bunt sign

Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Mario, the dish installer, was here at 9:30 this morning. Even though I watch much less TV than I did, say, five years ago, I've been salivating over the prospect of 200 channels since the thought first occurred to me. It's not the desire to watch all those channels as much as the choice to watch whatever is available at any given time.

If I see a movie listed on a channel I don't get, I'll want to watch it that much more. In fact, I'll suddenly have to see it right now. I won't want to wait until I can get to the video store or until it's on one of the networks, diced and sliced to fit between commercials.

When I realized that I could get 200 channels with clear digital pictures for about the same price I was paying the cable company for 50 fuzzy channels, this became a mission. The only hang-up was setting up the dish on the roof, aimed at the satellite south of Texas. With my ten thumbs, I wasn't about to try that myself, so I had to wait for Mario.

So imagine my distress when he spent an hour setting me up, explaining how the remote and the receiver were supposed to work, and nothing did. He knew the dish was in the proper position, he said, because we could get a clear picture. But it would turn itself off as soon as we pushed a button on the remote.

I was skeptical when he told me to take the receiver back to Best Buy and tell them to pull one out of a fresh box and exchange it. Here was this huge packing case, full of Styrofoam and cellophane, with this small black contraption taking up a tiny corner of it. They're going to want more than this back, I thought.

But I do as I'm told. And after I'd stood in line twice at customer service and waited while the lovely Siobhan tried to shake a persistent caller who wanted to explain his problem over and over and over again, I was warily on my way home, ready to track down Mario. I was certain that the trouble with my system had to be something else, like a tree limb obstructing the reception.

But, no. Despite my worst fears, everything now worked perfectly. I called DirecTV and ordered their three-month special. It was early afternoon by now, and I knew I had to get back to work, but I had 31 music channels that I could use for atmosphere. (There's even an "Atmospheres" channel, for when I'm in that hearts-of-space mood.)

So what did I watch? Well, I watched the same baseball games I could have seen on basic cable. But that's not really the point is it? The point is that I have all those other options, dozens of movies, and programs I've never even heard of. If I ever do get an hour or two to sit and watch, I'm in good shape.

Also, those ballgames were crystal clear, even if I had my nose to the keyboard most of the time they were on.

Unfortunately, the Boss was making up for the long weekend and the lost moving days by faxing me page after page of work he need to have done, starting just about the time I thought I was through for the day and lasting well into the evening.

So no movie festival tonight, and probably none tomorrow. But it's all there for me, in all its digital splendor, whenever. That's a comforting feeling, like knowing there's Starbucks dulce de leche ice cream in the refrigerator.

I remember the first time I got cable, nearly twenty years ago in San Bruno. The city ran the cable system, and they gave you a slider box to sit on top of the TV set and switch channels. No remote, not even an electronic as much as a mechanical system, as analog as you could get.

There was HBO then, but no Showtime. The Seven Percent Solution was the first movie I ever watched on TV without commercials. TBS was WTBS, channel 17, then. I was so excited when they announced that the USA network was being launched, because it meant more programming would be available. I think the first music videos I ever saw were on Friday and Saturday nights on USA.

It was all awful, but I was thrilled to have it. It was cutting edge, the wave of the future. Space-age technology, right in your own home. The Jetsons had come to life.

Now I have seven HBOs and five Showtimes. Ted Turner has a dozen or so channels of his own. The Food Channel, the Travel Channel, the Health Channel, and the Game Show Network. Forty-one pay-per-view channels. It's exhausting, and I'm sure there will still be a time when I'll say, "There's nothing on."

Not yet. It's still the new toy, and I'm fascinated by the novelty of it. That had better not wear off soon, because it'll be a long time before I can afford the next latest thing.

I'm thinking about getting one of those robot dogs one day, though.

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