To the Blue Ridge

Giving Thanks: Tethered to land lines and dial up

CliffMillsFall_0937Leaves are gently falling from one of the most colorful autumns in recent memory. Wood ducks and mallards buzz our ponds, and migrating Canada geese honk at their resident friends as they head south. Animals and people alike have been enjoying Indian summer and an abundant harvest from plentiful rainfall. The mast, or acorn crop, was especially plentiful, ensuring nourishment for wildlife as growth dies back in preparation for winter. The horses are growing fuzzy winter coats, and as retirees, no longer need clipping and blanketing. They bear little resemblance to their early years as sleek Thoroughbred race horses.

There’s a lot to be thankful for when you live on a farm in the shadows of the Blue Ridge. But, cell and internet access are not among them. Cell phone signals are sketchy at best and few areas have access to truly high speed internet service. Within 50 or 60 miles of Washington D.C., large areas remain with little or no cell service, and only limited satellite internet access, which is only high speed compared to dial up, and costs nearly as much as health insurance. Most banana republics have better access to reliable cellular service and internet access. And you definitely need the GNP of a larger one to pay for your lousy access.

Lack of cell service—and we are talking none, as in you can’t even retrieve messages–becomes a problem when your land line goes down, as telephone service providers increasingly devote more resources to their lucrative wireless customer base. Have a non-working land line? You’re pretty low on their priority list. If and when you can get through, you’ll wait 8 – 10 days for a technician to visit your area. Even getting through to schedule a repair is monumental, because they want you to contact them by phone or via their website.

Recently our land line was down for the second time in a month. I drove down the road to a high spot and called on my cell phone, but the signal wasn’t good enough for their computers to accept me punching in the 10-digit land line number. So I drove to another spot with more bars and had better luck, until I got to the part where I had to enter my account number. That was at home, on my kitchen counter. Starting over again with information in hand, I got to the part where they assign you a PIN number. But, you have to wait for this to be delivered by a robo-call “within 24 hours”. Ummm….just how are they going to call me when my phone isn’t working? Am I supposed to camp out in my parked truck on a hilltop that has cell reception, waiting to schedule an appointment that’s no doubt, some two weeks into the future?

CliffMillsRoadAs for high speed internet service, it’s just not available out here. No Comcast, no FIOS, and all those happy rural dwellers on the TV commercials about satellite internet, are actors that are paid to lie.  “We love living out here!” Well, they may, but not because of their internet service! Some satellite services are available in certain areas, if you have the right southern exposure, but none are exactly high speed and they’re expensive and unreliable. The sales rep that came to visit us three or four years ago said it’d be no problem to install the dish, wiring and network for a few grand, if we cut down some trees. The problem was, some trees was several acres worth, most not on our property.

We were still tethered to our dial up and desktops until about 3 years ago. Many people here still only have dial up. However, as websites have gotten fancier and more video- and graphic-intensive, a good many of them cannot be accessed at all on dial up and are painfully and frustratingly slow to load on satellite internet service. While perhaps marginally faster than dial up, it has the annoying habit of fading into the “page not available” status, often when you’re in the middle of a crucial project. Often bad weather interferes and it’s simply not possible to get online at all.

Enter the age of the smart phone and freedom from desktops, laptops and paper. We finally broke down and got smart phones a year ago when it became clear our old cell phones were becoming obsolete; it was getting hard to find batteries and charger cords for them.  And prices had come way down. Only problem is, to learn how to use them, you really need to, well, use them. So we got one of those cell signal boosters that a few friends raved about, placed it on the highest peak of the roof and nothing changed.

FallTen0947So, during the season of giving thanks, here are mine: I’m thankful I live where I do. If I lived in a city, no doubt I’d actually know how to do more than make calls and text on my smart phone and use it more. I might even use it at times when I shouldn’t. Right now wouldn’t dream of trying to use it while driving. Other drivers can give thanks they won’t be killed by me texting while I drive. I’m thankful I don’t have a job where it’s vital to be available instantly, 24/7. I’m thankful my good friends know the best way to reach me is by my land line, because often messages on my cell phone aren’t retrieved for several days or even weeks. And I’m thankful that it’s often hard or impossible to get on sites like Facebook and Youtube, because I waste enough time online as it is. The real world is much more satisfying. And I’m very thankful that no cell phones will ring during the holidays when I’m eating a Thanksgiving meal with my family.


~ Written by: Julie Reardon
~ Photo Credits: Julie Reardon

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