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Gary Horton: We pulled the plug on grandma

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: April 6, 2010 6:28 p.m.
Updated: April 7, 2010 4:55 a.m.
We lost an old friend the other day. Someone we'd hooked up with way back in our first days in Santa Clarita.

Well, let's put it straight. We killed off the old girl. Twenty-five years back, we'd been very close, and her attractive qualities often had us chatting together every day. But lately, what was then enticing has since lost its luster, and keeping up the relationship was more trouble than the gal was worth.

Lately, she'd even taken to bringing uninvited strangers into our home, selling us stuff. Indeed, keeping our old friend had us losing our privacy.

And after all these years, the old girl seemed to be moving slower. It was agitating, waiting around for her all the time. Slow doesn't work anymore. We're go-go, 24/7. We wanted her to get with the modern program, but she was too stuck in her old ways.

And then there was the cost. With things tight in a recession, keeping the old girl around just wasn't worth the expense.
Even with so much history between us, in the end, the relationship just plain soured.

So last week, after decades of life together, we called AT&T and terminated Ma Bell. We "unplugged granny." And we killed her little dog, "Internet," too. We booted Ma Bell out of our house like the annoying salespeople she'd so often facilitated.

There were good reasons for our breakup. Ma Bell's Internet was high-cost, yet slow-speed. Five years ago her 400KB speed was fast, but hey, get with modern times, right?

Grannie wasn't getting any perkier - not without additional expensive surgery. Today, 5MB is the bottom-line threshold for decent Internet speed. For a few dollars more than Ma Bell's "one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy," we switched to cable Internet and got a 20-times speed boost. Let's hear it for young and fast.

But it was the costly phone service that really did in the old girl. Ours was a basic plan, but adding in just a few extras and taxes, the phone bill came to about $50 a month. That, plus Internet, and we were sending a $75 kiss to Ma Bell every month. Paying $75 for strange salespeople from all over the world interrupting our dinner hardly seemed smart or fun.

Our landline relationship became one of those things where there was nothing left to hold us together but wires and old memories. Sure, our number had been with our family since we moved into our home 25 years ago. Sure, our kids will remember that number for all their days. Our 253-prefix number was nearly a family member, what with all its chats and memories.

But time stops for no technology, and in our empty-nester home Ma Bell's aging landline had become wires around our necks. Ironically, the last call we made on our phone was to AT&T, cutting the thing off.

Old phones sit around our house, unplugged. Dead-headed mementos on desks and tables. Today, sleek cell phones stay tight in our pockets, much more loyal and convenient than the clunky tied-down ones we just did in. And these phones even take pictures and get our mail! Tell that to Ma Bell's cranky old phones.

Ah, the indignity of getting slow and old. Your friends eventually cut you off for something better.

Somewhere deep inside, abandoning our family's old phone number was disconcerting. I sensed that cutting unneeded services is the first step in the long downsizing that accompanies descent into old age. Ma Bell might have been the first sent out from our lives, but surely, there's tons of stuff that will sooner or later suffer the same fate.

Boxes of books. Long-forgotten children's toys. Tools that hands can no longer grip. Pictures and memorabilia from past youth and dimmed glory.

In that reflective light, Ma Bell's dispatch portends disquieting steps toward irreversible demise. One day it will be us getting shipped out.

So yes, some melancholy angst at the killing. But now we're happier again. Freer, really, with less clutter. No dinner-time salesmen interrupting our meals. No running across the house only to miss a call - that turned out to be a salesperson anyway. No bills coming in higher than expected. Instead, we've simplified our lives with cell phones - and streaming liberal Web sites as fun and fast as the future promised on their pages.

Sometimes, you've got to leave sentiment in the past to clear the way for a better future forward.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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