The Long and Winding Road

The Long and Winding Road (or, One Man’s Journey Into Digital Enlightenment)

It all started in April of last year. It seemed like such a simple observation. In retrospect, though, it was simple like shooting an Archduke and causing a World War is simple – not simple like turning on the TV with remote control (the way God intended) is simple.

The observation was that our twelve year old was beginning to spend more time on the ol’ Yosemite G3. Specifically, he was spending a lot more time on-line. Now this wasn’t a huge problem, yet, but as we were in the process of starting up a new business – I could see a time coming where his interest in being on-line and our need for instant telephone access were going to be in constant conflict. So being the quintessential modern hunter/gatherer, I go in search of a solution.

Since simpler (that word again) is usually better, I try the most obvious route first. How much is a second phone line? What?! $25/month!? That seems a bit exorbitant. Surely there’s a more elegant (read – cheaper) solution out there somewhere. Well, I guess we could just use the cell phone during the evening. While that is a feasible solution, it’s a messy one. Folks calling us would always be trying two numbers, we’d have two voice-mailboxes to keep up with, we’d have to keep the damned batteries charged all the time, and we’d have to remeber to bring the silly thing in out of the car. Now I know that there are folks who mange all these details with seemingly unconscious aplomb, but to me – it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I just keep the thing in the car to use in case of emergencies (“Hon – I’m pulling into the grocery store and I forgot to check how much beer we have left.”). The charger is right there in the car, too. No muss, no fuss – just the way God intended. Plus, the cost on the cell minutes can rack up pretty quickly – which trashes my “elegant” requirement.

So, running out of options on the voice side of things, I cast my jaded eyes onto the digital sid of the equation. Since we live in the outback (No, not literally THE outback – just north Texas), newfangled things like cable modems and wireless connections aren’t available. But one possibility that has potential is DSL. Doesn’t use up your voice phone, speeds up your internet connection, Hmmmm. I do some more investigating to determine how “elegant it is”.

The first I thing I learn is that a lot of folks offering this service want you to pay for the hardware required. Several hundred dollars. So I keep looking. There are a few vendors that will give you the hardware, and you just pay the flat monthly access fee. Now, we’re talking. But some of these guys charge “installation fees” that are more than my car’s worth. Scratch them. So now I’m left with a very short list of “elegant” suppliers, about half of which mention Mac support. So I start checking out if the Mac supporters are “available” in my area.

Not at this time. Every single one of them. But one, SWBell, mentions that it will be available “soon”. In fact, they’re already installing in our city, it’s just not available on my part of town yet. So I innocently sign for notification of when the service is available to me. Did I mention that it’s April? Anyway, the next thing I learn is that their notification system doesn’t. So I decide to just call once a month.

May – same story. Coming soon to a house near you. June – “We have checked out the distance from your house and a network center and you are within range. But it’s still not availalble”. July – “The computer shows DSL is now available in your area, just not on your street, yet”. August – “No sir, I can’t tell why your street is the only one in the city that meets physical proximity requirements and yet still doesn’t show available – but it is”. September – “Not available on this street, but I have a cousin who sells semaphore flags”.

October changes everything. I should mention here that every time I call I get a different person. Most are very courteous. All are very professional. One, I think I could have gotten a date with if I were willing to drive to Lubbock (Uh Honey, can I borrow the new car?). But never any problem getting connected to a person. Anyway, the answer in October is that DSL is finally available on my Luddite street, would I like to place an order? Shock does strange things to your vocal capacity, but I manage to stammer out a barely intelligible confirmation. I am then informed that I should have my service installed November 9.

A warning goes up in my mind much later, after the initial euphoria and giddyness susbsides. I thought I was getting the self-install arrangment. What’s up with this “installation date” stuff? So I wait and watch suspiciously. Imagine my complete lack of surprise when November 9 comes and goes with no detectable activity. So, after another week or so, I call again. “Yes sir, the computer shows that it available on your street. It also shows that you have an order in, but it’s flagged with a problem marker. Ah yes, the problem is that the computer shows that no ISP’s are available in your area. Yes, yes I understand that SWBell is already your dialup ISP, and I have no idea no why our own computers wouldn’t show that our own service isn’t available, but it doesn’t. And we can’t schedule the installation until the computer glitch is corected. No sir, we don’t have the faintest of ideas how long it could take.” Have I already mentioned that this is the only “elegant” DSL provider that’s “available” to me?

Thanksgiving comes and goes, and the caloric overload drives all traumatic memories of DSL far from my tortured mind. Then, one day in early December, an envelope arrives in the mail from SWBell. It’s the software and installation instructions for DSL service! Nice dual formatted CD, with both Windoze and Mac instructions in the printed handout (Let’s see, 28 pages of Windows instructions and 2 pages of Mac instructions – looks about right). But where’s the hardware? Oh well, my blood pressure says to just focus on the good news that I have actually received something, and ignore what I haven’t. Sure enough, the hardware arrives UPS several days later.

I hook everything up, load the software, and Bang – nothing. Hmmm. Given my incredible level of technical competence (and modesty), maybe I’ve outran SWBell – and they’re just not ready for me yet. A quick phone call to the SWBell tech support hot line confirms this – I’m scheduled to be activated on December 26. Great! A late Christmas present! I mention to a buddy at work (who’s also in pursuit of the DSL grail) about my status and he’s stricken deaf, dumb, and blind – “How did you EVER get a in touch with a tech support person???”, he writes with a crayon – “that NEVER happens!!”

The tech guy had also mentioned that one of the LED’s on the front of the DSL modem-thingy will come on when service is activated – so I can just glance at the thing and knwo when I’m good to go. The 26th comes and goes, no light. New Years comes on goes, no light. I allow several days for tech support hangover treatment, and then try to call again. Sure enough, I can listen to all the telephone Muzak that I want to, but I never get thru to a live tech support person (Is that an oxymoron?). But seeing that mysterious black box sitting there beside the ol’ Yosemite just screaming “Paradise Lost” is driving me nuts.

Rumor at work is that my buddy, who does not live on my Luddite street, is already on-line with his DSL. So I go see if he has any special spells, incantations, or secret Swiss bank accounts that I should be using. Sure enough, he bashfully admits that he had special help – he has the local phone number of an actual, live and in-the-flesh, Bell telephone installer/technician! After letting him have his way with my sister, he agrees to call this technician on my behalf. Two hours later, the technician (Bubba) calls ME at work. “Hey Jeff. I can see that you’ve been activated, but thar seems to be some problem betwen you and the network center. I’ll run by your house tomorow and check it out. Leave the DSL modem on.”

This seems to be a little to macabre -and easy -to me, so I collect an appropriate bribe and leave it in an umarked envelope by the phone box to my house. Sure enough, the next afternoon, I get another call from Bubba, who explains that it looks like a wiring problem back at the network center, and that he’ll put in a job order on it. He says it should be fixed by next Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m thinking it sounds like I didn’t leave a big enough bribe. I do notice, after getting home, that the envelope has disappeared.

Tuesday brings no change in the indicator light on the DSL thingy. My internal modem in the ol’ Yosemite picks this time to go totally deaf, rendering it useless. I can hear it dialing and negotiating, but it can’t hear the modem on the other replying. Great. No dial up. No DSL. No nothing. I’m wondering what the odds are of me finding one of those old internal modem cards are, and not thinking it’s going to be easy.

Wednesday evening arrives and (organ and harp music plays loudly), the indicator light is ON! Sure enough, twenty minutes later I’m on-line in digital nirvana – just the way God intended.

Simple, huh?

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