TR Phone Home

Aloha, SNM fans. Self-invited guest blogger “Toki-doki” here (aptly dubbed, if I may say so myself) to offer explanation, reflection, and atonement for the weird but thankfully brief disturbance I inflicted on the Whistler biketrip guys last week. Not sure which category this falls into, I think it’s mostly “rant” obliquely related to “culture” and “travel”, but more likely it’ll make the reader want to “SUAR”. If you had “roast”, as in celebrity roast, this would sit squarely in that category since Root gets raked pretty good over the coals (or rolled into the imu, if we’re going for regional flavor). And while it’s definitely not food review, I submit the accompanying pink drink photo (more about it later) to counterbalance all the beer-and-gear weighing down this site – nah, actually I don’t have a visual aid for this story, but I figured we owe a tribute to the WAG/SOs [wives and girlfriends/significant others] who steadfastly keep calm and carry on through whatevah, and who will hopefully find this parable entertaining as well.
Our Dad turned 84 this year. He gets around fine on his own and his mind remains sharp, so it’s not a major issue for him to stay home alone, but I was still glad to snag a reasonable airfare and manage a last-minute escape from work to go hang with him while Taro was away on a Whistler Mountain bike trek.
Dad’s weekday morning routine is to drive to Kapiolani Park for a walk, then sit under a tree and play a few shakuhachi tunes until time go home for lunch. Totally Zen pace and we hardly say anything the whole time, but I like going with him every day during the week or so that I visit. So we’re chillin’ there on Thursday, and we’ve actually stayed longer than the usual time because Dad suddenly decided to pick up sandwiches for an impromptu picnic, when my cellphone rings the generic tone and, for sure not recognizing the number, I hit “ignore”. No voicemail left either, I assume it was a random wrong number.
However, I get curious about the unfamiliar area code 604 of the missed call – is it a new NY-NJ code? Lolling on the goza mat, I look it up via the all-too-handy-dandy network signal buzzing strong over Kap Park. 604 is the area code for southwest British Columbia, i.e. Vancouver region. Wth?? Now I sit upright and reverse search the whole damn number 604-851-4700: wtF!! Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
I’m suddenly wobbly cold under the blue Hawaiian sky and sun, happy light jammed with zillions of satellite beams no doubt. I text Taro’s cellphone, no buzz back. Google map shows a town just north of the border, closer to Bellingham WA than Whistler but about equidistant to Vancouver. Hospital webpage doesn’t yield much info without a patient login. Regional hospital and cancer center… that convenience store sandwich is feeling churny. I’m at least reassured by Dad seeming oblivious to my overturned state, which allows me to find out exactly what’s up before saying anything. I tell him I have to return this call and go over to the next tree to do so.
My return dial of course goes only to a general number and switchboard operator. I ask if they might be able to tell what my missed call was about, but I already know the answer, “it could have been from any department within the hospital – patient services, mental health, billing – there’s no way of knowing unless they leave a message.” Now my wretched phone battery is near drained, so my mind paces over increasingly fantastical scenarios until I get home to plug in. Who calls from a hospital and doesn’t leave a message? Aw heck, I bet Root went to a clinic to get a poultice slapped on a sore ankle, needed his insurance # but decided not to worry me with a voicemail about it, not realizing on the other hand that a hospital call number would register on my phone. That dummy! Or was the situation serious enough that the caller didn’t want to leave a recorded message? Did they already try Dad’s landline and didn’t get an answer there either, because we’re here at the park later than usual? Maybe it was some ridiculous “courtesy call” after all, since they never leave messages, a sham hospice fundraiser with a bad phone list bought from Russian hackers? Right. The more I thought about it, the one thing that became entrenched in my head was the unlikelihood of an international wrong number. No, it’s not that possible to dial a wrong number out of the country.
Back home and on the recharged smartypants phone, I retrieve an old Rootmail message cc’d to his buddies. I didn’t even know who’s on this trip, so had to spam y’all (sorry!) Well, I don’t think my mindset was helped by the fact that, the only previous time I’d read Rootgroup email via phone – boxy old Blackberry with a Totoro ringtone – was when our Mom was taken to Queens. Plus the last time I met any of you in person was at her subsequent funeral. [Seriously, let’s hang sometime sooner and on a more upbeat occasion.] Yeah, I was beginning to picture Taro being heli-lifted off a mountainside in full traction, finally getting that ride in the ‘barf bucket’ which we all know, as much as he snickers gleefully at the woeful Crater rescuees, he has secretly wanted all along… Anyways, many thanks to Jason and Derek for their speedy, sanity-preserving replies that afternoon!
I realized objectively that the guys’ cellphones were out of range, and that even if they received texts and messages from this end, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to reply. But somehow that doesn’t block the urge to try anyway, and so you still hit “send” and persist in hoping for a reply. A sign of life. Voicemail is even eerier because you might get a few rings, then their friendly-face voice on the recorded greeting. Chris’ phone went straight to his greeting, Root’s rang about 3 times first. It made me think with a shudder of the desperate, haunted calls made to cellphones on MH370, the dialers clinging to those phantom rings for an answer. Any answer.
I also knew objectively that they did a challenging ride the day before, so the following day they usually take it easy. But reading about Wednesday’s ‘Khyber death march’ conjured up brilliantly spectacular images of our hero Taro Root’s untimely end, a boy and his bike rapidly disintegrating into skeletons splayed out on a sunbaked cliff face, sad little iPhone ringing away in a dark abyss below. Or for that matter, let’s send the whole damn team out in melodramatic glory, their rental Suburban lying belly up at the bottom of an inaccessible ravine, the pristine riverbed strewn with the exploded detritus of water bottles, inner tubes, broken camera gear, Ghibli stickers and Cliff bars. Ironically, first aid box landed intact in the shrubbery btw.
Well ok, intuitively I figured nothing quite so dreadful was going on, that it really was just a stupid wrong number, that while I stewed in angst my lil’ brother was tra-la-la skipping along on happy, happy trails and quaffing pretty good beer at every stop. Much like the time once, long lo-ong ago – back in the pre-cellphonic internetless age, when an Atari VCS console was cutting-edge – he was out way too late with high school orchestra friends and our parents were flipping out … he came home all fine and chipper at 4 am, not sure if he ever realized Dad almost made Mom call the police. Embarrassing. So thanks to that old family trauma, I did not go around calling BC casualty wards. Maybe an arm or leg cast was still a possibility, but not a wheelchair à la Christopher Reeve. I wasn’t going to get a call from Abbotsford ICU as to whether we should pull the plug or not. Nor were HPD officers going to show up at Dad’s door, to relay solemn news in person because we didn’t seem to answer our phones.
As you all know, it was in fact some fluke wrong dial after all. Chris and then Root himself email replied a couple of hours later, and I told Dad what-a-curious-incident-today-lol. Then I made the pink drink, guava nectar and shochu over ice. Really needed to be vodka but no such hard stock chez Dad. Perfect fresh raspberry touch, though – thumbing of nose at original old Blackberry that launched this ridiculous digital fiasco, the frenzy of too much information too quickly and yet not enough complete information in time to avert panic. Like the time I first found flight tracking apps, oh how cool, and looked up whether Theo (older son) was arriving on time in Morocco. AFflight x, at 25k ft, 20k, 15, then suddenly, “results UNKNOWN” in bolded red font. Gahh! Well, silly app couldn’t cover north African airspace and blanks out when aircraft leaves EU. Airline website showed arrival as scheduled.
Just goes to show you, no matter how much and fast the information, it’s only as good as human nature can make use of. When I finally met all the bike guys in person at HNL upon their return, they said they saw my messages coming in and were initially concerned that something was up with our Dad. Oh, oops! I only realized in retrospect that an incomplete picture was going out from my end as well. So sorry to cause false worries in the other direction. Dad is fine, will probably outlive us all, in a thousand years a patchy gray Yaris will still lurch its way to Kappark every weekday morning to deposit a Yoda-like figure under a blooming shower tree, where he draws long tones from a shakuhachi and does silent Sudoku in his mind until time go home for lunch.
The other thing Dave noted is that area code 604 is very close to 607 – my NY cellphone code – so that a dialing error would be very simple. Oh, duh! I was so stuck on being in Hawaii, in the 808 area code oh so far fa-ar away from NY, BC, Rockies, Morocco, Indian Ocean… Oh, duh! Of course someone mistakenly dialed 607 instead of 604, got my friendly but wrong recorded greeting, and hung up. Sigh. Furthermore, turns out there’s an ultimate coup de grace that connects all the dots and lays this whole manic episode to rest in an impeccably bow-tied omiyage for you —
Back in middle-of-nowhere, yawning upstate New York, clearing a week’s worth of messages from the office desktop, I got to wondering if there really is a working number that is mine with the BC area code instead. So who the hell is my telephone dopplegänger anyway, and did they finally receive merciful news about a loved one, or the umpteenth call to come pick up their batty aunt with her recalibrated dosage of lithium (make sure she drinks enough water daily), maybe they did have all insurance claim woes waved away by the magic wand of Canadian universal healthcare? I plugged in 604 with my cellphone number for a reverse search and got: Telus Communications… the BCTel conglomerate that boasts extensive 4G coverage across western Canada and beyond. Their office in Chilliwack, next town over from, yep, Abbotsford.

I shit you not. I mean, who could possibly make all this up, about some inattentive hospital clerk hitting the 7 below the 4 while touch-tone dialing the phone company? That’s just so outrageously implausible.

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