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The Woes and Wonders of Wireless in Dowtown Aspen

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

I got rid of my Netflix and my Comcast, within a month of each other. I filled out the Netflix survey, “why are you leaving us?” and cringed, checking financial reasons. It wasn’t entirely true; my computer was old and something about the monitor speed wasn’t keeping up with the video card, blah blah blah usual computer mumbo-jumbo which meant it was probably just time to upgrade and get a new computer if I ever wanted to watch movies again. However, computer trauma and/or technological ineptitude weren’t among the multiple choice options; so I blamed the economy instead.

I’d been thinking about getting a laptop, anyway, envying those people connecting with the world, twittering and mobile uploading at airport bars, in the jungle, on the beach, any number of remote places where actual experiences used to take precedence over cyber-banter; but how cool to multi-task on safari!

Deep down, however, I knew that getting a laptop would be my passport to new adventures and geographically-diverse deadlines, away from desks and power outlets and clunky, slow computer monitors that can’t keep up with new fandangled internet movie streams.

Of course, I didn’t totally understand how laptops work. I never thought about it. I assumed that those bohemians had solar-powered computers or the biggest Energizer Bunny ever, charging their portable notebooks into the night with no sign of low battery icons.

I certainly didn’t anticipate that my custom built, specially designed wide-screen Dell PC would, inversely, have the world’s smallest battery.

And so my laptop, like my desktop, requires a power outlet for it to truly thrive and be all it can be. But unlike my desktop, and totally like me, my laptop likes to travel and is well-suited away from home, floating through the wonderful, ethereal world of wireless.

I can be far away from a modem and Comcast service calls and capture thoughts and moments and low-ball Priceline and impetuously surf the internet on a great big ocean of internet connection; I simply need to track down the great wireless cloud in the sky, and bask in its shade.

As for my home office, I soon realized there was some sort of cirrus – if not cumulonimbus – cloud of wireless connection, hovering above my building. It wasn’t super-fast, but it seemed to be super-free.

So I got rid of my Comcast.

Amazingly, once I made the requisite three phone calls necessary to stop the auto-pay, once I’d returned the modem and the ghetto cable cord and the this-chord and the that-chord, the feng shui in my home office/den/foyer/kitchen/ guest room totally improved.

Energy really started flowing in that floorspace.

Even more surprisingly, after about a week of seemingly reliable free wireless, suddenly, I couldn’t get online. Sometimes the connection would pop on and I’d seize the moment, then it would just as suddenly putter out mid-anything I was in the middle of.

Like the wild elephants of Borneo or some rare, exotic creature in a distant land, my internet had become an endangered species; and poaching it, increasingly problematic.

So I took to the outside world of internet cafes and coffee refills and couches and being around other people while I was focused on myself.

Hanging out with the wireless crowd is like being in college again. You get to sit around and have deep thoughts, have moments of immersion interspersed with interruption, people-watching and ambient noise, all of which make what you’re doing that much more engrossing once you get back to it.

Take the conversation overheard just the other night.

Five grown men – and I mean mortgages, life-insurance, IRAs and home-owning children kind of men - were congregated in a certain wireless shelter for Fantasy Football. I was working near the corner outlet behind the Sugar in the Raw; a young woman sat across the room, quietly typing away on her laptop.

About an hour later, the woman got up to leave. One of the men yelled, “Good night! Good to see you!”

She gave him a puzzled look, smiled and said, “Bye?!” Clearly, she didn’t know him but apparently, he and his friends had noticed her. They hadn’t noticed me in the corner, however, or the counter girl across from them; at least I’d like to think they didn’t.

There was a brief silence as she walked up the stairs. The man muttered something to his friends and they all laughed, once she’d left the building. “She’s got a nice little rack,” he continued, more audibly: “And it’s real!”

There’s always the person at the counter who can’t tear herself away from the phone call long enough to order; or the man yelling at his broker as if he were actually in a meeting in the broker’s office, instead of on an Iphone drowning out All Things Considered in an internet café.

A friend of mine told me she got kicked out of the Community Center where she connects to the net and fields sales calls; apparently, other members complained about her animated transactions. She brought up an interesting point: “It’s a community center!” I assured her that it’s a badge of honor to get kicked out of a community center; that’s no easy feat. We decided it gave her an edge.

One local graphic designer loves working wireless in public. “It’s totally relaxing; I’m away from the phone, from co-workers...I can completely focus without interruptions. I love getting out of the cubicle.”

Another local filmmaker noted that Starbuck’s is no longer a café, it’s an office. “I walk in there and it’s a total conference room. No wonder commercial real estate is down!”

So if there’s no office space left at Starbuck’s, try some of my favorite wireless wall outlets around town: remember, wireless without a wire is just a ticking time-bomb.

One of the friendliest and most user-friendly connections is Parallel 15, downstairs across from the fountain. They keep the radio on NPR, which makes me feel superior to – myself? - as I spend a good chunk of time communing with the couch near the Half and Half.

Sometimes that corner of the room is taken. I take a couple of minutes to process the letdown, then I go to Plan B. There’s a table or two with a nearby outlet and I’ll get started there, while I cast dark glances toward the condiment station, hoping to intimidate the squatters and take back the sofa.

Parallel 15 has really good coffee, home-made gluten-free and gluten-filled pastries (pick your pleasure), grilled cheese paninis and the ever-delicious egg and cheese bagel, always food for thought.

There are several ceiling fans churning all day long; it’s pretty hot in Parallel 15. But if you’ve survived the summer there, you’ll be rewarded with a warm and cozy winter.

Up on the sunshine level, there’s Victoria’s Espresso and Wine Bar. Now, the wireless is free for about 20 minutes; so if your internet needs involve more than weather.com and cross-referencing your horoscope, surf’s up in no time. But, if you’re looking to get some work done in an aesthetically-pleasing atmosphere, Victoria’s is a fine choice. There’s an outlet by the main counter, in the corner, and one on the ceiling over the overstuffed couch near the cream and sugar. Surprise surprise, I prefer the overstuffed couch corner; string up that chord Christmas-light style, ignore the strange glances from the kids eating homemade ice cream and get to work.

The food is gourmet and affordable, with some of the best coffee and by far the best café fare in town. Happy hour wines and fresh-baked muffin tops make Victoria’s a must see – if only for 20 minutes.

Sabra’s Mediterranean Deli, near Clark’s, has free wireless and some really great hummus, tabouli and ethnic concoctions to round out your connection; 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel has wireless and a hip and happening bar menu/patio and pool scene for those sunny days in September. However, after about a half-hour of club beats at three in the afternoon, you’ll want to get in the hot tub rather than get your work done. Apply sunscreen at the Sky; apply yourself, elsewhere.

One of my new favorite wireless locations is the Library at the Hotel Jerome. Open at 6 p.m., it’s the study I’ve always dreamed of, Colonel Mustard on the chaise lounge with a candlestick, that sort of thing; you can order a scotch or a glass of wine and feel worldly and sophisticated, but you’ll need to bring a headlamp because as darkness falls, so do the lights. It’s a bar, not a library.

You can always drive around and try logging on from your backseat, covert operation style, but that gets old without coffee refills.

Now, the thought has crossed my mind that between a glass of wine here, a vanilla latte and caprese salad there, maybe a molasses cookie over there, I might actually be spending more patronizing free wireless than if I had my own private, secured connection.

But then I wouldn’t get to hear all the classy things people say in public.