I’ve belonged to a writing group for a while now. We meet on the first and third Tuesdays of every month. If there happens to be a fifth Tuesday in the month, we have a special get together with a writing challenge. For May the challenge was to write a 500 word that included the use of a real telephone, not a cell phone, not even a cordless one, but a real phone. Here was my contribution.
End of May 2001, I had to get myself from Northwest Indiana to Northeast New Mexico for a summer job at Philmont Scout Ranch with the Boy Scouts of America. A friend of mine from the previous summer would also be making the trip and was willing to make the drive with me. The first leg of my journey took me to his parent’s place in Columbus, IN, south of Indianapolis. The plan: stay the night and take off the following morning.
The drive was uneventful until I hit some traffic as I got into town. Instead of fighting it I pulled over and ate at that most prevalent and pervasive of fast-food restaurants, McDonald’s. It was rainy and I had a spot of trouble finding my friend’s house. I was 20 years old and far from home. This was before everyone had cell phones so I wasn’t above putting myself out there if I needed help. In any event, I found the right place, but no one answered my knock. This led me to the neighbors and the use of their telephone to call my friend. He and his family were home, but no one had heard my summons. Not the best first impression. In hindsight, I believe my mistake was in going to the front door when I should have gone around to the back. How I was supposed to know that, I’m not quite sure.
His family lived in a large farmhouse with the farm to go with it, except they let someone else tend the fields and kept a few livestock in the barn. I had known Jake was a Quaker, but I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. At the time it turned out to mean that all three of his sisters and his mother wore long denim skirts and kept their hair braided. They didn’t eschew technology, but it wasn’t something they embraced either.
After introductions were made, I asked if I could call home to let my parents know I had arrived in one piece. It would be a long distance call, but I was prepared. I had a calling card. All I had to do was dial a 10 digit number, enter a 12 digit code, and then dial my parent’s phone number, another 10 digits, and hope they were home, or leave a message. My friend showed me to the parlor, which I’m not sure is what the room was called, but it was a communal space located at the front of the house.
In the corner sat the one and only line to the outside world in the whole house, a black rotary dial phone. I did not laugh, but I wanted to cry, especially when, in my haste, I misdialed and had to start the laborious process all over again. I swear it took me a half hour to call home and when I finally made the connection, I was happy someone was there to answer.