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One day in May of 2007, I decided to go on a big hike over some rocky bluffs along the ocean, and I ended up finding this message in a bottle:

My original goal was to get from one beach to another, but I wanted to see what the coastline was like between the two beaches. Here’s a map of my hike, and what I discovered:

Despite the tininess of this beach I’d stumbled upon, and the fact that it was surrounded by cacti and black holes (big holes that go straight down through the bluff, large enough to swallow a human),

AND the fact that it was largely covered with giant hungry thorn bushes, I decided to check it out because, well, it just seemed interesting.

For some reason, this particular little beach was covered in bottles, absolutely covered! It was like a carpet of bottles. Some people think bottles will break when you step on them, and maybe some do—but these didn’t. Almost at once, I found myself picking through these bottles.

Nestled among them, one green bottle caught my eye: it had something inside of it! I grabbed the bottle and held it up to the sky to see inside better, and I couldn’t believe what I saw.  After finding other messages in bottles, I was prepared for rolled up paper, disintegrated paper—anything.  But not this: a business card! Check it out:

Can you believe that?!

I guess it makes sense in a funny way.  It’s a very efficient way to send a message in a bottle: Name and contact info all right there, ready to go. All you have to do is drink the wine and pop the card in the bottle!

But, how old was it? Would the phone number still be valid? I wouldn’t know until I returned to the states.

When I did get home, I really had to psych myself up to call this number and ask for Mr. Kaplan. I paced my apartment, carrying the bottle around, practicing my greeting and explanation of why I was calling out of the blue.

It was almost like calling someone for a first date—I dialed, hung up before actually calling, recited my spiel again…I guess I was nervous. But I had never done this before! Still, there I was, about to call a total stranger, with strange news.

So I paced, recited, took deep breaths…and I called that phone number.

“Hello?” the voice said.

“Hi,” I said, “is this Mr. Kaplan?”

Actual Photo of Me on the Phone With Richard

“Yes,” is what I think he said, though I’d started hyperventilating a little bit, which made it hard to focus.

“Hi,” I said again, “you don’t know me, but my name is Clint Buffington, and I’ve found something of yours.”

Short pause.

“Let me guess,” he said, “is it a message in a bottle?”

Which almost made my head explode! How could he guess?!

“Yes! Yes!” I said, “How—how did you know?!”

From here, I don’t remember the specifics.  But I do remember him telling me that he had sent other business cards out, and had heard back once before. Later, I learned this earlier message had been found by a British man. Several business cards, however, remain at large.

It would be two years and one long train ride before I would hear Richard Kaplan’s energetic voice again.

Click here to read the second part of this story.