Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bandwidth

On the way back to the ice/water line, I glance down and notice one lone bar on the cell phone I've been compulsively carrying with me. And it hits me: I haven't seen or talked to Cindy in three days. I miss her voice. The way the candles lit her face while we cowered in the bathroom. Haven't held the kids. Or heard their laughs. I miss Meg's red hair. Liam's practical jokes.

Now I have coverage! Sweet, sweet signal! And I almost get into a wreck. Halfway into oncoming traffic as I try to thumb Cindy's number. Bzzzt. Bzzzt. Bzzzt. And I'm staring numbly at the phone.

Of course it doesn't connect. The damn central office in Hattiesburg is offline. The landlines are dead. Only a few microwave dishes on the cell towers survived. (T-Mobile only uses landlines, anyway!) What few lines are open are jammed. Filled to capacity beyond anyone's expectation. Too many calls trying to connect, no voice channels available.

Then it dawns on me: text! I can type a message to Cindy! Next time she gets within range of a tower in Hattiesburg, she'll pick it up. (Text messages don't use voice channels. On a GSM network there are data channels that carry the text sessions.)

But the bars are gone. Dead air. Nothing. "Can you hear me now?" NO, YOU FREAK!

I flip the car back to the four-way stop where I found the signal. Sure enough, within ten feet of a country road in the rural north of Long Beach, MS, I have somehow found a Bermuda Triangle of cellular activity. I pull onto the dusty, searing side of the road. Cut on the car's AC. Hold the phone to the sky. And pray to the dark gods of bandwidth for enough signal to deliver a few words to the love of my life.

And my prayers are answered. A small miracle. Some good karma to take the edge off my sorrows.

So I text Cindy not to come to the Coast. Let her know that Glenda's house was submerged, but my Dad and I were trying to clean it up. Keep the kids safe in Hattisburg, I tell her. There's no room for them. I miss her. I love them. Miss them.

And then I head to the line for a bag of ice and a gallon of water.
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