Upon landing in Atlanta with my two boys, I gathered our two suitcases, shlepped our carry-ons, and waited curbside for our ride to come. The three of us were in Atlanta (my husband was to have five days to himself) to stay with my best friend, her 3-year-old, and her 2-month-old. In addition, I was slated to appear there at the Bellies to Babies event to benefit Midwifery International alongside the natural birth/homebirth guru and mother of modern midwifery, Ina May Gaskin.
Anyway. We were waiting curbside and an old African-American man in a wheelchair is wheeled out by one of the airport escort types who wheel people outside to curbs. This man had been on our flight from Los Angeles, and I remembered seeing him at LAX and noticing how frail and sweet he looked. And I felt sad that he was all alone, because I am just the type of person who feels sad when they see frail old people in wheelchairs alone.
I smiled at the man as he was wheeled out, and I overheard him telling the airport escort that his cell phone had no charge and he needed help. He was clutching an old-style clamshell cell phone in his old frail hand and he looked quite upset. He looked scared. The airport escort shrugged and said, “You need to find a charger,” and left him there. On the sidewalk. Alone. In his wheelchair.
I looked around and there were a lot of people nearby, but no one seemed at all alarmed at what just happened. I held onto my boys and we walked over to–let’s call him Mr. Robinson. I asked what was wrong and he explained that he thought his phone was charged, but it wasn’t. And he said the only place he had his son’s phone number to tell him to come and get him was to look in his phone’s address book. I asked if his son knew he was coming, and he said he mentioned it to his son, but didn’t give him any exact information. He had no charger for his phone, and when I tried to turn it on, it only flashed “Battery Low, Shutting Off.” Mr. Robinson was in a pickle indeed.
Since our ride was not yet there, I turned on my phone. I asked him his son’s name. I Googled his son. Unless his son was a former NFL football player or a therapist, there was no one by his son’s name I could find. He suggested his son might have a website with his full name and a “.com” at the end. I wanted to cry at his sweet, sad, hopeful guess, but there was no such website with his son’s name.
I have an HTC and there was no way I thought my charger would work for his little clamshell Samsung. I started looking around for anyone curbside with a Samsung phone. iPhones iPhones everywhere these days. Sheesh. No luck.
A woman walked by on a clamshell phone and I got excited. “Is that a Samsung, ma’am?!” I asked. She glared at me, muttered no, and kept on walking. Other bystanders saw me trying to help this man. No one offered to help me help him.
At this point, my ride texted that she was sorry she was late, but that she got caught up giving breastfeeding advice to someone but would be there soon. Now I wanted her not to come. I had to help Mr. Robinson. My sons sat in the Atlanta heat on our suitcases and watched this whole thing unfold. They are generally pretty high-maintenance. But they sat and sweated and watched me and Mr. Robinson.
In a last ditch effort to try and help him, I shooed my older son off of my suitcase and pulled out my charger. Mr. Robinson and I almost hugged when my charger fit into his phone. So now what? I’ve got two suitcases, two small children, and no outlet. I told Mr. Robinson I was taking his phone and that I was going to find his son’s number and write it down and that I would be right back. Did he trust me? Did he think he might never see me or his phone again? I don’t know. I grabbed the boys, grabbed the suitcases, and found a power outlet just inside the airport doors. I kneeled down quickly and plugged it in and Shazam! The phone lit up like a Christmas tree.
I used to have a Samsung just like his and it took me a second but I remembered how the menu worked. I found “Contacts” and he only had about 10 names in there, but none were his son’s.
I panicked. What if this man is senile? What if there is no son waiting for him? What if he has dementia? What if all of this has been for nothing and I will instead have to call Social Services to help find where he belongs? And what if my ride comes? Can I just tell her to wait!?
I ran back to Mr. Robinson with my boys, leaving the suitcases inside the airport doors, and hoping my husband’s voice in my head telling me that that’s reckless would not get louder than my own voice urging me on. I got down to Mr. Robinson’s level and told him his son’s name is not there; is there any other name it might be under?
He looked confused for a second. My heart sank. Then his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree and he said: “Pookie.”
I laughed. Indeed, there was a “Pookie” in his contacts. I ran back inside with the boys, relieved to find both suitcases still there, and I wrote down Pookie’s phone number nice and big to give to Mr. Robinson. I wanted Mr. Robinson’s phone to get some more charge in case after I left him, he still needed to call Pookie, so I grabbed the boys and left both the suitcases and the phone charging in the outlet (husband’s voice be darned!).
I dialed Pookie from my cell phone and he sounded rather nonchalant, but grateful I had called. I told him which door of the airport we were at, and he told me he was nearby. I told him his father was in a wheelchair wearing a striped sweater and that he was ok. He said, “Tell him to take that damn sweater off, it’s HOT in Atlanta.” I laughed and hung up. I told Mr. Robinson what his son said, and he laughed too and said the thing he hates most is being cold and that he was just fine.
My ride texted again that she was at the wrong terminal but was on her way. I ran back inside, unplugged Mr. Robinson’s phone (which now had at least a little charge), packed up my suitcases and gave him back his phone. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Thank you so much for helping me.” I told him my ride being late was the best that happened to us.
Our ride came and we got the boys strapped into car seats. I waved to Mr. Robinson and I watched him sitting there in his chair and his striped sweater just gazing around, just waiting. I called his son one last time as we drove away and he said he was almost there.
Take Me Home
I got nominated for an Emmy the next morning. The rest of my “relaxing” trip in Atlanta was a madhouse of making statements for the press, being interviewed by the press, and answering a phone that literally would not stop ringing.
8:40 p.m. or so Friday night, I shut that phone off with great joy, looking forward to 25 hours of one of the greatest gifts Judaism has to offer: 25 hours of a rest from the objects and the tools we can so easily turn into gods. Until 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, I was not a slave to my phone or the internet or the desires of others.
When I went to turn my phone on after Shabbat, it would not start. It had completely and totally died. The system recovery failed. There was no hope for a factory reset. It was kaput.
My phone had a big few days with all of the Emmy excitement, phone calls, texts, and voicemails (including one from a very emotional Papa Bialik). But I think my phone called it quits because it had done a great act of charity and love and that’s what it wanted to be remembered for.
My phone handled so much last week, but what I will remember about its life in the days before it died will not be how it fielded the call that told me I was nominated for an Emmy, but rather that my phone called a man named Pookie and helped him find his father, sitting in a wheelchair, in a striped sweater. Waiting, waiting, for someone to take him home.