My father, Herman the German, loves football. He likes the NFL, college football, and once in a while, he’ll even go to a high school football game. A football letterman himself, he enjoys monopolizing the Tee Vee in the winter, watching football.
Helen and Herman have only basic cable on their Tee Vee. They have a viewing schedule that includes weather in the morning, local and national news in the evening, and maybe a Seinfeld episode here and there. They don’t watch much Tee Vee; any other programming they might watch is generally…football.
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I had the pleasure of watching the Notre Dame – USC game with Herman; apparently, he’s a big Notre Dame fan. It was a great game and Notre Dame won 22 – 13. When I looked at their schedule, I noticed they wouldn’t be playing again until after Christmas and the game would be televised on ESPN, which is not part of my parent’s cable package. The wheels in my brain started turning and hatching a plan which would perfectly coincide with the most wonderful time of the year.
One night after a long day at The Big Corporation, I scanned the Time Warner Cable website; since I don’t have a Tee Vee with hundreds of channels, the information on their site seemed mysterious and complicated. I picked up the phone and called one of their customer service numbers. I reached “Shirley” who didn’t say so, but sounded like she might have been in a call center somewhere in the middle of America. I explained my consumer need—I wanted to provide my parents with the cable package which would add ESPN to their Tee Vee transmissions. If possible, throw in some NESN, too. Shirley said it would be possible for me to do this. She told me she would just need to click around in her digital bag of tricks; it might take a few minutes. She sounded like a very nice, hard-working person. Finally, she said “Yes, the package which would include ESPN and NESN would actually provide your parents with 60 more channels. Doesn’t that sound great?”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said “Um, sure, and how much per month is that?”
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence and then she said “$65.”
Having lived outside the land of the cable bundling shell game for a very long time, I was flabbergasted and almost speechless. Sadly for Shirley, I was not speechless and I said,
“$65 per month? No wonder so many people are broke in this country. That’s criminal.”
Clearly, Shirley had heard the likes of me before and something clicked in her attitude. She knew she was not going to make a sale; she explained that she could provide the same package for $45 per month if my parents had digital cable. There was a coolness in her voice which told me I had crossed the line by comparing her line of work to the Watergate break-in. I thanked Shirley for her time and said my parents wouldn’t be getting a Time Warner cable package from Santa Claus this year.
I’m not the first person in the world to confront the complexities of modern living. I know it’s almost impossible to get any good cable Tee Vee for under $100 per month and I know that even though it seems like a buffet of choices, it’s really only 60 different pasta dishes with a few meat balls thrown in. That’s probably why my parents don’t have it already; they’re pretty frugal. My mother hardly ever makes pasta for the big football fan, either. She knows it tastes good but will leave him looking for a snack in a few hours.
I decided to go back to my original gift plan. I gave my parents a half-share at the CSA farm in their town, Little Ridge Farm. My mother was excited and happy about it; she even sent me a thank you note and said so. The farmer, Keena Tracy, mailed out cute New Year’s cards, too.
Herman didn’t say much about the CSA half-share; there were plenty of college bowl games to watch over the holidays. As it turned out, Notre Dame lost shamefully to Alabama on January 7. It wasn’t even worth a meatball.
Cheer, cheer for Little Ridge Farm…winning one for the farmer!
A CSA share is such a nice gift!
My nephew went to work for TWC for about a month. He was in retention, charged with convincing people who could no longer afford their cable bill to not only not cancel their cable but to talk them into an upgrade. If he couldn’t talk them out of canceling he had to transfer them to someone “higher up.” He felt guilty. Being 18 and having no real bills, he quit.
Robin, thank you for such a sad and insightful comment. The lesson appears to be that your nephew, having no DEBT, had choices.