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 that this was before everyone carried cell phones and our pants legs would vibrate with every news update.

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 20s.

“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 they 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.

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207; leonard.woolsey@galvnews.com

(4) comments

Michael Byrd

So do I. Well written.

George Croix

I have in a safe deposit box a short letter from my daughter written about 15 years ago. It's the only actual hand written on a piece of paper in an envelope with a stamp on it letter I ever got from her. I consider it priceless....
In the attic are two vintage 1982 Motorola bag cell phones...bought as Alicia approached....each about half the size of a cigar box and about 5 pounds each. Also up there is an actual old rotary dial telephone, right next to an iPhone 6 that didn't survive the swimming pool.
As a kid if I wanted to eat I picked vegetables out of a garden that had been hand plowed, and went out and either 'axed' a chicken to dinner or went in the woods and shot dinner. If thirsty, a hand drawn drink of water from a bucket in a well, and if hot food wanted,othen chop stove wood. The 'refrigerator' was re-charged every 2 days when the Ice Man came by and a large block was put in top of it.
You are not alone out there, Leonard........[beam][beam]

Wayne Holt

It is impossible to recreate in the minds of the younger ones the atmosphere of the America of only 50 years or so ago. I can remember quite clearly the energy the entire country felt with JFK's youthful changing of the guard; with NASA's first steps into space; with Saturday Night Live humor that was universally funny, not just warmed over political memes.

There is not enough money on Planet Earth to bribe me to give up my memories of those days. I don't know which is the more tragic: never to have known that time or to have lived through it and seen it lost to the present generations.

David Schuler

I've recently rediscovered the joy and relaxation of vinyl albums first heard, in my case, about 50 years ago. Not the ones from my actual past, although some of those remain playable. There is something quite mesmerizing about vinyl - watching the disk's stately rotation, listening to just the right number of songs, played in the order originally intended by the artist, and knowing that the physical vibrations stamped in the grooves (yes, there are two) represent the actual sounds created by the actual artist, mostly unmodified. Unlike other historical activities, however, vinyl albums are making a comeback, and i often see teenagers and other young whipper-snappers in the used album store i frequent, searching for this or that artist or album. Perhaps there is hope after all.

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