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Copyright © 2014 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2014.
the kindness of enemies
january 1, 2014
We receive our TV programming from a satellite dish on our roof. Like living on Mars. The dish is small, about the size of a frat house pizza.
When Mary and I had our home built, back in 1991, we started with cable TV like most folk, but the only thing dependable about the service was its poor picture quality when it did work, so when we came home from our jobs in the city one evening carrying a wet shopping bag of lobsters and there was a printed flyer rubber-banded to our front doorknob about buying our own satellite dish, we called the number, had the guy come out.
Back then, satellite dishes were huge. Ten feet across. You were supposed to get a permit from the town to have them installed, because they are so large, and neighbors might consider them an eyesore, but we never bothered. You should never obey all laws. There's a calming effect to going through a red light at an empty four-road intersection.
At the time, there were no consumer satellite services like DIRECTV and Dish. Satellite TV programming came from C-Band, a collection of satellites operating within the 3.6 - 4.2 GHz of the electromagnetic spectrum about 22,000 miles up. These were the wild west days of satellite TV, when anything that was beamed to a TV station could be seen by a home viewer.
Sunday mornings there'd be a lot of free feeds of network shows, so that we could see a show then, eating Eggs Benedict in bed, pushing cats away, instead of waiting for when it was officially broadcast on CBS the following Thursday, for example.
And raw news feeds! Those were the most fun. When you see someone reporting from a location outside the studio during a news show, on broadcast TV you only see the edited portion of that feed the TV decides to use. But with C-Band, you'd see the entire, unedited transmission. You'd get an image of a man in a suit on a busy road somewhere in America, and while he was waiting for his station's news room to cut to him so he could give his report, he was fussing with his hair, making sure his tie was straight. You could see him look to the left of the camera, where he was watching the field producer's fingers count down to when he'd go live. With a nod of his head, he straightened up, cleared his throat, held still, then said, "Well, that's true, Jim. Authorities originally believedů" Once he finished his initial spiel he went silent again, but on his best behavior, nodding occasionally at whatever it was the news host was saying on-air, repeated in his ear jack, unheard by us. After a half minute of silence, he talked again, looking into the camera. "Probably by mid-day." And then, his bit finished, his body would relax, and he'd ask the cameraman how he looked. I remember one time Mary and I watched a raw news feed, and the poor guy stumbled over the pronunciation of a word during his report. His face remained impassive, but once his report was over, his features crumpled. "Shit! I really fucked that up! I really fucked it up!" I felt so bad for the guy.
As usually happens, over the years that wild honesty of raw feeds was eventually, bit by bit, regulated, snuffed out. A real pity. And C-Band itself slowly shut out home viewers, more and more of its transponders encrypted.
By then, Dish and DIRECTV had launched. We eventually paid someone to disassemble and haul off our ten foot satellite dish one rainy afternoon, so that we no longer had a futuristic tree in our backyard, and switched to DIRECTV.
And were happy with it.
Until a few months ago.
There was a problem with the satellite dish on our roof. It was getting old, and more and more frequently, we'd get heavy artifacting on shows we wanted to watch (normal faces would turn into demon faces of tiny sliding squares, or the picture would stall out altogether.) I called DIRECTV, and they sent someone out. He agreed the problem was with the dish. I took him out through our back door, pointing up at the roof, to show him where the dish was.
"Oh. It's on your roof."
My surprise. "Yeah. Where else would it be?" Satellite dishes have to have a clear line to the horizon, in order to receive transmissions from the satellites in space. If trees or buildings are in the way, you can't get a signal.
"We're not allowed to go on roofs anymore."
"Seriously?" I didn't believe him, because virtually all satellite dishes are on roofs. I made him wait while I called DIRECTV back. The representative said, "Of course they have to go on roofs. How else can they fix the dish?"
Well, questioning the guy further, it turned out he didn't really work for DIRECTV. He worked for a vendor DIRECTV hires to repair their home reception problems, called MasTec. And his boss at MasTec had changed its policy to no longer allow its technicians to go on roofs. I got the supervisor's number from the guy, called it, and spoke with his supervisor, who confirmed the story. Despite what DIRECTV wants, MasTec will no longer permit its employees to repair satellite dishes if they're located on a roof. Why would MasTec have such an absurd policy? I suspect it's because they're so fucking cheap they don't want to pay for liability insurance. Even though they're the ones who placed the satellite dish on our roof in the first place.
I called DIRECTV to let them know the situation, and the representative told me MasTec had told DIRECTV that when their technician arrived, we had refused to let him get on the roof. Which is ridiculous. But it gives you some idea of what MasTec is like.
So what do we do? I asked DIRECTV to send out someone from a company other than MasTec. They assured me they would. He arrived a few days later. "Oh, I'm sorry sir, but we're not allowed to go on the roof." "What company do you work for?" "It's called MasTec." Called DIRECTV back. I spoke to someone higher up in the customer service department. They would give it their personal attention to get the dish on our roof repaired, and have a technician sent out who would go up on our roof, guaranteed. A few more days pass by. Our front doorbell rings. I take him out back, point at our dish on the roof. "I'm sorry sir, but we're not allowed to go up on a roof." "Do you work for MasTec?" "I do."
I told DIRECTV we were dropping their service. "You've been a loyal customer for many years. May I ask why you want to cancel our service?" "Our dish needs to be repaired or replaced, but the vendor DIRECTV has contracted with will not allow its employees to up on roofs." She laughed, incredulous. "That doesn't make sense." "I know it doesn't. But that's the reality." She asked if she could put me on hold to check with her supervisor. I listened to instrumental music they probably play in a funeral home. Her voice came back. "My supervisor said that's a requirement of OSHA, that workers are not allowed to go on roofs." (OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Hazard, a federal agency.) "Really. So roofers are no longer allowed to go on roofs, to repair roofs? Or to build roofs on new home constructions?" She didn't have an answer for that. The best she could come up with was, "Because you've been a loyal DIRECTV customer, we can give you a ten percent discount on your monthly bill." "If we can't view the TV shows, how would a ten percent discount help us?" "We offer more HD programming than most carriers." "But if we can't see them, why would we pay for them?" She didn't have an answer.
So we shopped for other carriers, decided on AT&T U-verse.
We signed up for bundled service, meaning we'd get our telephone, broadband internet, and TV services all through AT&T. By bundling services with AT&T, we'd get these three services, which we had previously received from three separate carriers for $400 a month, at about $150 a month. We'd be saving $250 a month, $3,000 a year.
AT&T said it'd take about 4 hours to install all the cabling and connections. That's a long time, but we felt it was worth the inconvenience. We herded the cats into the garage, waited for the tech to show up. While he inspected our system, went up into our attic, we sat at the breakfast nook table, playing Monopoly.
About four hours later, he showed us what he had done.
Much of AT&T's service is meant to be wireless. Which we liked.
We have a TV and two telephones downstairs, two computers, one phone, and one TV upstairs. (We use two of our upstairs rooms for our work in the evenings, me for my writing, Mary for her projects. Since we were going wireless, I decided to buy a TV for Mary for her room, so she had that option when she didn't feel like projecting.)
We tested everything to make sure it worked properly, then signed off on the work contract.
But a couple of days later, I realized our internet broadband was still hooked up to our old carrier, Comcast cable. So I called AT&T to have a tech come out again.
More Monopoly. The problem was even though there was wireless capability in the area where we lived, the signal was weak. It couldn't support our broadband internet connection. So the guy hard-wired our computers, running lines under the eaves of our house, through our upstairs and downstairs attics. And four hours later, it worked fine.
A few days later, we realized our phones didn't work. (Just about the only time we use our phones is to order home delivery food.)
AT&T sent out a third technician. He wound up running new wires outside our house, next to the broadband wires, so the phones were hard-wired as well. Another four hours, another devastating loss to Mary at Monopoly.
So am I mad at AT&T because it took them three days and twelve hours to properly install U-verse, and I was humiliated three times at Monopoly? Not at all. There were some rocks on the green, as Guy Grand would say, but AT&T actually kept coming out until they fixed those problems. We have better services than we had before, and we're paying $250 a month less. Imagine how many more pickles I can buy with that money. Good quality pickles. (When Mary and I were living in Portland, Maine, on the top floor of a seven family home, in addition to the front stairs, there was an interior set of stairs accessible through a door in our bedroom. We never used the stairs, I don't really know what they were for, unless maybe it was meant as an alternate way down in case of a fire. One Saturday morning we were lying side by side in bed, icicles dripping outside the bedroom windows, and down at the bottom of those interior stairs, we heard a man's voice well up. "You could have bought shoes with that money!")
So am I at least mad at DIRECTV, because they proved to be so incompetent? Again, not at all. If it hadn't been for DIRECTV's absolute lack of caring about its customers, we never would have switched to the superior service of AT&T, and saved so much money in the process. DIRECTV performed a great kindness for us. We just didn't realize it at the time.
As the saying goes: Love your enemies, because they are the ones who force you to grow.
My short story "Kebab Bob" has been sold to Black Static.
My short story "The Space Between", co-written with Ray Cluley, has been sold to Shadows & Tall Trees.
My short story "The Middle Leg" has been sold to the anthology Of Devils and Deviants.