Think of all those ads about taking your new wireless electronics to the beach and the mountains and far-away remote places filled with slow-moving life. You can have peace and quiet and still be connected. Well, not really. Maybe if your beach or mountain is within a half-hour drive of a major city, you can have that. But much of the world, and much of the U.S., does not enjoy the extensive infrastructure we take for granted in our cities. Here’s my recent adventure of planned escape (not yet concluded).
My husband and I often spend the summers Down East in Maine, near Acadia National Park, working and sailing. Infrastructure there is sparse at best. We get to stay in our friend’s camp when not on the boat (a 43’ French ketch).
Now, in Maine, calling a building a camp means it is a rudimentary, often hand-built structure, and this is so. About 250 square feet, with open eaves, our friend Cherie built this camp on her own, back in the woods. I watched her do it, more than 20 years ago. It consists of a single room with an equally large sleeping porch and an extended outside deck. The room holds the kitchen and my summer office. The sleeping porch holds the double bed (complete with my Tempurpedic mattress), a stand up piano, hanging drying herbs, and the dining room table which doubles as my husband’s desk. The big deck holds the grill and sun chairs, and the outdoor shower which cascades into an old claw foot bathtub next to a 200 year old looming pine tree. Hummingbirds and spiders shower with me – the spiders in their rainbow webs and the hummingbirds darting in and out of the water. I time my shower for sunshine.
The camp has electricity, hot and cold running water, an antique wood stove refitted with propane for making tea and eggs, and a refrigerator, vintage 1940. Supper comes off the grill and from over an acre of organic vegetables Cherie tends. There is a portable radiator-like electric heater for the cooler seasons (June and September), and lots of books settled into the open walls on shelves. What more can a girl need?
This township is so remote that there is no DSL from Verizon, even after all these years. Not enough folks to justify laying the lines. We are seven miles from the nearest small town with sidewalks. I park my car outside the local town library to pick up the wireless fast lines to participate in my clients’ webinars, where I can speak on the phone in private. I order a landline (which I haven’t had in L.A. for decades) six weeks early, and have rigged a 1980’s style switcher and answering machine, courtesy of Radio Shack (45 minutes away in the nearest big town). Then I can be online, get a signal that someone is calling in, drop the Internet connection and answer the phone.
Now, given the number of go-to-meeting conferences and Google whiteboard sessions I now have, it is time for a fast line into the camp. We had thought this impossible until now. But, turns out the camp is closer to Pole #30 on the local Route than the studio and the house on the far side of the 5 acre property.
Verizon owns the phone territory and DSL; Time Warner owns the cable territory. I call the Time Warner 800 number, hoping for a Mainer.
My first question, “Are you in Maine/”
“Yes, I’m in Portland.”
Now this is not the same as being Down east, north of which lies mooses, and farther north lies Canadians. But he sounds local, so we begin. He is very competent and understands what I want. He tells me the local truck will drive by and check out the property, then someone will phone me with an estimate. If I pay the installation fee and first month’s subscription, and wait 19 working days, I might (this is Maine after all) get cable installed in the camp. Remember the slow-moving life? This is it.
So he asks for directions from the big town 45 minutes away. I begin tracing the routes and towns and smaller routes through smaller towns toward the camp, then seven miles beyond the small town down the local rural road. He writes diligently. “I don’t have any place to put the pole number,” he says, but he can write down 8 minutes of directions. I’m grateful for his patience (this is Maine after all, where life is slow).
I get him past the local landmarks (“past the Campground on your right, to the 2nd driveway on your left, see the white satellite-dish-as-art on the ground with the names on it, turn in there…”). Then, go 100 yards down the driveway. On your right you will see a 40’ red tugboat on sawhorses (but it may be in the water, so don’t worry if you don’t see the tugboat), and on your right you will see the outhouse. The path on the right leads to the camp, a wood structure, painted sky blue.
“You can’t say outhouse,” he says, our Mainer from Portland, a real City down South.
“Well, I know you are in California, but in Maine an outhouse isn’t an outbuilding, it’s an outhouse, you know?”
“Uh, I know. It is an outhouse.”
“No sh**? An outhouse? You mean it is a camp with an outhouse?”
“Right. So make sure they find Pole #30 and install the cable modem in the camp, not in the outhouse, o.k.?”
“Geez, of course. You know, I’m going to write down Pole #30.”