Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Tiffany is about to write a post about how to release creative expression and find a space to explore artistic inclinations in a hustle and bustle world.”
Sorry to disappoint.
While it is poignantly true that we do all need that kind of an outlet, the point of this post is that I needed a literal outlet. Like, an electrical one.
It was the summer of 2012. The days were hot and the nights were…uh, dark (new moon, and all). I found myself entertaining an invitation to spend some quality time with my immediate family over the Fourth of July holiday in a remote mountain retreat in Northern California. The idea was rather enticing: days full of blackberry-picking and lollygagging beside the great North Fork of the Yuba River (yes, I said “lollygagging”), interrupted only by fiercely competitive games of dominoes (the ends have to add up to multiples of five in order to earn any points – we are hardcore) and bouts of rainbow trout fishing, not to mention a patriotic parade or two hosted by the local town folk. Inside, my creative heart leapt at the thought of dusting off The Artist’s Way, journaling under dappled sunshine on the front porch, and trying my hand at acrylic painting – a slightly scary prospect, as those of you familiar with my (lack of) artistic talents would know.
There was only one teensy tiny little hitch.
I had an online class to teach.
Typically, vacationing and online teaching are highly compatible. Yes, it means I have to spend a few hours each day in front of a laptop instead of lollygagging somewhere else having fun (yes! lollygagging!), but the flexibility of this day job is totally worth it. Except, of course, that it requires wifi. And, an electrical outlet. Actually, both. Simultaneous-like.
Thus, having yet to discover the magic of a mobile hotspot, I embarked on the mountain adventure that I like to call, “I Swear I Actually Have a Legitimate Reason to Seek Internet Connection, So Stop Looking at Me Like I’m ‘That Girl’ Who Goes to the Mountains and Can’t Live One Day Without Checking Her Facebook.” Yeah. I had to muster up a pretty good “don’t judge me – I don’t even really WANT to be online” face. It wasn’t terribly convincing.
First stop: The cabin. Ruled out immediately.
Located in Goodyear’s Bar, which is a town of – oh, I don’t know, I would give it a top estimate of about…23? – the closest thing to high tech I would find there is the guy down the road who outfitted his roof with three giant satellite dishes in order to access HBO. As for our place? Great family pride was traditionally taken in the fact that nary a DVD would played during our stay there, much less would there be cell phone service or wifi access available. Likewise, the apparatus to support such endeavors were nonexistent.
Second stop: Google maps. Frightening revelations.
Coffee shops had always served me well. Certainly, I wasn’t the only writer within a 100 mile radius of our mountain retreat to seek out a caffeine/wifi combo. Where did the mountain pens go to recreate my Living Room lifestyle? A google search for nearby cafes with potential wifi access revealed this:
Okay, so that didn’t seem like a viable option. (Why am I hyperventilating?)
Third stop:. A town with potential.
Thankfully, there was a town four miles up the hill from Goodyear’s Bar. (Wait, does a population of 325 count as a town or, like, a village? What’s a homestead? Settlement?) Upon first exploration, Downieville seemed promising. The local grocer was semi-friendly, the pizza parlor was recently remodeled, and preparations were underway for the annual Fourth of July parade and festivities that would be taking place later that week. Hoards of mountain bikers and rafters regularly met up in Downieville to stock up on nature trail sustenance or to throw their flotation devices in the rushing river to begin miles and miles of descent through mountain gloriousness. I stared longingly at those with athletic agendas, tucked my weighty laptop under my arm, and began scoping the main streets, er, street, of Downieville in search of a viable wifi option.
The town pizza parlor doubled as a brunch spot on the weekends, and I was drawn to its clean, sturdy, square tables and views of the river. The manager happily unplugged a neon beer sign to accommodate my computer’s embarrassing lack of battery life. I set myself up with a cup of coffee and graded two papers offline while the parlor transformed around me for the lunch crew. It was nice of them not to kick me out and I enjoyed the quiet solace of my own little corner. However, the wifi options were a tease, and after 20 minutes of trying to connect while perusing The Mountain Messenger (“One wallet was reported missing in Downieville. Another was turned in. The incidents were not related.”), I finally packed it in.
The next stop was the ice cream parlor. The scoops and cones barista, who was 15, gave me the rundown on the town gossip, most of which consisted of the fact that guys from out of town regularly think she is 25, which apparently leads to awkward moments over mint chocolate chip. I managed to connect, just barely, but the decor of the place – which included old timey feathered boas and dingy lighting – sort of creeped me out in a Miss Havisham kind of way. I left.
But, on my way out, awkwardly mature ice cream parlor girl mentioned the town wifi. Um. Were we keeping this a secret to mess with the city folk? But sure enough, sponsored by the Sierra County Arts Council, a wifi hotspot at the Yuba Theatre, right in the middle of town. And pretty much plain as day.
Thanks, Sierra County Arts Council! I settled cross-legged on one of the cozy little benches outside of the theatre with my laptop on my, uh, lap, and began tapping away in internet connection bliss. As I was now located out in the open on Main Street – well, the street – passersby would nod hello or greet me with a smile. Yay! No one thought I was loony bins for attaching myself to a computer instead of an inflatable river raft!
A local named Charlie even sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. Apparently, he assumed I was some city bigwig who was checking her stock portfolio. Oh, Charlie. If only you knew. I quickly corrected him before he could ask me for market tips and then found myself explaining the ins and outs of online teaching. But that’s boring, so we quickly moved on to the unemployment rate in the mountain towns, which was…depressing. Desperate for a subject change, I asked him for details on the upcoming Downieville Fourth of July Parade. He happily obliged with a preview into the annual foot races, the tug of war, and the lemonade stand. I laughed. But, he wasn’t joking. These were actual things that would be happening. I made a mental note to finish grading papers before the Fourth. Lemonade is my second favorite beverage, after all.
Twenty minutes after settling in front of the Yuba Theatre, as expected, my laptop battery began to die. I quickly looked around me for an outlet, which seemed to be…missing. I looked at Charlie, who shrugged unhelpfully. Ack! Code Red! Defcon One on the streets – damn, I keep doing that – street of Downieville!
I glanced around at the neighboring structures situated within the Sierra County Arts Council wifi range for the promise of a plug…not too hopeful: a grocery store, a shop selling river rock, a parking lot, a church, and…oh no. Seriously??
St. Charles Place. The bar on the corner.
I hadn’t done anything academic in a bar since I studied abroad in Canterbury, England.
Picture if you will: Me in a cute sundress, laptop in tow, walking into semi-shady mountain bar midday, the fragrant strains of last night’s beer drifting up from the bar floor to meet my sunglass-perched nostrils, the local ruffians turning on their barstools to locate the source of the daylight that has pierced their dark sanctuary of hops and yeast. And then, me: “Um, can I get a Hefeweizen and some electricity, please?”
Well, it wasn’t really that dramatic. But I think I will always like to remember it that way.
Internet and electricity secured, simultaneous-like, St. Charles became my online home during my stay. I am absolutely positive that the pints which accompanied each grading session had nothing to do with the remarkable curve established for that week’s assignments. And once the papers were done…it was time to enjoy the festivities!