Perhaps you live where cell phones work just fine. You may labor under the delusion that most of humanity outside the loneliest dunes of Mali and Chad are connected, in touch at all times, wired for sound, and, like Batman with his utility belt, strapped to a series of oft-replaced devices, twinkling and spiffy being always of the latest model, like potato chips in how nobody can stop at just one, and which allow for instantaneous verbal communication, voice, text, or e-mail, at all times, anywhere, with music, football scores, and the railway schedule for the Erie Lackawanna at your fingertips.
It is to laugh.
However, you do need to know about the great leap forward in telecommunications which the troglodytic winter-caters of this particular ledge-pile now enjoy: We got a phone booth at the airport.
Well, it isn't actually at the airport, it's on the closest pole that already had a boot. What's a boot? Look up. It's where you can get at the cable, that thick black thing on the telephone wire that looks a bit like the central cummerbund of the annelid earthworm. Don't know the phone line from the power line up there? We'll talk.
Come spring, the phone company will send a trencher of some sort out here and they'll ditch in the underground cable up to Victoria's little Shed City storage building up there beside the parking area, where people stow the extra banana boxes left from their air-freighted grocery orders. Until spring, though, people needing to use the phone can walk a minute or two down to the pole. Remember that there aren't any telephone poles right beside the airport because, well, it's an airport. Sure beats walking all the way to the nearest occupied home, which this time of year could be John's all the way to the four corners. That's over half a mile from the airport.
Well, it isn't really an airport, it's just a dirt strip, but hey, now we got communications.
Maybe I went a little too far calling it a phone booth, too. Actually it's a tool box.
There is a real phone booth on the island, but nobody's really sure to whom it belongs. Lately it's been more or less upside-down in the bushes by the powerhouse, looking for all the world like Dr. Who crash-landed on Matinicus Island. It had been snuggled into the corner by the back door of the post office, on a sort of rotting bit of deck, but now we have a delightful new post office (located where the old OLD post office used to be, causing smiles among the old-timers,) and that rackergaited old telephone booth got moved in the construction…then some concern on the part of the carpenters about putting that eyesore beside the nice new woodwork. Various locals have had some fairly clever suggestions regarding its disposition, but it does appear to still technically belong to TDS Telecom (compliments to them will follow, stay with me here.) A phone has been installed once again outside the Post Office, just no phone booth. We used to have guys like Wayne from South Thomaston do things like buy a loaf of bread and a few slices of lunch meat, back when there was a store, and go into the phone booth to assemble and consume his lunch. It stunk, too, and the "3" didn't work good.
For as long as there has been flying service to Matinicus, there has been the profound lack of a way for anybody parked at the airstrip to contact the rest of the world. Prior to cell phones this was obvious, but even with cell service occasionally working at the airstrip (one of the few place on the island worth even trying,) signal is very far from reliable. The weather might (and often does) differ between the Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head and the north end of Matinicus, and a passenger booked for a flight at a certain time might be sitting for the better part of an hour, waiting for a plane that never would come, as the fog had shut in elsewhere. The air service office would have to call some random islander, whoever might be at home with a vehicle, and ask if perhaps that person could drive up to the airport and tell passenger so-and-so that the plane wasn't coming. Profanity would generally follow.
Much more to the point, however, was the issue of the rare but always worrisome genuine emergency. Last year, an island native who happens to be a private pilot experienced some sort of difficulty landing his plane and sustained some not-inconsiderable damage to the unit. He, his wife, daughter, and sternman (ie. daughter's boyfriend) were rattled up a bit but not seriously injured…thankfully! Still, the potential for the very real need of a way to call for help was brought to the forefront.
For years, we'd thought it would be great to have a pay phone near the airstrip, but always brushed it off with "It would never work, those boys would just stave it up." Happily, inexplicably but happily, the vandalism quotient has been way down lately, though, and it is no longer necessary to involve cash whatsoever to use a public phone, and that plane wreck really did make people think. So, I give you…our new phone. (Actually, it's an old phone, it's the one that used to be down to the Pirate's Galley, but nobody really used it much down there since the place closed…)
After several months of speculation as to whether or not the phone company (TDS Telecom in its guise as Island Telephone) would approve and support such a measure, the decision finally was made, and Paul the phone man (sometimes heard muttering about "conduct unbecoming a phone man") was directed to make it happen, one way or the other, and come the final thaw, they'd sort out the realities. He considered various options for a reasonably weatherproof enclosure, lacking a real phone booth, and planning at first to build a wooden version of the aluminum kiosk thing we see most places (in the darn rare event you see a pay phone at all nowadays.) One wise-aleck suggested using the ubiquitous plastic fish tote. Paul looked through the Grainger catalog thinking, as an electrician, that a weatherproof junction box of sufficient size must be available. Too expensive. Then, he stumbled onto the solution, and walked into his house with the new phone kiosk in his hands, to show his wife…a large gray plastic toolbox. Perfect.
This telephone can be used to call Matinicus and Rockland numbers at no cost, expenses borne by the phone company (good for them! Thank you! How often do you get to say that to a utility?) It's just a phone, but it might save a life some day. More likely, it'll save most of us a lot of standing around freezing our keesters off when the plane is going to be late.
Eva Murray, who chooses to "winter" on Matinicus Island because of all the comforts and conveniences there offered, despises when nouns are used as verbs.