December 18, 2014
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Smart solution to a lack of cell phone service
This Side Up

The cool morning air wafted through the open windows. It was still dark, but the birds were awakening. The chorus started with distant crowing, a call that brought a response from deep in the woods. A robin intoned as if to say, “Let’s get the day started.”

Another crow, this one much closer, gave three successive calls. It sounded angry to have been aroused. But there was no stopping the day. More birds joined in, their chatter and chirping growing in volume.

My watch read 4:11.

I listened carefully. The house was asleep.

From outside came the hollow rapping of a woodpecker. It was a short burst.

Carol left at about this hour the morning before to return to Rhode Island. I had stayed on to be with the extended family at my father’s place in upstate New York and to get my daughter Diana and her family to the Albany Airport for their flight back to Jackson Hole, Wyo.

It was the traditional Fourth of July gathering of the clan, but it was less than complete: My father, who is scheduled to undergo medical procedures this week, was in Connecticut; Marge was with him.

Everything had pulled together remarkably well. With the exchange of e-mails and phone calls, meals were planned; arrangements made for who in what room; and a schedule of arrivals and departures was in place. The only “planned” outside events were to attend the Fourth of July parade in Springfield Center and get to the birthday party of my niece’s 2-year-old daughter, Freya. Freya’s was more of an impromptu affair, with invitations made by Freya’s cousins hand delivered the day of the event to more family in nearby houses.

My sister Claire coordinated the making of the invitations on the kitchen table with a spread of colored paper, crayons and stickers. The animal stickers were the main attraction. Butterflies, giraffes and even a few crocodiles adorned the folded slips of paper with the basics about the party.

The invitations kept the kids busy. They were participating in what could well be a dying art – writing something by hand. At least that was my thought, given the events earlier in the day.

With my father in Connecticut, we had to make the calls to Verizon and the local cable company to ensure everything would be up and running. It all looked in place by the time Carol and I arrived before noon on the 4th. The parade was in full swing, with area farmers using their tractors to pull wagons of Boy and Girl Scouts. Fire engines from just about every volunteer company within a 25-mile radius – with uniformed volunteers marching in front – inched through the village. There were antique cars with women wearing patriotic sun hats tossing candy to the kids that ran beside them. The county conservation group carried a banner and handing out tree seedlings wrapped in plastic and tied with neat bows. The final part was made up of horses. There were horses drawing wagons; farm horses, with big hooves and heads; and lots of horses and riders who giggled and bounced in their saddles as the steeds trotted ahead.

Cell phones were raised. People were recording the scene and posting to Facebook and sending tweets. (What would we do if we couldn’t share this with the rest of the world?)

Back at the house, two routers provided a loose net of wi-fi. My guess is that today’s systems weren’t designed to cope with horsehair and lathe plaster walls, inch-thick oak flooring and solid-wood doors. As a result, iPads and smart phones were pretty much useless unless in the same room as a router. Then there was the landline; Verizon had turned it on. We got calls, and there was a dial tone when you picked up the receiver. Yet, when you tried to make a call, an annoying unisex voice intoned, “The service to this telephone has been temporality disconnected.”

Cell phone service is virtually non-existent. There’s a spot in the yard where you might get a signal, if you’re lucky. The calls I made all died within a minute.

But there was paper and crayons, and kids who still like making things.

There were probably a few e-mail invitations, and maybe even a call, but word of Freya’s party got out the old fashioned way. After making the invitations, the older kids walked though the woods to the homes of cousins and delivered them in person. Remarkably, iPads and smart phones were not used and not needed. As the party hour approached, the guests who had read their invitations arrived.

But not without their smart phones. As a platter of cupcakes was delivered to the porch, phones were held up again to record Freya’s delight. Lots of people would be sharing in her birthday … once they found that single spot in the yard.

And that’s a good thing.


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