Green is good
Years back I lived abroad for one summer. While I was there, with quite a few machinations and pulling of strings, I was able to rent an apartment all on my own (I was 19). As a foreigner, the number one feature when choosing an apartment was whether it already had a phone. This was because, at that time, phones and phone numbers came with the address, so if your apartment or house did not have a phone already, it might be a decade before you could get one and only with a lot of payola along the way.
That also meant that the phone company had you by the short hairs all the time. Terrible connections, usurious charges, other people clicking in and interfering with your line, service going down, the works. It was sort of a nightmare. Also, the phone was attached to a frayed thin cord that was permanently embedded in the wall. This meant either you had nothing but crackling or you might be electrocuted each time you answered the phone. And, there was one phone only, wherever it had been placed during some previous renovations. Many apartments were carved out of older homes, so that one phone might be in a closet or a bathroom or in one corner of the kitchen, there was no rhyme or reason to it.
But, I chalked that up to life in that country. Certainly, at the time I didn’t think about the issue of monopolies at home and what they mean for everyday life in modern America.
Until I got to California and we had cable service. Now, it probably would have been no different had I stayed in NY, but it just so happened that I sort of woke up to the problem when we got our first apartment in California. We had cable TV and there was only one cable company in each area. It was a matter of take it or leave it, rabbit ears, roof antenna or The Cable Company. Not really much of a choice there.
So, we put up with all the shenanigans that came with that cable company: iron-clad contracts, rising costs every six months, lackadaisical service, you name it. One of the things that really fried me, being a complete innocent about what to insist when servicemen come to do work in your house, was the shoddy installation and contemptuous attitude of the installer. He not only refused to remove his shoes (in those days I didn’t know to provide booties or even socks to cover outdoor shoes) in my clean apartment (I learned in NYC never to allow outdoor shoes inside my place. There I always provided guests with inexpensive new slippers that they could keep. I also didn’t allow smoking. But, let me not get off-track here…), so I watched in discomfort as he clopped all over my clean little nest, with shoes that were out in the dirt and then back inside as he ran the wiring. He also used black cord because I was too dumb to insist on white and told me he didn’t have time to run it under raceways along the floor boards where it would be out of sight. Those are all things I learned with experience that I didn’t have at the time, being young and malleable — well, at least not prepared for confrontation at that point anyway.
My husband was no help. Big yawn. Those wires could have been strung across the living room like a clothesline for all he cared. You would never know that he grew up in House Beautiful. I don’t think he ever thought about these things, because his mother simply had everything done and redone at whim. We were on a tight budget. Oh well…
OK, so that’s a little backstory.
Yesterday, in the morning, out of the blue, our high speed internet from The same behemoth Cable Company that provides most people TV service (not us – we have DirecTV which I LOVE!) simply went down with no warning. It could have been a worse day, but I did have work that needed to be done and I usually depend on the internet for research, support data etc., with most of my projects. This has happened before and usually it is up and running within an hour – maybe two at most. This time it went out at 10 am after I had gotten quite a few things squared away, as usual. But the uncertainty was still nerve-racking, not knowing whether I should leave and go find a hotspot (our smart phones just don’t cut it for work!) or stick around and wait for my service to come back up. Transferring all my work to a flash drive or a cloud, then accessing it from my laptop at some Starbucks is not my favorite thing to do. It wastes a whole lot of time and I have to ‘dress’ for it in case I run into any of my neighbors. I can’t just put my hair up and get to work as I do in my office when I don’t have clients coming. Bummer.
So, I called The Cable Company and got the standard automated pseudo-solicitous recording and prompts apologizing for the outtage, saying they were working on it diligently and inviting me sweetly to check back in any time or online! So irritating. The first call I placed around 11:30 am and took notes, but didn’t go further in the process. By 1 pm I was on the phone again. Heck, I had to get my work done and was only partially finished with it as I needed internet access. A certain amount was possible on my phone but limited. And, I have Metro 3G, so it is slow as glue. (No offense, Mr. Metro – a nice cheap monthly fee makes up for your lassitude). This time I talked to an agent who told me that only 300 houses were affected and that since I only had residential high speed internet that I just might not be receiving tip top speedy support. Lovely. Great customer service psychology. I kept calm and asked what it would be, money and advantages-wise, to upgrade to business class, so to speak. Well, the speed would be better, but not exponentially so, it would cost twice as much per month, I would need a spanking new modem (we just got a new modem recently), and the tech could be here in a month. BUT! I could have up to 200 people working from my own hub system then, AND, I might get quicker repairs AND I could write it off in part on my taxes. Would that solve the problem today I asked innocently? Uh, not so much. But, my current service should be up any minute as the techs (who two minutes ago made me a low priority according to this guy) were working on it feverishly. Right.
3:00 pm. Now I am really beginning to unravel. I did a bunch of household chores, dusting, laundry, tossing out magazines, the kind of stuff I mentioned when I ranted about our electric company power saver days. But now all the work I usually do and am done with by 2 pm, was still unfinished and I had no idea what the status of my internet service was. This time, when I by-passed the syrupy prompts, I got a different story from the rep. Now it was just 180 houses that were affected, according to her. Yup, and no earthly idea why or when it would be fixed. Could be in minutes, could be days. Days??!! Holy crow. Nothing I could say or do would help, but, and very coaxingly now, ‘would I like her to call me back when it was fixed’? Uh, no, duh, I will know when I see my screen gadgets return and the green modem lights restored. Oh, and would I mind answering a telephone survey right after this call? Seriously? Did she not sense my mood? I was as wound up as a yo-yo at this point.
5:00 – OK, trudge over to Starbucks. Get the work sent. Exhaustion and high-stringiness now took over. I snapped at the SO when he arrived, kindly bearing gifts to make up for this trauma. He had sent some e-mails for me during the day, from work, so I should have been a lot nicer, but my high-maintenance side had long taken over. Luckily, I had pre-scheduled my diatribe on Ted McCarthy, but had not proofed it all that well, since I wrote it at like 6 am, a bit bleary, but so be it. I could make those changes when and if my service ever came back up.
We watched a DVRd movie, ate dinner, and I pretty much lapsed into semi-catatonia but made one more phone call at 8 pm. This time they told me something new. There was a fire — couldn’t tell me where — but it could be anywhere from next door to 500 miles in any direction (wow, that’s Eureka, Las Vegas or Mexico!) and it burned out a key ‘node’ affecting every single cable customer, residential OR business (aha!) in Santa Clarita’s nine towns, including Valencia. “A serious outtage”. OH, now it’s a SERious outtage. Well, that makes all the difference — uh, I don’t think so – not to me!!
My mind ran away with itself. I envisioned working from Starbucks or Panera in my sweats for the next week, month, heck, who knows, maybe years. Or, maybe I have to become a major hotspot and do without food for the future in order to pay for becoming a hub myself. How would I work, famished? What if my customers discovered this, would they think I had not paid my bill? After all, how could anything like this happen in 21st century internet-addicted America, much less space age, hipster-laden California? How could anyone accept that in 2013 in the, what, second greatest economy on earth, we are still dependent on 19th century technology, little plastic covered copper wires, buried in the ground that any clueless gardener or kid with a pogo-stick or a shovel could literally hack to pieces and take down 100,000 households and businesses?
Nah, who would believe that. Who would think that one company monopolizing our internet service could possibly hold us in this vise?
It finally came sputtering back to life at 10. Like nursing a sick baby, we watched it for another hour, to satisfy ourselves that it was really back to stay. Naturally I sprang out of bed early this morning, rubbing my eyes to be sure it was actually working and that this was not all just a dream.
Joy. Here it was, winking and chirping all green and friendly, as if it had never been ill.
What do the French say? Plus ça change, plus ça même …
Images: OldPhones.com, IMDB, Shutterstock, Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons