|13 june 1999|
After the Mojave Phone Booth website was named a Cool Site of the Week by Yahoo, Chuck and I got a lot of e-mail. Among the very kind comments and suggestions offered up by folks from all over the planet was a request from a Mr. Iain-Hector Ross of BBC Radio Scotland. "What a modern day epic tale!" he wrote. "I would love to feature your adventure..."
Adrenaline is a curious thing. It flows into the bloodstream before you can have any say in the matter. Whenever the phrase "interview you live" is picked up by my brain, the default adrenal gland setting is "gush." If the information includes references to global media entities and/or uses the word "transatlantic," I need a tissue because by then the raw adrenaline is squirting out my nose.
I called Chuck to see if he got the same e-mail, knowing that in matters of foreign policy it's always best to "trust but verify." He had indeed received the same communiqué. This was no hoax. We were wanted across the pond.
"Yeah, I guess we should probably do this." he said. Chuck is cool. He has an earring. He carries no tissues.
Iain's e-mail had come in on Tuesday. The show would be on Friday. Three days. Three days to figure out what to say. Three days to synopsize the adventure into a cogent yet entertaining radio romp. I think I started clearing my throat on Wednesday.
It's wasn't as if I'd never been on the radio before. Ive mentioned that I spent a lot of my childhood glued to the radio, dialing in to various contests and striking gold every once in a while by being the 6th or the 15th or the 23rd caller. I even went through that period every radio junkie has as a youth when he answers his phone at home by saying "KXXX plays all the hits!"
This was different. The BBC had come looking for me.
Many times I resisted the urge to call Chuck to have one of those ooh ahh conversations about how excited we were and what we were going to say. Too girly. And we are not girly. Far from it. Except for, you know, Chucks earring. No, the two of us knew, without having to talk about it, that wed be as adventurous as always, looking the approaching clock-on-the-wall squarely in the face until airtime when wed open our golden throats and wow them with our saga.
Iain-Hector Ross had e-mailed his phone number to us and said hed be giving us each a call on Wednesday. I e-mailed him back saying Id be probably be out at the time he called but we could probably connect the following day.
But then I, whimsy-boy, said what the hell. I called Scotland.
This goes against my early training. When I was a kid, the phone was a magical device. Long distance calls still required shouting from time to time due to the Van Allen belt or sunspots or friction. My parents operated under the belief that a phone was a money-sucking machine, that the vigilant user must speak quickly, get the facts out and hang up. Long distance calls in particular were simply audible telegrams. We left our conversations for barbecues.
The first thing you notice when you call over there is that the phones ring funny, just like in the old British movies two quick rings instead of one. Two rings became four, then six, eight, ten, and finally I got his voicemail. Iain-Hector Ross was out. I left a short message in my best pear-shaped tones and hung up. I sat for about a minute in the bonny bonny afterglow of transatlantic telephony, and reveled in the adult freedom to call any place on the goddamn planet I pleased. I must remember to telegram the folks about this.
Since the live interview was going to be at 3:15am my time, I figured Id stay up the night before as a sort of practice run to see how coherent I could be at that hour. I didnt foresee a problem since my usual bedtime is only an hour or two before that. 3:15am came, I was as chipper as a a chipper thing, and hey, I could even take a nap the next day if I needed to.
And thats just what I did after getting Amy off to school. Having gotten only three hours of sleep, it was no problem to drift off ten seconds after hitting the pillow. Twenty minutes later, Scotland called.
The 20-minute chat with Mr. Iain-Hector Ross was invigorating not because we are witty conversationalists, but because I was having an out-of-body experience. The observer in me was watching myself have this conversation with a guy in Scotland whos going to be interviewing me live on the BBC because I went out to a phone booth out in the back of beyond and I am somehow Cutting Edge Man, Keeper of the Vision. In the background I can hear him typing my every word into his computer. Global Connectedness. No telegram this.
After we hung up, I was no longer sleepy. The adrenal glands were pumping again. I couldnt keep my tongue from playing with a Scottish accent. My name is Bond. James Bond.
Knowing there would be no nap, I spent the day conserving energy and talking to myself in soundbites. I scribbled notes, pieces of things I wanted to make sure I said on the air. I talked with Chuck on the phone just to make sure we got our stories straight, and then waited for the clock to wind down.
Coffee is a wonderful thing. But it does not make time go faster.
At 2:40am the phone rang. A woman with a lovely lilting Scottish voice was on the other end making sure things were all set with me. I think she wanted to make sure the lazy American bloke was awake.
"Okay Steve, well be ringing you up again in a few minutes. You can put the phone down now."
"Okay." I said. "Talk to you soon."
Twenty minutes later she calls back.
"Oookay, well be patching you through now. Were about two minutes from airtime."
"Alrighty." I said, American. "Will I be able to hear Chuck?"
"Yes. Youll be able to hear him."
Still no sound of the radio show coming through. My adrenal glands were churning at 110% now, my peripheral vision gone as my mind hunted for sounds coming out of the receiver. And then boom, a radio show blossomed into my ear, theme music in then fading down, cue the announcer.
"Hello, and welcome to..."
It went by very quickly. The top of the show was devoted to some local historians whod uncovered the lost village of Dengan or some such thing (apparently it was hidden behind some trees for centuries) and they all spoke very quickly just ladling out fact after fact in a brogue as thick as shepherds pie. Man, do they talk fast there. Man, do they inform. Man, am I gonna be a gaseous bag of Yankee fluff.
The local men wound down their presentation aimed at re-instilling the Scots with pride in their homeland, and then on came Iain-Hector Ross with this weeks feature on the wild and wacky world of the web.
"And whatve you got for us today, Iain?"
"Well, weve got a couple of fellows whove been out on an adventure. It seems theres this phone booth " the guy is explaining at the speed of light. He intros our story, getting some of it wrong, and winds up his preamble with " and wouldnt you know it, theyre Americans." Or something like that.
Chuck and I werent exactly a freak show, but neither was the show aimed at digging toward the essence of the desert adventure. It stayed in the only place it really could stay in an eight-minute feature -the main points of who what when and where with very little of the why.
Which is just fine. There are many roads to the booth. You take the high road, and Ill take the low road
There really is no explaining this.
In the last few days there's been movement on the phone booth front. The phone company has seen fit not to demolish it and has instead restored service. It rings again. With all this attention it's no surprise that other citizens have risen up worldwide to inspire yet another trip to the booth. As of this writing it looks like July 1st is the date of the next mission.
Curiouser and curiouser.
"In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning" -- Carly Simon -- SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK
"When you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal."
- Kovac's Conundrum (Murphy's Law: Book Two 1980)