Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Getting Wrapped Up In Cable

It’s amazing how just one small change can cause a whole chain reaction of problems.

Such was the case last week when I went to my favorite video store for 99-cent Tuesday. Every Tuesday for ages, I had gone there to rent movies. At first, they were two for 99 cents, and then later, they changed to only one for 99 cents. Either way, the price still seemed like a real steal to me.

I parked my car, walked up to the video store and was just about to open the door when I noticed that the store was empty. By empty, I mean the place had been cleared out right down to the bare walls. The store had gone out of business. I just stood there, shocked.

On the way home, I checked out another video store. Their rental fee was $3.29 per movie, which, after years of getting nearly three for that price, seemed like a fortune to me. When I asked if they had any special discount days, the clerk gave me a strange look and said no.

As I headed home, I tried to think of a way I still could see my usual 15-20 videos per month without having to take out a second mortgage to pay for the rentals. That’s when I got the brainstorm to call our cable company and order a premium channel, like HBO.

“You still have an old cable box?” the cable company’s employee asked when I called. “That’s like having an 8-track tape player! You have to switch to digital cable in order to get HBO now. You’ll need a new box.”

She explained that I could come in and pick up the box, but if the account was in my husband’s name, I either would have to bring him with me or bring a permission note from him plus his driver’s license. I asked her why.

“Because the box is worth a few hundred dollars,” she said. “And for all we know, you could be his irate divorcee and run off with the box just to get him into trouble!”

I wanted to ask her how often irate divorcees had held their cable boxes hostage, but I kept silent.

So late Friday afternoon on Labor Day weekend, I dragged my husband to the cable office to pick up our new digital box. We signed up for two premium channels, HBO and Starz, and were given a huge box that made our old one look like a matchbox in comparison. It nearly was closing time when we got there, so the employee quickly gave us a rundown and instructions. From what we could tell, in addition to Starz and HBO, we’d also be getting about 6,000 new channels with this box. My husband’s eyes lit up like 100-watt bulbs.

We drove straight home and my husband dashed into the house to hook up his new toy. That’s when I heard him utter several words that led me to suspect he might not be entirely happy.

“There’s no power cord!” he said. “I can’t even plug it in! And it’s a long holiday weekend! What am I supposed to do now?”

I called the cable company’s 24-hour 800 number and explained the situation. The employee told me that there really wasn’t much I could do over the weekend other than track down one of the company’s repair trucks and ask the driver for a power cord. So like an idiot, I set off to try to find one.

I drove up and down streets and back roads for about 15 minutes, then suddenly, as if by some miracle, I spotted a cable truck parked in a driveway. I parked right next to it and ran up to the house and knocked on the door. There was no answer. The longer I stood on the doorstep and eyed the truck, however, the more I realized that it wasn’t the kind of truck that usually had supplies in it. It was more like a pickup truck, not a panel van. It also looked as if it had been parked there for a long time…like maybe since 1995.

I drove around for a while longer, then decided to give up before I ran out of gas. I actually was afraid to return home cordless, so I stopped at my neighbors’ house and asked them if they knew of anyone who worked for the cable company. They didn’t, but they suggested I call Radio Shack about a power cord.

“Radio Shack!” my husband said when I made the suggestion. “They won’t have anything like that. I checked out the box and it takes a very special cord, something you can’t get just anywhere!”

Despite what he thought, I figured I had nothing to lose and called Radio Shack. The employee asked me what type of cord the box took. At that point, my husband grabbed the phone and launched into a detailed description of male and female plugs and slot A and slot B joining together to form slot C. The employee finally said to just bring in the box and he’d check it out.

So we headed off to Radio Shack. During the entire drive, my husband muttered things like, “I shouldn’t have to pay for this! The cable company had better reimburse me or give me at least a free week of cable! And when I turn in the box in the future, I’m keeping the power cord!”

We finally arrived at Radio Shack. “Here’s $100,” my husband said, thrusting the money at me as I got out of the car. “I sure hope it’s enough!”

I lugged the box into the store. An employee immediately greeted me with, “You must be the one who just called!” He took a quick look at the box, said, “Uh huh,” and disappeared for a moment. He returned with a very ordinary looking power cord, stuck it into the machine and said, “There you go! That’ll be $2.99.”

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing.

I also couldn’t help mercilessly teasing my husband about his “very fancy, complicated, expensive one-of-a-kind” power cord all the way home.

When he finally hooked up everything, the TV came in beautifully…all except for HBO and Starz. As it turned out, something in our original old hookup (I forget the technical term) was too weak to unscramble such strong signals and had to be replaced.

You know, maybe paying $3.29 to rent a video isn’t so bad after all.