I conducted an experiment to see how long I could function in society without owning a cell phone. One, I was on a tight budget. The land line had been around my whole life and it seemed perfectly acceptable to share one house phone with all inhabitants therein. A house with one phone, one television, one bathroom. Old fashioned for sure. Two, I was convinced the waves emanating from the thing would zap my brain cells. I thought society’s obsession to upgrade and own and create waste was wrong. I believed in living a simple life from my childhood, and I vowed to, but convenience was alluring. Finally, I did not own a cell phone because I enjoyed the reaction of others when I proudly told them I didn’t have one. I was odd, and it disturbed people I would choose not to have one. Why that would make me feel special—why I didn’t act like the rest of the world, made me feel like I was unique. Rather a silly way to distinguish oneself, yes? Still, I found as the 90s and the 00s moving along at a hyper-speed, I managed to hold out owning a cell phone until 2011.
Leg One: Virginia to Vermont in a Crappy Car.
In June 2011, I started my road trip from Virginia toward the Green Mountains outside of Montpelier, Vermont to attend my MFA graduation ceremony at Goddard College. The radio in my was car was destroyed. I owned no Ipod or other gadget to listen to music, so the eleven hour ride was quiet except for inner dialogues and ruminations. I was only 30 miles out-of-town, and I planned for a pit-stop to say hello to a good friend of mine. Her subdivision had those wretched speed bumps every twenty feet that were moguls my car groaned over. Sure enough, something broke underneath, something important like an axle, and I had to have the thing towed and the part replaced no sooner than the following day. Bless my friend who put me up, fed me food and wine, and took me to the shop to pick up the car the next day.
Off I go, only ten more hours to Vermont. I was a little worried about missing the ceremony, a little worried about my car, (What about that other axle?) a little worried about the dent in my wallet from the $382.00 automotive bill. Don’t you know it rained in the entire state of Pennsylvania? It rained in the entire state of New Jersey. After six hours of pelting storms and standing water on the freeways, I was exhausted. I still hadn’t made it up New York State or crossed over the Hudson River into Vermont. I was hours and hours away from my destination. Also, where were the pay phones always at gas stations or corners of streets or in governmental buildings? Where did they all go? I needed to tell Goddard about my tardiness. Maybe it would comforting to tell someone about my plight? I splurged and got a motel room. I still had time. I could still catch the graduation ceremony the following afternoon. I’d just be two days late. . . .
After a dead sleep, I woke and made it to Vermont just in time to check in at Goddard College, visit with my peers, complete the final requirements of the residency and attend my MFA ceremony. This was Sunday afternoon. Then the plan was to follow my friend Carolyn and her husband down from North Central Vermont to the Boston area to spend the night. I could leave my car at her place and fly out of Boston to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the following morning. I was heading to the 35th Annual German summer immersion program; a four-week stay at the Taos Ski Resort sponsored by the University of New Mexico.
Remember my crappy car? On the way down to Boston, the back window broke. Then the car rattled this-way-and-that across the highway. They were leading, but I couldn’t call them because I did not have a cell phone. I flashed them with my lights and eventually they pulled over. I went first, in case the car broke down, embarrassed. I kept thinking of that other axle. Was it about to go? My friends said they’d have a friend take a look at it while I was away studying Deutsch.
Ich habe Angst, ich werde wie ein Idiot klingen. Ich bin zu alt, um sich fließend!
At the Boston airport the next morning, I waited and waited to board the plane. Something was wrong. The plane’s toilet malfunctioned and they couldn’t take off. We had to wait for a plane flying in from Paris to be cleaned and serviced before we could go ahead to NM. Missing my connecting flight, we passengers scrambled to reschedule our own flights by using the airway courtesy phones. Five hours later, we were on our way. I was worrying about trying to speak nothing but German for four weeks and my fears were getting the better of me. I wanted to call Carolyn and ask her to take me to my car.
Me and my adventurous spirit. Humph! I wanted to go home back to Virginia. Not having a cell phone, I had to find pay phones in the airport. I knew they were somewhere–but not by me. By the time I finally found a pay phone, she didn’t respond. She had her own plans, and I missed the option of canceling the trip. Besides, after the 4 weeks at Taos Ski Valley, I made plans to visit my son and two grandchildren in Phoenix.
By the time I arrived in Albuquerque, it was late at night and I had missed the three-hour shuttle ride to the ski resort. I was stuck in the airport. I asked the baggage manager for help, and she gave me a coupon to stay at an airport hotel since it was the airline’s fault my traveling day was a disaster. Any other time I would have been thrilled, for the hotel room was luxurious and an oasis for my nerves. I paid $35 for a $200 room. Whew! With no cell phone, I had to use the room phone which was expensive. I arranged for the shuttle ride. The people running the summer school program had no idea where I was. They couldn’t contact me. I’d have to wait until the next morning before calling them. I’d have to tell them all that happened—auf Deutsch. Also, I was beginning to wish I had a cell phone. I was tired of all the inconveniences.
Have you ever tried to be good at something and you just can’t do it well? That’s my relationship with the German language. I comprehend it adequately and pronounce the words well, but ask me to build a sentence that sounds other than what a five-year old would say, and I fail miserably. I can’t seem to grasp the “whole” picture. I understand that part of the problem wasn’t me or the teacher. I had the motivation; they had the compassion for putting up my butchering. Once you leave the foreign language classroom, I forget about it. I seem to be in a permanent state of review and recall. Throughout chunks in my life from the age of 13 to 48, I have pursued this hobby and have amassed total of 25 hours of college German. Impressive?
Ich kann nicht Deutsch sprechen sehr gut. 30 Jahre später, habe ich noch nicht. Wie Deprimierend.
Okay, I’ll stop badgering myself. It’s my fault I don’t make an effort outside of the classroom to improve and keep it alive in my head. I should attend German clubs. I should listen to German radio and watch German T.V. I was apprehensive when I was accepted to attend a total immersion program sponsored by the University of New Mexico. I felt an immersion program was the only strategy left for the language to make an imprint in my brain. Perhaps, this time, I would become fluent. Practically, I thought I could get a teaching endorsement. It would be fun to finish out my teaching career teaching Deutsch instead of English and history. The day-to-day interactions would keep me from forgetting everything. So I accepted and vowed to speak only Deutsch with my peers in the room, at the dinner table, at social events—everywhere I went—only Deutsch for four weeks.
It was very clever of UNM to pick the Taos Ski Valley as their destination. It was so remote, you can’t really get away with speaking English unless you leave and go to town to pick up provisions to restock the ski resort condominium. As soon as we left the mountain for the drive in to town, we RELISHED the English language and took turns venting. I listened to post-graduate Deutsch students and professors give lecture after lecture while we took notes. I copied down words and tried to make sense of it. Later, I translated the words I didn’t know and then tried to write an essay about what I had heard—auf Deutsch. In class, we sang German songs and learned grammar. We read articles in Der Spiegel, the German equivalent to Time magazine and we had to summarize and report to the group and discuss the articles. Oh, how painful that was. The good news, by the grace of God, somehow I managed to pull off a B+, an A, and an A+. I earned six more college credits. When it came time to decide whether to take the proficiency exam to earn the teaching endorsement, I did not. I was happy to walk away with the six credits.
The German films we watched were awesome—like The Wave. It’s an allegory of WWII, set in the present day. The movie shows how a group of students are inculcated by a mesmerizing teacher. The students become a cult and madness erupts.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) which is set in France is a haunting, decadent and disgusting all wrapped up into a visual orgy. The film happened to compliment the 18th century philosopher, poet, and playwright of the month at the summer school, Friedrich Schiller.
Serious academics, here! I took the pressure off myself and focused on improving my speaking. I must say, after four weeks, don’t you know, I did improve. The only bad thing that happened to me was I insulted the head professor by accidentally calling him a drunk when I meant to say he was the life of the party. He was not amused. I avoided him for two weeks.
The way I could keep my sanity and escape from people, Schiller, and the Deutsch was to go for lengthy, daily walks by myself. The area was breathtaking. I enjoy visiting ski resorts in the summer. It’s empty, green, and the temperatures are perfect. Taos is 9,000 above sea level and it felt like the Alps, hence, why they hold the German immersion program there.
My stubbornness for avoiding technology backfired at the summer school. I did not have a lap top. No phone. It was a nightmare trying to borrow a lap top with internet capabilities. They had a computer lab, however, access was limited. It was dreadful trying to research, write and edit my work. My old dictionaries were not serving me well. I wanted to use the electronic translators my roommates used. My roommates grew tired of me making my long distance phone calls in the central living area of the condo.
After my summer adventure ended, after I visited my family in Phoenix and flew back to Boston and drove home to Virginia (the car held up, and I still drive the thing), I reflected over my crazy summer.
I went out and bought a cell phone.
So endet meine Geschichte! Tschüss.