Friday, March 4, 2011

Get Ripped Abs in 3.12 Weeks: Part II (Episode 2)...

To read Part II: Episode 1, click HERE.

Mookie is not a big fan of cable TV.
He prefers a good book and a cigarette.

Ah yes...  the journey to cable-free nirvana.  Let's begin by examining my consumption of cable TV as an adult.

When a friend and I got our first apartment, we decided not to get cable in order to save money.  It was the first time that either of us had paid bills and survived on our own away from home, so we decided that it would be best to save the extra $60-$70 a month.  We divided our TV time between the five over-the-air channels, GoldenEye, and lots of DVDs.  No problem.

After that year, I decided to move into the suburbs and get my own apartment.  For the next two years, basic cable was actually included as part of my monthly rent, so the decision on whether or not to fork out the extra money was a moot point.  I'll admit, it was pretty nice to have 65 extra channels, and I did become slightly addicted to ESPN.  But cable television didn't define my existence.

Two years later, I decided to move to a different apartment.  Of course, basic cable was not included in my monthly rent so I had a decision to make.  At first, I was leaning towards ditching the cable.  However, this was the point when I realized that my dial-up Internet access was basically running at a snail's pace.  I had a friend who had just gotten Road Runner, and when I tried out the Internet on her laptop, I saw that it was really...  FAST.

I was just going to go with Road Runner without cable, but the crafty Time Warner guy convinced me to sign up for a year of basic cable for just $29.95 a month.  He said that I'd be saving on the cable portion of my bill by bundling it with my Road Runner.

     "Basic cable by itself is $49.95.  If you bundle it with Road Runner, you'll save over $20 a month."

Of course, if I had been smart, I would have declined his devious offer and opted to go without any cable at all, saving an additional $30 a month in the process.  But my ESPNvy got the best of me.

Why watch cable TV when
you've got GoldenEye? 
For the next twelve months, I enjoyed basic cable for 'only $29.95 a month'.  On the thirteenth month, by bill went up by $20.  For the next four or five months, I begrudgingly swallowed the increase and continued to pay for basic cable.  It was the middle of the football season, and I didn't want to lose SportsCenter and NFL Primetime.  But once the Super Bowl had been played, I decided that I needed to start saving money.  I really wanted to ditch cable, but I wanted to be able to watch something better than the fuzzy, over-the-air channels.

Then one day at work, a friend mentioned that she had just gotten her cable hooked up at her new apartment.  I asked her how much she was paying.

     "Oh, somewhere around $55 a month."

     "Wow, that's really expensive for cable," I said.

     "Actually, that's for both Road Runner and cable," she replied.

     "Fifty five dollars...  for BOTH!?"

     "Well, it's not true cable.  It's actually lower than basic cable.  It's just the few channels you get with Road Runner automatically."

I had never heard of this lower level of cable.  As it turned out, there actually was a tier that was cheaper than basic cable.  Another one of my friends who worked for Time Warner Cable explained the whole thing.

Apparently, if you just ordered Road Runner without any cable package, you would still get cable channels 2 through 20.  This is because these channels are automatically transmitted over the cable which supplies Road Runner.  There's no way to block them.  The result is that Road Runner by itself is more expensive than the price paid for Road Runner, as part of the cable bundle.  You may just want to get Road Runner and have no interest in any cable channels whatsoever.  But Time Warner can't bear the idea of anybody getting access to almost 20 basic cable channels for free.

Perish the thought.

Instead of charging $39.99 for Road Runner by itself, Time Warner charges $49.99, plus tax, just because you're getting the extra handful of channels.

Instead of watching cable,
spend an afternoon checking
out the cool exhibits
at ARTISANworks.  
Hmmm...  Paying just over ten dollars a month for almost twenty channels of standard definition cable wasn't a bad deal.  But I was pretty upset with Time Warner for not even disclosing the existence of this lower level of cable, which I immediately began referring to as 'Dirtball Cable'.  I went to their website to see if I could find any more information about the pricing and availability of Dirtball Cable.

As was the case back then, Time Warner's website is still the most confusing, convoluted, infuriating maze of mind-numbing eNonsense that I've ever tried to navigate.  After twenty minutes of entering my zip code at least six different times, and then clicking through multiple levels of random product and service packages, promotional items, FAQTRUs (Frequently Asked Questions That Remain Unanswered), and directional links that cycle you backwards to a specific page that you already decided you didn't need, I decided to try and find the information I needed by using the 'Search' feature on their website.

I entered the phrase 'residential cable packages' in the empty field and clicked the 'Search' button.

And wouldn't you know it, another browser window popped up, asking me for my zip code.

Rather than risk any damage to my laptop, my fists, or the living room wall, I decided that I'd be better off calling Time Warner Cable.  I dialed their toll-free customer service number and sifted through the maze of automated prompts until I heard an actual phone start to ring.  After the third ring, I heard a click.  A robotic voice began firing away on the other end.

     "Thank you so much for calling Time Warner Cable.  We're here to assist you with all of your digital cable, Internet, and telephone service and entertainment needs.  My name is Tim.  May I have your account number please?"

     "Hi, Tim," I said.  "I don't have my account number handy at the moment.  Is there another way you can look me up?"

     "Yes, sir.  May I have the main account holder's address of service."

I rattled off my street address.

     "Thank you.  And may I have your name?"

For the sake of continuity in spoken dialog while still maintaining anonymity, we'll pretend that my name was Mr. Smith.

     "Alright Mr. Smith, thank you very much," he said.  "And how can I help you today, Mr. Smith?"

     "Um, yes.  I'd like to look at some of the options you have for cable TV."

Hopefully, the Time Warner customer service representative will
think twice before offering up some coupons...

     "OK, Mr. Smith.  Let's take a look at your package of services that you currently have with us.  I see that you have preferred customer status with us and that your bundle of services includes high speed Road Runner, as well as basic cable.  Were you interested in upgrading to Digital Cable today?"

     "Um, no," I said.  "I actually wanted to see if you have anything lower than basic cable.  My friend told me that if I get rid of basic cable but keep Road Runner, I'll still get channels two through twenty."

     "Well, Mr. Smith.  We do offer the lowest level of cable that you've mentioned, which comes with Road Runner.  But the price of Road Runner would actually increase to $49.95 a month.  If you keep the basic cable package, you'll be saving over $10.00 a month on your Road Runner."

     "No, that's OK," I said.  "I think I'd just like to drop down to that lowest cable level."

     "I can certainly do that for you today, Mr. Smith.  But before we downgrade your service level, could you just let me know if there's any specific reason why you're doing so?"

     "Well, my wife and I really don't watch that much TV," I said.  "And I do like ESPN, but we barely watch any of the other channels.  I just don't think it's worth paying over forty extra dollars a month, just for one channel."

     "Mr. Smith, even though you only watch ESPN most of the time, you would have access to over 70 channels of programming and entertainment if you stayed with basic cable.  And that way, you wouldn't lose access to ESPN."

     "Do you have any sort a package where I can pay a limited amount extra, say...  $10 a month, and get just three or four basic cable channels of my choice?"

     "Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Smith.  Cable doesn't work that way."

    "Oh, that's too bad," I said.  "Well... you did mention that I was a preferred customer.  As a preferred customer, are there any 12-month specials you can give me...  like maybe, reducing the price of my basic cable to $29.99 per month?"

     "Unfortunately, that monthly rate is only available to new Time Warner customers.  But I could send you two or three coupons that would reduce your bill by $10 for the next few months.  That way, you could keep ESPN for awhile."

     "No thanks," I said.  "I don't want any coupons.  I'll just downgrade to Road Runner only, plus the few channels that come with it."

     "OK, Mr. Smith.  I'll go ahead and change your service to Road Runner only, plus the 20 basic channels.  We'll stop by your apartment building and make the switch to your service sometime within the next week or two.  Starting next month, your bill will be $56.55.  Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

     "No thanks, Tim.  I'm all set.  Have a great day."

     "You have a good day too, Mr. Smith.  Thanks for being a loyal Time Warner customer."

And that was that.  I was slightly annoyed by the repetitively-robotic, Time Warner-centric nature of Tim's call.  But he was pleasant, he took care of my request, and he offered me coupons at only one point during the call.  As I hung up the phone, I breathed a sigh of relief, preparing to embark on a new journey of ESPN-free existence in just a few days.

For the next week, I had my TV tuned in to ESPN for basically every waking hour, trying my best to absorb every last edition of SportsCenter before being cut off by Time Warner.  After that week had elapsed, I'd come back to my apartment every night after work and expect cable channel 24 to be a blank screen of gray, static fuzz.  But every time I turned on the TV around 5:10 pm, the talking heads of 'Around The Horn' would be arguing back and forth onscreen, clear as day.

     Hmmmm...  I thought to myself.  Tim did specifically mention the next week or two.  Maybe they're just slow getting out here.

I didn't think much about it, as I continued to enjoy my usual assortment of ESPN fare on a day-to-day basis, preparing for Time Warner to cut my connection at any time.  But then a second week went by, followed by a third and fourth week, and I was still getting full access to basic cable.  It certainly was kind of nice to still be enjoying my guilty TV pleasures, but I was a little worried that Tim had forgotten about my request.  I didn't want to still be paying the extra $50 for a service that I specifically called to cancel.

I was about to pick up the phone and call Time Warner to find out what was going on.  Then, I had a brilliant idea.  In order to squeeze out every last drop of cable that I could manage, I decided to wait for my next bill to arrive.  Surely, it would still show that I owed them the full $99.95.  I would simply tell them that I had requested the change in service over a month ago and reference Tim's name, indicating that he had assured me that my service would be changed and the bill adjusted.  Since it would have been their oversight, they'd have no choice but to adjust the bill in my favor, and I would have gotten away with over five weeks of free cable.

After all, the customer is always right...  Right?

I was almost looking forward to making the call to Time Warner to let them know that they had screwed up.  But then when I opened my next bill and scanned the invoice to find the amount due, it read '$56.55'...  exactly the reduced amount that Tim had mentioned.

Could this really be?  Had Time Warner forgotten to disconnect my service?  Was I actually paying for Dirtball Cable but still getting basic cable?

Should I... Time Warner and let them know that they didn't...  Um...  Nahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  It was their mistake.  They'd figure it out eventually.

As it turns out, Time Warner did figure out their mistake...  almost two years later.  I had called to downgrade to Dirtball Cable in March of 2005.  On a snowy afternoon late in December of 2006, I arrived home from work and found a yellow Time Warner service tag hanging on my doorknob.  The phrase 'Disconnect Notice' was printed in large black letters, and there was a cartoon showing a smiling Time Warner tech waving at a customer.

Just below, there was a handwritten note in blue ink, which read, "Disconnected basic cable.  Remember to give us a call if you'd like to upgrade.  Thanks!"

     Hmmmm...  I thought to myself.  After getting free cable for the past 21 months, paying an extra $50 just to get it back doesn't seem very appealing.  I think I'll pass.

I was still curious at to whether or not Time Warner really forgot to disconnect my cable.  A few months later when I had called them to troubleshoot a Road Runner issue, I just happened to mention it on the phone.

     "Oh, that happens quite a bit," said the customer service representative.  "We're more interested in signing people up for service than canceling service, so disconnect appointments sometimes get pushed back."

     Pushed back?  For twenty-one months?

Of course, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.  Several years earlier, a man in Wisconsin tried to sue his cable company because he had continued to receive free cable for four years, after he had previously asked them to cancel his service.  Timothy Dumouchel of West Bend, Wisconsin had alleged that, by continuing to provide free cable, Charter Communications was responsible for making his wife and children become fat, lazy channel surfers.  Apparently, there was nothing he could to prevent his family from watching cable TV.

I was tempted to call Time Warner back and let them know that they still owed me twenty-seven months of free cable, but I decided against it.

Football season was almost over, and I decided that now would be as good a time as ever to get used to life without ESPN.  This was the first time during adulthood that I'd endure the transition to a cable-free existence.

It actually wasn't very difficult.  I was currently in the midst of my third year of attempting a graduate degree in Speech Pathology.  Aside from working two part-time jobs, the remainder of my waking hours were spent writing papers and preparing for my weekly clinical work.  I didn't have a lot of time to think about what I might be missing on TV.

Of course, this wouldn't be the last time that cable TV would make an appearance in my daily life.

Stay tuned for Part II: Episode 3, where I'll discuss my adventures in parting with...  DIGITAL CABLE.


  1. I liked this one more - it's more a narrative (which as you know is my focus). I still think you need a good editor. :) More detail than needed - what are the essential elements of this story to get your point across? What could you lose and still have an engaging story? Trust that your audience can fill in gaps and contribute in their minds to your story by providing their own details where you don't give any.

    What the heck is Road Runner? If you have an international audience, be careful about being Ameri-centric. You may need to explain some things. :-)

    Keep writing, keep trimming, keep experimenting!

  2. One of my favorites thus far....

  3. Very helfpul feedback here...

    Yes, I agree that I often (but not always... :-) ) provide more detail than needed. And I think that it slows down my writing process in some cases. Sometimes, I'll be going along, and I'll hit a brick wall: "How do I explain that? How do I explain that?" By the time I finally explain it, it's too long anyways. When I finally read the finished product, it makes sense to me, since I've provided a detailed play-by-play. But yes, I should allow the readers to fill in some details.

    In your recent posts about sharing the house with Maggie and April, I like how you sort of just ended the events of a certain episode, typed in the divider of asterisks (*), and just started up again, picking up somewhere down the road. I may try that in certain spots, just to limit some stories to the essentials and keep the writing process going.

    I should add this comment to that post on your blog, shouldn't I? :-)

    Also, good call with Road Runner, which is the name of Time Warner's high-speed Internet service. Just because I view the world through blood-red eyes after spending 30 minutes on the phone with Time Warner, doesn't meant that readers in China or Russia would have any idea what I'm talking about, or be able to relate, if they didn't know what Road Runner actually was...

  4. I'm trying to keep your comments sections populated! :-)

    I suppose I can be accused of not giving ENOUGH detail at times and using ********** or jumps are really cheats....but somehow it works. :-)

    Good not to define yourself at this stage either, If it's just to write, go hard. See if you can make it as regular as brushing your teeth.

    I'm tempted to start a 'rant' blog or daily observation blog to just comment on something that happened or went through my head that day - like today I saw sky-writing over the harbour - not enough of an event to write whole entry about it but it deserved more treatment than a tweet. I dunno. Maybe there is room for that on Jetsam, but I kinda wanna be different from all the other 'daily thoughts' bloggers out there. :-)

    I do need your contribution to my self challenge. :-) See

  5. Those 'daily observation-only' blogs are especially memorable...

    "I brushed my teeth today. While passing the worn bristles over the intercuspal groove of the mandibular first molar, I felt a sensitive spot. It hurt. I need to call my dentist."

    I will most certainly contribute to your self challenge... after a good night's sleep. :-)

    It's bedtime here in the states, you know...