ANY DAY NOW, my cellphone is going to ring. This is news only because it will chirp in my home here in Lincoln, Vt., where until a short time ago there was absolutely no cellphone coverage. Recently, however, Unicel expanded its reach into this small Green Mountain hamlet. I happen to have Verizon, and so it hasn’t affected me. But someday, I am quite sure, Verizon will extend its reach as well, and suddenly my cellphone will work from my house.
This is precisely what happened to a friend of mine who has Unicel. She was home in Lincoln and a few evenings ago, much to her surprise, she heard her cellphone ringing in her purse.
In most ways, I like the idea of my cellphone functioning here. After all, I work from my home. For years I have found important messages waiting for me on my cell, because people with whom I work in Boston or Los Angeles have used that line to reach me, not realizing that it might be days before I would get the message. (Some weeks I am better than others at remembering to call my cell from my land line to check for messages.)
But there is something about the arrival of cell coverage here that also makes me a tad wistful. Part of my village’s allure has always been its remoteness, the sense that we are an idiosyncratic island that is a little timeless, slightly eccentric, and vaguely inaccessible. We are a town of barely 1,000 people halfway up Vermont’s third highest mountain. When the Lincoln Gap is closed for the winter – which will be soon – there is only one entirely paved road into the center of town, furthering the sensation that we are a bit like Brigadoon.
And that lack of cell coverage only enhanced our feelings of seclusion and pride: It was one more thing that made us different and suggested that we were of especially hardy stock. I will never forget when Priscilla Presley and a film crew of 40 descended upon Lincoln one autumn to make a perfume commercial, and the cast and crew discovered much to their horror that their cellphones wouldn’t work. It was as if they had been dropped on a desert island without Botox and TiVo.
Moreover, the fact that our cellphones didn’t function here meant that sometimes we communicated through that great, rural intermediary: the old-fashioned cracker barrel. Without cell coverage, we often resorted to Vaneasa Stearns and the Lincoln General Store to get messages to one another. How else is the local septic-system cleaner going to reach the local excavator, when they are both working outdoors somewhere in town and there’s no cell coverage to connect them? How else are you going to find someone to milk your llama when suddenly you have to race out of state? The Lincoln General Store was command central in both emergencies.
The feeling is not unlike the solitude we experienced while traveling in an automobile a generation ago. There was a time when we were unreachable in our cars, and so instead of using our phones we were listening to the radio or books on audio. At night we were watching for moose by the light of the moon.
Soon that will change. The one spot where I am able to detach completely from my cellphone is in Lincoln. I am able to go cold turkey here and it is really rather easy because I haven’t a choice. Soon, however, I will be as reachable on my cell in these hills as I am in midtown Manhattan or on Newbury Street in Boston. Sure, I could turn my cellphone off. But I would know that it is capable of receiving calls and text messages, and I have the will power of a toddler in an ice cream shop when it comes to wireless communication.
The reality, plain and simple, is that the last bastion is crumbling.
(This column originally appeared in the Boston Globe on October 20, 2008.)