Once upon a time, in a world close to us all, people did not carry cellphones.
“What do you mean?” said the driver as we drove along the interstate south of Atlanta.
Quickly sliding past the passenger side window is the 1996 Olympic Stadium turned Turner Field turned Georgia State University stadium. Red bricks and green metal project upward making a shadowy silhouette between our grey four-door and the orange sunrise.
I’ve told the driver I was inside the stadium watching a track and field event the night the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park.
The driver is asking what happened in the minutes following the explosion, which in reality, was a mile or so from the stadium.
“I never knew it happened until I got home,” I said.
“What? Was your wife freaked out when you didn’t call her?”
I explained this we before everyone carried a cell phone and our pants legs would vibrate with every news alert. In 1996 we were living in the moment without the help of the world calling us or social media siphoning away our attention spans.
The driver is quiet. I can see him attempting to solve a puzzle in the air between him and windshield. My backseat math puts him at in his early 20’s.
“So how did you let your wife know you were okay?”
“When I walked through the door at two in the morning,” I said.
The driver shakes his head. He is a good young man. His generation knows no differently than a life where the world feeds through a cell phone and into our lives with the fury of an open firehose. I feel my age quietly advance a year or two as the stadium fades into a blur of cement overpasses.
Our conversation migrates to email and fax machines. I begin to worry the driver may feel he collected a time traveler at the airport curb – one filling his cabin with stories of a mysterious universe. A place where people we disconnected from each another, alone in their thoughts most of the day, and left to their survival skills.
The driver is an intelligent young man. His mind is artful, curious, and sincerely trying to figure out how he might survive such a dystopian world bubbling up from the backseat of his car.
I tell him of life before email, describing how we would send business contracts to each other in the mail. I say it might take a week or two to arrive on one end, be signed, and then mailed back. His head shakes in disbelief. I’m willing to bet he doesn’t even own a book of stamps.
In ways, I guess I am a time traveler, someone who brings mind-bending stories challenging the listener to separate the truth from absurd fantasy. Only I’m not crazy. I know of a world without incessant communication, one where although the planet rotates at the same speed, life itself was slower. And for some odd reason, I miss it.