Letter from the Lake, and more specifically — thanks to some recent modern conveniences added to our property in northeastern Pennsylvania — a letter from 36 Diamond Cove, Thompson PA 18465:

I’m just back from a seven-day sojourn at “the lake,” a small summer cottage on the shore of a modest-sized, spring-fed lake at an elevation of about 2,000 feet in Wayne County — a place that I have come to think of as the last bastion of oldtime rural America. As I have written in previous “letters,” it’s a place where you can still see the Milky Way at night, where mountain breezes work in place of central air conditioning, where cell phones don’t work at all, and where bars still have dance halls that feature polka nights and square dances.

But everything changes. Last year I reported on the advent of McMansions hulking above the shore line of Wrighter Lake and the talk of a possible sewer system ringing the lake.

This year the newest thing is a street name and a street number. The street name I expected: Even though the glorified dirt and gravel driveways that surround the lake are private roads, two of them already have names, East Shore Drive and South Shore Drive. These days a dozen cottages are now occupied year-round and — perhaps related to the year-round residents — the lake recently joined the real world’s 911 system.

The emergency workers in the area — all dedicated volunteers, as far as I can tell — would love to have some better description than the one that I would have offered up until now: “We need an ambulance right away — it’s the last cottage on the driveway that comes through the old pasture, the one that used to have the two gates but doesn’t now.”

So sometimes a new thing may also a good thing. I hope I will never find out of the emergency response is any better or not. And it’s a convenient coincidence that — in the beginning of my dotage — the number assigned to my new street name is the same as the number of my principal residence in the big city.

Meanwhile another McMansion is coming to Wrighter Lake, this one right on “Diamond Cove,” in the area that used to be the cow pasture between the two gates, the buffer zone between the lake and the hard road that led to all of civilization. The McMansion will be the first structure I drive by when arriving at the lake.

I pick up a copy of my latest telephone bill from Northeastern Pennsylvania Telephone and it heralds the imminent debut of its new cellular phone service. “More coverage for local residents,” it promises, acknowledging the reality that the big cell phone services don’t have the inclination to go after the tiny northeastern Pennsylvania market.

More promising — or is it more alarming? — is the notice that the phone company also now offers DSL and digital television service. I am amazed: I would have thought that both DSL and digital TV, along with the fiber optic network necessary to support it, would still be years off in the business plan for NEP Telephone. And service at tiny Wrighter Lake, I had imagined, would be some additional years away. Here in New Jersey — civilization, as we know it — the phone company, cable company, and politicians are still strip searching each other to determine who, if anyone, will get to compete with whom for what.

I call the telephone company’s office on the main street in Forest City (population 1,755). It’s a small town with an old fashioned downtown that still has one hardware store, a lumber yard, a police station, sidewalk sales, an annual street fair, and more bars than coffee shops. A few years ago, perhaps mindful of the national trends for such downtowns, they stopped charging for parking.

I don’t need to explain where Wrighter Lake is. It’s still a small company and a small town. The owner of the phone company, Ed Tourje, has a cottage (modest, not a McMansion) across the lake from me. The woman who helps me is a 29-year employee who knows where the lake is. Can I get DSL there? The answer is surprising: Sure can, and digital television, as well.

It’s a quandary. DSL would allow me to stretch a two-day weekend into three, or three-day into four-day, or let me come back on a Monday morning rather than fight Sunday evening rush hour traffic through the Poconos and the Delaware Water Gap, an hour and a half to the south. But access to the Internet or television would be another chance for my kids to turn into couch potatoes.

As a young man at the lake 40 years ago I also lamented that there was nothing to do there. That’s why, when my parents went off to a place called “Eddie’s” in nearby Orson, I agreed to go and then actually grew to like the place, which featured square dances and polkas and country and western music. And that’s why, on chilly nights in a cottage with no radio and no television, I would take off in the car and make the rounds of those bars in Forest City, discovering slices of life that — years later — television’s “Cheers” could only faintly imitate.

The world is racing toward the lake, and more specifically 36 Diamond Cove. Can I head it off? Should I even try?

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