My first clue came Sunday afternoon when instead of getting to Facebook, I got a spinning wheel. I checked my little icon in the lower right hand corner of my computer screen, and I had three bars. When I rolled my pointer over it, it said, “Connected.” And still, the wheel spun.
I pulled out my very-retro Verizon antenna and plugged it into the USB slot. The Verizon account initialized and connected. And still, no internet.
On my email, I kept getting a Send/Receive error.
Okay, plainly something was happening to limit my internet access. This was surprising. I’d stayed in this room in December and used the inn’s wifi connection; it ran perfectly. It didn’t really matter anyway. I wanted to post some pictures to Facebook and complete a blog posting, but that could wait. If there was anything serious I could use my smart phone.
And then, minutes later, I decided to wanted to look up the word tympani, to make sure I was using it correctly. I pulled out my phone, entered “dictionary.com” in the Internet spot and got… nothing.
It began to dawn on me that something was seriously wrong.
The hotel did not have wifi.
I’m a strong person, so I didn’t panic, yet.
I had other things I could do, and I did them. Like, go for a walk and take pictures. Like, read a book. Like… go to bed early.
The next morning… still no internet. No problem. I’d take my laptop to Moody’s Coffee or one of the restaurants that had wifi. I was resilient. After all, I’d just gone three whole days without television, hadn’t I? And there had been one in the room and everything… and I didn’t even turn it on. I could survive this.
I went to the Gallery Bookstore in Mendocino and then I began to piece together the extent of the catastrophe. The two clerks explained that it wasn’t my hotel. It wasn’t just Main Street. It was the entire town. The entire town was cut off from wifi! From the internet!
I took cleansing breaths and pictured a safe and happy place. Then I asked how this could have happened.
It seemed that in two separate places, bad things happened to fiber optic lines. One was on Ukiah-Comptche Road, where some overhead lines had been snagged and pulled down. One was near Albion, where something else had happened; they didn’t know what.
(And by the way, if I ever, ever, in a piece of fiction, made up a scenario where two separate stretches of fiber optic cable got lunched in two separate situations, my critique group would never let me hear the end of it.)
What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to look up “tympani” now? How was I going to post my raven pictures to Facebook? And what about the tourists? Those happy people from Germany I’d talked to on they way down to the store — how was their daughter going to post her selfie?
But I clawed myself back from the edge of that crumbling cliff of desperation. I had chocolate. I had books. It would be okay.
The San Francisco Chronicle came to my room each morning. I hastily scanned it for any stories about internet outages and ETA of repairs. Since, for the Chron, Petaluma is their idea of Northern Coastal California, and they probably think Mendocino is in Oregon, there was nothing.
I went for walks, I did some revision, I read. Then I packed up my laptop and drove north seven miles to the Botanical Gardens.
The gardens were beautiful, even more gorgeous than they had been the previous year. And… they had no internet. Fort Bragg had no internet as well. The contagion was spreading! I pictured myself driving resolutely north, until I got to… I don’t know, Fortuna or some place, parking in a Holiday Inn parking lot, trying password after password as I attempted to poach their wifi. If they even had any.
Was there some kind of coverup going on? Why weren’t black-helicopters throbbing overhead, dropping emergency… I don’t know, satellite dishes? Where was the mobilized response to this humanitarian crisis?
(In the bookstore, two enterprising clerks created a wifi hot spot with their phones so that they could look up something for a customer.)
(By the way, they have these things in the Gallery Bookstore. They’re called dictionaries. I slipped over and picked one up when no one was looking, and looked up “tympani.” Good thing I did, too, because it’s not just a drum, it’s a specific type of drum, and that wouldn’t have worked at all.)
The town was without wifi from 5:00ish Sunday afternoon until 5:00ish Tuesday afternoon. I had books, and chocolate. I was one of the lucky ones. Seriously, though, August is a big tourist month in Mendocino, and many businesses have given up landlines for less expensive cellular; not only for their phones but for credit card processing. This introduced a whole new level of difficulty for them. On Tuesday, neither the Chron nor the Press Democrat carried anything about the outage. I would have looked it up to see what the ETA was on repair… but that would have required the internet.
(And my revisions, they were good. It’s funny; I write better when I don’t decide in the middle of a sentence that I need to go to Youtube and listen to Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” all the way through just because I’m using the metaphor of carrying voices in my piece. It’s amazing.)
We pulled through. The town is better for it, stronger. We’re a team now. We know we’ve got each other and… wait, a Facebook Quiz? Which Brady Bunch Child Are You? Sorry. Gotta go.
[Update: The official story on Mendocino Community Network’s (MCN, the local isp) site is that a vehicle accident on Ukiah-Comptche took out the lines; that AT&T is replacing 12,000 feet of fiber optic cable, not a mile’s worth as I first heard. No mention of the second incident in Albion. MCN carefully cites AT&T for every statement in its update, so maybe AT&T doesn’t use coincidence as a plot device either.]