Phone Booth Time Machine

Phone Booth Time Machine

I dropped my daughter off today.

I am in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a 15 hour drive from Seattle. I’ve spent the last two days in a car driving across 3 Western states to get here. Today is the start of a 30-day backpacking and white water rafting trip that my daughter is going on. She will be spending a month in Idaho backpacking and white water rafting. It sounds both fun and incredibly daunting.

On our drive eastward we stopped outside of Ketchum Idaho to visit some cousins. We met at a lodge high up a mountain road that is the launching spot for mountain bike, rafting and hiking adventures. “Lodge” may be over-stating it. It’s a building that holds a small mountain bike rental/retail shop and a dining area where you can get snacks, lunch and a beer. It’s only open during the day.

It’s both gorgeous and remote up. Off the beaten path, and it’s better that way. People are fit, easy-going and friendly. At 7,000 feet elevation, the sun is hotter, the air thinner and nature seems more vibrant.

I wandered the lodge’s grounds, taking in the stunning scenery. I longingly looked at the mountain bike trail map, wondering what it would feel like to ride a $2,000 mountain bike with oversized wheels and whether I could convince my family to pull roots and move up here.

As I passed the open door of the bike repair shop, I ran into an oddity: A phone booth. Not a big superman-got-into-his-tights-here kind of phone booth, but a phone booth in wooden enclosure complete with a mini pitched roof bolted to the side of the building. Only partially sheltered from the rain, sun, wind, cold and mountains of winter snow by an aging small wooden enclosure, this phone looked weathered and weary. It also appeared surprisingly intact. It had a phone book attached to it, and the receiver was still there. Heck it even looked like I could use it.

I noticed as I picked up the receiver that the phone was so old that the number written in the little window above the keypad only had 7 digits, like the area code was unnecessary. Just holding it brought back a flush of memories and emotions from the past.

I remember using a phone like this as a teenager to dial my parents, asking them to pick me up from a party where I’d lost my ride home. I remember sitting in a phone booth on a rainy afternoon in high school as the girl I hung all my hopes and dreams on told me she wasn’t the one for me. I remember the countless times there was a pang of excitement that someone actually picked up when you called. During an era of no portable communication, a lot more hung on whether there was an answer on the other end of the line.

To my surprise, I was met with a dial tone singing to me as I put my ear to the receiver.

This sticks with me this morning because I’m longing for simpler days. Like somehow the “Simpler days” of the past were any simpler than they are now. I think they only seem that way in retrospect. My daughter will be spending 30 days without technology, without cars, without buildings. She’ll work together with a small group of other teens as they hike and camp through Idaho. Fully self-supportive. All the extraneous distractions of news cycles, school, sports, friends, social media, and her family will fall away. Her days will be filled with the simple focus of working through today.

I’m not sure how to feel, now that my daughter has left. I notice I want to say how I “should” feel, like there’s a way for a parent to feel that’s prescribed and expected. Of course it’s not. I find myself trying to “figure it out” because it’s not currently apparent how I feel about her departure. Even this realization makes me feel like I “should know”.

I’m working my way through it right now. And I don’t know what it means, but I think the phone booth had a lesson for me.

I long for the simpler days of the past because it had less distractions. I remember being more action-oriented. I remember not worrying. I remember being a lot more effective. And I think everything I just said is untrue.

There aren’t any “good old days”. Like folks who say the 50’s were good old days, they forgot to mention the poverty and social injustice that spread in an era also associated with racism, sexism, and age discrimination. They were only the good old days if you looked through a particular lens.

The good old days weren’t, there’s only today. It’s a gift and time for action. Today. Right Now.

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