By Lynn Ashby 18 April 2011
THE CABLE GUY
No doubt you have been victim to the strange inefficiency of our communications industry, in which the cutting edge of technology can’t operate a Swiss knife. The companies stumble over one another, hire phone operators who can’t speak English and send out a Mister Fix-It who has trouble finding the correct end of a screwdriver – and can’t speak English.
My own sad story began when we saw an ad for Fantastic 4-Way Vu, a cable package allowing us to record four TV shows at the same time. That way, I could tape the next four “American Idol” programs and know who won before anyone else. The offer was from my telephone company, Phone at the Mouth. So I called up the agent. He checked, hit a few buttons, then said I lived too far out in the boonies to be connected.
Huh? I don’t dwell on some sheep ranch 40 miles south of Uvalde. I live in the middle of the fourth largest city in America. Specifically, the agent said I live too far from a big green box a few blocks away from my house that controls all telephone lines, TV cables, WiFi and NORAD signals for the Western Hemisphere.
Two years later I noticed a Phone at the Mouth (PAM) truck parked in front of my next-door neighbor’s house. My neighbor explained she was getting Fantastic 4-Way Vu. So I checked again with my phone company. Even went to the local PAM store. Nope, I live too far out, even though my neighbor is farther away from the Jolly Green Box than I am.
Next, PAM started bombarding us twice a week with letters offering us 4-Way Vu which we can’t get. So I called again. The company said it would send a guy out to see if he could wire me up. The appointment was for sometime between now and never, but first we must pull out from the wall all our TVs and computers so the digital surgeon could operate. Have you looked behind your desk lately? So that’s where the Christmas tree went. I had more dust bunnies than Easter. And I had to buy some sort of special plugs for each outlet. So we did, and waited with furniture scattered around the house.
The cable guy finally arrived a week later, poked around and said he didn’t think he could connect me, but said a specialist would come out and check. The specialist came, checked, and said Mister Fix-It would return within an hour. He never showed. I called. PAM which said it had no record of us, our order or our birth certificate from Hawaii. After some digging, the company reported our order had been cancelled. I re-ordered and spent the next week still stumbling over desks, wires and a Christmas tree. Yet another worker arrived promptly – this time zone — and worked on the Jolly Green Box down the street for hours trying to hook me up, but he couldn’t. Well, at least he didn’t disconnect my neighbors’ phones.
My tale of woe goes on and on, but you get the fuzzy picture. I never did get Fantastic 4-Way Vu because our communications companies overlap with cable TV, computers, hearing aids and iPhones. Do you have a burglar alarm system connected to ESPN? Add all the other little black boxes that people are operating when they should be driving a train or performing open heart surgery, and we have this mess of messengers. I’d be better off with rabbit ears, two Dixie cups and a piece of string.
Remember when we had only one phone company and three TV networks? You don’t? Well, unlucky you. One more thing: Have you looked at your phone or cable bill lately? Mine is two pages of small print and large numbers. What is “Federal tax on remotes”? “Cable franchise fee for water district.” “Stuff.” You know that many of these taxes are not taxes at all but company fees. No wonder last year Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts was paid $28.1 million. His colleague at AT&T, Randall L. Stephenson, received $20.2 million. The winner: Viacom’s Philippe P. Dauman: $84.5 million.
You can probably identify with my unending problems. They get worse. Because meantime, at our lake house in Varicose Valley, we decided to go beyond mere electricity and running water even unto a cable hookup for the TV and – praise Allah – go on-line. We had to deal with the dreaded PAM and, after two dozen phone calls, they gave us a monthly price equal to that of Section C-120 at the next Super Bowl game. We could afford it (I really didn’t need two kidneys – redundancy).
They mailed me a modem with enough wires to string Chicago, but I still had to buy an extension cable and a 12-outlet plug. When we called to set up an appointment so Larry, Moe and Curly could come out and install the system, PAM gave a price twice the one we had agreed upon earlier. The ol’ bait and switch. I had to return the cable and plug and mail back the modem. There went Tuesday.
My Moma didn’t raise no idiots, although she did always refer to me as “the slow one.” We rang up the local communications company, Downcast Cable. An agent gave us a price which sounds fine as soon as I convert it from drachmas. For an extra 10 bucks a month I get 436 channels including the weather channel in Denver. You never know. The D-Lux Fone Service has caller ID with a twist: it tells whomever I’m calling why I’m calling. My ringing is “Best Yodels with Polka” and I get Fone Filter which culls out obscene calls and reroutes them to violators of my no-call block.
Yesterday another neighbor, Bernard, complained, “Ever since that cable truck came to your house, we haven’t had a phone connection.” I recommended two Dixie cups and a string.
Ashby is on hold at email@example.com