Well, not that it was as impressive as I’m making it out to be, but I was quite prescient yesterday when I wrote at 9 a.m. that maybe someone had cut a line and shut off Gunnison from the rest of the world. That turns out to be exactly what happened, and so even though I predicted this as a possibility at 9 a.m., no one got to hear about it for 10 hours.
It didn’t take too long to learn about the situation — it only required a stroll down Riverwalk Drive with Oz. First we came alongside Mr. Leonard, who asked if our internet was out like his was, which was a clue since he uses a different provider. Then his wife blasted out of the driveway, telling him she couldn’t get hold of someone so she was just going to drive there.
Oz and I went a little farther along, where our walk came to an end when Lisa wanted to know if Oz could linger and play with Rufus the Airedale. While the two of them ran around, Lisa told me the line coming into the valley had been cut, snipping most communication valleywide.
By the time we made it to work, later than usual due to the impromptu play date, Vann had put an old boombox — this is why you never throw anything away — into service and was listening to KBUT, Crested Butte’s public access radio. It was true: we were completely cut off, and I mean completely — 911 wasn’t even an option. If you had an emergency, KBUT told us, you needed to go to a public building, where emergency services were maintaining contact through radio.
At least one person needed to avail themselves of this clunky option, since Gunnison’s fire trucks rolled north early in the evening. It may have been a fire or perhaps an accident, but either way, someone had to leave the scene and drive to a public building to summon assistance. I hope this delay didn’t make the situation too much worse.
There is something unnerving about realizing just how dependent on the internet and cell phones we all have become, and just how easily we can be rendered completely vulnerable.
Kara thought we were supposed to be less vulnerable. Although she wasn’t recalling it, this did happen to us once before, a few years ago when the exact same Century Link fiber optic trunk line that comes into town from Montrose got cut. Century Link owns every last bit of the fiber optic into town, and every other company leases their little piece from them.
This is why I never understand our work internet provider when they tell us a “line has been cut near Denver,” because the service comes from the west, not the east. Two years ago this company started charging customers an extra $10 per month to cover the cost of bringing a line in from the south to provide redundancy, but apparently this is just like throwing your money away on a presidential legal fund that now seems to be going into a newly-formed political action committee that could just plunk every dime in an ex-president’s personal account.
But Kara thought, and I think she’s right, that as they paved Cottonwood Pass, from Buena Vista to Taylor Park, they were laying a second fiber optic line that was supposed to come from the east and offer even more redundancy (it is good to know one can never be too redundant, particularly if one writes a blog).
But somehow that line doesn’t appear to be functional, any more than the mythical service that will “some day” come from the south. And in the meantime, one careless swipe of a backhoe (or whatever happened) and the entire Gunnison Valley finds itself unable to function.
Kara’s friend who manages a marijuana dispensary was off work because absolutely nothing could be done — even printing labels required internet capability. I couldn’t pick up my bank bags for the second day in a row, one day a planned holiday, the next done in by the lack of internet.
Had the outage persisted, my sister said, they were going to cancel school today. I’m not sure how they were going to notify students and staff, though — Vann suggested maybe they were just going to knock on every door in town and ask if any kids lived there.
Gilly was in an even bigger world of hurt than the rest of us. The city had already notified her of a plan to take down a giant cottonwood identified as past its prime. Because of its proximity to power lines, she had no electricity while the city operated. Her husband, a CNN junkie, had to make due with a transistor radio tuned to Colorado Public Radio and a stack of crossword puzzles.
KBUT thought landlines would be able to make calls to other local landlines, but that didn’t work for Lynn, calling from the Almont post office, where she was completely crippled, to Gunnison where they had limited availability of manual systems.
A friend of James’ who works in a pizza restaurant stopped in and said they could only do dine-in or come in for take-out, and cash only.
Since my computer wouldn’t talk to Kara’s where all the databases are stored, I instead ended up vacuuming. And then cleaning the vacuum. Kara, unable to order anything, call customers or send invoices, taped up screens. James was able to print, which prompted the city manager to think we were managing just fine when he stopped in to tell us communications were out.
He may also have been using it as a mask test, because on a Zoom Tuesday — back in the old days when the internet worked — someone said the manager planned to make some appearances and correct any misinformation the maskless might be operating under. But both James and I had our masks firmly in proper place when he popped in. Passed that test!
Kara’s sister Shannon went above and beyond. Newly returned to Gunnison, she first located an official communique regarding the situation, and then she drove to Salida to notify her boss that she would not be working remotely. She drove one and a half hours to deliver this message, with a return trip equally long, and the response was, “So you aren’t going to be working at all today?”
I suppose, to the vast majority of the entire world, this is an incomprehensible situation, that one line gets sliced and there is nowhere within a 60-mile radius for anyone to go to be able to communicate with each other and the outside world. It made me wonder if Kara’s friend Haley, another remote worker able to return home, would even be believed, or if she would just get a black mark on her record for not calling in. “Suuuure,” is kind of the response I imagined her getting as she tried to explain after the fact.
At one point in the morning KBUT interviewed the Crested Butte town manager, asking her what people should do. “Keep listening to KBUT,” she said, to the delight of the interviewer. She added that this why it’s important to hang onto these valued community resources. Because when all modern technology failed, we still had KBUT.
Which didn’t make us any less cut off from the outside world — hello, Shangri-La — but it was nice to know the the interior infrastructure was holding up, at least on an emergency basis.
Today we should all be back to normal, our horrible ordeal fading into the mists of memory to the point that Kara won’t even recall this happening the next time it does. But while I imagine he will use his computer today to do so, Vann will have one constant: he will still be listening to KBUT radio.