Did you ever notice that adults act like kids the minute they’re without cars?
The Curmudgeon attended a conference in New York City on Friday and opted to take the train from New Haven, CT. I dropped him off at the station at 6 a.m. and set him loose. I didn’t hear from him for the rest of the day. I later learned he dined with two business associates in Tribeca before a few nightcaps in an Irish pub.
It sounded fun, or at least more enjoyable than spending three hours assembling IKEA furniture with my kids in a stuffy room as his birthday surprise. We survived, but not without cursing and wrestling over the power drill. I’d like to say it was a great family bonding experience, but it wasn’t. It was just something that needed to be done, like flossing or getting the furnace cleaned.
The Curmudgeon seemed to have a kick in his step and the adrenaline rush that occurs when a suburbanite ventures out of his sleepy environs and is thrust into the harried pace of city life. I was happy for him, because he’s always been a little leery of New York (“Too crowded, too dirty, too busy, too expensive.”)
And then the call came.
“I’m getting the noon train at Grand Central and it’s getting into New Haven at 2:08,” he announced. “Can you please pick me up?”
Of course. But first, I wanted to eat lunch and watch an episode of “The League,” my latest Netflix find. I ended up leaving 5 minutes later than I planned, but figured I’d arrive within a few minutes of the train. I foolishly failed to account for I-95 traffic on a Saturday.
The next call came at 2:08. “Where the *&^$ are you?” The Curmudgeon demanded. “I told you the train was getting in at 2:08. I’m exhausted and I’m starving. We’re stopping at the deli on the way home so I can get something to eat.”
“I left a few minutes late and there’s traffic,” I said. “Entertain yourself for a few minutes. Read the newspaper or check your phone. Or just wait. I’ll be there.”
In the interest of full disclosure, it was his birthday so I should have left earlier. My bad. But I-Phones and their various clones have turned kids (and the occasional adult) into tyrants. If you’re one minute late, you can expect a call or text asking where you are. If you don’t answer your phone, you may even get the dreaded Find My I-Phone ping.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as attached to my phone as the next person. But they’ve come at a price. Instead of giving us more time and freedom, they’ve made us more demanding and fixated on time.
They’ve eliminated the notion of a grace period, a cooling of heels or just chilling out. It’s no wonder everyone’s stressed out and pressed for time. We’re on the clock all day every day.
When I didn’t return a text from an acquaintance for almost two hours, he wrote: “Is everything OK with you? Why aren’t you responding?”
I barely know this person and I appreciate his concern for my welfare, but I was in a place where cellphones must be silenced. And to be honest, I was a tiny bit miffed that a stranger wanted to know my whereabouts on a Saturday afternoon.
That text makes me long for the days of the pink phone message slips where you wrote in a caller’s name, the reason for the call and whether or not it was urgent. If it was an important call, you made a point to call the person right back. If not, you might wait a few hours or call the next day and no one blinked.
My kids are the worst. I pick up my daughter nearly every day after school and I’ve never forgotten her. Yet every evening when I’m five minutes away, the call comes in. Before she can speak, I say: “Be there in 5 minutes” or “Pulling into the lot right now.”
My son is no better. When I pick him up for school breaks, it goes something like this: “Pick me up at noon.” An hour later, the call comes in. “You know, make it 12:10. I’ve got a paper to drop off. I’ll get my stuff and we’ll leave at 12:20.”
“But after 90 minutes in the car, I was hoping to stretch my legs and grab one of those great chopped salads,” I’ll say. “OK, I guess you can do that. But I want to get back by 3 because I’m working at 4.”
And let us not forgot the tag team call. When I’m talking to someone and don’t put her on hold when my son calls, he calls my daughter to tell me that he’s trying to reach me. I can’t imagine doing that with my parents, who believed in the great divide between kids and adults. If you approached my mother while she was on the phone, she’d wave you away like she was swatting flies.
I think a little waiting is good. It allows time to breathe, pause, reflect, exist. It gives time to look at the sky, sit on a bench or ponder your navel. Waiting makes you appreciate the ride and more importantly, the person behind the wheel.