The Technology Gap

Life Behind the Curve

It's happened again. The technological ferry left the dock just 30 seconds before I got to the harbor, and I'm wondering how many of you out there in cyberspace have had the same experience.

The most dramatic episode happened to me decades ago. I'd gone to graduate school near Chicago and had lots of favorite downtown 'haunts' - Marshall Field's, Kroch's & Brentano's, the Art Institute, the Field Museum and on and on.

But then I moved to southwest Michigan and for several years didn't get back to my old turf. One Friday (my day off) I decided to head back to the Windy City and enjoy some former pleasures; after all, they were only 90 miles away.

So I drove to the Loop and parked in Grant Park, underground, by mid-morning. After four hours or so of seeing every landmark and visiting almost every store and building in sight, I had an inspirational thought. Why not go to Rose Records on south Wabash and get a few new LP's?

I was excited as I walked the five blocks south and then went inside the store. Now, for those of you who aren't familiar with Rose Records, they had another location in the suburbs - but this was the anchor store, the big Mother of all record stores - three floors of LP's and a few thousand old 45's. Every record you'd ever want (or had had, and wanted to replace) was right there on the near south side of the Loop.

Imagine my shock when I entered the building and saw dozens and dozens of open display tables filled with tens of thousands of tiny little square plastic cases with CD's inside!

I asked a clerk about LP records and he said, "Oh, yeah, I think we still have a few hundred left. They'd be on the 3rd floor in the back, on a table in the corner." (That was where they used to stock really odd records, along with a few in foreign languages you'd ever heard of!).

Needless to say, I didn't buy a record that day. Instead I left the store almost weeping. One of the joys of my life was now a hopeless dinosaur, as extinct as its Jurassic cousins.

There was only one thing to do, I decided. I'd walk two blocks farther south and assuage my hurt feelings with a late afternoon dinner at George Diamond's Steak House. Again, for those of you who never frequented Chicago, that restaurant was world famous. Two other eateries by that name existed - one in the northwest suburbs and a second in Florida. But this was the home base for steaks! The fare was simple: a quarter head of lettuce, topped with the most special hybrid of French and Thousand Island dressings you could imagine (the only one they served, by the way), along with a baked potato the size of Idaho and a steak, any steak (mine was always New York Strip) an inch thick and cooked just to your liking (described on the menu as, 'medium rare - pink inside, medium - some pink, medium well-done, or well-done - charred' as I remember).

That was it. My mouth was drooling by the time I'd walked the two blocks further down Wabash and reached the entrance of the restaurant, only to discover that it was GONE! - out of business, closed up, kaput!

Once again, the ferry had left the dock - only this time it wasn't technology that got ahead of itself. The neighborhood had changed, gotten even seedier than it had always been, and the clientele had moved on to safer pastures for grazing (sorry for mixing my metaphors!).

Which brings me to my latest futile dashes to the dock (there's a tech term, by gosh! Pun unintended, too!) Last spring my wife and I talked about a new movie just out on DVD. It was one I'd read about and we both wanted to see, so I said I'd just drive the two miles to our closest Hollywood Video store and rent it.

I did, only to find that the store was empty, vacant - a new store, mind you, not yet two years old - in a new strip mall near a brand new Super Wal-Mart! And the video store was closed. Only one thing to do: drive to their old Hollywood Video store another three miles away: not as pretty, not as big, not staffed with the same friendly people who recognized you when you walked in . . . but, 'any port in a storm,' right? Wrong. It was closed too. No signs put up, no explanation, just doors chained with no lights on.

What had happened? I thought for a minute and then it hit me: DVD's are rented now through cable or Direct-TV or from those funny red vending machines in most grocery stores, or from Netflix or some other 'Columbia record club' look-alike (there's that antique imagery again!). So we did without that movie, and quite a few more over the next few months.

But there was hope, I thought. We'd ordered some new furniture for our house in Florida, and one piece was a huge TV cabinet meant for the living room - a cabinet that would dwarf the white 19" Sharp set from what was soon to become my wife's weaving studio. We knew a new flat-screen TV would be needed.

That's when I started the research - sizes, types, features, prices, makes and models of new TV's and components. During a discussion with one Best Buy employee, the subject of Blue-ray players came up. "Some really good deals are coming. You can get a great one for $120, even less."

"What about playing regular DVD's?" I asked.

"Some players will handle them, along with Blue-ray. Just a few bucks more."

It was clear we'd have to have one of those. But now that our new 40" TV is in the cabinet and working perfectly (the picture is wonderful, thanks to the cable guy who hooked it up and programmed it for us!), the thought occurs to me: where will we get the DVD's to play on a Blue-ray player, if we get one? (The Blockbuster video stores in our Florida area are also out of business, by the way, and I had similar issues last May when I purchased a new computer, only to find that my HP printer wouldn't work with it - no updated driver software available for it!).

The cable guy suggested buying some kind of gizmo at Wal-Mart that lets you order movies for only a dollar a day. Or, we could rent them from one of those funny red vending machines I mentioned earlier - except they only offer old movies that nobody wanted to see anyway, even when they came out! Or, we could subscribe to a rental plan and have them mailed to us, and mailed back. Or, we could pay $4.99 for each movie 'on-demand' (except that some newer films are now $9.99 and up!)

Or, . . . or we could just skip buying a Blue-ray player altogether and decide to watch only a single movie now and then on cable, if and when one comes along that we just have to see.

It's not like the good old days (of three or four years ago) when you could walk into a video store and rent the newest movie just out, or one of the thousands of older movies (and they were good movies too, not just junk you never wanted to see in the first place).

So, here we are without a DVD Blue-ray player so far, ready to schedule our one free movie the cable company is giving us in exchange for the privilege of renting their HD cable box for a 'bargain' fee each month.

But, as we try to decide on which night to rent the new Karate Kid movie (I saw it on a plane headed to France last September, thought Jackie Chan was terrific and the movie a lot more 'adult' and quality than the original - enough so that I've convinced my wife she'd like it), I'm haunted by this recurring thought . . .

Had we purchased a Blue-ray player, how long would it be before it would be giving me the blues?

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