I travel a lot these days. To the home office in Vineland, NJ. To wedding shoots from the metropolitan areas of Maryland to the shores of Delaware. As I move around these three states, I carry Keith’s voice with me. From early on in our relationship, he’d track my progress as I traveled around. He’d monitor traffic and weather on the computer and call with notifications. He’d have me describe the landmarks, which mile marker I was passing, point out where to look for cops, and always asked me to call him when I arrived. If I was traveling late at night, he’d ask me to text him. “I’ll be asleep when I get it but at least I know you’re safe” he’d always say.
When I started working at Earthtec Solutions, I was given an IPhone. Anyone familiar with this little gadget, knows about the “Find My IPhone” feature. I shared with Keith how to bring it up on the computer, and one evening we tested it’s accuracy as I drove up Route 13. He called and then tell me where the computer pin pointed my path and I’d let him know how close it was. It was pretty darn close. We did this from where I turned off of Route 1 all the way up to the New Castle airport. My techie man was beside himself as he watched my little green dot moving along the road. Before we hung up, he reminded me to send him a text upon my arrival.
Several years ago, he and his friend Billy Scaletta had a business installing satelite systems as Tech Pros. They’d make their way up to New Jersey and New York, and go to work over the evening hours installing the systems at local grocery stores. He’d call me as I was going to bed to tell me they had gotten there then call me as I woke up to let me know they were going to bed and the job was done. It was a little over a year ago that Keith started working for Earthtec Solutions as well and traveled quite a bit himself. We tried to do the same tracking game with his droid but it didn’t work as seamlessly as the IPhone, so he’d take pictures of his drive as he went along. Of course, he’d call me as he traveled and when he got to his destination, even if it was late. He knew I’d be up any way, being the night owl that I was.
I always had a different philosophy on texting upon arrival. I was from the school of “no news is good news” and this would baffle him to no end. My son, Zach, would go out for the night and Keith would constantly ask me if I’d heard from him. “No, I haven’t, which means there’s nothing bad happening.” I’d say. Poor Keith struggled with the concept and over the years, managed to convert me to his way of thinking. I believe that Zach has converted to it as well. These days, I ask for the text and Zach sends it.
Even if I hadn’t been converted, sometime in the spring of 2011, there was a crystal clear moment that would have. Shortly after starting the new job and at the point that we both realized that something was very wrong with Keith’s health, he planned on heading to Vineland for work around 5:30 AM. He was in the bathroom at some crazy hour of the night when I heard the thud. When I got in there, he was passed out on the floor. I was convinced that he had hit his head on the vanity and panicked when I saw him there, not moving. But then he spoke to me as if this was nothing unusual. The stoic in him told me not to worry, he had just gotten light headed and was resting on the floor. I panicked even more at the calmness in his voice combined with the fact that he still wasn’t moving at all. I sat with him for a while until he felt able to get up. I didn’t sleep much after that. 5:00 AM rolled around and he crawled out of bed, determine to drive up. Keith said he didn’t want to let anyone down. They were counting on him. I told him to call me as soon as he got up there. Those were the longest 2 1/2 hours. It was my Dad who called and both he and my coworker, Frank, were alarmed by Keith’s appearance. Despite all of this, Keith still went out and did the install. All of us were wanting a text upon arrival that day.
In November, I drove back from the cruise and with each state line I crossed, I called Keith. He managed to make it to South Carolina with me. After that, Agent Jay would answer his phone. As I drove down route 50 on my final leg, I almost called as I went past the cell phone tower that marked the turn-off to Billy’s house. Whenever Keith gave directions, he’d reference cell towers as landmarks. All those years in the paging industry created that phenomenon and we’d all tease him about using them as a point of reference.
In the 15 hour drive from Cousin Patti’s in Merritt Island to our home in Easton, I was pulled to him along the ribbon of I95. I wanted to touch him, hold him, see him again. I missed the days of him in front of his computer, monitoring travel conditions, watching my green dot move across the digital landscape. I missed the calls I would get as he would see how close the dot was to my actual location. Most of all, I missed hearing his voice as he chatted away the miles – always calling during a great song playing on the radio, irritating me and exciting me at the same time.
In the days and months that followed in his absence, I found myself untethered from the safety of my text upon arrival. My parents stepped up for a while. I eventually found a surrogate textee in the most unlikely person – my mortgage loan officer, Gary. He invited me out for a motorcycle ride with his friend, Bill, on an unusually warm day in March. After dropping me off at my car, he asked me to text him when I got home. “I won’t see it till the morning because I’ll be asleep, but at least I’ll know you got home safe” he said. It was as if I was hearing Keith all over again. Since then, he asks for a text upon arrival whenever he knows I’m traveling. I often imagine the text reaching out to Keith as it zips along its cell phone path.
Monday evening I made my weekly commute up to Vineland. I had just gotten on Route 1 in Delaware when Brandon called. He shared his day with me and filled me in on all he did in Ocean City and now he was on his way home. We hung up and then he thought of something else he wanted to talk to me about, so he called back. We chatted some more and then he said “text me when you get in so I know your safe”. I told him I would and as I hung up the phone, I merged onto Route 13. The same Route 13 where Keith first watched my little green dot. It was another moment of feeling him with me, a part of me, one with me. Today I drove back to Easton. I could almost see the dot on Route 13, see Keith pointing to the cell tower that marked the turn-off to Billy’s house, hear his traffic and weather reports. Tonight, I am sending my text upon arrival to all of you – I’m home, safe and sound – and somewhere out there, Keith is watching my little green dot.