The Boob Tube

I’m not sure the genesis of the American expression ‘Boob Tube’ but my Dad used to call the TV that, mockingly when we were kids. Television in our house growing up, wasn’t something that was on most of the time, unless it was the news. And then it was usually news about the Vietnam war or Watergate. I spent most of my childhood up in a tree or building a fort. And I read A LOT of books.

But I grew up knowing who Walter Kronkite was. Or Frank Reynolds or Mike Wallace. If we watched sitcoms it was upstairs, when we got a second TV, with the sound low so my Dad couldn’t hear it. And music? Music wasn’t played in our house because my Dad was hard of hearing. I remember my best friend, Karen Taylor, next door talking about The Scorpions and I had no idea who they were – but I never told her that. She went to concerts I wouldn’t have been allowed to go to and she played actual records and had cassette tapes. Something I never owned.

It wasn’t until I could drive that I listened to the radio and got caught up. But my 1967 Dodge Dart – a hand-me-down car from my much older sister – had only AM radio. So I wasn’t listening to anything that could have been considered cutting edge. And cable TV? We didn’t have that. My parent’s didn’t get cable until we had all left the house, and when they did I am sure it was to watch more news and documentaries. Probably why I was one of the only kids in school who enjoyed the film strips and listened in history class.

As a result, I learned to love all things pop culture after 1984. As a freshman in college I dove into MTV, WHAM!!, Boy George, and anything and everything having to do with alternative music and film. I went to live shows and saw some of the greats! And TV and movies? Well, I became an aficionado. Finally, after a childhood of never knowing what my friends were talking about, I was right in the mix.

So moving to Spain has been interesting. Getting cable TV here isn’t really worth it because most of it’s in Spanish and, let’s face it, my Spanish is just crap. We do get digital TV over the air and when we change the SAP on some channels we can get content in original language. The good news is that we have no pharmaceutical commercials here. So I don’t have to wonder if I need Advantix or Wonderdrugulous. And if something else might be right for me that I’ll have to discuss with my Dr after learning that it will cause me permanent liver damage or turn me temporarily orange or result in ‘permanent death’. Whatever that is.

Our TV in Valencia comes almost exclusively from YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime. And we watch the news on the internet and use Chromecast – I guess my parent’s infused me with a love of information. We have HBO and Showtime and a lot of other Amazon channels that allow me to still see all my favorite shows, while enjoying additional content. I can’t miss Billions or Game of Thrones. But sometimes we watch shows we would never have back home, just because they’re available. CBS Sunday Morning is one of these.

It’s kind of like a sedative. Jane Pauley’s voice is melodious and comforting. The stories are like pablum and the content is mostly ‘old news’ in the age of my Google news feed and other apps on my phone. We laugh because they do a weekly calendar which so clearly gives their target audience away. This week they talked about Monday being the start of annual open enrollment for Medicare. And Friday being ‘National Osteoporosis Day’. So we’re the youngsters in the audience. But we can’t look away from it.

Today, I was watching the one from last Sunday. Again, mostly stuff I had seen before on Twitter, like 2 weeks ago. Mindless entertainment. But suddenly I heard the name of a town I haven’t heard on the news in 35 years. The town where I went to HS. There was the coffee shop where I have coffee with my Mom and my niece when I visit them. And it made me smile and tear up a bit.

I’ve always believed that kindness is the most noble of aspirations. In this time of upheaval, a little more kindness is sorely needed and most welcome. So today I thought I would share a little kindness with you all, by way of this heartwarming story from the place I called home while growing up. A place that is not the coolest town in the world (bet The Scorpions still don’t know where it is), and where life runs a whole lot slower. But where, for the right reasons, they’ll scare up a Batmobile and the high school band will still march down the street to celebrate one of their own. Enjoy!

Sometimes

Moving to Valencia was made easier, I’m convinced, because we left Seattle two years earlier for Arizona. I had taken a new job knowing it wasn’t the end of the line. So we were out of our comfort zones for quite awhile before we packed up and moved across the world.

Arizona wasn’t politically our favorite place. We moved there in 2016, and all the guns, truck nuts and the like were not part of how we saw ourselves. Driving there was scary because you never knew who was packing and they might pull a weapon on you going 100 miles an hour on the freeway. But then everyone drove at least 80 mph on the 17 or the 101 freeway, so 100 wasn’t that much faster. It happened to Jeff while he was in the carpool lane on his motorcycle a couple of months after we got there. That incident started the clock on when we would move.

But even with all of that I still knew how to operate. How to find the Department of Motor vehicles, the paperwork I would need to get my license. Call a Dr. for my daughter and get an appointment. Nothing big but I didn’t have to think about it. I understood the bureaucracy. The System’. I’m thinking about it now.

Sometimes:

  • I wish I had a whole day where I ‘just knew’ and could easily figure it out.
  • I would like to get up in the morning knowing that going outside wasn’t going to present challenges the moment I interacted with other citizens.
  • I’d like to go to the grocery store and find my favorite foods. In the same packages I’m used to.
  • I’d like to get my mail from our US forwarder without paying for a FedEx envelope.
  • I’d like to be able to call on an old medical bill that finally reached me without the hassle of the time difference and the cost before I even get anyone on the phone.
  • I’d like to not have to pay .20 cents a minute to call my bank because they’ve denied a charge on my credit card or an ACH on my bank account because I’m still not in the US even after I’ve asked them to put notes on my account
  • I’d like to just get our stuff from that freaking boat we paid so much money to bring our things from the US – because they’re still not here!
  • I just want to go to that breakfast place we used to go to on weekends in Issaquah – where they knew us and we didn’t even have to order – they just brought it with unlimited coffee refills.
  • I’d like to not feel completely stupid trying to get small things done, being the only person in the room, store, office, that can’t express themselves like I want to.
  • I just want easy, familiar, normal, comfortable.
  • Sometimes…

And then I remember. I love living here. But sometimes it’s still hard. On those days we don’t leave the apartment and we just binge watch NetFlix. Shows filmed in LA or NY. Places we are familiar with and feel comfortable in. It’s like we’re recharging from home so we can go out again tomorrow and tackle it. We’re committed to living here – we’re not moving back. But Sometimes…

The Escape

Leaving your own country and moving to another requires adjustment. We start Spanish language classes on Monday. 3 hours every morning in intensive immersion. We need language skills and it’s becoming more and more apparent each day.

I’m looking at volunteering at a local school to help kids improve their English skills, but also to meet native speakers and use my soon-to-be-acquired Spanish. We’ve met new friends but most of them are expats from English speaking countries like Brits, Irish or South Africans. And those that aren’t want to speak English to us even though they’re from Holland or somewhere else in Scandinavia.

We’re fumbling through on a daily basis and it’s either feast of famine on our ability to communicate. Sometimes Jeff would prefer not to have to think about how we’re going to get something done. His take? ‘Easy things are hard. Just wait for the hard things. Who knows how we’ll tackle those.’ I prefer to keep some of those things in a fog just out of my reach. I’ll figure out how to get a doctor later.

So to escape, sometimes you just need to binge watch TV from home. We’ve got no cable but we do have Amazon Prime, with our paid channels, and Netflix. I get my news from NBC online when I wake up in the morning. But yesterday, after staring at some wires that came snaking out of our wall, Jeff hooked up the cable that is connected at the other end to somewhere, and we got local HD channels – out of the air.

We have no idea where they’re coming from but in flipping through the channels we’ve discovered we can pay to get our Tarot cards read on no less than 7 channels – for a small and ever growing fee.  Once we learn Spanish, we can listen to the televangelists try to save our souls. There might be a fee involved there too. We will eventually understand sports here and after Googling some of the acronyms for the teams playing, we’ve learned all the Spanish soccer/futbol teams names. And then we discovered the channels of TV from back home. And that we can change the programming to allow the ‘original language’ to come through. BINGO! We have more US shows.

Sure, back in the US I watched a ton of Spanish TV and movies. It’s how I started tuning my ear and honestly, it’s helped a ton here already. Great investment. But on days when going out and doing things is tougher than you think it ought to be, it’s nice to sit down and lose yourself in something mindless. Something you don’t even have to think about to understand.

Today, I’m heading out by myself to get spices in the Central Market. Its like a big open market but it’s undercover in a building like an old train station in the center of the city.  I’m meeting up with a new friend for a beverage who lives in that part of town. After trying to stumble through purchasing things in Spanish, it will be nice to have a chat with someone who doesn’t require me to think, over a glass of wine. And to come home and watch some Big Bang Theory with cultural references that I totally understand. Its stupid, I know. But the little things take on more significance here.

Good Days and Bad

As humans, we are creatures of habit. And the older we get, the more those habits become ingrained. Its not the big stuff that make up our daily lives, but the little stuff. The things no one else cares about. The things we can count on, like the sun rising and setting and a cup of hot joe in the morning. And access to American Late-Night comedy, apparently.

Yesterday, was Jeff’s bad day. He’s been getting our wifi network set up and we’ve been looking forward to getting NetFlix and Amazon Prime video ready to go. Our TV was delivered in the morning and it kicked off swearing, a march to the Vodofone store, a disgruntled walk back, and then ‘effing Firewall!’ this and ‘effing Firewall’ that. Then a LOT of phone calls and chat sessions. I heard some ‘I can’t do anything in this country!’ and a few other declarative statements.

I sat our in the living room doing my own thing and then decided to make Jeff his favorite lunch – Broccoli Beef with basmati rice, just the way he likes it – to try to smooth the way a bit. Thinking the taste of home would help. It took ‘Hangry Jeff’ out of the mix, but it didn’t make his day that much better. We found out NetFlix doesn’t like us being in Spain. And resetting his Amazon prime password wasn’t working at all.

Normally, we could kick this can down the road a bit, but we’ve hit critical mass being here for nearly 4 weeks. Jeff’s favorite shows are starting up again soon (Game of Thrones and finding out Billions on Showtime started on Sunday and we missed it). His love affair with Stephen Colbert’s nightly monologue, and his lack of access to it, is proving harder than he anticipated. Something needed to give.

I finally went to bed at midnight as he was still trying to troubleshoot continuing problems. At 2:30 am I woke up and found him on the couch, smiling, and scrolling through the Amazon Prime offering. It’s done! He figured it all out, got Amazon in Seattle on the phone and worked through it after – not kidding – 45 phone calls, text verification codes and emails. But we now have Showtime, HBO, BritBox and CBS All Access.

Today’s a better day. Now that we’re surrounded by some of our comfort shows, we’re ready to venture out and sign up for our Spanish classes and get our Tuin cards for our monthly Metro passes. I can’t complain. Everyone is entitled to tough days. Moving across an ocean, thousands of miles from what we have always known, can be frustrating. But Jeff proved that his ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ stick-to-it-iveness is undaunted. And everyone is entitle to a bad day.