Straddling the grid: The futility of utilities

One of the best parts of being on the road was being off the grid.

For a full year, as Ace and I traveled around America twice, we paid not a penny to electric companies, gas companies, water companies, cable companies.

Liberating? You betcha.

Now, as we settle in for a period of undetermined duration in Winston-Salem, N.C., we are back on the grid. As much as I hate the grid, I do love air conditioning, and Ace loves it even more. I was holding off on turning it on, but this week did the trick, with record high temperatures that left both Ace and me panting.

The summer of 2010 was, or at least seemed to me to be, the hottest ever — maybe because we spent so much of it outside. If we’re in for another one of those, I’m happy to be indoors, and on the grid.

The grid, I’m sure, is equally grateful to have me back. You may say the grid can’t be grateful, the grid has no emotions, but keep in mind, the person who operates the grid does have feelings — that being the man.

The man,  through individual networks, operates the grid for the system — the system being even bigger and fuzzier than the grid.

You may not entirely understand — just like you don’t understand your monthly bill — but the truth is we’re not supposed to. It’s all part of the matrix of vague terms, undefineable dimensions, innumerable options and indecipherable formulas thrown at us to keep us confused, subservient, feeling inadequate and paying the monthly bill.

I decided to restrict my patronage of the grid as much as I could — to electricity, gas and water.

Rather than add home internet, I decided to just keep my mobile version. Rather than get a landline, I just use my cell phone. (So, actually, by using those on the road, I was still on the grid, but the grid didn’t know my address, and neither did the man, since I didn’t have one).

In my new place, I checked into getting cable television, but the prices for that start at $60 a month, and I balked as well at the slightly lower prices of other options. I nixed the idea of having a large satellite dish attached to house, and receivers installed inside. That would have given us 800 or so channels, but, as we all know, those recievers are also programmed to read our brain waves, and report our thoughts back to the man. That’s just the sort of thing the grid does.

I briefly considered bundling, in which the man has been so kind to arrange for you to receive multiple services from the grid for one low price, provided you agree to pay for the duration of your life, don’t mind your brain waves being monitored, and sign your soul over to the grid upon your death.

Instead, for television, we’re using the digital antenna. They run about $40 at Radio Shack, are generally unsightly space-age looking contraptions, and allow you to sporadically pick up a channel or two, if the weather is good.

I’m getting four or five channels in the living room, though on most the signal gets lost every time a car passes down the street outside — the picture either disappears entirely or turns into something that looks like an Impressionist painting getting struck by lightning. I get two channels in the bedroom, depending on where Ace sleeps.

The digital antenna is actually even more infuriating than the grid, the man, and the system.

The signal will go out at key moments, prohibiting me from learning whodunit, and more, and it’s especially bad during storms:

“I know who did it. It was ….”

“President Obama has scheduled a statement to announce the killing of …”

“Three tornadoes have been spotted in the county in the area of …”

??? ??? ???

The thing about digital antennas is it’s not just how you position them — and one can spend hours at that pursuit — but how you position you.

In the bedroom, I can get myself into a position where the TV signal comes through, and I’m somewhat comfortable. But Ace inevitably throws a wrench into things, jumping into bed and interrupting the signal.

Sometimes it’s a matter of adjusting the antenna again; sometimes it’s a matter of adjusting Ace. Usually, just as I get everything settled into proper position, Ace decides to get up, spin around and lay in another direction.

That’s about when — with the TV playing ten seconds on, ten seconds off, amid sporadic bursts of Jay Leno, in a nether world with no punch lines — I fall asleep.

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