Chapter 5 – A Thousand Below

The next logical step after Nokias 6185 and 6188 should have been the 6190, but alas… that particular handset was too expensive for someone living on actor’s wages. Instead my first phone on the Fido network was the lowly 5190, in hindsight one of the best decisions I ever made — it proved to be so spectacular that it fundamentally changed my expectations of what a mobile phone could do.

First, there was the Xpress-on cover. The entire front panel of the device could easily be removed, along with the number keys — which laid together on a flat piece of silicone. This essentially made a protective case unnecessary, as the user could, at their discretion, swap out the front of the phone’s housing at any time for something new. Of course I ended up buying a leather pouch anyway because I loved my 5190 that much. But I also started collecting Xpress-on covers. It didn’t quite get to the point where I had one to match every outfit, but it was close.

It’s also worth pointing out that when you removed the Xpress-on cover on the 5190 — or any 51xx series phone, I think — you were greeted with a smiling face, literally. Someone, somewhere had made the design decision to mold the plastic covering the earpiece of the phone into a happy face. It confounds me to this very day, but speaks to an attention to detail that I’ve not seen from any other electronics manufacturer before or since.

Perhaps it had more to do with my nascent career as an actor than the handset itself, but I also remember my 5190 as the phone I really started travelling with. My previous two Nokias had support for Canada’s old school analog networks built-in, while the made-for-GSM 5190 did not. Nokia and Fido came up with a pretty clever solution; for an extra seventy-five bucks you could get an external analog antenna that snapped onto the back of a 51 (or 61) 90 between the phone and battery. It made the phone about twice as thick but I used this very setup on a tour of Eastern Canada and it worked great.

Most importantly, this was the first phone that I properly texted with. I remember very clearly when SMS first proved its worth: I was with my girlfriend at The Chicago Improv Festival in the spring of 2000. We were watching a troupe perform and they were fairly awful. Worse, I couldn’t say anything disparaging to my girlfriend without disturbing the other patrons around us in the packed theatre. Then I remembered that an actor I had taught back in Toronto was also in the audience somewhere and was, like me, a Fido customer. So we started texting each other, sharing our misery and a blow-by-blow assessment of the unfolding comedy train wreck on stage. In this way I was transported from the tedium of a comedy show that wasn’t funny to a parallel universe, where I was free to bitch and moan about it to a kindred spirit — all without leaving my seat or disturbing anyone.

Except for my girlfriend, of course; she was none too impressed by the distractions of my glowing screen and flying thumbs.