Anthony nodded to the captain and flight attendants as he stepped onto the aircraft that would be taking him from the west coast to the other side of the country in less than half an hour. After he got to his seat and settled in, he checked his phone and saw that there was an issue at work. He didn’t have much time before they departed, so he shot off an email and it was handled.
As the plane raced down the runway and lifted off, he thought about how he was going to spend the next five hours. Anthony looked to his right and noticed an older gentleman across from him. The man pulled out a tattered paperback from his carry-on and it reminded him that he had brought a book as well. Just in case I get bored, he had thought when packing a week before.
Anthony smiled. He didn’t get bored much anymore. Most people didn’t, thanks to technology.
In a way, he was looking forward to making a good dent in his 800+ page copy of 11/22/63, King’s latest and greatest. A novel Anthony had tried to start several times before without much luck.
But before he could get past the introduction, the captain came on the PA. Said they’d soon approach cruising altitude and had good news to share — there was free WiFi for the flight.
The people surrounding Anthony cheered. Young and old, they each found their devices and fell into the rabbit-hole of social media and the Internet. Some business types — executives, he decided — put their magazines away and opened their laptops to catch up on work.
Anthony closed his novel and looked at the front cover. Then he reached for his work phone. He pulled down the tray attached to the seat in front of him and set each of them down and thought.
Do I read the novel I’ve been looking forward to, but never seem to ever have time for? Or do I look at my work email again? Before Anthony could choose, the decision was made for him.
Passengers sitting around him started tapping their screens frantically with furrowed brows. The execs with their laptops lifted their hands in annoyance. Then the captain came back on.
“Sorry folks, Internet seems to be down. We’ll get it back up as soon as we can,” he said.
But they never did. Anthony turned and looked all around. His eyes searched the cabin, finding anger and frustration on the faces of the passengers that his eyes fell upon. All but one.
The older gentleman, carelessly turning page after page, lost in the story world of a book that Anthony decided the man must have read several times, based on the condition of the paperback.
Anthony thought about the passengers upset by being forced off-the-grid who had given up control of their happiness. What had been a miracle minutes earlier had already become an expectation.
The gentleman across the aisle looked up from his novel and laughed to himself, as if he had heard a familiar but still funny joke that he had looked forward to. Then he turned to Anthony, saw his novel resting on the tray, and smiled before returning to the tattered paperback and climbing inside the rabbit-hole, one far different than the one the rest of the passengers had hoped to enter.
Anthony looked at the tray in front of him. He picked up his novel, then reached for his cell phone. He turned it off and slid it back into his jacket pocket. See you in Florida, he thought.
He read the first few pages of 11/22/63 and within minutes, found the entrance to his own rabbit-hole. Waiting just inside was the story’s hero, Jake Epping, who was about to time-travel back to 1963 to try and stop the JFK assassination and fight an obdurate past that didn’t want to be changed. Jake wanted Anthony to join him. Before Anthony stepped inside, he took one last look at the people sitting all around him. Bored. Upset. Wishing they were there already, wherever there was. Anthony thought they should know about what he discovered. That they could escape like him. And like the older gentleman with the paperback. They’re not ready yet, he thought. But I am.
With that, Anthony turned the page, stepped inside, and entered a Kennedy-era America.