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A Catskills Author Finds Connections Amid Dropped Calls

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Writer and poet Nina Flanagan reminisces over her move to her Hudson Valley home from NYC — and the cell phone struggles that came with it.

There are some things I’ve done in the country out of necessity, and in some cases, out of desperation. Don’t worry — neither creature nor human was harmed in the process. I’m sure some city folks reading this will scoff and say, “Oh, I’d never do that!” I’d agree 20 years ago — because that was me. I was a die-hard New Yorker. Nevertheless, after I watched the Twin Towers fall, my world quickly shifted. Our building sold and I was packing a U-Haul truck bound for Woodstock.

Nobody seemed to be able to find our apartment that sat near the top of a mountain and a ways off the main road. I was pacing around the living room when I heard a truck beeping as it backed out of the driveway. I bolted out in the rain, my heart racing and my arms waving, “Stop! Waiiiiit!”as the truck’s taillights disappeared. I was wearing pajamas, desperate, and on a deadline. The thought of no internet or cell phone reception washed over me in a wave of despair. There was no way my editor would believe my excuses.

So began my Catskills journey seeking a strong, reliable connection to the rest of the world. I found myself sitting in my car at the CVS parking lot praying to the cell tower gods my calls wouldn’t drop. At one rental, I had to mark the exact spot in the yard with spray paint where I had to stand to make a call. I once stood on a pile of books on top of a chair in order to finish a phone interview. (I still have to stand next to my kitchen door so my sister doesn’t say, “Ugh! You’re cutting in and out again.”) I learned little tricks and tweaks along the way, including what I call the “Cell Phone Shuffle.” Imagine you’re listening to the “Hokey Pokey” and turn yourself around while holding your phone up high.

I soon discovered I wasn’t alone in my search for connection. The local library was full of content people surfing the web and sending emails. You could even sit outside and get a signal!

I was lucky — despite several moves, I somehow always managed to live near a library. It must have been all those prayers to the cell tower gods.

Of course, I couldn’t do anything about the Catskills weather patterns that nobody can accurately forecast. Just about any type of weather could squash reception: rain, wind, fog, snow, hail, or even a slight breeze. Fallen trees or branches could derail plans for a week or more. One storm knocked down a big branch out front and pulled down power and cable lines. The cable company wouldn’t come out to repair it until the electric company fixed the power lines first. I spent all week at the library.

All this effort to connect led to an uneasy sense of vulnerability, but also to renewed self-reliance, flexibility, patience, and know-how. And now, in this strange, post-COVID world, I’ve embraced the realization that despite the sketchy cellular reception, I have a strong connection to these hills and valleys. They are all part of my story. One day, I’ll tell that story, and hopefully, someone will hear me.

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