I've been using a Samsung flip phone a friend gave me years ago back when my LG flip phone got weird on me. I've been reading reviews on various android smartphones after Verizon burned me a year or so ago looking for the sweet spot (enough capability at a low enough price.) I finally settled on the Moto G4 which is too costly to justify just yet. Then decided to get a $30 android first to dip my toe in the water. I set up a gmail account in preparation, but activation of the phone didn't work.
So my only option seems to be to talk to someone at the only phone store in 50 miles... Verizon!
Update: Apparently it was just some kind of activation backlog. My new phone now works.