The words quaint, old-world, and charm should have tipped me off,
but somehow I've come to assume at least some possibility of Internet connectivity at any and all hotels. I always travel equipped. My notebook has a modem, a Wi-Fi card, and a LAN port. I subscribe to a dial-up account and have credits accrued at a variety of Wi-Fi hot spots. And I always carry spare Ethernet and telephone cables just in case. So what could possibly cut me off from the outside world?
I found myself in a T-Mobile store, wielding my recently acquired cell phone and asking, "Can I use this thing as a modem or something?"
The Jean Bonnet Tavern in Bedford, Pennsylvania, has no phones in the rooms. There is no Wi-Fi hot spot in range, and of course, it has no Ethernet ports. On the plus side, it has authentic 1762 wood-beam architecture, a great restaurant and bar, and a wonderful setting. It may even be haunted by several ghosts, if you care about such things. But it's absolutely cut off from the Web.
When you need to dash off some e-mail and submit a few articles before you get to enjoy your vacation, this is not an ideal situation. So I found myself in a T-Mobile store, wielding my recently acquired cell phone and asking, "Can I use this thing as a modem or something?"
Take my money, please
You should never pose an open question like that in a retail establishment, especially if you have a phone in one hand and a credit card in the other. But as it happens, you have several options for using your cell phone as a modem--provided that you happen to have the right kind of phone and the store in question happens to have the right connection cable. As luck would have it, a USB data cable wasn't in stock for my Nokia 6800. That's what I get for going for the freebie phone when I signed up for the service. (I subsequently got a DKU-5 cable for less than $30 on eBay, but that's another story.) At the time, things looked pretty bleak for staying in touch while experiencing the joys of an 18th century coaching inn on the old Lincoln Highway.
Things looked pretty bleak for staying in touch while experiencing the joys of an 18th century coaching inn on the old Lincoln Highway.
I got over my disappointment and wandered over to the PC Card shelves, where I discovered that I had another option--and one that was in stock: a Sony Ericsson GC79 PC Card. Technically speaking, it's a dual-purpose GPRS cellular and 802.11b Wi-Fi Cardbus and Type II PC Card. Practically speaking, it's a cell phone modem and Wi-Fi card for notebooks. You install the drivers onto your Mac or Windows machine, slide your cellular SIM card into the GC79 PC Card, then slip the PC Card into your computer, and you're away. According to the sales staff, one of whom actually used the thing, you get connection rates that are faster than dial-up but not up to broadband snuff. This option sounded promising, so I checked the T-Mobile service coverage map (yes, Bedford County was liberally covered) and bit the bullet. The card came with a fairly steep $199 price tag--before tax.
Oh, there's just one more thing: you need to bump up your cellular account to include Internet service. "Ah," I thought, "there's the rub." Plastic in hand, I was a sitting duck for this sales pitch: it was $29.95 per month for a new line and cellular Internet service, not to mention a $35 activation fee. Ouch! I reflexively snatched back my Discover card. After a beat, I proposed popping out my phone's SIM card (saving myself from the charges associated with activating and using a second line) and sliding it in the GC79 PC Card. As it turns out--to the great disappointment of the sales staff, I confess--I could do that, and it would add only $19.95 to my monthly bill and I wouldn't have to pay the activation fee.
Fast-forward through three hours of Turnpike driving, and the scene changes to a grand 18th century bedroom with a large fireplace and 21st century plumbing. I wrestled the SIM card out of my cell phone, popping out the battery first, and slid it into the GC79 PC Card. Into the notebook went the card, and I fired up the connection software. Within seconds, I was online.
Perhaps it's just a vagary of being near the Allegheny Mountains, but the connection rates weren't great. I clocked around 33.3Kbps from the fireplace and slightly faster over by the window, which was too chilly for a decent online experience. This isn't ideal Web browsing speed, but it's acceptable for e-mail software, even a little Web mail. But when it comes to Web browsing, you really need to turn off graphics in your Web browser to get anywhere near comfortable download speeds. (Try it sometime: In Internet Explorer, select Tools > Internet Options, click the Advanced tab and under Multimedia, click to clear the check marks next to Show Pictures, Play Animations, Play Videos, and Play Sounds.) And while you're about it, you might as well turn off your notebook's internal Wi-Fi antenna to save a little juice--with this card, you get not one but two unconnected wireless icons on your desktop.
Despite its lack of Internet amenities (or perhaps because of it), the Jean Bonnet Tavern is a heck of a place to stay. I'd question the presence of ghosts, or at least state categorically that they didn't peer over my shoulder as I read about them online. But the friendly staff and owners and the high-ceilinged 18th century rooms more than make up for it. Just pack a Sony Ericsson GC79 before you go and get a room on the mountain side. The view's better from there.
Have an Internet-connection-from-the-road story or a simple ghost story to share? Do so in the TalkBack below.