Brief disconnection leaves me feeling like a winner

Mike Christopherson
Mike Christopherson

Maybe some of my motivations were less than noble. Since I’ve decided to leave the Crookston Times at the end of this month, maybe I was letting a bit of “short-timer’s syndrome” worm its way into my brain.

The truth may never be fully realized when it comes to figuring out what altered my vacation packing plan for the first time in my memory, dating back to my more than two decades at this newspaper. But this still happened: I left my laptop computer behind. Not accidentally. On purpose.

Admittedly, it almost made the trip, as it always has before. It was in my travel bag, with its cord wrapped around it, snuggled into its familiar spot, surrounded by socks and shirts to cushion it should it get jostled around during transport.

“No, I’m not bringing it,” I said, as I unzipped the bag on our bed around 15 minutes before my wife and I hit the road with friends bound for Lake Vermilion, where we’d rented a house on an island for the next five days. Then I said it again out loud, using a slower cadence to, perhaps, hammer home to myself the enormity of what I was about to do…or not do, precisely. “I’m…not…bringing…it,” I said.

“Good,” my wife replied, adding something about her plans to rip my laptop out of my bag herself if I hadn’t come to my senses on my own, and even go so far as to physically challenge me had I not come to my senses and instead offered a protest when she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Did I bring my phone? Of course I brought my phone. Everyone brings their phone, everywhere. It's an almost literal body appendage. That battle has been long lost.

But having a job that often involves designing large newspaper pages and sifting through detailed stories and big photos, that’s more challenging work to conduct on a palm-sized phone screen. So for the better part of two decades, if I was on so-called “vacation” or at a weekend youth hockey tournament or wherever, whomever I was with could always count on seeing me plop down in a chair and crack open my laptop.

But no more. That laptop-less trip to Lake Vermilion was, for me, almost a Fonzie jumping-the-shark moment from “Happy Days.” 

Still, I felt I had to justify my decision to proactively unplug from that machine. So as we were heading east on Highway 2, I mentioned to my wife the fact that we were going to be spending several days on an actual island, and that Lake Vermilion isn’t that far from the actual Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where trying to accomplish anything that requires technology is going to be an uphill battle.

Since we became parents more than 20 years ago, my wife and I have discouraged the use of the phrase “shut up” in our home when someone wants someone else to be stop talking in abrupt fashion. So as I was making my case for leaving my laptop behind, she went to her tried-and-true alternative to shut up: “Zip it,” she said.

And lo and behold, for the next five days, I managed to disconnect, mostly. Our gracious island host actually helped my cause when she sheepishly announced upon our arrival via pontoon that the wi-fi on the island was acting up, and it might be three days before we had a signal. Using Verizon’s network, over the next couple of days I checked email via my phone now and then, but only a couple were urgent enough to elicit a prompt reply. If the government or Google or anyone other sneaky devils are using our phones to track our every move, they had to be convinced that I had suffered cardiac arrest and died instantly out in the middle of nowhere, because for many hours on end over those few days, my phone just sat there, unmoved and undisturbed, on the bedside table.

By the time Friday rolled around, I was in full disconnect mode and reveling in it, as were my wife and our friends. When our host showed up to announce that the wi-fi had been restored and she provided the password, no one was in a rush to enter it into their phones and log back into the world. To further illustrate our disconnected satisfaction, when we mentioned in conversation with her that we’d all met years ago through our sons’ youth hockey exploits and in that chat our affection for the game of hockey and the NHL playoffs were mentioned – the Islanders and Lightning were dropping the puck for game seven of their series that night – she noted the fact that the house we were renting had no television, and a few hours later she returned with a flat-screen TV, still in the box. She assured us that she hadn’t gone off and purchased it just for us, that she’d been meaning to get it hooked up for some time. But, wouldn’t you know it? As we disembarked from the island on Sunday, that Vizio TV was still sitting there, leaning on a wall by the fireplace, still in its box.

For a few days, the world went on, without me constantly keeping tabs. Work went on, without my constant input. The Lightning won, and I didn’t watch. 

I can’t help but feeling like I won something, too.