Kids these days have no idea how good they have it. If they can't remember the name of a band or the ingredients in a Long Island Iced Tea, they can pull it up on the Internet before they move on to discussing pop musicians and teen angst vampire movies. If they run out of gas or get a flat tire, they can simply dial roadside assistance from the phone everybody seems to keep in their pockets these days (including me).
But it wasn't always that easy. As recently as twenty years ago, communication had a way of slipping through the cracks, as John found out when he took his lovely wife on a bus tour of Europe.
The trip started off brilliantly. John and Judy discovered that all the overused cliches that dominate the American opinion of Europe are based in fact, as they wandered through ridiculously charming villages and explored gorgeous valleys. It was summer in Europe, the Cold War was over, and the exchange rates were still working in their favor.
As they wound their way through a carefree season, John began to want more. France was nice enough, but he really wanted to take Judy through Belgium, and see if it really was as silly as John Cleese liked to say it was. Rumors of fantastic beer and great cheese, not to mention all manner of cultural heritage, drew the pair to a bus that would drive them through the country.
John had checked the travel guides enough to know that he would pass through the town of Waterloo, where Napoleon's bid for power came to an end. John was a long-time gamer, and the location's historical significance was nearly as important as its influence on many of the games he had enjoyed. So when the bus pulled into Waterloo for a rest break, John and Judy grabbed their packs and stepped out for a quick look around.
John had spent countless hours playing Napoleonic wargames with his college roommate, and being early evening, figured he had a chance to raise his friend on the phone and brag that he was in Waterloo. However, since this is not a recent tale, John did not have a cell phone, and had to use a pay phone. A little searching turned up an antiquated phone booth that actually worked. John's old roommate answered the phone, and he and John began to have a lengthy discussion in which John told his friend that he was in Waterloo, and his friend made jealous sounds.
After a few minutes, John remembered that international phone calls cost astronomical sums of money, especially from pay phones in Belgium, and hung up. He turned around, stepped out of the phone booth, and realized that he was completely alone. The bus was gone. The stores had closed. The streets were empty. And worst of all, Judy was no where to be found.
At first John was confused as he began hunting for his wife. If they got separated, the plan was to meet up at the last place they had both been, so he waited for a while as worry began to set in. When hours passed with no sign of Judy or the tour bus, John's worry began to grow into panic, and he set out to find her.
As he walked in and out of gloomy bars and deserted streets, John's mind tortured him with visions of his wife, dead in a remote basement or discarded in the Belgian countryside, while he wandered, impotent and frantic, calling her name to no avail.
The sun dropped lower to the horizon, and darkness began to descend on the town of Waterloo. Minutes turned to hours as John searched fruitlessly through darkening alleys and cobbled streets, the sound of his footsteps echoing back at him from the old brick walls, mocking his solitude and desperation. Night came in earnest, and yet John continued to search through the streets as desperation and hopelessness began to take hold. He was alone in a foreign country, unable to speak the language, with no idea how to find his wife.
Finally, John realized that the last bus to Brussels would be leaving soon. It was midnight, and there would not be another bus until morning. With a heavy heart, John climbed aboard and sank into the seat, exhausted and distraught. The bus rumbled through the night, carrying John further from the last place he had seen Judy, into the heart of the soot-stained city of Brussels. The city seemed to draw the life out of the people who lived there, cold and miserable, especially to John's weary eyes.
Weighed down by equal parts exhaustion and sorrow, John got off the bus and trudged through the miserable concrete halls of the Brussels train station. In the dead hours halfway between midnight and dawn, the station was empty, silent as the grave. It seemed to feed on John's misery and fear, and he was weary to the bone.
His spirit broken, his mind a shattered mess, his body sore and tired, John dropped his backpack in an abandoned stairwell, sat against a wall and pulled his coat tight around him. He stared off into the darkness, and as his eyes began to adjust to the dim light, he could make out a dark figure at the top of the stairs. He rose with a start, and then the figure spoke.
"John? Is that you?"
It seems Judy had noticed the bus leaving Waterloo and had leapt aboard to ask the driver to wait for her husband. Sadly, the driver spoke no English, and simply shut the doors and drove away. Judy was unable to get off the bus, and the driver refused to stop until that train station in Brussels. So Judy, worried sick for her husband and completely unable to contact him, decided to wait at the station. It was a long, miserable day for both of them, but it was almost worth the fear and depression for that one glorious moment of reunion.
John and Judy are still married, living comfortably in the United States, and thoroughly enjoying the convenience of satellite television, GPS tracking and, most importantly, the cell phone.