As I sit in Room 10 of the Bates, um, I mean the Lake Ocoee Motel on Highway 64 in Benton, Tennessee, I find myself reflecting on what has been a remarkable and strange day. Go ahead. Ask me why? Thanks. I was going to tell you anyway but I was raised to be a gentleman.
For the better part of the day I was schlepping a 50-pound backpack through South Cumberland State Park on a desperately hot August day. In the middle of thousands of acres, across seven or eight miles of the Fiery Gizzard Trail, I encountered only a half dozen people or so. Which, frankly was about five more than I would like to have encountered. You see, I have a penchant for solitude and reflection on some of these outings and today was one of them. Like any good backpacker or hiker, I make sure someone knows when I’m hitting the trailhead and when I should be back. But I enjoy the solitude. (Can you say “only child?”) Normally, I’m out of cell phone range on such sojourns so I find no reason to power it off since I use it take photos of wildlife, waterfalls, and the requisite “selfie” or two to share with my friends on Facebook. Today, however, I should have turned off the power because throughout my trip not only did I have “three bars,” I also got four phone calls in the course of about two hours. Of course, I “declined” them. (Sorry, Mr. President. You’re on your own when I’m in the woods. And please, Miranda, I’ve asked you to stop calling.)
Too say that I was annoyed would be to strong a choice of words. I was a little irritated. But I reminded myself that I choose how I respond to such petty irritations, concentrated on my breathing, as well as on the narrow ledge above the water I was traversing much of the day. During my hike, I found my cell phone an intrusion into my time and space, though I confess I did post more than a few pictures on Facebook. But now as I sit in a hotel room with a television that looks like it was built when Johnny Carson was still the King of Late Night, I look at my cell phone and see ATT has rudely chosen to tell me there is No Service. I’m not really aggravated by the message. (Well, maybe a little.) But the truth is I’m mostly surprised at the ability to be a little irked when there is No Service and when there is Service.
While tonight I have wondered what I will do if I have to make an urgent call or if someone really needs to reach me, I’m mostly just reflecting on how odd it feels to be out of touch. And how wonderful it is. While it feels a bit like I’m living in the 1970s for the night it is actually a profound relief. Tonight, I sat at the Ocoee Dam Deli and Diner and ate my Country Fried Steak, Turnip Greens and Fried Okra and realized nobody was looking at a phone. No one. People were actually talking to one another, including a group of six college girls who came in together. What the? A young boy of about nine or ten sat and talked to his parents. A grandfather and his daughters were laughing at a booth in the corner. For a moment I thought I might be in an episode of The Twilight Zone. But the taste of the best meal I’ve had in a while made it clear to me I wasn’t.
The truth is I don’t know if I was just ravenous from my outdoor adventure today (two frogs, a snake, four waterfalls, and a bear that turned out to be a large boulder staring at me) or if the food was just that good. But I suspect it was actually more of a Zen thing when I was actually mindful of every bite I put in my mouth since I was undistracted by my iThing. Tonight, I’m just enjoying No Service. If I need to make a call I will wander across the parking lot to the tall rectangular glass box and attempt to use something that we once called a Telephone Booth and hope someone will accept a collect call if its me on the line.