‘No TV or Internet:' Light Station Innkeepers Describe Life in the Middle of San Francisco Bay

"In the old days lighthouse keepers would fill the whale oil and trim the wick and funnel the oxygen, but as modern-day innkeepers, our job is nothing like that"

Imagine an island moored to the middle of the ocean — there's no TV, no internet and a population of two. Meet Jillian Meeker and Che Rodgers, the innkeepers who are the caretakers of East Brother Light Station on the northernmost tip of the San Francisco Bay. They are the housekeepers, the cooks and the concierge. There is no other staff.

When did East Brother Light Station start housing innkeepers?
Che Rodgers: East Brother Light Station Incorporated was founded in the mid-70’s as a plan to preserve the lighthouse that we’re in from destruction. So ever since then, there’s been a series of innkeepers living out here.

What’s it like to be lighthouse keepers in the Bay Area?
Jillian Meeker: As much as we would like to call ourselves lighthouse keepers, that’s definitely not in our duties out here. We’re responsible for running the operations of the bed and breakfast. Which pretty much entails everything from running the reservation system to cooking, answering the phones, cleaning, running the boat. Everything that goes into, well not all of the maintenance … but as far as innkeeping goes it really is just the two of us.

Jennifer Gonzalez / NBC Bay Area
East Brother Light Station is three-quarters of a mile in size and perched in the Northernmost corner of the San Francisco Bay.

Do you ever feel isolated from the technological world that is the Bay Area?
Che Rodgers: It’s interesting to be living this very kind of outdated lifestyle and watching the very high paced buzz of the technological world around us. For me it’s more of what I’m used to, I’ve spent most of my adult life working unusual jobs in obsolete fields. Mainly on wooden boats, fishing, living in remote areas of Alaska and Ireland, I’m kind of used to that separation and keeping those dying industries alive. But the juxtaposition is very apparent out here.

Jillian Meeker: There is no access to WiFi out here, there is no television, which again, when I tell people about that who aren’t on the island, they tend to ask, “Do you guys get bored, do you get super cut off,” and the answer is absolutely not. Before we came out here, we might have been a bit nervous about that. But it hasn’t been a huge hindrance. Boredom is not an issue.

We don’t get island fever out here. People ask us that all the time — do you get bored? Do you feel trapped? Does it feel really really small? Absolutely not, no.

How did you come across the job at East Brother Light Station?
Jillian Meeker:
We were traveling in New Zealand when we got the job…. A friend of Che’s emailed us the job application. I think there was one sentence accompanying the link, and it like “haha look it’s your perfect job.” And at first glance, it was like oh that’s really cute, can you imagine, living on an island in the San Francisco Bay, how perfect, and then we looked at it the next day and realized we fit the qualifications that were listed. It’s supposed to be two people who come out here, you don’t have to be a couple, I think most people are, one person has to be a captain’s license, that’s non-negotiable for just transporting paying passengers but then of course hospitality, cooking, any resources you would need to be the first line of defense … things like emergency service.[[492221721, C]]

How long do you plan on being innkeepers at East Brother Light Station?
Jillian Meeker:
It’s usually a two-year commitment for most keepers, and we figured we could get through it even if we hated it, and we certainly have not hated it, it’s been wonderful. 

How does the island source its water?
Jillian Meeker: Since 1873 when the light station was built, we’ve relied entirely on rainwater catchment. The entire island is essentially built as a rainwater catchment system.

The rainwater catchment system works beautifully. It catches 5000 gallons for every inch of rain that falls. It’s also why we’re pretty conservative with water out here, it’s a completely finite resource. 

Did you ever think you’d be living in the Bay Area despite the high housing costs?
Jillian Meeker: It is kind of surreal to watch that from this place. It’s so weird to see friends on facebook renting someone’s closet for like thousands of dollars. So it is very strange to be so close to what you talked about the housing crisis in the bay area and then to literally be living on an island essentially by ourselves-- it’s weird.

We never thought we would be able to live in the bay area just as far as rent prices go and all of that. So to have a job where we’re essentially getting paid to live in on an island and a historic lighthouse is a dream come true… Literally watching the traffic go by on the bridge… we try not to brag… it’s amazing to have access to so much in the bay area but have an island to retreat to.

How does it feel to be one of the few people who get to lighthouse keepers?
Che Rodgers: We feel very lucky to be a part of this history and this organization. Not just for the chance to call ourselves lighthouse keepers, which is a rare opportunity but also part of the legacy of keepers that have lived out here and just the extraordinary amount of care and restoration.

Jordan Winters contributed reporting to this story.

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