Colonel Dracula Joins The Navy.

It's time to cut the cord.

I.

This is a story about my lifelong, personal, often-too-intimate relationship with Television. And like any good story, it ends with me on the roof of my house, yelling at my neighbors.

I’ll back up.

This summer, I was forced to give up my beloved DirecTV satellite dish thanks to my homeowner’s association. Now when I say ‘forced,’ I suppose it’s more fair to say that I was ‘strongly encouraged.’ And I guess when I say I was ‘strongly encouraged,’ I really mean I ‘threw a pissbaby tantrum and threatened to burn every unit in the complex to the ground.’

Look, I bought a condo because I don’t care. I couldn’t care less about anything from the drywall-out. I don’t care about the height of my mailbox. I don’t care about the color of the stoops. I will do anything, literally anything, that the voting majority of the HOA wants. Want to raise dues again? Sure. Want to hire a different landscaping service because they show up 20 minutes earlier and their trucks aren’t as loud? Go nuts, weirdos. I am a perfect, automaton neighbor, and I write a check every month to ensure that some other power-hungry sociopath takes care of these decisions for me. When I want to start shit about the hedges or get into gardening (after suffering, I assume, some sort of head injury), I’ll buy a house with a yard that I own. I knew what I was getting into.

The problem came to my front door (or roof, as it were) in July. At an HOA meeting where I voted by proxy and told them to do whatever they wanted, the decision was made to replace the roofs. This was going to be costly (okay). This was going to tap our reserve funds (hey, whaddya gonna do). This was going to cost additional money out of pocket (sounds like poor fund management, but majority rules). Oh, and this also meant that satellite dishes had to go. Forever.

Gavel-gavel-gavel, meeting over.

The consequences of my own non-actions made me furious. "That wasn’t an HOA meeting!" I exclaimed, pacing circles around the breakfast nook and crumpling the official letter in my hand. "That was a cavalcade of fascism! A book burning! A desecration of culture!"

My cats were less than enraptured, but continued to politely function as my audience as I waved a finger in the air. "I won’t stand for this! I’m…I’m an American! I’m an American citizen, and they can take my satellite dish when they pry it from my doughy, pasty corpse!"

How suddenly I became interested in neighborhood issues when it directly affected me in the most benign way possible, and my wife was quick to point this out. In fact, a quick scan through the bylaws stated that, yes, this was completely within the HOA’s rights, and there’s a good chance that those of us with dishes probably should have never had them in the first place.

I remained feral and undeterred. "As God is my witness, I’ll become the worst neighbor this city’s ever seen! I’ll poop on the lawn! I’ll walk to the mailbox with my wiener hanging out every morning! I’ll chain myself to the goddamn recycling bins if I have to!"

"Mm-hmm. Want me to put in a pizza?"

"…that would be actually great, thank you. You mean the world to me."

II.

In 2004, the brainchild of what would become YouTube was birthed after Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake got nipply (Jackson) and problematic (Timberlake) at Super Bowl XXXVIII. 17 years later, and YouTube TV was the primary streaming service I used to watch Super Bowl LV. I’m just old enough where this feels equally unbelievable and pedestrian. I suppose it’s no different than remembering that Amazon was once an online bookstore that now feeds, clothes and employs the bulk of America. Hooray for Capitalism, I guess.

I was pumping gas in the freezing cold last week, cursing myself for not having an electric car (or a winter jacket, or common sense), when I distracted myself from hypothermia with a little Gas Station TV. GSTV is exactly what it says it is: A fully-contained TV network that broadcasts and advertises on the screens at gas pumps. Again, I’m at precisely the right age to both marvel in the dystopian futurescape of such an innovation, while still remembering when I used to get paid to pump other peoples’ gas for them.

If the idea of fully-digital streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime winning Emmys no longer feels peculiar to you, just wait until Gas Station TV starts raking ‘em in. Imagine if Game of Thrones had aired on GSTV instead of HBO, and millions of people would huddle around petrol pumps every Sunday night to see what sort of crazy shenanigans the Stonks and Lancasters got themselves into (I have not seen this show).

Or how about this for a thought experiment? In 1981, the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) was a software application sold to local cable operators throughout the country. It was a nothing more than a floppy disk run by an Atari 130XE computer, and it allowed home viewers to see what shows were on what channels at what time. In 1988, the EPG became Prevue Guide, and in 1993 became the Prevue Channel. While the hardware had been updated, the Prevue Channel was still nothing more than a computer system, then becoming more legitimate in 1999 when it was renamed the TV Guide Channel. In 2007 it became the TV Guide Network, which again morphed into TVGN in 2013. Finally in 2015, TVGN became Pop TV, and at the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards in 2020, Pop TV (on the strength of Schitt’s Creek and One Day at a Time) won 10 Emmys in a single night. Not too bad for a floppy disk.

It’s evolution, baby. YouTube went from a place to replay a wardrobe malfunction to broadcasting the World Series. The EPG software is now a critical darling. Amazon went from a bookstore to…scary as shit, quite frankly. But what I’m getting at is this: I’m at just the right age where I’m totally open to, yet remain in awe of, technological change. Grandpa just needs a little push to get up out of the recliner every now and then, and whether I was cranky about it or not, this roof issue was just the nudge I needed to finally jump headlong into cord cutting (if I didn’t jump headlong off the roof first).

III.

I was putting on a master class in whining as I entered the ‘bargaining and depression’ phase of Grief. "Our Internet’s not fast enough. Our Smart TV isn’t smart enough. I like Satellite. It makes sense to me. Can’t we just buy a new condo?" My words went unheeded and were getting tragic. The dish had to go. My attempts to relocate it to the deck devolved into weeks of bureaucratic nonsense, and the time came where we were less than 24 hours from the roofers arriving. I was out of options.

In a flash of irresponsible spending brought on by anger and anxiety over not having television for a single stupid day, I went on the offensive. A sweaty frenzy of phone calls, e-mails and visits to Target ensued, and before we knew it I had a new TV, a new streaming provider and faster Internet. I went from storming out of HOA negotiations to equipping myself with the most advanced setup in the neighborhood. That’ll show those ghouls that I can still change with the times. Every internal remnant and memory of DirecTV was put into a laundry basket and shipped back to headquarters.

Except for one last thing.

Under the cover of dusk, I stole a ladder from my neighbor’s yard and climbed onto the roof. It was time to say goodbye.

IV.

My bond with Satellite TV began in 1994, when my grandparents installed what is now known as a B.U.D. (Big Ugly Dish) in their backyard. I had lived with terrestrial cable for a couple of years prior to this, but 90’s C-Band television was a whole other plane of existence.

Every month, we would get a channel guide in the mail called Orbit. Orbit was like TV Guide, only it was two inches thick and contained the listings of every satellite currently circling the planet. Once my grandparents were asleep, I would pull an all-nighter and leaf through the guide page-by-page, on some insane mission to see what was on every single channel we could dial in. Sometimes it was test patterns (a lot of time it was test patterns). Sometimes it was scrambled (which didn’t stop me). Sometimes it was plain-old American programming. But every now and again, I’d stumble across some straight-up C-Band anarchy.

Anyone could buy a satellite channel if they had enough money. Anyone. Pastor Gene Scott and his wife purchased so much airtime in the 80's and 90's that his signal is still floating out in the ether of shortwave communication. As a kid, it always looked like he was speaking live, 24/7, around the clock. It wasn't until I started researching him that I realized he probably was.

There were also ‘wild feeds’ which don't exist anymore, at least not in a capacity where a random schmuck in his living room could view it with no effort whatsoever. The satellite grid was analog and unlocked; all chips were on the table at all times for anyone to watch. This meant (and I'm paraphrasing) that as soon as a network flipped their switch, the feed was available to view if you happened to be on the channel they were using as a 'pre-air.’ Stumbling across a Wild Feed was like finding a TV unicorn. You weren't supposed to see it, anything could happen, it was live and you would more than likely never see it again. This goes back to my love of channel surfing and not knowing everything that was out there; every once in a while you strike gold.

It would seem counterproductive that a technology so vast and random would make me feel so connected with the outside world, but it did. On the other side of my bedroom was a computer that now allowed me to create buddy lists and chat nightly with friends and strangers the world over, but it just wasn't the same for me. The sound of a modem dialing up certainly reminds me of the early connection I made with new technology, but not as much as the sound of our Big Ugly Dish slowly spinning in the backyard at 2 in the morning.

This all was an enormous part of shaping my interests (alright, maybe an unhealthy amount). When I tell people that I love Television, I don’t even mean that I love television shows. I literally love the invention of Television. I love that we used to have televisions with coin slots on them. I loved the analog-to-digital conversion, which I watched live like it was my generation’s moon landing. I love that I could look out the window of my grandparents’ house and watch their Big Ugly Dish swivel on its axis as I continued searching for the most obscure entertainment the human race could offer. I love its evolution.

And if that was still the case, I knew what I had to do now.

V.

This is a story about my lifelong, personal, often-too-intimate relationship with Television. And like any good story, it ends with me on the roof of my house, yelling at my neighbors.

It was (in my head, at least) like the scene in Rear Window when the owners of the dog found that it had been murdered. I sobbed and cradled the lifeless, disconnected satellite dish in my arms, cursing the entire subdivision. "You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘neighbor!’ Neighbors like each other! Speak to each other! Care if anybody lives or dies! But none of you do! You don’t talk! You don’t help! But I couldn’t imagine any of you being so low that you’d take my dish from me! It was the only thing in this whole neighborhood who liked anybody!"

My wife threw a blanket over my shoulders and walked me back into the house.

There was no analog anymore. No antenna. No beam shot into outer space. No plastic boxes with hard drives in them. No Big Ugly Dish. No Little Ugly Dish. No Orbit. No Prevue Channel. No wild feeds and insane preachers. No static and test patterns. It was streamlined and wireless. It was lightning-fast and high-definition. It was equal parts unbelievable and pedestrian. It was evolution, and it had evolved me in the process.

I was ready for anything.