By Rich Henrich
My text messages stopped coming in the past couple of days. I live by text messages and my phone and instant access to my e-mails and of course the Internet. It was annoying but I rest assured, I would call Verizon Wireless to save the day and fix my tech issue. So, I called and a cheerful young man took the call and apologized for the inconvenience. Little did I know what inconvenience actually awaited me? He of course transferred me to another department because no department can do more than one task, it would give the employees too much autonomy and the customer too much service. Better to have division of labor and keep all information separated.
The next gentleman was also very polite and apologized for my situation but assured he could fix it. “Just type in star (128).” Panic washed over me. “What will this do?” The man stated with the certainty of a surgeon, “it’s a software update that should do the trick.” I have an iPhone 4 that I purchased in Spring 2011. I’ve never cracked the glass and I have never, ever opted to press the button for software update. I don’t know why but I’ve never trusted the “update.” Why is it necessary to update something that is already working? Perhaps it was time to push my paranoia aside and move ahead with the technological fix of the day. So, I pressed the star key and three numbers (the exact number has been lost in a phone that this code was supposed to have fixed). Nothing. The man was perplexed. “Where are you located?”
I found his question to be oddly personal for something so technical. “Well, where I am in this moment is different every moment.” I confused him. “I’m traveling, so what does this matter where I am. I’m trying to get my text messages to send and receive.” There was a pause. Well, I have to turn in a ticket and if I cannot tell them where you are located, they will reject the ticket. This will usually take 48 hours. So, where will you be over the next 48 hours?” Again, I expressed that I would be traveling. He said he would try to push the ticket through but the other department really didn’t like not knowing where I was. I explained the absurdity of this situation with a “what if” scenario. “So, if I am a truck driver traveling across America, my “wireless” company cannot help me because I am “mobile?” But your company sells mobile phones. We live in a wireless, mobile age. Does this not seem ridiculous to you?” He agreed with me and his frustration with the red tape was starting to come through. “I’ll do what I can for you to push this through. Just give me the name of a city you’ll be nearby. So, I gave him the name of a major city nearby. “If nothing happens in 48 hours, call us back,” he said, lacking all the confidence that once resonated in his voice at the start of the diagnosis.
Two hours later, my phone blinked on and then off a few times and then froze on the shiny silver apple with a bite out of it. I think that piece of the apple was once the soul. It was no longer working at all. All I did was pressed the star button and pushed in three numbers to fix my text message. Now, nothing worked. I was in meetings until 5pm but figured I’d stop at a Verizon authorized dealer on my way out of town. I needed my phone to coordinate a video shoot at High Mountain Hideout, a music festival on top of a remote mountain and of course, the directions and everyone I needed to contact was hidden away inside that evil orbing silver apple. The gentleman at the counter looked at me like I was an idiot that didn’t know how to turn on my phone. I said nothing. Then he handed me a card. “Maybe this lady can help. I think your phone is dead. She might be able to recover some of your data.” Now, it was real. Verizon rep pronounced my phone DOA. “Well, I should qualify for an upgrade; they tried selling me earlier in the day.” So, I asked for the cheapest deal so I could have a phone for the weekend while traveling. A few taps on the keys and he said, “The cheapest I can do is about $300.” I lost it. I exploded. Really, liar? I spoke with a rep earlier that said I was eligible for an upgrade for FREE plus activation, of course. Now this guy on a Labor Day Friday wants to take advantage of my situation. I grabbed my phone from him and pointed at him. “You are a dirty rat liar, sir and ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Back in the car, fighting through strip mall parking hell on a holiday for those who labor.
So, I head out onto the highway (Judas Priest song here “Heading Out To The Highway”) with a rough idea of where I am going. It’s going to be dark when I arrive at this remote location. I have no choice. I am already late. The show must go on! What will be will be…we did function as humans in a civilized society before cell phones, why not try that again. It would be a return to simpler times. Sure, I’d probably have to waive someone down on the mountain and ask for directions. I would have to forgo access to my e-mails and voicemails. The text message debacle had prepared me for this, I was certain. It was the Universe telling me to disconnect, be present, and be in the moment. Breathe.
The ancient New Mexican landscaping erupted from red Earth dotted with green pinon pines. The smell of fall and roasted green chili hung heavy in the air. The sky awash in colorful orange, yellow, purple and red against a brilliant blue canvas dotted with white pillow clouds. Ah, yes, silence, beauty, presence. However, the nervous twitch in my hand keeps reaching for my phone. Nothing’s changed; the apple still shines silver in the screen. The check engine light pops on the dash in the darkness. I should turn back. I pay for roadside assistance. The brake light flashes on. I can’t call roadside without a phone. I pull over to debate myself. One of me lost the argument and I’m heading out to the highway…I’ve got nothing to loose at all!!
I enjoy the sunset once again as I wind along cliffs carved out by the river that parallels the road. I pass Dennis Hopper’s house as I coast through Rancho de Taos. The life isn’t present any more but he certainly left a landmark to remember and the theater he once owned to screen his film “The Last Movie,” over and over again since the studios didn’t want it, is alive again as a gathering place, Old Martina’s Hall. The mountain road climbs, headlights fade at every turn. A deer stares at me nonchalantly as I drive past. Four-wheel drive required beyond this point, the sign warns. The temperature drops rapidly at this 10,000 feet plus elevation. A rough road turns upward past massive chalets that look over the ski resort.
Finally, a flashlight signals through the blackness of night and waves me over to a pop-up tent check-in. There are no security guards, no cops here, no gates, and no lines aside from a few cars behind me. Just a table and a couple of shoeboxes guarded by a young woman bundled up in clothes and the guy with the flashlight. He approaches my window. His concern is parking. The event has exploded with fest goers this year and cars are parked along the mountain road. I explain I am the camera crew and within a minute, I am given credentials and escorted up the road. My high beams catch an ocean of tents before I’m told where to park. I’m greeted with a cold beer and a thank you for coming to film the event. By now, I’ve forgotten I even had a phone. I can hear the music in the distance and that is all that really matters. I made it. More importantly, I made it without GPS on my phone, without text messaging friends while driving or calling to coordinate. It was old school. There was a plan to arrive at a destination and all arrived for the purpose of music even though, the first thing out of everyone’s mouth was the warning to me that there was no cell service at 10,000 feet above sea level. Then, the conversation returned to human matters- beer, food and music. Three days of epic conversations around bonfires, with everyone making food, sharing what they had, musicians from Peru, Senegal, and America, finishing sets and supporting other acts before impromptu sessions formed into early morning sunrise sing-a-longs. No one cared about cell service. People used pen and paper to exchange contact info. No one freaked out about not being able to find someone on Facebook or to be able to text them their contact info. It was a return to a simpler time.
Then, Jane’s Addiction played in my stereo, from a CD…”coming down the mountain! Everybody has their own opinion…cash in now honey, cash in miss smith, cash in now!” I wanted to turn back. We all did. No one wanted to leave the tranquility, the comradery of the moment but civilization called. The musician from Peru, who was applauded by all, would return to Las Vegas to earn a living as a street musician. The other bands would follow similar paths back to day jobs. And I would return to a number of e-mail and Facebook inquiries with concerned people who would turn angry by the third day of not receiving a response from me. Some thought I might be dead. Crazy how concern turns into a veil for ego and the reality is most people really want to know why you are not responding to them. No one ever assumed technology would fail at the hands of a Verizon tech and I would be forced to make a decision to carry on like a wayward son without a cell phone and fulfill my promise to film High Mountain Hideout Music Fest. Now, I know why they call it “hideout” fest. For those of you who feel three days without a response is inappropriate…if your phone doesn’t ring, it’s probably me. One of our greatest generational challenges will be how we communicate as we expand from tribal to global communities. It will require one key ingredient that communication has always required, patience to listen.