Plugged-in travel

In 1977 we traveled through Europe in a VW camper for six months. We had no radio, but we did have a portable tape recorder that we used to make notes and listen to music. The sound quality wasn’t great but if we got desperate for entertainment we turned it on. We also had a film camera and a lot of books. During those six months communication with the outside world was negligible: we made four phone calls home and bought one magazine and two newspapers.

Life was simple. Life was good.

On our recent two-week trip to Texas we drove a van that had an am-fm radio and tape deck, and a VHS tape player for the back seat. (Disclaimer: we have never used the latter—it came with the car.) We took with us a mobile phone, a laptop computer, an iPod, noise-cancelling headphones for the iPod, and a digital camera. Since we were traveling in tandem with Joanne and Seaton we also had a walkie-talkie and Seaton’s hand-held GPS unit. These two units and the headphones did not require chargers, but the electric toothbrush and hair-trimmer did. To support this modest collection of electronica we carried six different chargers and multiple batteries.

Life was not simple. Life was tangled.

Because of the extremely cold nighttime temperatures the batteries frequently lost their charge overnight, so we went to Radio Shack and purchased yet another gadget—a converter to plug into the car’s lighter. It had a single AC outlet,so during the day we charged each device in turn. Order reigned.

Shortly after this purchase the mobile phone battery refused to charge. We nervously plugged into various outlets with no good result. Lack-of-communication-device-anxiety immediately set it.

We began stopping in towns that had T-Mobile dealers or Radio Shacks or other promising outlets, hoping to find a battery for the phone. After three states and five towns we gave up. Most of the sales staff tried to sell me battery chargers.

“No,” I would say with increasing frustration, “I have a battery charger. The battery has died.” I got shrugs for my efforts.

Eventually, knowing we were just three days from home, we gave up. Our anxiety faded. Life without instant communication, we recalled, was actually rather pleasant.

When we got home we found that even in Portland we couldn’t purchase a battery, we had to order one. And when it finally arrived it wouldn’t charge either. The light lit. In the phone store we asked them to plug their charger into our phone.

Life is funny.