Last night, I was sitting by the fireplace at my friend's villa in Hokkaido, finishing off the remains of a bottle of very good wine, when my Blackberry pinged in that familiar way. It was J, back in the good graces of BBM, thank goodness, but off to another airport for another destination - but fortunately, one that's nearer civilization so we can at least be assured of a steady BBM signal even if we're still thousands of miles apart.
THE BBM BOUNTY HUNTER
For the past two weeks, he'd been in pretty far-flung places, chasing electronic signals like a bounty hunter looking for gold -- except in his case, the prize was any kind of signal that would allow communication, whether by BBM or text on his phones, or by WiFi or even via satellite to the Internet on his iPad. I wish I could say more because some of the instances in this treasure hunt were quite remarkable or truly funny -- a real testament to J's determination to stay connected with the world, as well as to the challenges and also to the great leaps forward of technology related to modern travel. You think the whole world is easily connected by the latest technology now, but there are apparently still some places that attract a pretty sophisticated clientele and communications are hard. At the same time, it's amazing just how much people can stay in touch with each other these days, even in some pretty remote places. But to write more about these specific instances would risk unmasking my global traveler friend, unfortunately, and then I wouldn't be able to write about him and our cyber experiences anymore.
THE THOUSAND DOLLAR QUESTION
The only reason I can write so much about J is because he's technically anonymous. Some people, of course, like to think they know who he is in this small town of ours. Many of my friends say they're being asked by their friends if they're J -- and this really makes me laugh. Especially the ones with names beginning with the letter J. J could just be a random letter, by the way, not at all connected to his name; and I have about a dozen friends who fall into this category and who travel frequently. Five of them with names starting with J are traveling abroad exactly as I type this out -- and the uncanny thing is that two of them are on the same airplane exactly now as well. They don't know each other -- I'm the common denominator here -- but I've just asked them to just introduce themselves on the plane as they are both my good friends. That's what I call a real Travelife world -- when I have two good friends of different nationalities on the same long-distance flight, within rows of each other, and both of their names begin with J.
Now back to J, my long-distance texter, and his anonymity. As long as neither J nor I say anything, it'll never be found out. I certainly don't plan on telling anyone. If people know who he is, this would all have to stop because someone's privacy would then be involved. Or rather, too involved.
ESSENTIALLY, AN AMAZING TRAVEL STORY
And I do like to write about our interactions, and our attempts and efforts to stay in touch and to stay connected, because it's really essentially an amazing travel story. First, it's a story about the lives of two people who really travel a lot while at the same time trying to maintain a semblance of a life and a job. I haven't met too many people who can go head-to-head with me on travel, but J certainly can. In fact, he's probably been to more places than me -- but then, I like to think that's because he's had a headstart in age (swipe).
THE WORLD IN OUR HANDS
The other day, we were just having fun trying to figure out a country we'd both never actually been to -- but it seems there's almost none. Between both of us, I think we've pretty much covered the world. "I haven't been to Ukraine, though," he said. But I'd been. I'd taken a Silversea cruise of the Black Sea some years back that took me from Istanbul to Yalta and Odessa in the Ukraine. I would love to see Kiev, Ukraine's capital, though. I then thought that mentioning an island or a specific travel experience instead of a whole country might do the trick. "I haven't been to Rhodes in Greece; and I really want to go because there's some history I want to see connected with the Austrian Empress Sisi. The Road to Mandalay of the Orient-Express is also on my bucket list," I messaged him. I could almost hear him sigh as he texted back: "Been there. Done that."
TWO FREQUENT, FREQUENT FLIERS
It's also a story about how two frequent, frequent fliers manage to bridge a thousand miles, a thousand challenges -- literally, a thousand challenges -- and a thousand technicalities to try and connect as human beings via a thousand texts. Yes, one thousand is my favorite number, and I'm guessing that this figure is just about right. I've also told him a thousand times by now how surreal it sometimes feels to have someone sharing your life so closely throughout the day by texts, who is at the same time not in your life at all. Since we started this text relationship, and as long as there's been a signal, he's been there when I wake up all the way to when I end my day. But at the same time, he's not been there at all.
LOOKING FOR HUMANITY
And this has gone on under all sorts of conditions, not a few of them related to travel. We've exchanged messages from golf tournaments and polo championships, from fancy balls, cocktail parties and formal dinners; while checking in at airports, waiting at lounges, driving down highways, and lazing in hot tubs; and on planes, trains and ships; at lunches, dinners and even at board meetings. We've managed to connect from the middle of some of the busiest cities in the world, to the middle of some of the most remote places in the world. It's truly a story of two frequent fliers looking for some humanity and empathy in an age of cold technology amidst endless, endless travel. In other words, a really nice story of a Travelife.
SNOWMEN OR ME?
Anyway, last night in snowy Hokkaido, which was early morning in his part of the world, he texted: "Are you having dinner, making snowmen, or skiing? Or would you prefer to BBM with me?" I'm sure he knew the answer already, but I guess he was just looking for an opening line that'd make me smile. Of course I wanted to make snowmen rather than to exchange messages with him -- what kind of a question was that? But I'd already had dinner and we'd suddenly run out of snow in Hokkaido, so my options had narrowed drastically.
So over 2.5 hours -- all through his ride to the airport, to check-in and security, duty free and the lounge -- we had a pretty interesting conversation that jumped from jokes to serious stuff and then back to jokes again. Finally it was time for me to go to sleep and for him to board the plane for another exotic destination. Iceland or Slovakia perhaps. I'm not allowed to say in case someone he knows is reading this blog with lots of curiosity and is able to finally connect the dots. "I need to get on the plane now. See you back in cyberspace when I land," he messaged.
And then, just like that, he was gone.