The World Doesn’t Stop When You Don’t Have Cell Phone Service

Life off the grid isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

We haven’t had internet or cell phone service for much of the summer.

That means no chit chats on the phone with the grandkids. No checking the latest news on the internet. No tweets, no messages, no Sirius radio, no television.  Off the grid.

It amazes me the number of places where you can’t get a cell bar.

We didn’t have service in national forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a week, but I expected that. We’d drive for 20 minutes before seeing another car. Locals told us that AT&T had towers there. We have Verizon phones.

The lack of service was the running joke at Camp Rivervale in Mitchell, Indiana, where we replaced lights, painted and did other odd jobs on cabins as part of  a three-week NOMADS project. 

There are a lot of tall trees on Rivervale’s property, which is surrounded by cornfields. The camp caretakers told us that we couldn’t get service because the cell signals couldn’t get through the trees. Huh?

I have another theory.

Mitchell is a dead town. It’s claim to fame is that it was the home of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, a Gemini astronaut and the Carpenter school bus factory. The factory struggled for years before closing in 2001.

Gus Grissom

Mitchell’s main street has one café, three thrift stores and a lot of empty store fronts. It appears residents are selling their junk to each other.

In other words, there’s no reason for Verizon to invest in cell phone towers in the area. Who would use them?

We found that you might get a bar or two on the phone if you got up before 5 a.m. The service died by 7 when everyone else got up and began making phone calls and getting on line.

From then on phones dropped calls in mid-sentence and text messages telling us to break for lunch arrived hours late. Forget email or trying to get a weather forecast.

I had no idea what was going on in the world, which is a horror for a news junky.

So when my daughter Colleen called one afternoon for her weekly chat I asked what was happening in the world.

“Well, Trump wants to buy Greenland.”

See what you miss when you don’t have cell phone service.

Hurricane relief

Trees on the side of I-10 that were devastated by Hurricane Michael.

As we drove east on Interstate 10 along Florida’s panhandle it looks as if someone is logging the roadside on either side of the small town of Marianna.

But as you go further east along the interstate you notice that it’s not overzealous loggers that makes the trees look like this. It’s the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a category 5 hurricane that slammed the Florida panhandle last fall.

The trees are snapped off, mowed down, with only a few left standing.

Billboards are shredded and the official highway signs lay by the side of the road. It looks as if some giant redneck drunk smacked them against his forehead crumpling them like an empty beer can.

Two rest areas are closed. No one has gotten around to cleaning them up yet.

Crumpled road sign

Mexico Beach, the quaint beach town that was wiped off the map by Michael, is where national journalists go to write their disaster updates.

But I haven’t seen a word about Marianna, a town about an hour north of the coast. Photos from local newspapers and television taken at the time show a downtown where the brick façade of businesses were stripped off. It really does look like a bomb went off in town.


Marinna, Florida after Hurricane Michael. Dothan

Why hasn’t anyone bothered to pick up the metal highway signs, I ask Joe as we drive past. Surely scavengers could make money off the metal.

Picking up road signs is number 2,999 on a clean up list that is only at number 2, he replied.

What I see makes me angry. Congress has failed to act to provide disaster relief for Marianna, Mexico Beach, the island of Puerto Rico and other communities hit by hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

Our representatives and president are letting us down. As I write this on the Friday before Memorial Day, it has been 271 days since Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle and Congress is failing to act, again, to help the people its represents. A bipartisan bill for disaster relief was held up in the House by one lone Texas Republican.

One guy is keeping communities from rebuilding and picking up the crumpled signs along the interstate.

One guy is standing in the way of thousands of people rebuilding their lives.

Undiscovered Pittsburgh

We had expected to spend our winter exploring southern Texas and Arizona, but God had other plans.

A minor medical procedure on Joe’s legs has forced us to spend the winter in Pittsburgh. But that doesn’t mean we’ve given up exploring.

Currently we’re living like college students above a store front on Warrington Avenue in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Because we live upstairs, we can’t just tie Nikki out like we would in a motorhome. That means at least four times a day Joe takes the dog out for a walk in the neighborhood. Nik’s a great ambassador. People who won’t look up when you pass by will stop us to talk about our blue-eyed dog.

On his daily walks Joe found two really cool buildings.

On one of his walks Joe noticed was a two-story brick building and tower up on a hill a couple of blocks away.  Climbing the hill for a closer look he found the 1909 Beltzhoover Sub-District School.


The building was used as a school until sometime in the 2000s and is now for sale. It’s an impressive building that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. We don’t know why it was placed on the register. Did someone famous go there? Was it designed by a well-known architect? Information about the school is not yet digitized on the federal government’s website.

While researching the school, a story in the Tribune about one of the six oldest houses in Pittsburgh popped up. It’s a little field stone house near us on Climax Street.

old house pix

The building dates to 1794 when German immigrant Melchoir Beltzhoover, who bought 248 hilltop acres on what was then the western frontier and built a house on his farm. There’s a Facebook page that explains a lot about Beltzhoover, his family, business and how he came to Pittsburgh.

old house front
Beltzhoover homestead

The front of the building on Climax Street looks like a 1900s store front that was later converted to housing. The vacant lots beside it are weedy and overgrown. The store front is attached to the two-story field stone building. The news story says someone from Baltimore bought the building and land for $20,000, but he hasn’t done anything with it.

It’s not likely anything will be done to the building. Beltzhoover is not a prosperous area by any means. The properties around the homestead are run down or abandoned and that area of the city hasn’t drawn developers to redevelop properties like the South Side, the Mexican War Streets or Lawrenceville.

The Beltzhoover homestead sets me to dreaming. What would I do if I had the money to return that old house to its former glory? And what else lies undiscovered in this neighborhood?