SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan: Unplugged
By Dave Kiffer


April 11, 2007

Ketchikan, Alaska - It was a sad scene at one of Ketchikan's more popular eateries one morning recently.

A mother and her two kids were trying to get a breakfast meal, but the machine taking credit cards was down. The kids were fussing and the mother was irritated.
jpg Dave Kiffer

"Can you take a check?" she asked the counter person.

No, the restaurant no longer takes checks.

Ok, she said, I guess I can go to the ATM.

But most of the ATMs were down too. She was out of luck.

For about 15 hours that week, Ketchikan crashed back to the "Stone Age" of the communications world.

With both cell phone service and internet down because of a problem at Tolstoi Mountain on Prince of Wales, an awful lot of folks were left with the modern equivalent of two tin cans and a piece of string.

I first noticed the "failure to communicate" when I tried to log on for a last check of sports scores around 11 pm the night before. The computer wouldn't let me get on the internet. But since knowing whether or not the Dodgers had won a spring training game wasn't a matter of life or death (a regular season game would be a different matter!). I just unplugged and went to bed.

The next morning, when I went to check my various email accounts, I got the same "lack of access." This was a bit more of a concern, but after all it was Friday and little work gets done by anyone in town that day anyway.

After getting to work, I noticed that the internet access was still off. This was getting to be a bummer because a day without surfing the informational web is truly like a day without sunshine. I would have to - horrors - turn on the TV to find out what was going on it the world.

Oddly, enough several cable channels were also down. Had the world been wiped out in a nuclear holocaust and it just hadn't reached Ketchikan yet?

You laugh, but you have admit that everything that happens in the real world seems to take 10 years to get here!

But my communications troubles paled in comparison to those who rely on the their cell phones for everything from important family messages to wiping their bottoms after bowel movements (I jest, but only slightly).

All over Ketchikan people were holding their personal communicators up to the ears and shouting loudly and - shock and awe - no one was listening.

This was especially galling up at the high school.

"Like, I actually had to talk to the people I was with rather than someone else across the room," said one Kayhi student.

"Like, I mean really, I couldn't text anybody, anything, you know," said another. "It was the worst."

Yes, it was. People were actually forced to use a - shudder - land line that was actually attached to something. No more "rapping and roaming."

This was most noticeable amongst our driving community. It is a matter of course that everyone driving a car in Ketchikan must be talking on their cell phone to somebody. I believe it is currently required in state law.

It's actually a matter of honor.

If you are not "important" enough to be talking to someone on your cell phone while you are driving then "shame on you" The fact that all the unbiased studies show this form of "multitasking" is remarkably dangerous only serves to heighten the "Indiana Jones" aspect of the daring-doo-doo.

So even though the cell phone service was down for the day, people still drove around with their "cells" plastered to their ears, listening to static, pretending to talk to someone else.

I suppose it's not their fault. I heard a rumor a while back that the time honored tradition of "ten and two" in Drivers Ed was being changed.

You remember when you'd be tooling around the driver's ed car and the teacher would remind you put your hands back on the wheel a the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions?

I can hear Clarke Cochrane's voice.

"Ten and Two, Mr. Kiffer. Ten and Two."

That was usually followed by "And stop leaning into the corners, this isn't a motorcycle!"

But I digress.

Anyway, the new admonition reportedly is "Right hand on the wheel, left hand on your ear."

Might as well get them used to it.

Fortunately, by around 2 pm, "communications" had been restored and things were back to normal.

Credit cards were being run up.

Cubicle denizens were surfing at work.

And people were "declaiming and driving" once again.

Ketchikan was back in the modern age again.

Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2007

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