All I want for Christmas
This afternoon, I was watching my daytime drama, which I had previously recorded from an analog signal onto my VHS VCR, when there was a knock on the door. It was a representative of our telephone company, announcing that the neighborhood had been upgraded to higher technology fiber-optic services (during which upgrades, we suffered six weeks of headaches with our existing phone service that cut us off from the outside world, since our Internet access is currently dial-up), and offering us a discount if we wished to upgrade our service.
We checked out the deals he had to offer, and for approximately twice what we’re currently paying for telephone service plus our dial-up ISP, we could get high-speed Internet. The problem is that finances are tight, and we just can’t afford to pay twice what we’re currently paying. I might at least partially be able to justify the expense as job-related – I’m one of the more tech-savvy English instructors in the department, but one factor that keeps me from teaching online or hybrid (part online, part in the classroom) classes is my lack of good Internet access at home.
I already decided a long time ago that I could do without cable TV. The “basic” service is cheap, but it only covers local channels plus a couple of shopping channels. The reason it’s cheap is that Federal law restricts its price. The “basic plus” service is dreadfully expensive, because it’s not so strictly regulated. I cut the cable several years ago when Albuquerque’s cable provider went over $40; now the suckers who still subscribe pay about $100 a month once all the taxes and fees are added in.
I just got a converter box, so I can get digital television over the air for free. The box cost $50 at Wal-Mart, and I had a $40 discount card from the Feds to cover most of the cost. Now I can get a really pretty picture and great sound. It’s still easier to use the analog signal with the timer on the VCR, though, so that’s what I’m doing for time-shifting of programs that aren’t important, such as my daytime drama.
And then there’s cell phone technology. Nowadays, it seems that the rest of the world expects me to have my phone with me at all times. No longer is a telephone call made to a place; it’s to a person. I have my phone, and Gerald has his. When Pat needs to have a phone, he borrows mine. That means I don’t always have it when I need it.
So on my wish list for Christmas, I have two technological desires: high-speed Internet, and for Pat to get his own phone.
However, there are some other people whose fondest wish has been granted. It’s low-tech, but it’s hugely important. In February, the village of Chama lost its only grocery store, the Chama Valley Supermarket, when the roof caved in under a heavy load of snow. Residents of the Chama Valley had to drive 50 miles or more, round-trip, to get groceries. Worse, the supermarket had always been a meeting place for the community, where neighbors (in Northern New Mexico, a neighbor is somebody who lives within 20 miles) got together to share family news and catch up on local gossip. It was an interesting place, carrying 50-pound bags of flour and dog food for the locals, and also gourmet frozen food and micro-brew beers for the well-heeled tourists who arrived in quarter-million-plus-dollar RVs in the summer. Everybody was friendly, and everybody always cared about everybody else.
Now, finally, after many months of red tape (you get FEMA and insurance companies arguing about who should be covering what, it’s a nightmare) and great anticipation, the Chama Valley Supermarket has finally reopened. This was big news, not just in Chama, but statewide. All of the television stations covered the event, with reporters on the scene a couple of days before the reopening and continuing with the developing story.
On all three of the television news channels, the reporters interviewed shoppers on the first day, and there was this ecstatic, giddy feeling, such happiness, such joy and elation. It was like Christmas, just a little early.
A supermarket may seem like an extremely silly thing to celebrate, especially for people who are in the wired-in, high-tech world. But this particular supermarket is more than just a place to buy groceries. It’s the heart of the community, and the Chama Valley has just had a heart transplant. It’s probably the best Christmas present ever.