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An Anachronism | Born In The Wrong Era

There is a discussion that I have had with many of my friends lately.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this discussion answers many questions about me. I was born in the wrong era.worlds_fair_chicago_1933

So many of the things that I enjoy are anachronisms. They are products of another place in time…another era. They speak to a more genteel time. They are from a time where our lives may not have been artificially extended with advanced science and technology but our lives were less complex. People could enjoy the little things in life. Like most of us, I am a slave to technology, especially for my work.

I am constantly checking e-mail on my iPhone. I have almost every Apple product known to man. I recently cut cable television but added Roku and Netflix…that topic was discussed in an earlier post..but I constantly think about a simpler, lower technological existence.

These thoughts really crystallized for me recently. One of my staff members had volunteered to drop me off at the Amtrak station. I was taking the train back to Hamilton, New York for the Colgate-Navy basketball game.Amtrak-logo

During our ride, he talked about a friend of his that worked for a company owned by a Dutch conglomerate. Whenever the head of the Dutch company came to New York for a meeting, he would take the train and encouraged the local staff to ride the train. His comment was that riding the train made him feel more human. I could not agree more. That is probably one of the things that I love about riding the train. I do feel more human. I feel that the pace of my life has just slowed down and that I can relax and enjoy the ride.

For some reason, I never feel that way when I am flying all over country like I have for the last 25 years. Thousands upon thousands of air miles. More flights and airports that I can count. Always rushing from gate-to-gate. People herded on and off planes like livestock headed for the slaughterhouse. The frustrations are endless.

I never feel that way on a train. Yes I know that Amtrak is not really convenient for most travelers. The trains do not run with near the frequency or service the cities and towns that rail service did a century ago. The automobile and commercial air travel have made sure of that.

Also, it seems as Amtrak is almost never on time, but I could really care less. I love riding a train. In December, I took the train from Penn Station in New York City to the Buffalo Exchange Street stop…which is two blocks from my loft.   It took nine hours, countless stops and sitting on the side tracks waiting on several long freights to pass.

The ride was absolutely fantastic. It was relaxing. The coach seats are the same size as first-class airline seats. There is a club car with food and adult beverages.

I am writing this blog while riding back to Buffalo from Utica on Amtrak’s Maple Leaf. The total cost of the roundtrip was $66.  I brought my small CJ’s Hot Wings cooler with lunch, snacks and a few Monroe City craft beers (Keystone Light) for the ride.Keith Stone

No worrying about black ice on the roads, state troopers or tolls. I spend more on the tank of gas making the trip than the round trip ticket. This is my favorite way to travel.

southern_pacific_railroad_vintage_train_travel_poster-r77eba578984146e08cf6eaa5f9f289da_aabp_8byvr_512There was a time when there was an elegance to train travel. You could have a good meal in the multiple dining cars. If you were so inclined, a scotch and cigar were available in the smoking car. The service was impeccable.  Of course, the golden age of train travel is long gone. A product of an era lost to the advances of technology. An age that will never return.

We are “instant” society today. How fast can we get where we are going? How quickly can the news of today be spread around the globe by the internet? How many things can technology strip of their wonder?

Maybe this is why I still love the magic of listening to a baseball game on radio. Watching a classic movie that was made without CGI. The smell of a library. Cooking a meal from scratch in my grandmother’s skillet. Actually talking to someone. The Sunday newspaper.

Ernie Harwell

Ernie Harwell

The thrill of having to wait a minute, hour, day or week for something great to happen. I wax rhapsodic about these things knowing that it is this mindset that affects my life. This probably answers why I like to cook, entertain people and write.

When people ask me how I relax…because it appears I seldom do…I tell them that is almost impossible for me in today’s world. That is because I really belong to another time and place.

It is there that I can find some peace…with a smooth train ride. Where I can unplug and feel human again.

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(Almost) Cutting The Cable

Hello Friends.

One quick announcement before we move on.  Every Monday night, That Dang Ol’ Show features a live CFB segment.  If you are in West Texas, you can listen in on the 2013 Texas Country Station of the Year, KJDL The Red Dirt Rebel 105.3 FM.  Everyone else can listen live on the internet…just click HERE to be part of radio history.

One of the things I have tried to do with this blog is to show folks how to save a little money on food.  Well today, I turn my attention to another area where you can save a little coin…cutting the cable. photo

After spending the better part of two years debating on whether I could do it, I finally developed enough self confidence to pull the trigger and I began the process of “cutting the cable” from my life last month.

Now, I did not have the courage go cold turkey. I did not call my local cable company and say shut it down…shut down grid 212…lose the grid or lose your job.  My approach is a phased reduction in the dependence on my cable company and trying to save enough money to pay for my Dallas Cowboys‘ season ticket package.

Over the last few months, I dedicated some time to researching my options and I hope that what I have discovered will help others in their quest.

Let me give you a few basics before I begin.  I live in a loft apartment within an historic warehouse building in downtown Buffalo. Why you might ask does this matter in cutting the cable?  Well, because my building is zoned historic, so it cannot have satellite dishes anywhere on the building.  That eliminated DISH or DirecTV as a possible option.

This is important because it is almost impossible to deal with a cable company and get a better deal if there is no available competition.  Everyone in my building has only one choice.  This means that the company does not have to extend any “first-time customer/sign-up” deals and this is what I was faced with.  After my initial 12-month introductory price was over, the company doubled my bill.  I only had internet, an HD digital cable television package with DVR and no premium channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.).  I attempted to negotiate but got nowhere.  There is something fundamentally wrong with paying more in cable than you pay for your car payment.

Now I begin my quest.  I did an inventory of the channels that I knew I wanted…local stations, CNN, FoxNews, ESPN, A&E, History Channel, etc.  There was no question that I had to continue my internet service so I knew that I would have at least some package with my local cable company.  Whether it was ROKU, Apple TV or Chromecast, I had to have good internet service.  I researched the above mentioned streaming devices/services.  Full disclosure…I am an Apple nerd and have been for three decades. I have an iPhone, iPad, iMac and all other gadgets from Cupertino but in my research, I saw that ROKU might be the best fit for me.  I have friends that utilize each of the different streaming services so what works best for me might not work best for everyone.

The ROKU 1 was my choice.  I am not a gamer so this entry level ROKU was best for me.  It was only $45 at Target and since my purchase, I have seen it cheaper.  My plan was to set up my ROKU and test it for a week or so before I made my cable decision. The set up could not have been easier…15 minutes and I was up and running. ROKU has countless options and has easy to sync apps. TIP: You will need your computer to activate several of the apps so have it up and running.Roku-1-3quarter-wLogoPartnerRemote-HR-RGB-JPG

As I began my testing, I found that there is an app that turns your iPhone into a ROKU remote.  I am an Amazon Prime member so I get that service at no additional charge.  Also, I reactivated my Netflix account so now I had two (2) high powered streaming services for my viewing pleasure.  ROKU gives you so many options and all in 1080p and have been pleasantly surprised with the quality of the stream.

All the music streaming apps like Pandora are also available.  Weather, news, sports…everything you can imagine.  So now I had a streaming device, what next?  I knew I could get 20+ channels with an HDTV antenna…including Canadian channels…but could I live with that plus my ROKU.  It was then that I remembered the streaming app from my local cable company.  I checked my ROKU and that app was available.  This gave me 70+ channels in 1080p through streaming.

Now we are getting somewhere.  There is also the Watch ESPN app but you have to be paying for a cable television service and package that carries ESPN in order to watch the self proclaimed “Worldwide Leader” on the net.  I took my channel inventory and cross checked it with the local cable app and found that everything I wanted was either available there or through another app on ROKU…except ESPN.

The next step was to contact my local cable company.  I knew that I had to maintain my internet service but now all I felt I needed was the lowest cable television package that allowed me to stream through the app.  As fate would have it, the lowest standard cable package gave me all local channels in HD, ESPN and streaming of 70+ channels thorough the app.

That package and my internet was half of my current cable bill. If you net out the monthly cost of Netflix, I am now saving $80 a month.  I am getting all the channels I wanted to keep in 1080p and HD quality.  All I did to watch the Super Bowl was switch back over the standard cable and I had it in HD. I will do the same with March Madness.

12458_lg-2This is how I am saving almost $1,000 this year and still getting all the television I want to watch.  By the way, that is Buffalo’s own Grover Cleveland on the $1,000 bill.

While this solution will not work for everyone, it worked for me and hopefully it will anyone who wants to “cut the cable” or for other cheap folks like me that want to save a few dollars.

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