointment. I think I still have some issues around money. . . . "

"OK, sweetie, I've got the list right here: Five sacks of twenties, two sacks of fifties, three sacks of hundreds. We need milk?"

I bring up Cell Phone Bandit only as the latest illustration of technology shaping our lives, as well as those of our bank robbers.

When cell phones were introduced in Southern California 15 years ago, they cost $2,000 and came attached to a briefcase-sized, 10-pound black box. Now they weigh about the same as a hummingbird and cost less than a couple of Dodger tickets. In Ventura County, 48% of all residents pack cell phones. If, like Cell Phone Bandit, you are male and in your 30s, you might refrain for a while from using yours at the bank, where security people are growing edgier by the hour.

In fact, you should consider all the other places where your cell phone might make others uncomfortable.

By now, everyone knows how crazy people get when they have to listen to blaring, one-sided phone conversations in movie theaters, restaurants, houses of worship.

But truly dedicated multi-taskers know no bounds.

A few weeks ago, I was in a men's room in Philadelphia when I heard a frantic voice booming from one of the stalls:

"Uh huh, yeah, yeah, yeah, OK. Should be back at the office in awhile. Maybe 4:30. You got that report on that thing we talked about with what's-his-name the other day? That's good . . . uh huh . . . uh huh. OK. Gotta go. Leave a message for Arlene . . . ."

Even in the men's room!

I guess we should get used to it. Right now there are more than 86 million cell phones in the U.S., all of them capable of piercing the quiet even in your local lavatory.

Oddly, not a single one does anything as quaint as actually ringing.

They trill, they coo, and they hum. They burst into the tinny opening notes of show tunes, classics and pop music, from Schubert's "Ave Maria" to Salt 'n' Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex."

But why shouldn't a phone ring just the way you like it?

If he can order a pizza and rob a bank simultaneously, why shouldn't Cell Phone Bandit's cell phone ring to his own tune:

"If I were a rich man . . . "


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at

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