An Unlikely Savior for my Wi-Fi Conundrum

Everywhere, USA – One concern I had prior to setting out on this journey was having regular wi-fi access. I couldn’t afford an airport card, sadly, so my plan was to simply find a cafe with free wi-fi where I could sip coffee, write and post articles and stay abreast of the news. Easy enough. My GPS has a wi-fi hotspot locater, which works well except on those occasions when it hits on what turns out to be nothing more than empty commercial space.

Unfortunately, in the American hinterlands, cyber cafes are few and far between. In many towns, diners are the centerpiece of morning civic life. None that I’ve happened upon have wi-fi. Those towns that do have coffee shops often don’t have wi-fi. And those cafes in small towns that do have wi-fi often keep irregular hours, are closed on weekends or frown upon people sitting for hours in their empty joint using their Internet. In larger cities, I found it took considerable time driving to a cafe, not to mention having to pay for parking and upwards of $3 for a cup ‘o joe.

Truck stops and Starbucks charge for access and Panera Bread and other corporate haunts that have wi-fi, but don’t usually have electric outlets in their dining areas. Local libraries tend to have free wi-fi access and none that I’ve encountered require a membership for access. But in libraries one can’t drink coffee, which isn’t a major thing, unless your the kind of person who wants to have his cake and eat it too. Besides, being an early riser, they don’t open early enough for me.

An early solution was to roll up outside of hotels, which usually provide free wi-fi to guests, but sitting in a parking lot, in the back of my van with my laptop open seemed like it would inevitably lead to a hassle by the cops so this I only do when absolutely necessary. Not to mention that drinking coffee and typing inside Purple Thunder pretty much sucks.

Then one morning last week I strolled into the answer, literally. I entered a McDonald’s in West Virginia to ask for directions when I noticed a sign on the door advertising free wi-fi. As one who seldom eats McDonald’s and doesn’t particularly relish its labor or farming practices, its bad health evangelism, it’s cultural infringments and suffocation of dietary customs abroad, it felt a little weird to seek out these Golden Arches every morning since. But for the traveling writer who needs assured, reliable Internet access, McDonald’s, it so happens, is a great resource. Not only can you count on finding one every 20 miles, but its coffee isn’t all that bad, and they have free refills. For $1, I get all the free Internet and coffee I can handle. Usually there are a few electric outlets available, sometimes even in a booth, which is a real score.

The one drawback to McDonald’s is that it doesn’t attract the local intelligenstia like cafes do, which, for someone in pursuit of interesting stories, is kind of a drag. But this drawback has an upside, as it allows me to focus, wrap my work up quickly and get the hell on with the day, which is a great thing, because even on the road I somehow manage to waste more time online than I’d prefer.

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