Monday, April 27, 2009

Making a phone call: A travelogue

Phone calls can be a bit of an adventure at my house.

I have no land line - just my Verizon cell phone. Verizon's service was fine for the first two years I had it, so in September 2007 I signed up for another two-year contract. In December 2007 I moved into my new house. Problem.

Apparently I'm on the very fringe of Verizon's service area, and reception varies from day to day, or even minute to minute. Over time, I've established a progression of where I can go to get a signal.

Tonight, though, topped all previous calls in that it took seven tries (I think it was seven) to complete the conversation with a friend.

As with all calls, I started here:

Standing by the kitchen sink (sorry for the blurry photo). The old standby. For some reason - my guess is that topography allows a kind-of-clear shot from my kitchen sink a few miles to a distant cell tower - this one spot works about 75 percent of the time. Movement must be kept to a minimum, to avoid angering the cell phone reception gods into dropping the call. Step a few feet, and you're done for.

But the kitchen sink spot didn't work tonight, so I took the phone upstairs into the soon-to-be-finished bedroom:

It's high up in the air, and lags behind the kitchen sink only slightly in cell phone reception. It lagged again tonight, as the second attempt got dropped.

So, to the back door:

The third stop is to step out the back door. Get out of the confining walls of the house, and let the cell phone wave particles roam free, or do whatever it is they do. But tonight, another no-go. Third strike.

I closed the dog in the downstairs bedroom to keep her from getting into the kitchen garbage, and headed out to the big basswood tree in the middle of the yard:

This is another usually reliable spot, but gets bumped down the list for being outdoors and a good 50 feet from the house. Last summer I leapfrogged the first three spots and headed out to this tree when I got chased by a pit bull and called the sheriff to report it. I didn't want to get cut off while on the phone with 911 operators. But tonight? No-go.

Next stop: the kind-of-dying walnut tree:

This big tree stands at just about the highest point in the yard - by yard, I mean the grassy area of my property; getting to this tree doesn't require going "in the woods." This walnut is way out of its natural range; it was planted by the previous owners about 50 years ago. It's having some troubles now, maybe due to some drought conditions the past few years. In any case, it's another good place to try making a call. Before tonight, this was as far as I ever had to go to complete a call. Before tonight. The fifth try failed.

On to the back driveway:

The back driveway is kind of self-explanatory. It leads from the yard to the little town road at the back of the property. It's at about the same elevation as the walnut tree, and it provides easy walking to try to find a signal. I broke new ground in having to go there tonight for my sixth try. No good: I could never get a call to go through.

I was kind of running out of property at this point, and was in uncharted territory for finding a signal to tie up the loose ends of this call. I headed down the back driveway, turned left into the woods, went about 25 feet and walked up a short rise to this:

A fallen tree, suspended about three feet in the air. I grabbed some neighboring, still-alive trees to balance myself, and climbed up. It sort of wobbled a bit, but I dialed again and... success! The best signal yet. The conversation was completed, and I jumped back down and headed back to the house.

I'm thinking of switching to another carrier when my Verizon contract expires later this year.