Don’t laugh, but I didn’t know that my new iBook was WiFi-enabled until Jools, one of the miracle workers from Ms Mac, paid me a service call back in March. Even then I didn’t have any occasion to use this fancy new feature until last month, when I stayed in a hotel in Oregon where it was taken for granted that all guests would connect wirelessly to the Web. I fired up my untested WiFi gizmo, found it good, used it without incident, and promptly forgot about it from the moment I checked out until today, when I arrived way too early at LaGuardia and decided to see what it felt like to pull my laptop out of my shoulder bag and surf the Web, connected to nothing at all but my lap.
I suppose most of us have felt at one time or another the urge to pull up stakes and go off the grid. As a boy I watched Charles Kuralt on the evening news and dreamed of driving around America in a self-contained motor home, beholden to no one and no place. I didn’t know at the time that Kuralt and his TV crew never actually slept in their motor home, having found it too cramped. Instead, they checked into a motel every night they spent on the road. A number of years later, my father bought a used motor home from which he derived great satisfaction, but it would never have occurred to him to park it off the grid. Whenever he and my mother went “camping,” they drove straight to a trailer park, plugged in the power, hooked up the water and sewer lines, turned on the air conditioner, and partook of the great outdoors from a safe, comfortable distance.
Long ago I promised myself that someday I’d rent a motor home and do some Kuralt-style roaming, staying not in trailer parks or Holiday Inns but wherever I damn well pleased. Alas, I haven’t gotten around to it yet, and at fifty I suspect I never will. Instead I’m sitting at Gate D-8 of LaGuardia Airport, posting these words on my blog and wondering exactly what the big deal is. The point of travel, after all, is to be somewhere else doing something else, and since I routinely spend large chunks of my life in New York sitting at a desk, checking my e-mail and surfing the Web, I can’t see any good reason to do the same thing in an airport. I’m on my way to Smalltown, U.S.A., to visit my family, and when I get there this afternoon I’ll set up a card table in my bedroom and reluctantly establish an electronic beachhead. Why rush the process?
The first time I flew in a plane equipped with Airfones, I made a special point of calling my mother from midair, which impressed her no end. I never did it again. Similarly, I have a feeling that today’s venture into airport blogging will be a one-time-only event, unless I should find myself stuck in STL or LAX with several unexpected hours of time on my hands–and maybe not even then. Airports are for reading and listening to music, not blogging, just as trains are for looking out the window, not checking e-mail. Life is busy enough without plugging up such welcome chinks in the wall of constant activity.
For all these reasons, this study in the effects of postmodern technology on leisure time is now officially concluded. My plane leaves in an hour and five minutes, and two or three hours after that I’ll be in Smalltown, sitting down to lunch with my mother. Tonight will be quite soon enough to plug in again, and tomorrow will be even better. I’ll see you then.