No Cellphone: Two Days in Central Ohio Without One Takes Us Way Back in Time

Front: Dave, ian, Joanna, Dan, Back: Andy, Steph, Laura, James, Bonnie, Chris

Last week my wife and I left the summer craziness of the Hamptons for four days to attend a family reunion in Ohio. People came from all over for this. We flew to Pittsburgh and spent the night with family in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

On Friday morning, I found myself in a car with my wife’s brother Kim at the wheel heading two hours west from New Castle toward Millersburg, Ohio. Much of the reunion would take place there. Also in the car, in the back seat, was my wife’s nephew, Nathan. It would be a two and a half hour drive.

In the back shortly after we started out, I heard Nathan unwrapping something.

“Food?” I asked from the passenger’s seat.

“No. GPS,” he said.

“Unnecessary,” I said. “I’ve got a GPS on my iPhone. I can show the whole state of Ohio or right down to three blocks to where we’re going.”

Nathan put the GPS away.

“I also borrowed a CD from the library for the trip. A radio mystery,” Nathan said.

“Sounds good,” Kim said. “Hand it up.”

“Where are we going, exactly?” I asked.

“Not exactly sure,” Kim said. “We’ll phone over to the girls when we get close.”

“The Girls” were my wife and her two sisters, who’d left New Castle in another car a few hours before we did. It was they who had put together all the arrangements.

The scenery rolled by. The flatlands of eastern Ohio and its abandoned factories turned into green rolling hills of forestland and farmland. Occasionally, we’d slow down behind some Amish people in a buggy pulled by a single horse trotting them along. You could tell which farms were Amish by these buggies near the farmhouses. Other farmhouses had pickup trucks.

We put in the CD and listened for the first hour to a murder mystery set in a small English town near a military base. There seemed to be ghosts involved. But that was not possible. Was it?

Also along much of the way, I messed with my iPhone as I usually do. I read my email—it was a workday after all—sent out texts, read The New York Times online, followed along with the tennis matches at Wimbledon, wrote notes to myself, punched up the temperature where we were along the way, (it was in the 90s,) and occasionally checked in with the iPhone road map. I could watch our little blue dot move along the solid line I had hooked up between New Castle and Millersburg. I also watched a three-minute YouTube that had gone viral. It was about a dog.

It was after the mystery murder ended that it happened.

We were talking about the movie Chicago but none of us could remember who played the girl who was not Roxie. I volunteered to look it up. I pressed a few buttons. Nothing happened. I messed around. Then I saw it up in the upper left hand corner. NO SIGNAL it said.

“I lost my signal,” I said. “Nathan, you have a signal?”


Now Kim reported that he’d stopped getting business calls from his office. Kim owns a trucking business in Besemer, Pennsylvania.

We rolled further along, the question about the girl who was not Roxy unanswered. We were, I thought, still a good three quarters of an hour from Millersburg. And the signal was not coming back.

We rolled along a little more.

“How we gonna find out where we’re going?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Kim said. “We’ll figure it out.”

“Is there cellphone service in Millersburg?” I asked.

“No. Now that I think of it, Andy once told me that.”

Andy was a relative who lived near Millersburg. “But to tell you the truth, though I’ve been there many times, I don’t know exactly how to get there.”

“Then we should pull over and find a payphone.”

Kim shrugged, unconcerned, but still pulled into a gas station anyway. It had a minimart. An Amish man in overalls, a beard and straw hat was out front talking to another fellow dressed much the same. They were joking about something. I went inside. They had no payphone. No telephone book. They wouldn’t let me borrow their phone to call information. But they did offer to sell me a roadmap. I returned to the car with it.

And so began an entire two days without the use of cellphones. It was like going back in time. It was strange.

After thinking further about it, Kim did remember that he and Nathan would be spending the night at a Comfort Inn. I remembered that my wife and I would be staying at an Inn with the word bunny in it. We guessed there’d be just one Comfort Inn in Millersburg and so we drove around asking people where it was. It was less embarrassing than asking about an Inn with a bunny in it. Eventually we found the Comfort Inn. From there, we learned Bunny was probably Honey, as in the Inn at Honey Run. So we called the Honey Run from the Comfort Inn. Yes, my wife and one of her sisters had checked in. But they had gone back out. Didn’t say when they’d be back. Want to come on over? The tea service was out.

I was now warming up to the idea of spending the two days back in an earlier century. We talked to one another. For entertainment, we sat and read, either books that were in the Inn or the local daily newspaper, which was the Millersburg Daily Record. We watched cows bask in a pond to get out of the heat. We ate at an Amish All-You-Can eat restaurant for one meal. We waited for one another to show up for things. Once I waited by the side of the road awhile to be picked up by someone.

At Kim’s nephew’s house we played baseball on the front lawn with their two boys James and Ian, ages eight and five. We went to pet their pony in the backyard pasture and at dinnertime, found he had come back to the barn to be fed, so we fed him.

Every once in a while, something would come up and I’d put my hand in my pocket to get the answer. We’d had Klondike ice cream bars at one event for dessert. I know we have Eskimo Bars in New York and I remember Klondike from my youth, but I wondered if they were still for sale back home. For your information, Klondike is better than Eskimo. The chocolate is thicker.

I reached my hand into my pocket, touched my cellphone and then took it back out. “I guess we’ll have to wait til we get home to find out,” I said.

But I didn’t have to wait that long. Leaving Millersburg two days later, the phone’s signal came back. There were 23 emails and nine texts waiting for me needing to be answered. And I was able to find out if I could get a Klondike in New York.

Want to know too? Just Google it.


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