Life without TV

The other day, I got the cable bill in the mail. Like so many Americans, I bundled cable, internet and phone together into one gargantuan package that I justified because “Cable is only a little more than internet alone, and I cannot live without internet.” But this cable bill was a little different. Like 100% different. It was within a few dollars of double what it usually was. Apparently the two year contract had expired and this was my new price.

SURPRISE!

I, of course, called the cable company and said “no way, what can you do for me”. Comcast generously offered to only increase the bill by $80 instead of $100. Thanks, guys. But no.

So I called Verizon and negotiated their three way package for roughly the same price I’d previously been paying at Comcast. I took time on a Saturday to return all the stuff to Comcast in person. (Thanks for making that so easy Comcast… not.) And we were all set. Right?

Except we were really annoyed by Verizon. The UI on their menu was between bad and appalling. There didn’t seem to be anything on. It all just seemed like the same thing we’d had before, but lamer. And I took a close look at that $130 bill. Was it really, after all, that necessary? I mean, we don’t watch that much tv. We already have Netflix. We already have Amazon Prime. We have a ton of kid’s DVDs. Once you net out all the things available that way, how much is really left that we’re paying for? The answer is: Red Sox baseball, Patriot’s football, Nick Jr. and the Macy’s Parade. The difference between the triple pay package and just internet service is $60. As much as I love baseball… that’s like $1460 over the period of a two year contract.

So in our “30 day satisfaction period” we cancelled our cable service. (Note: Verizon sends postage paid boxes. Much more convenient than Comcast!) Then we bought a Roku. For $100 one time, we now have a device designed to stream digital media to our tv. It has a beautiful interface and about 10 buttons. We bought a nice version for our big tv, and connected our two ancillary tvs (guest room and laundry room) with less expensive versions that cost about $50 each. So for $200 one time, we just enabled all our tvs with massive amounts of content. This is particularly nice since with Comcast we were paying roughly $10/month to have tv in the laundry room. With Verizon, it was only $5/month, but there was no guide. It’s amazing how spoiled we are since my childhood – it was difficult to operate the tv without a guide! So at $60/month, the ROI on the Rokus is just over three months.

Going back to the “what we can’t get online” list, in order to get the Macy’s parade (or the news, for example), we would probably need to get an antenna and digital converter. I’m not sure we’ll do this since we watch very little network tv, the antenna sounds like a bit of a pain, and we’re not missing much.

However, when it comes to live sports, I’m SOL. We’d originally thought that my existing MLB subscription would permit me to get baseball. But for me Red Sox games are blacked out with MLB tv (which I’d be able to stream through the Roku as well). NFL is similarly locked down, or maybe worse. So I have a choice: cobble together my sports hobby through radio and strategically getting invited to friend’s house (more plausible for football than baseball), just stop caring very much about the local teams (I’m so time crunched this might be a viable solution), or spend $60 a month on cable. For a long time I’ve made that latter decision. But as the other media choices have gotten richer and richer, it feels increasingly extortionate and the number of things I truly want cable for is down to those two: the Pats and the Sox. It’s just not enough.

So what am I watching on the Roku these days? Adam and I have gotten into Burn Notice. It is a fun spy-thriller, with a mostly off-screen body count and amusing mixture of plots and subplots. Well acted, well written, and there are about 60 hour-long episodes on Netflix. That’s like my tv watching for a year. It is so convenient. I can pick up an in-progress episode on any of the three tvs. Or, alternately, watch it on the iPad while travelling or upstairs in the bedroom. (Heck, the Roku is so tiny we actually brought it with us to DC in case we had extra time at night while the boys were asleep. They made sure this didn’t happen by going to sleep at 10 each night, but it was a possibility!)

Finally, I figured that while I could go BACK to cable any time my yearning for a Sox broadcast got that powerful, the cable companies lock you into two year contracts. This was my chance to go cable-free and see how good or bad it was, without commitment.

So how about you? Do you have cable? If so, have you ever thought of giving it up? If you don’t, what do you miss and how do you get around it?

This post brought to you by Deadliest Catch

I don’t watch much tv. I have never seen an episode of Friends, Dr. Who, or Glee. Frankly, if it weren’t for baseball, I’d be more or less ok getting no cable whatsoever. (But there is baseball. Do not underestimate baseball.) But on Saturday, a friend came to stay with me while my husband was away with our friends on the Cape. One thing lead to another, and we spent most of the evening watching Deadliest Catch. I have to admit, I love this show. On bad days, it makes me insanely grateful for a desk job with benefits and a practically 0 chance of having 32 degree Bering Sea water dumped on my head. On other days, I reflect on the ties back to a former age. Interspersed with sonar readings and hydraulic cranes are age-old superstitions and an environment where men teach each other to be men in the oldest ways — as men have in the ruggedest environments since they first plied the waters. It’s an interesting environment for a feminist to see. I can tell you this much: I couldn’t hack it. I’m pretty sure that after 20 hours of backbreaking labor I’d be in tears and handing in my resignation.

Thane loves the park. It has the BEST garbage!
Thane loves the park. It has the BEST garbage!

I figured that as long as he didn’t go around preschool saying, “What the *beep* took you so *beeping* long to *beep* bring me my *beeping* Legos?” this was a pretty good show to watch. The only violence is against crabs. And there’s a truth to it. Of course, now he says he wants to be a fisherman because “It looks like fun.” Clearly he’s not paying attention.

Since I complain plenty when the boys are hard to handle, in fairness I should tell you that they’ve been just amazingly lately. Thane has stopped clinging to my leg like a screeching limpet while I make dinner. Now he’ll play with cars (he LOVES lining them up on a table, taking them down, and lining them up again). He has this Spongebob figure he’s extremely fond of. He, like his brother before him, calls the little yellow guy “Bob-bob”. He’s talking up a storm. He’s extremely interested in whatever his brother is doing. One of his most frequent words is “Gwey”. He’s also recently become obsessed with apples. Normal people will eat a great apple down to the core. With Thane, if he’s hungry, he’ll eat the entire apple. As in, there are no remnants of the apple left when he’s done. Apple is also one of his clearest words. At the height of apple-mania, I believe my 25 pound son (or so) ate about 5 apples in one day. There was a dinner where the boys collectively turned their noses up at pizza and preferred to eat apples instead. I confess that one left me not knowing how to feel. On the one hand, children should eat their dinner. On the other hand, apples are likely much better nutritionally than pizza.

Project “Teach Thane To Walk” has been going extremely well. Thane will now walk considerable distances holding a hand. The other day, he walked all the way down the block with me. This may not sound astonishing, but he has little legs and strong opinions. For him to nicely walk such a distance past so many distractions is real progress. Grey is quite a walker. My friend who spent Saturday brought her pedometer. We walked 3.7 miles that day. Grey walked all of it with us, and with the running around and jumping, much likely significantly more. I look forward to the day when all four of us can walk through the woods together (and not stop every 3 feet for a snack).

Grey has been super and fun and a delight (with one or two exceptions). I’m continually stunned by how USEFUL and HELPFUL he is, and how we can DO things with him. For example, we played several games of “Kids of Carcasonne” and he followed the rules and played correctly. He was also compassionate towards his parents (possibly not getting the idea of a game) and helped us complete our roads. He’s really, truly, honestly reading. I asked him to read a book to my friend, and he read through the entire thing with one mistake. He said “not” when the word was “never”. And it wasn’t a book he knew by heart — he was really reading it. (The book in question is Today I Will Fly). He is superb with Thane… most of the time. It’s a joy to watch him run and jump and play and make friends. And he’s very loving towards me. He’s also really sensitive. The other night he said he was scared. As I carried him to his room, I was talking about all the reasons he should be happy and ended with “And all’s right with the world.” He replied, “No, it’s not. There was that earthquake, and all the people got hurt.” He’s right, of course. All is right in his small world, but not the larger world. I was struck by his awareness that just because everything is good for him, doesn’t mean everything is good.

Little boy blue
Little boy blue

Monday is Patriot’s Day. It’s a state holiday. While theoretically it’s about some historic thingamajig, in reality it’s a day when Boston shuts down to watch some baseball and then watch the Boston marathon come through. There are some battle recreations in the morning, too, I believe. I have to work, but the boys’ new preschool is closed for the day. So I called Abuela tonight to ask if she’d be willing to take the boys. You know, she sounded really, really happy to hear from me. She really wanted to hear how the boys were doing. She said she really missed them – and I believe her. I’m caught between feeling great and feeling sad. Feeling great because it was such a great relationship for so long. And of course, feeling sad because I don’t see how that relationship can be well continued (although I have suspicions that if the Y takes Patriot’s Day off, they probably take all the other holidays off that I don’t get).

I hope that all is as well and joyful with you out there as it is for us!

Verizon vs Comcast

While my brother was here, two Comcast guys came to my door. I let them in because I’d actually seen them working on the phone poles lately, so I knew they were legitimate. I pretty much never buy or pay attention to solicitations. That serves me well in some ways (I’m hard to scam) but it makes it difficult for me to find out about legitimate opportunities.

We currently have Verizon FIOS for tv and internet. I’ve been relatively satisfied with it. We have the super duper upload speeds, and a standard tv package and two receivers, which cost us about $111 a month. The Comcast guys were offering better download/upload speeds (likely over the same wires), a land line phone with voice mail, caller ID, call waiting and unlimited long distance (which I wanted and was thwarted getting with Verizon), Starz, Encore, more free On Demand, the first month free, free installation and activation, a one year price guarantee and no contract. The kicker was the free DVR. Oh, and the cost per month would be $95.

I haven’t heard great things about Comcast’s customer service, but that was too good to pass up. So we took it.

The Comcast installation dude was here exactly on time the day he was supposed to be. (Don’t get me started on the rigmarole that was adding the second Verizon receiver, which resulted in me having to take an extra vacation day.) He was professional and thorough. He added phone lines to all the floors of my house. He paid attention to the aesthetics of the installation. He was very polite and quite nice to Grey (who was very sad when he was gone when Grey woke up!) He was here for like 4 hours, but did very nice work. He even set up our wireless router.

The upshot? The internet is working pretty much the same. And I’m very excited about the DVR! I feel like I’m finally entering the 21st century! I can pause! Record! Rewind! Fast forward! SO EXCITING!

Apparently our entire neighborhood is converting. My next door neighbor has the trucks out in front today.

Check that out — an entire post that wasn’t about parenting!

(Waves to the people who are responsible for surfing the web to find out what “the blogosphere” is saying about their company. Well, I kind of hope my blog is sufficiently visible for those folks to find me.)