Molten Rock: A day without connectivity on Whidbey

  • Tuesday, October 27, 2020 3:00pm
  • Opinion

I arose at my usual 6:30 a.m. on Monday Oct. 12, pulled up the shades, made the coffee and turned on the TV to watch the local news. The screen was blank. I flipped open my tablet. No wifi. I picked up the landline phone. Dead.

In the midst of a pandemic, a nasty political season and a painful economic collapse, I suddenly had been cut off from the world without warning. I was missing minute-by-minute news updates — not to mention all my friends’ latest Facebook posts.

Disaster!

What on earth had happened to my Comcast service?

My cell phone still worked but so did everyone else’s, so my two or three bars quickly deteriorated to none from everybody using them at once. Retrieving information and email using cell data became almost impossible with no bars.

It also wasn’t worth calling family or friends on the cell phone since nobody answers their phones these days in order to avoid political bushwhacks and donation appeals.

I sat in lonely silence for moment. Then I dialed the Comcast customer service number.

A recorded friendly woman’s voice said they were aware that my service was out, they were very sorry, and they were working diligently to restore it.

That was comforting, but what was I supposed to do in the meantime with nothing to click on or texts to respond to or 500 channels to browse?

I finished a cup of coffee and drank two more. I re-read the print edition of Saturday’s Whidbey News-Times and Sunday’s gigantic New York Times. I thanked God I had not dropped my precious, home-delivered, newsprint subscriptions.

I felt a rush of anxiety come over on me, obvious symptoms of sudden social media and email withdrawal. I grabbed a jacket and went to my rapidly dying vegetable garden, where I rescued the last couple dozen tomatoes and patty pan squashes. I returned to the kitchen and chopped them to pieces, put them in plastic containers and shoved them in the freezer.

I admit it: I needed to take out my aggression on something, and the tomatoes and squash were handy.

I had heard about this phenomenon called Lockdown Madness caused by being socially distanced from humanity in a pandemic and without life’s small pleasures, such as watching a movie in a theater or eating a meal in a crowded restaurant.

I was certain that my own Lockdown Madness was now made seriously worse by my loss of connectivity. And that made me concerned that friends and neighbors might also be going insane.

I picked up my cell phone. Two bars…hallelujah! I dialed my neighbor near Coupeville and he confirmed that their Comcast was also out, and they had heard from people in Oak Harbor and Langley that were also disconnected.

Later, we learned that every Comcast customer in Island County and Anacortes had lost service.

Eventually, we were told the culprit was a high power transmission line near the Swinomish Reservation that had melted the main Comcast cable serving our beautiful Rock and surrounding areas.

At noon, Comcast told us service was expected to return by 4 p.m. Then by mid-afternoon, it was delayed until at least 8 p.m.

Damn! No evening news, no junk emails to delete, no Facebook! The service finally returned about 8:30 p.m.

While waiting, I desperately grabbed a book and sat down to read for a couple hours.

Then it hit me. Normally these days, it’s really hard to sit quietly reading while all your nearby devices are pinging or clacking or otherwise demanding attention.

Of course, in the ancient past, we did manage to survive waiting for snail mail to arrive once a day, for the daily newspaper to come in the morning, to answer the phone when it rang and spend time chatting with friends.

On our Rock, we also had the good fortune of lots of open space to take hikes, relishing that we could be completely out of touch for an hour or two.

In those days, the world could just wait while we took a breath, and it felt good.

Next time I lose connectivity, I am going to remember that.

Harry Anderson is a retired journalist for the Los Angeles Times living in Coupeville.

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