John W. Frece Annapolis
Arriving naked at the airport
My face flushed hot when I realized I was about to fly naked.
Headed to the airport in the predawn drizzle, I was only 10 minutes from home when, with a shock, I could not recall grabbing my cellphone off the charger. Panicked, I thrust my hand to my belt, only to find an empty BlackBerry holster. I uttered an expletive. Loudly.
"I need to call my wife," I thought. "Maybe she can bring it to me." Well, that wasn't going to happen.
My second instinct was to turn around, speed home and retrieve the phone. But I had just gotten on the interstate, and the nearest exit was 15 minutes up the road. I quickly did the math and doubted I had the time.
As I tried to decide, the turnaround exit was approaching at 70 mph. I began asking myself cosmic questions: How important is a cellphone anyway? What did we do before we all had cellphones? It was only a two-day trip. So what if people can't call me? So I can't get my e-mail seconds after it's sent. So I can't call the co-worker I'm meeting in Kansas City to tell her where I am - and she can't call me. Heck, I can't even get her phone number because I cannot access my contact list.
To my embarrassment, I realized I also couldn't even call my wife or daughter on their cellphones because I always used speed dial to reach them. I never memorized their numbers.
The exit arrived. I kept going.
At the airport, I kept my eyes peeled for a pay phone. I spied a bank of three halfway between security and my gate. I pulled out my only quarter, only to discover that the price for a call had inflated to 50 cents in the years since I last made a pay call.
I got change, called home and told my wife what I had done.
"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed.
At the gate, I began to wonder whether people could tell - if they were looking at me out of the corner of their eyes and whispering, "He doesn't have a cellphone." I looked enviously as a businessman scanned his iPhone for messages. I could almost sense my e-mail piling up.
By the time I landed in Kansas City and got on my laptop, I had accumulated 35 messages, or one every four minutes I was in the air.
For the rest of the trip, I felt a weird sense of loss. When colleagues learned of my plight, they reacted with sympathy and sadness. Too bad about poor John, they seemed to be thinking. When I heard the chiming ring of someone else's phone interrupt the drone of a meeting, I felt a tinge of nostalgia. As I looked around the conference table, I saw others in devout BlackBerry prayer - heads bowed and hands religiously clasped around their BlackBerrys beneath the lip of the table. Not me.
When I at last settled in for the journey back to connectedness and the flight attendant demanded that "everything with an on-off button be turned off," I felt no pressure to jam in those final three e-mails.
But as soon as the wheels touched down in Baltimore, about a third of the passengers whipped out their phones to tell somebody they were on the ground and electronically accessible. I feigned indifference, nonchalantly making small talk about the weather outside with another passenger.
"Let me check," he said, whipping out his iPhone. "Fifty-seven degrees."