Regular readers have probably noticed that I haven’t been throwing up my usual daily or every other day posts. I’ve been contending with a major technology melt-down that put me days behind in everything. Up here in Sonoma, I’m living a pioneer lifestyle. Well, except for the Wi-Fi. No TV, little radio reception, no landline phone, no DVD players, no neighbors (at least not of the human kind.) I do have spotty cell phone reception. That is when I walk halfway up the hill, stand on my tiptoes and wave the phone over my head. That is if the sunspots aren’t too excessive. Of course, this is not fun at night — especially when there is no full moon — it’s pitch black and Mountain Lions and coyotes are lurking. Those large meat eaters generally are no respecters of the need for cell phone reception. So I depend on that aforementioned Wi-Fi, which is surprisingly reliable due to a repeater on the hill that beams the signal from downtown Sonoma over my hill.

So, the point is, once I’m out here in the wilds of unincorporated Sonoma County, I’ve got a pretty tenuous communications link to civilization.

That’s why it was not the thing to do to blaze up here in such an all-fired rush that I completely forgot to pack my laptop. One major communications link down, but I still had my iPhone. Even with WordPress for iPhone loaded, it’s really impossible to update a blog. But I could at least check Facebook, text, leave various comments, and, of course, call. That is if I walked up the hill, stood on tiptoe, etc. etc. So that was fine until my iPhone charger decided to give up the ghost. I watched in horrified and increasing silence as the green charge bar faded down and down to one thin red line then the screen went dark. So now, I’m in a moonless night, no neighbors, no communications lines and, did I mention I’m up here because we’ve been having repeated break-ins and I’m supposed to be repelling burglars until we can finish installing the security system?

When America is down to its last pay phone, it will be found in front of a Seven-Eleven.

By about 9PM after a day of radio silence, I was thinking I should at least let Andy know what was happening. That entailed driving to Sonoma and cruising the streets looking for a pay phone. Did you know pay phones have pretty much gone the way of the DoDo? I finally located one, and with the change I’d managed to scrape from under the couch cushions, dialed Andy. On the third number, and at the end of my change supply, I finally reached him and gave him the general situation before the operator asked me for fifty more cents that I didn’t have. Since this pay phone was in front of the Seven-Eleven, I strolled in to buy some reading material for what looked to be a Long Dark Night of the Soul.

You know those disposable cell phones the perps always use on Law & Order? Apparently not available to the average citizen.

Then I saw them. The disposable cell phones. You know, the ones that the perps and drug dealers are always using on Law & Order. In addition to being cheap, they are completely untraceable (at least according to Law & Order), so, if I chose to call a drug dealer or orchestrate a murder-for-hire on my way back to the vineyards, I’d be all set. Armed with a phone and a sixty minute service card, I headed to the counter. I picked up a Slim Jim and a case of beer on the way, just in case I really wanted to live that Gansta life.

Here’s where I learned the first valuable lesson of this whole debacle:

1) There is no customer service at Seven-Eleven. The 19 year old night clerk is NOT going to tell you how to set up your phone. He’s not even going to recommend which one to choose. He’s there to watch you swipe your Credit Card. That’s it.

Unfortunately, these were the only Peeps who had my back during my Long Dark Night of Technology Failure.

Once back at the ranch, I learned the next valuable lesson:

2) Drug dealers on Law & Order have access to disposable cell phones not available to the general public. The phones that YOU buy need to be activated by going on-line or calling FROM ANOTHER PHONE! Gee, if I had another phone — or even leftover change for the payphone — I wouldn’t need this disposable cell phone, now would I?

How do drug dealers on Law & Order get these quick, cheap, untraceable disposable cell phones? The ones available at Seven Eleven required everything back to your Third Grade transcript to activate.

So scary night in the wilderness, hoping this wasn’t the night anyone tried to break in. Not that anyone could sneak up on me. If a leaf falls from a tree a hundred yards away, two terriers here set up ear-piercing barks. But once the alarm was sounded, I didn’t have much recourse. I guess I could run. Or pick up an iron skillet. Or trust to the fear factor that might or might not be produced by twenty pound dogs.

Morning couldn’t come fast enough and, by seven, I was in the car and heading for Target in Napa, the only place I could think of that might have an iPhone charger. My first bit of luck. I arrived at the electronics counter just as the last charger was being picked up by a clerk who was showing it to a customer buying his first iPod. That’s when I learned Lesson Three:

3) With the last charger on the shelf, there is no time for politeness.

I snatched the charger from the surprised clerk and sprinted to the check-out counter.

Only to have my card declined. I made them run it a second time. Declined.

My second piece of luck, I had just enough cash, including the pennies in the bottom of my purse, to buy one charger. That is if the clerk would forgive me one cent of sales tax. She did.

Now off to the bank to see why this card was declined, because with no more cash and a pretty empty larder, I was looking at competing with the dogs for Paul Newman’s Special Blend Dog Food.

Sure enough, the bank confirmed that my card had been hacked. Two $500 charges had gone against it to what sounded like a porn site or an escort service, so they’d frozen it. (Since I’m the only person using this card, and the bank is pretty well-versed in my spending habits, they figured I wasn’t just having a wild night on the town.)

That’s where the bank manager gave me some more valuable lessons for the day:

4) Did you know credit card scammers specifically target tourist towns? And the FBI had apparently rounded up a group of Russians over in Martinez who were targeting Sonoma and Napa destinations. (But there were obviously more at work and still on the loose.)

5) Never, ever use your ATM card for anything but getting cash out of your branch. INSIDE. Apparently, the most common scam is to replace the chip in those sliding devices so the scammers can record loads of card numbers AND pin numbers. Apparently, the targets of choice are gas stations as they are unmanned at night and the perps can rig the pump with no one the wiser. But official bank ATMs have also been hit. Needless to say, avoid like the plague those no-name cash machines.

6) If you buy online or bank online, do it from a Mac. They are either unhackable or thieves can’t be bothered to hack this less populated platform or some combination of the two.

Don't count on terriers in a technology emergency.

As long as the firewood holds out, they can't be bothered.

Okay, a sobering day of lessons learned. Which put me way behind in everything else I needed to do. But fraudulent charges were stopped. A new ATM card was issued. The laptop was delivered this weekend by Andy. My iPhone is up and charging. And I’ve got my drug dealer disposable locked and loaded with 60 minutes and standing by as back up.

And I’ve picked up my shotgun! (More on that tomorrow.)