Catskills Corner: We’ve joined the modern world
One of the perverse joys of living in the Mount Tremper area this last year and a half has been the lack of cell phone coverage. There’s something reassuringly old-fashioned about hanging out in an area where tourists aren’t constantly gabbing to their friends back home on the phone, where conversations with neighbors aren’t interrupted by beeps and buzzes from inner pockets, where people don’t wander the aisles of the local supermarket calling their spouse because they forgot what kind of milk they were meant to be buying. (That would be me – and most married men, I imagine.)
And it’s not just Mount Tremper that’s lacked for coverage. For years, the “dead zone” has extended from just west of Woodstock Village, out on through the central schools area in Boiceville, past Mount Tremper, through the relatively busy village of Phoenicia, and then another ten miles in each direction, north towards Hunter and west towards Belleayre. (Both those ski mountains have service, though Belleayre’s is patchy.) And for years, the local newspapers have been full of editorials and letters assailing the apparent incompetence of various town boards (including Woodstock, Shandaken and Olive) for failing to allow cell phone companies to freely erect towers on our many local mountain-tops and bring us all into the late 20th Century, let alone the 21st. (Environmental issues come into play here, as do those of property ownership, payment to the towns in question, and the actual enthusiasm of the phone companies to invest in such sparsely populated areas. Why we’re dependant on cell towers when the rest of the world is using satellite coverage is a story for another day.)
To be honest, I haven’t found the lack of coverage much of a bind. Yes, it would be nice to call home on those winter days when my 2-wheel drive car can’t make it up the hill, but that’s what neighbors are for, right? And if I want my wife to pick up something at the video store or the library when I know she’s heading there, I’d just leave a message at the store. (Vice-versa, too: I’ll call home from these places as well, given that most of the stores know us personally, and local calls are free.) And anyway, if nobody has cell phones, then nobody has cell phones, and we’re all on a level playing field, correct?.
Correct. Or at least, correct until a few months ago, when some contractor, delivery man or whoever was at our house when we heard the unfamiliar sound of a cell phone ringing from around his person. We looked at him in astonishment as he casually took the call. Did he have some kind of snazzy satellite link-up, we wondered? Was he a government agent in disguise? No, he explained when he got off the call, he just had service with Verizon. Hadn’t we heard? Verizon had installed a cell tower in the area.
He was right, and as word spread over the last few months – without local media coverage, as if this were a secret that we all needed to discover for ourselves – the playing field distinctly unleveled itself. Cell phones have been heard ringing where you least expect them: at school meetings, on hikes, even at the local monastery. It’s somewhat eerie when your “dead zone” suddenly sparks to life – and it’s all the more so when you’re with a different cell phone company.
Our cell phone account was with AT&T/Cingular, the company with the monopoly on the iPhone, which I desperately crave. But their drop rate is appalling, and capitalism is capitalism. In other words, I don’t owe them anything. So, two Monday mornings ago, I bit the bullet, called Verizon, and switched our service, taking our number with us and snagging a free phone and connection in the process. Less than 48 hours later, the FedEx man showed up with our new phone. I switched it on, activated it and, lo and behold, four bars came up immediately. We don’t just have cell phone coverage at our house, but full cell coverage.
Given the choice, I don’t deny that I’m going to enjoy having a cell phone round the neighborhood. I can now make all those pesky, unnecessary calls home when I’ve just left the house. I can call home from the supermarket to check what milk we have to buy, or from the farm stand to determine what kind of potatoes, decisions we’ve making independently, and without instigating divorce proceedings, for the last couple of years. And hey, someone can get hold of me when I’m hiking up the mountain behind our hill, despite the fact that I do so largely for the solitude and peace of mind.
And yet there remains a silver lining. Coverage does not yet reach the extra three miles from our house in Mount Tremper to Phoenicia. Perhaps the village, already known as a gratifying alternative to Woodstock and its busloads of weekend tourists, should advertise itself accordingly. Come to Phoenicia: where your cell phone won’t ring. For now.