The problem was simple: Dawn and I would be driving 3,500 miles from the New Hampshire Seacoast to a remote mountainside in Northern California, and I wished to keep working as much as possible during the week long process. While I needed a vacation, and wished to minimize the stress involved in both moving and driving across the country, the pressures of daily site updates (as well as the e-mail and info ‘fix’ that online junkies need) mandated that I perform a nightly ritual of attempting to access the Internet from many different locations. Here’s how I fared:
Beyond the basic requirements of trying to keep everyone happy and the sites I am responsible for current, my own curiosity about how easy (or difficult) connecting from the road would be made the quest a very interesting one. After all, my ‘someday when the technology is practical and affordable’ scenario involves pulling the Winnebago over and letting the ‘Net satellite transceiver auto-locate its Earth-orbiting target to provide me with remote broadband access wherever I am. But that’s ‘someday’ - what about today?
“Chicago, New York, Detroit - and It’s All On the Same Street…”
When Jerry Garcia and the ‘Grateful Dead’ sang that line, they were referring to I-90, one of America’s great coast to coast thoroughfares: a limited access toll-road over-populated by travelers and truckers alike. Being familiar with this highway, I was aware of the truck stops strategically located along the right of way; enormous truck stops that featured fuel, dining, showers, laundry service, lounge areas - and Internet access.
What I had hoped to find at these state-run ‘oases,’ or the “Flying J‘s,” and “TA’s” was that the comfortable ‘trucker’s lounge’ (rooms which featured large sofas, coffee tables, plush chairs, and televisions), were also ‘lily pads’ - offering 802.11b wireless connectivity within their quiet confines. What I found instead were small kiosks where with the swipe of a credit card you could surf the Web and access your Web-based email.
While these setups were suitable for weather updates, hotel reservations, or checking your HotMail account, they were not suitable for simply providing a dial tone for my laptop. A worker at one of Ohio’s fabulous ‘oasis’ areas told me that high-speed Internet services were once available there, and indeed, a current open contract to provide these service existed, since the last provider did not renew their contract, and pulled out.
Thus my plans for comfortable, daily lunch / work breaks were thwarted, and while I could have cruised the local industrial parks and office building areas looking for an open 802.11b connection, such a treasure hunt was not within my plans, or schedule.
Given the current lack of realistic connectivity options at the Interstate waypoints I visited, I was thankful that before departing on my journey I had considered ‘Plan B’: using Earthlink’s 1-800 ‘dial up’ service. While I have used Earthlink for dial-up Internet access for several years due to their huge amount of local-access numbers which cover everywhere I call “home,” as well as Las Vegas, Ft. Lauderdale, New Orleans, and any city that InterNext will likely visit, I had never before needed their toll-free service. I would not have needed it on this trip if it wasn’t for the fact that I was uncertain of where we would be spending our nights: a less flexible itinerary would have allowed me to locate and save local-access numbers for each of my daily destinations; something that was not practical for this journey. Given the high expense of long-distance calls from hotel rooms, and my great disdain for those excessively long numerical strings required when making ‘calling card’ calls, the ‘800’ option seemed a perfect solution to my needs. Using Earthlink’s ‘800’ service was not as simple as setting up a new connection pointing to 800-853-7921, however, as I first had to activate the billing preference option for it.
Using Earthlink’s ‘800’ service was not as simple as setting up a new connection pointing to 800-853-7921, however, as I first had to activate the billing preference option for it. Visiting start.earthlink.net, I clicked on the “My Account” link and then selected “Change Your Monthly Usage or Billing Plan.” Logging in with my email address and password, I then clicked on the “Enable 800 Usage” link, and was ready to go. While this ‘800’ service is not free, the 10¢ per minute ($6/hour) fee that Earthlink charges is quite reasonable, and as long as I could find a suitable dial-tone, I would be online. As long as I could find a suitable dial-tone…
Phone Line Phreak Outs
And therein lies the rub: you cannot always assume that you will find a suitable phone line when traveling in an alien environment. Case in point was our first night on the road, which found us in Niagara Falls, Canada, staying at the Niagara Gateway Motel - which lacked en suite telephone service, and left me connectionless.
A far better experience from a connectivity standpoint came on our second night, when we stayed at the Baymont Suites outside of Chicago. Featuring a large work area with a data port equipped telephone, the comfortably sized desk also sported a small desk lamp that featured an additional data port as well as several electrical outlets, making my connections effortless; and with a 50k dial-up connection speed, I was pleased. The ‘Super-8’ in Sioux City, Iowa, the ‘Holiday Inn’ in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the ‘Peppermill’ in Reno, Nevada, all provided much the same connectivity experience, varying only in the size and comfort of their work areas, and the speed at which I was able to connect, which typically averaged around 28k.
But would I be doomed to dial-up for the duration of my journey? Stay tuned to find out!