The journey of a ‘caveman’ in the cell phone age

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My husband is a caveman. Before you conjure up an image of him beating his chest while grunting, “Make fire!” or dragging me by my hair, allow me to enlist your attention to qualify this statement. My husband is an Ivy League educated electrical engineer who designs historical strategy board games as his pastime.
Like many Baby Boomers, he prefers a book to a Kindle, yet concedes that a home computer is a necessity in modern life. However, as in the 1990s, when he balked at wearing a beeper for work, he has thus far resisted owning a cell phone.
His modus operandi was challenged during a recent out-of-state trip to a publishing convention. To be fair, he did pack Post-It Notes, a pen and a 10-year-old Harmon Kardon GPS device. Like a Boy Scout, he was prepared; nothing could gum up the works. Yet his careful plans began to unravel almost as soon as I dropped him off at the airport.
Before take-off, he discovered he’d neglected to write down the address of the hotel hosting the convention. No matter; he’d simply borrow a phone when he arrived at his destination airport to call me to look it up. However, first he’d secure the rental car. This went smoothly, and fortunately the directions were stored in his GPS device from the same trip two years earlier. Things were progressing very nicely until about 20 minutes into his drive, when he realized he was headed in the wrong direction.
Did I mention it was dark?
And snowing?
This probably would have been a good time to have a cell phone, he conceded. He could have determined his exact geographical location, obtained directions, and even called his wife to let her know he’d arrived safely. Or he could have even gotten a ride using his Uber app.
A quick U-turn on a dimly lit rural highway (and cursing like a sailor) and he was on his way. As he drove for miles in the darkness, he searched for an exit sign. After traveling “forever” (about five miles), he saw the glow of a small shopping center at the end of the exit ramp. Here, he’d politely ask to borrow a friendly merchant’s business phone.
There was not an empty parking spot to be found. After circling the parked cars like a shark, he pulled over at the edge of the road, and as the wiper blades kept pace with the snow and his rapidly beating heart, he studied the GPS to retrace his steps from two years ago. Soon he was on his merry way. However, it wasn’t long before he began to see signs for the airport. An hour after he’d first driven away in the rental car, he realized the GPS was guiding him right back to the rental car company.
Parking in a suburban neighborhood, he grabbed the GPS once again, considering the propriety of knocking on the door of a friendly homeowner at dinner time in a snowstorm to ask to borrow the telephone.
At this hour it was dark as pitch, and unwilling to risk the car battery, he did not turn on the interior lights to read his Post-It Note. I’d previously demonstrated the handy cell phone flashlight when looking for the house key when the porch light is out, but this is a moot point. He keyed in the hotel address for the third time, which led him to his final destination.
Some time later, our home phone rang, and while I didn’t recognize the number on Caller ID, with my husband being out of town and off the grid, I answered it.
“Hello...”
“Write down this number.”
He had borrowed his colleague’s cell phone, whose name he neglected to mention.
Each time the home phone rang that weekend, it was a call from a different area code, but always my husband.
Early on the morning he was to return, I checked the weather, then the airline website to see if the flight was on schedule. It was a wicked cold 8 degrees, with snow and ice, and much the same in my husband’s northeastern locale. It was no surprise then that his flight was canceled, and he would soon find out. I wondered how many minutes before the phone would ring, as I envisioned the moment after he returned his rental car, and strode to the airline desk at the gate.
The phone rang. “Hello...”
“Write down this number.”
He’d gone to an airport bar to get change for a pay phone. He eyed two cell phones on the bar. Perhaps one of the friendly travelers having a cup of coffee would be kind enough to lend him one of the cell phones.
A helpful ticket agent directed him to what my husband believed to be one of two in the entire airport. I was instructed to find him a flight out, “sooner than tomorrow!” Then the line went dead. He’d run out of quarters.
The next flight was in 48 hours.
I dialed the most recent number he’d dictated, but there was no connection. I tried unsuccessfully, twice more, then resigned myself to the fact that my caveman was alone at a strange airport.
After guarding the pay phone for a half hour (as if the general cell-phone-carrying public would need it) expecting my call, he noticed the very fine print beside the phone: “This phone does not receive incoming calls.”
The home phone rang again.
“Hello...”
He gave me the name and number of the airport hotel in which he’d be staying, and took an airport shuttle.
When the phone rang again, it was from yet another phone number.
“Hello...”
“Write down this number,” he whispered. “I can’t talk long. I’m using the phone at the front desk.” As it turned out, he and some other shuttle passengers changed their minds when they saw the hotel, and in the snow, walked to a different one.
That night, my husband sat in the hotel bar watching the football playoff game with an opposing fan. The next morning the temperature at home reached an historic low. At the end of his travels, I knew when he got home my caveman would beat his chest and make fire.
The author is a resident of Warwick.

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davebarry

Funny stuff. Good column.

Tuesday, February 19