Imagine you're the kind of person who drives out to see submarine-cable landing sites for fun. This should not require too much imagination. We're talking about places in the world where the Internet rises out of the ocean. Of course you're the kind of person who wants to see that.
Now imagine you're in San Francisco. You have two options for landing sites to visit for a day trip. You can drive south to San Luis Obispo, where there are a few cable landings in close proximity to each other; or north, to Manchester, where there's only one landing for the Japan-U.S. Cable Network. Fate sends you to Manchester. “Fate” in this instance may mean a preference for really scenic drives.
I first learned about the Manchester cable in an excerpt from the cable station's internal company newsletter in a hacker magazine from 1995 found in the Prelinger Library in San Francisco. It made the station sound like a pretty cool place to work. I was particularly intrigued by the part about Floyd the technician, who “lives in his deluxe RV at the KOA during his work week.” Sadly, I didn't see a deluxe RV in the KOA when I drove up, or during any subsequent visits.
Here is what happens when you go to see this submarine-cable landing site: very little. The actual station is, like much critical network infrastructure, designed to be ignored. The fences and buildings obscured by shrubbery don't really scream
“please call the intercom at the gate.” When you call the intercom at the gate, he will tell you, in an annoyed voice, that they don’t give tours. He will not tell you his name. It will be as thrilling as it sounds.
When AT&T first built the the Manchester Cable Station in 1956, it was referred to as the Point Arena Cable Station. Point Arena is the next town over from Manchester, and it’s where the continental U.S. is geographically closest to the Hawaiian Islands. This proximity was one of the primary motivations for placing the cable landing out here.