In the Harry Potter books, the ramshackle, tottering Weasley home has a magical grandfather clock whose hands show where each of the numerous Weasley children are located at that moment, whether "Home" or "In Transit" or School" or "Mortal Peril" or "Quiddich" or whatever.
I actually have something better than that magic on my iPhone, an app called "Find My Friends" that my older son encouraged me to install because ... well, I'm not exactly sure why. He must have had his reasons, and I'm hoping they're benign: kind of an electronic dad 'n' lad pinkie swear kind of thing, bonding us via iPhone.
The way the system works is that he can always see where I am, and I can always see where he is. I suppose it's intended for the energetic young, so they can see what cool places all the gang is hanging out, and Archie can race there to spend time with Betty and Veronica and whomever. "Oh look! Jughead's at Pop's Choc'lit Shoppe!" Into the jalopy and away he goes.
Still, I hesitated before signing up, wondering what covert purpose he could be putting it to. This wasn't like him. I sense a trap. But then I realized, with a sigh, that I'm never anywhere I shouldn't be, not anymore, and that may be the kid just wanted to attach this odd electronic tether to the home base before he set out into the vastness of the world.
Now that he has been bumming around Southeast Asia for the past ... gee ... five weeks, I do find myself occasionally checking in, hovering above him like some minor Greek deity, unable to either communicate or affect anything, only observe. Though doing so is of extremely limited utility.
For instance, I see he is presently in Chiang Mai, which I already knew. A city in northern Thailand. I can see his little orange head-shaped cursor.... see that it is on Soi Chang Phuak 2—a street, apparently. For a shocked moment I thought his cursor was at Chang Phueak Hospital, but as I zoomed in his icon parallaxed away and I realized he was across the street at someplace unspecified. Maybe a street food cart; Google hasn't nailed down every one of those yet, though I suppose that's coming. This kind of mistake has happened before, with a police station, though were I to actually see him in peril, or a location where he shouldn't be, I'm not sure what I'd do about it from 8,000 miles away. Shout at the phone.
Deriving utterly nothing from his location, I began flitting like a bird around the city, and the rather intriguingly named places in it, such as The Opium Serviced Apartment and Hotel—what must that be like?
There was a Bedtiny Hostel and a Chill Bed Hostel—neither sounds appealing—and Tuck Me In, which does, though it could have used a second "n," "Tuck Me Inn," but that maybe be too much wordplay to expect from non-English speakers.
Some spots radiated security—Bedtime Hostel, A Good Place, The Big Happy House. Some establishments are very familiar—7-Eleven, Chevrolet, Amway, Holiday Inn, and of course a McDonald's. Plus, less expected, a Bavarian Garden and a Fajitas Tex Mex.
Just as Japan surprised me by being speckled with outlets of the old Lawson's convenience store chain, which died out in Ohio decades ago, so Thailand still has Esso gas stations, a name Standard Oil changed to "Exxon" in the United States in 1973.
Many coffee shops, with names like One More Dose Coffee Shop and the Ice Love You Cafe, the Meo Cafe and Kaffe Man and Mad Coffee and Gozilla Was Here. Some seem to have mixed usage, apparently, such as Coffee or Me. There was a restaurant called Blah Blah Food and a Honey Dee Bee Farm.
I suppose at this point I should say something about the shrinking of the world, but in all honesty, I don't feel it. When I went to Thailand, 30 years ago, before any of this Internet business, I distinctly remember spending about three hours in a cab, desperately trying to find the apartment I was supposed to be staying at that night, which was actually tucked into a secluded alley almost impossible to get to. We could have used Google Map. That said, I'm looking forward to when I can find where he is by wandering through the house.