The email was only a couple of sentences, but it had a way of turning everything upside down.
Jack, my eldest son who is living in Vietnam, planned to fly into JFK Airport Saturday morning, spend the day with his grandfather in Connecticut and then catch a flight to Chicago to join his wife, kids and in-laws for Christmas. Everything was worked out, or so it seemed, after weeks of back and forth emails and conversations of Skype. We’d pick him up at 7 a.m., spend the day at my father’s and get him back to the airport. He’d be flying American and, as he recalled, there was a Starbucks in the terminal, so that became the meeting place. Then the almost breathless email arrived Thursday; he had been able to get a direct flight from Hong Kong to JFK, giving us an additional 12 hours. He’d be arriving at 7 p.m. on Friday. He switched airlines and would be flying Cathay Pacific.
I thought he must have been at the airport when he sent the email because the trip takes about 24 hours. I probably wouldn’t hear from him again until I got to the airport.
Anyway, this was good news and I stepped up plans to drive down Friday afternoon. Carol had a full day, so she planned to join us at my father’s on Saturday.
It’s amazing how a simple change in plans can throw things into confusion.
I ran a mental list of all I needed to do, between alerting my father, wrapping gifts for my sister and her family, who would also be stopping at my father’s, and packing for the night. As soon as I got home, I went into scramble mode. I needed about four hours – allowing for Friday evening traffic – to get to JFK and I would be cutting it close.
Then, unknowingly, I made the wise move of confirming Jack’s flight information. I opened my email and there was a new one from Jack. Things were about to change again.
The flight from Vietnam was delayed. He missed the Hong Kong connection by minutes. Now he was on another Cathy Pacific flight and he would be arriving at 22:15. I emailed back. If he’d been waiting at Hong Kong, he would have responded almost immediately, I guessed. There was no reply. He must already be in flight.
While I had more time to make the trip, which was good, it would have been reassuring to know we were on the same schedule.
Before the cell phone and the Internet, we depended on the telephone. A call to the airline was the way to find out if there were delays, and there was no such thing as the tracking device that Carol used to follow the location of Jack’s flight online. Back then, the only way of getting through to a traveler when they arrived at the terminal was to page them and hope they were within earshot.
The cell phone and the Internet really have taken the guesswork out of traveling or connecting with someone who is. The cell phone is the critical link. It was the one thing I wanted to make sure I had, along with Jack’s flight and phone numbers.
I was ready to depart in less than 10 minutes. The back of the car was filled with gifts and grapefruits (I had a box of them from the Rotary citrus drive). Carol handed me an apple and some cookies – sustenance for the trip – if I didn’t go for the grapefruit. The first stop was for gas at Hoxsie Four Corners. I went through the list as I pumped.
Cell phone, I thought. I felt it in my shirt pocket. I was good to go.
Then a crazy whim crossed my mind.
I called Carol.
She answered instantly.
“Everything all right?”
“I forgot my cell,” I answered in an agitated voice. “I’ll never find him. I’ll be back to look for it. Could you start looking?”
“Sure,” she said.
“Call me as soon as you find it,” I said.
There was a long pause. She was working this out. How could I be calling her?
“You got me,” she said laughing.
She called me a couple of hours later.
“He’s over the western corner of Montana,” she reported. The flight was about 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
The next time the phone vibrated, I was sitting in Terminal 7 with an eye on the arrival gate. It was a text from Jack that he had just landed. I responded that I was waiting on the other side of customs. The connection was made.
But there’s nothing that could take the place of spotting him and getting a hug. Skype and the cell phone can’t hold a candle to that. They never will.