A MONTH AGO TODAY, another Monday, was my last day of work (and of my ill-timed ER visit). We’ve been on Center Island a week. Today is cloudless and it’s 72 degrees on the deck of our cabin, which we’ve renamed The Nuthatch, in part to commemorate one of my favorite visitors to our birdfeeders, and also to denote the loony lifestyle on which we’ve embarked on this remote little island that we’re told gets “very quiet in February.”
Today, the birdies are singing their hearts out – Barbara just alerted me to a goldfinch at the feeder – and a big powerboat is laboring its way past us on Lopez Sound. There are chips and a cold Pacific Rain beer on the arm of my Adirondack chair to keep body and soul together while I re-read a favorite old Herb Payson sailing adventure. Life is OK.
There’s a story or two behind why I haven’t written sooner. One of them has to do with my new pen-pal relationship with the CEO of CenturyLink, the phone company that provides land-line phone service and internet on our island (and also claims naming rights to the Seahawks’ stadium).
We don’t have reliable phone or internet yet, and won’t for another 10 days or so, but not for lack of trying. One of the challenges of living on a tiny island nobody’s heard of is that, well, nobody’s heard of you. And when I called CenturyLink to set up service – just like the service my island neighbors already have – I spoke to one service rep after another, and nobody would admit that our island existed. “Sorry, that address doesn’t come up on my computer,” they’d say, and I’d (once again) explain that we get daily mail delivery (to a charming little mail shack up by our grass air strip) but that our ZIP code is the same as for the town of Anacortes, about 5 sea miles away, across Rosario Strait, in a different county (Skagit, not San Juan).
And while we formerly used a plat number as our address (which, just to confuse things, is still used for our box number in the mail shack) we now have a formal street address assigned a couple years ago by the San Juan County engineer (though nobody on the island actually has those street numbers on their cabins, because it just seems silly in a place where the “streets” are one-lane and gravel, there is no fire department and a cop car has never set tire here).
But there’s a utility post out in front of our place that warns me not to dig because of buried phone lines, I tell the CenturyLink service rep. And though we’ve not used it before, I know there’s a coaxial line coming into the crawl space under the cabin.
I get nowhere with them.
I try another idea – talking to an actual live person at a CenturyLink retail store in Seattle. I call first to ask if they think they could help me if I come in. “Sure!” says the friendly fellow on the phone. (But why don’t you tell me about what you need before wasting a trip in.)
So I end up just talking to another person on the phone, though I have the solace of knowing this person is at least in the same hemisphere.
He’s a little flummoxed by my address, too, but promises to consult with “the engineers” to find out what he can about Center Island.
And he does call back a while later, to tell me I can have phone service but no internet. “Oh, why is that? My neighbors have your internet! Is the internet all used up?”
He doesn’t really know, I’d have to call the engineers and find out, so he gives me their number.
I call, and end up just getting another customer-service rep, who says my address doesn’t exist and sorry, they can’t help me.
So Barbara, who has worked most of her life in libraries and knows how to research things, gives me the email addresses for the CEO and two top VPs at CenturyLink, based in Louisiana.
I dash off a note, explaining that communication is important to us on our remote island, my wife has health issues, etc. An hour later I get a phone call from CenturyLink’s regional manager, in Denver, who is determined to help me. Wheeling squeakily can get results.
Even he at one point is stymied at finding our little island in their big system, but a day or two later he discovers the key player: a guy named Jason, or Jared, or some J name, who works in their Gig Harbor retail store, several counties away from us. Somehow, mysteriously, he’s the guy who knows about Center Island.
So we have a May 23 appointment with an installer, who visits “the outer islands” of the San Juans on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, and we have high hopes. One catch: We have to give him a boat ride from the public dock on Lopez Island. We’re hoping to have our boat, the WeLike, here by the 22nd.
Meanwhile, we’re checking our email at the community association clubhouse on the other side of the island, and trying to put up with the interesting little challenges of island life.
It might be time for another beer.