Yankee Phone Home
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – So here's what I took on my summer vacation abroad:

--A Nokia international cellphone, with charger.

--A BlackBerry handheld communicator, with charging unit, though I was told it wouldn't work over there. I figured, hey, you never know.

--My Motorola V60i domestic cellphone, though I was told it wouldn't work over there, because I figured, hey, what the hell.

--An IBM T30 ThinkPad notebook computer, about a month old, with associated batteries, Internet cables, floppies, and associated electronic hardware, in its own light nylon case. I arranged with each hotel to provide Internet access.

--A large pack of transformer and converter plugs to handle the assortment of weird outlets that you find in Europe. While most of the Continent may now be unified in its currency, England and its pals each staunchly maintains its own silly little plugs and the electrical formats that make the plugs of other nations useless within national boundaries, sort of the way the Japanese design screwdrivers that fit only their proprietary national screws. England has big tongs, three of them, although sometimes two, that stab the wall the way Henry did Richard at Bosworth Field. Belgium has something double-prongy that fits into a raised plastic circle. In Amsterdam you need a special plug with three prongs for the outlet that provides access to the web.

My package of plugs and converters was for the most part useless, and I was forced to go to the front desk at each hotel and ask for help. In all cases they looked at me as if I were crazy and they had never seen an American plug before. They don't like us very much over there, you know.

I should add that in addition to being super-prepared for business communications, I also brought two digital cameras, each requiring its own batteries, chargers, and cables, as well as a digital wallet holding all my pictures of everywhere we went, essentially a hard drive that enabled me to reuse my digital film.

All this I put into the IBM nylon computer bag.

We had a nice trip. England swings like a pendulum do. Bruges is extremely picturesque, with nice, clean canals and ancient churches, and has excellent waffles, perhaps because it is in Belgium. Paris remains the best possible city that pretends to do business but fails most exquisitely, a town where the few people in ties and jackets are invariably headed off to have a drink and a smoke. We did Paris last. Before that we went to Amsterdam, an interesting city of bustling streets and mysterious backwaters, where the smell of fetid canals mingles with the pungent odor of international cuisine and coffee-drenched pot and the people who smoke it.

At that point I had been road-warrioring it pretty well. I'd gotten on the Internet in London and even in Bruges, and had been doing the same in Amsterdam. My international cellphone, once I figured out how to dial it, was doing just fine, and I was checking my home office and domestic cellphone voicemail with neurotic regularity. The global Microsoft Outlook website was connecting me with my corporate e-mail, even though, as promised, my BlackBerry did not work.

We got to Amsterdam's Central Train Station, and my family went to a stand to get a croissant and some coffee for $25 while I watched our bags. As they left, a small, rodentine fellow from a part of the world now in flames came over, presented me with a tiny piece of paper, and muttered some stuff that made no sense to me.

"Get out of my face," I said. Come on, I thought, I'm a New Yorker--you're not pulling some scam on me.

"Okay," he said, and left, with a friend I hadn't noticed before. They were walking quickly. I felt kind of smug, as if I had foiled something. When I turned around a moment later, all my luggage was there...except for my computer bag, which held my domestic cellphone, my computer (of course), my digital wallet, and most of my batteries and recharging units. I retained my international cellphone but couldn't recharge it.

The last four days of our trip I was out of touch. Oh, I got a charger for my Nokia, but I had no computer, and you feel kind of stupid passing up the wonders of Paris for the ballad of a sad Internet cafe. I felt as if I had been untimely ripped from my mother's womb for a while. Then I kind of went on autopilot in order to deal with the dread of being a digital nonperson. Then we came home.

Ah! I thought. I'm back on the electronic highway!

On landing, I found myself without my V60i, which had been stolen, of course, and when I took out my BlackBerry, I realized with horror that I had left it on for the past two weeks and it was dead.

So for the whole Labor Day weekend, I was completely and utterly out of it.

I drank quite a bit of beer during that time, and after a while found I was even more displaced and disconnected than I had been on vacation.

You know what? It was nice.

By day, Stanley Bing is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.