The Criminal Case of the Treacherous Trespasser

In February, Mason made a poor decision and decided to leave his closed campus school for lunch, along with ten of his classmates. (Juniors and seniors are allowed to leave for lunch; freshman, like Mason, and sophomores are not.) When I was in school, kids who left campus usually did so to smoke. Not my kid. My kid got caught going to Little Caesar’s.

The kids’ path led them out the backside of the school and through an adjacent parking lot, where a police officer was waiting for them. To teach the kids a lesson, the officer cited each of them for trespassing — again, for walking across a parking lot. And when I say “teach the kids a lesson” we know the kids are not paying this fine.

Trivia Fact #1: A ticket for trespassing in Yukon, Oklahoma is $325.

Trivia Fact #2: $325 x 11 = $3,575.

When Mason came home that evening with his tail between his legs, Susan took a look at the ticket and noticed that it had the wrong address written on it. The kids had been at west Vandement, but the ticket said they were trespassing at east Vandement. This was our ace in the hole!

Trivia Fact #3: Once, after receiving a ticket in high school, I threw myself at the mercy of the court. I told the judge that I couldn’t afford the ticket, much less a hike in insurance rates. I told him I was sorry, and that my parents had already grounded me. I believe the judge’s response was, in not so many words, “Who cares?”

Susan and Mason went to court in March. Mason pleaded not guilty, and the judge said “come back in April.”

On April 11 (Tuesday), Susan and Mason returned to court, along with dozens of other Yukon teens, including ten others who had been cited for trespassing.

When the judge asked if Mason or Susan had anything to say, Susan asked to have the ticket dismissed based on the fact that the address on the ticket was incorrect, and listed a location Mason could not possibly have reached on foot during his lunch period.

I believe the judge’s response was, in not so many words, “Who cares?” The officer then attempted to immediately amend the citation.

Trivia Fact #4: Having the wrong address on a trespassing citation does not automatically void it in Yukon, Oklahoma.

When the judge asked if Mason had anything else to say for himself, he said that he had already received detention from the school, been grounded from his motorcycle, and had to do a week’s worth of yard chores around the house. The judge said “I think these things are better dealt with at home,” found Mason guilty, and dismissed the fine.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. I can’t help but think back to all the times I remember kids skipping school when I was a kid. Kids talked about the truancy officer as if he were a bogey man in a suit capturing kids with a giant butterfly net. I remember kids leaving campus and walking across the street to Dairy Queen to smoke and bum cigarettes from customers. Back then, when kids got caught doing this they were either slapped on the wrist or dragged back to the school by their ear. I don’t remember anyone ever getting a $325 citation for trespassing.

Fender Bender on Main Street

My family and I were stopped at a traffic light (facing south) last Saturday evening when the accident took place. First, a tan SUV collided with a blue pickup. A white SUV then slid into the blue truck, while the tan SUV bounced off the blue truck and hit my black truck before coming to a stop. All of the other vehicles were, I think, traveling east and west on Main Street.

I say “I think” because the whole incident unfolded in less than five seconds. As I told one of the officers on the scene, we weren’t 100% sure which direction the tan SUV was traveling, or who was at fault in the accident. It makes you feel really stupid to have to explain to a police officer that an accident happened 10 feet in front of you, and you have no idea what just happened.

The driver of the tan SUV (we’ll call him “Billy”) was badly shaken, so I did my best to comfort him while waiting for the police to arrive. Billy works at a local fast food restaurant and had just got his SUV out of the shop. Based on recent events, I’d say it’s going back.

While we were waiting for the police to arrive (which took less than 5 minutes), a well-meaning man pulled up and began barking orders at me. “Make that kid sit down!” he yelled at me. Then he handed me the glass of ice water he was drinking and told me to give it to Billy. “He’s in shock!” said the man. “I was in the Marines, I’ve been shot three times!” I may have been in shock myself as I hard time following the man’s logic (“I was shot years ago; therefore, you will drink from a stranger’s water cup.”) but it must have made sense to Billy because he took the glass and drank it down.

The blue truck and the tan SUV took the most damage. The blue truck’s front end was so crumpled that the driver’s side door wouldn’t open, and the tan SUV’s airbags had deployed. Nobody appeared to be seriously hurt, and there was no blood. The white SUV had slid into the aftermath of the original accident and didn’t appear to have much damage. My front bumper got dinged and bent, but nothing too major.

After exchanging information and making a statement to the police, we were back on our way, able to weasel out between the remaining police cars and tow trucks that had begun to arrive. The Avalanche is still perfectly driveable, so I’ll continue to do so until it’s time to take her in for repairs. We spent the rest of the evening chatting with friends about how lucky we were. That’s the O’Hara luck for ya — being lucky in unlucky situations.

1581 Reasons

Although I used a Commodore 64 as my primary computer for several years in the 1980s, I didn’t own all that much hardware for it. Two floppy drives, a printer, a modem and a joystick were just about all needed to keep myself entertained for more than half a decade.

People occasionally ask me if I ever owned a hard drive for my Commodore 64. I didn’t, but not because I didn’t want one. The most popular hard drive for the Commodore 64 was the Lt. Kernal, which held 10MB and cost $1,000. It would have been nice to store hundreds and hundreds of floppies on a single hard drive (instead of in multiple shoe boxes, which is how I did it), but the logistics of buying a hard drive that cost the same as my first car were impossible.

My friend Justin owned a 1581 disk drive. It was the only disk drive made by Commodore for the C64/128 that used 3.5″ disks instead of 5.25″ ones. While traditional, single-sided Commodore floppies held 664 blocks (170k) of information, a 1581 could store 3,160 blocks (800k) per disk.

I always wanted one of those drives. Earlier this week, I bought one.

The 1581 wasn’t terribly compatible with either of Commodore’s other floppy drives, meaning it wouldn’t load most multi-load games and would only run the simplest of programs. Only a dozen or so commercial titles were ever officially released on 3 1/2″ disks, and most of those were utilities. The drive was designed more for storing programs than playing them. Because of that, lots of BBS sysops ended up purchasing them (that’s what Justin used his for).

There was, at one time, a way to read and write disks designed for the Commodore 1581 disk drive on an IBM with a 3.5″ disk drive. This requires a physical drive controller on the PC (a USB 3.5″ drive won’t work), which rules out most modern PCs.

At a Commodore convention I attended in 2006, a attendee was selling used 1581 disk drives for $100. “I’ll wait until the prices drop,” I said to myself. I haven’t found one cheaper since… until this past weekend. I paid around $80 for mine, and as you can see, it’s just about as mint as a guy could hope for. The 1581’s box was wrapped in plastic, surrounded by bubble wrap, and submerged in Styrofoam peanuts. Even if the drive hadn’t worked, I feel like I got my money’s worth in packing materials.

Inside the box, the manual was still sealed inside its plastic container. I spent a few minutes pulling the drive out and hooking it up. Everything works A-OK. Thirty years of sitting inside this box didn’t hurt it at all.

From what I have read, newer DSHD diskettes (1.44MB) will work with the 1581, but aren’t as reliable as older DSDD (720KB) ones. I’ll have to keep an eye out and pick some up in the near future.

I do, on occasion, get requests from people (sometimes complete strangers) asking if I am able and/or willing to convert their Commodore disks over to usable disk images. I can, and will. Once, I had someone ask if I was able to read data off of some old 1581 3.5″ disks. Back then I couldn’t. Today, I can — another feather in the nerd hat.

One Page at a Time

Stacks of books

Last week, I read two books: The Sun is Also a Star and The Amityville Horror.

The Sun is Also a Star was written in 2016 by Nicola Yoon. It is the story of Natasha and Daniel, two seventeen-year-olds living in New York who meet and fall in love.

The Amityville Horror was written in 1977 by Jay Anton. It is the (probably not) true story of George and Kathy Lutz, two thirty-somethings living in New York who move into the world’s most haunted house.

I mention them because these are the eighth and ninth books I’ve read so far this year. For some of you, that might not sound like a lot. For me, that’s a lot. According to my records, in 2016 I read nine books, total. Of those nine, seven were biographies. Of the nine I’ve read so far this year, only one has been a biography. Seven have been fiction.

The more I read the more I kick myself for not reading more, and not having read more. The list of books (especially classics) I want to read is growing. Most of what I’m reading right now is for school, but when May comes, I’ll have a fat queue waiting for me.

Thinking about all the time I spent not reading fills me with sadness. I hope I have enough time to catch up.

A Little Trove of Disks

Many years ago when I began collecting vintage computer hardware, every acquisition got me excited. Each new computer, floppy drive, and box of assorted peripherals that came into the house made me absolutely giddy. But after you’ve tested, cleaned, and aligned your hundredth floppy drive, and installed additional shelving in your garage to hold all those old CRT monitors you might need someday, the elation of “yet another” old piece of hardware begins to wane.

What never gets old for me, however, is digging through other people’s software collections.

A year or two ago I acquired a(nother) complete Commodore system through Craigslist. If memory serves I gave the computer and disk drive to a friend, kept the monitor, threw the printer into the garbage, and put the box of disks onto a shelf to go through at some later date when I had some spare time.

Last weekend, I had some spare time.

According to a detached label I found floating around inside the box of disks, the original owner of this collection lived in Checotah, Oklahoma. I am immediately struck by the fact that I have never been to nor heard of Checotah, Oklahoma. When I began collecting old computers, it seems like I mostly acquired them from the original owners. Each purchase came with an oral history and testimonial, some of which were more interesting than the contents of disks themselves. When I acquire things today, it is usually not from the original owner. Often it’s from someone who inherited the items after the original owner passed away.

Unlike hardware, floppy disks are like snowflakes. Each diskette is a unique combination of its owner and the times, beginning with its label. The labels that document each disk’s contents are usually handwritten. There are different styles and colors; some are glossy and some are matte. Some contain the name of a single game while others list specific loading instructions. The one in my hands reads, “TRACK AND FIELD. LOADING SCREEN IS GARBLED. WAIT THREE MINUTES FOR GAME TO LOAD.”

By default only the top side of Commodore, Apple, or Atari floppy disks could be written to, but by using a cheap disk notcher, data could also be stored on the back side. While official disk notchers were available for $5 or less at most computer stores, some people opted for office-issue hole punches, leaving a signature half-circle on the left hand side of each disk. Others resorted to scissors or knives. A couple of the diskettes in this collection look like the owner let a squirrel gnaw on the edge for a while. Whatever works.

There was a time when converting these physical disks into digital disk images that can easily be accessed and stored on modern computers required a degree in geekery and a wizard’s bag full of magic cables perform. Not any more. Today I have two or three different methods of slurping the data up; the one I use depends on the contents of the disks. I usually start with a ZoomFloppy and a 1571 disk drive. For disks that need more love I move to a 1541 modified with a parallel port. Occasionally, I’ll resort to using my 1541 Ultimate with a 1541 acting as a slave. There’s no right way to do any of this, although there are plenty of people standing by to tell you you’re doing it wrong.

Not always, but often, I can tell how well a disk is going to transfer by the sound. Most of them emit a smooth, rotating sound. Others click loudly. Sometimes, one will squeal and creak like a parched door hinge desperate for oil. By and large, the more sound a disk makes, the more likely I won’t be able to read it.

There are more desperate methods of recovering lost data, although for most of the stuff I’m archiving, they’re rarely worth performing. If something looks really interesting I’ll clean the drive, clean the disk, and fiddle with the drive’s speed and alignment. If all that fails, the disk either makes its way to a rainy day stack or the trash, depending on the mood. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into saving things that I haven’t quite figured out why I’m saving, or who I’m saving them for.

If there was one disk that disappointed me, it was this one. The original owner packed so many programs on this single disk that he needed two labels to list all the programs. Bingo! Banner! Dice Roll! Man, if these don’t sound like a good way to spend a Friday evening, what does? Unfortunately, this was one of those disks that hung up at the 5% mark. I tried all the tricks I know and still couldn’t get it to read. Considering that all of these disks are 30+ years old, the fact that any of them still work is somewhat amazing.

Most of the programs I archive fall under one of three categories: games I’ve seen a thousand times, BASIC programs that were either typed in from magazines or created by enterprising computing enthusiasts, and “other.” It’s the promise of that last category that keeps me doing this. Each time I find a disk of pictures that someone drew 30 years ago, or school newsletters, or someone’s school reports, those are the snapshots in time that make all of this interesting to me.

Someday when I get things organized I’ll zip everything up and post them online. Until then, I’ll just keep doing what I do.

Meow Wolf: Redux

“This is new,” says Morgan moments before she opens the GE washer to reveal a portal to another dimension. The inside of the washer is filled with blue, sparkling lights. The tunnel is too small for an adult to enter, but just the right size for a curious child. As I wonder where the tunnel leads, or how it relates to “the event,” Morgan simply says “goodbye” and dives in head first. We don’t see her again for almost an hour.

For the second time in two years, we returned to Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After our first visit to the art installation last year, my mind was so blown that I didn’t write much about it. It was difficult to whittle the experience down to less than several thousand words, or even make sense of the experience. My description of our trip to the house came off like the ravings of an insane person. I think I used to phrase “drug-fueled nightmare” multiple times while describing our visit.

Upon entering the House of Eternal Return (“the house”) you are entering a mystery, even though nobody tells you that. There’s a mailbox outside with some mail inside. One of the letters discusses “the event.” At that moment, you have a decision to make. You can spend the entire day enjoying the House for just what it is. It’s a weird, trippy, fun house kind of place. There are art displays and rooms to explore and lots of interactive “things” to discover. You will have a great time if all you do is walk and climb around and look at everything.

Or, you can spend the day trying to figure out what happened to the Pastore family.

Because the house feels so much like a real house, at least at first, it’s easy to forget to look at everything. Eventually you realize that everything inside the house is there for a reason. There are newspapers, family pictures, china cabinets, homework assignments stuck to the refrigerator with magnets, and more. Everything is there for a reason. It’s all part of the experience.

The house is so overwhelming that I think first-time visitors get distracted. While people were walking around yelling things like “the refrigerator leads to another dimension!” and “there’s a tiny man in the toilet!” Morgan and I sat down at the kitchen table and began digging through the history, and the mystery, of the home.

You could, in theory, spend days (weeks?) trying to put together the entire backstory. In one room there’s a computer with a dozen videos on a fake website. There are codes. There are papers. There are pictures. There are books — hundreds of books. There are potential clues everywhere… and again, you can have a blast the entire time and not even engage this level of the experience. Shortly after we lost Morgan to the clothes washer, Mason discovered that the fireplace led to a giant ice cave filled with a woolly mammoth’s skeleton, and off he went.

Along with day passes, Meow Wolf (the collective that built the House of Eternal Return) also sells year and lifetime passes. If I lived anywhere near Santa Fe I would definitely own one of those passes. I wanted to investigate every detail of every room, but there simply wasn’t time. And honestly, half of the enjoyment is watching other people enjoying some of the surprises for the first time. I could spend hours sitting in the fake kitchen, reading the fake newspaper and watching the look on people’s faces when they open the refrigerator…

If I’ve any complaint with the experience it’s that the house fills up quickly. There were things I wanted to contemplate and study that were simply impossible with excited kids running loose. I’d pay extra to attend an adults-only weekend, with more time to study each clue. There were a few puzzles and codes that we simply couldn’t tackle because too many people were waiting for their turn. If you go, go early.

Another thing we did this time was watch the videos. There are multiple video screens located throughout the experience. Some are longer than others. Some of them tell more of the story than others. None of them are numbered, so watching them in order is impossible.

If you do everything right, you’ll leave Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return with just enough information and curiosity to start forming new questions. The four of us compared notes during our ride back to the hotel. None of us saw exactly the same things. All of us have questions. None of us fully understand what happened in the house. All of us are ready to go back again.

My only other piece of advice — should you find yourself in a staring contest with a ten-foot-tall inter-dimensional snow owl, you might as well give up. That thing rarely blinks.

The Magic of Writing

The first stage magic show I remember seeing was at Oklahoma’s Frontier City. Although almost every part of the theme park has a western motif, the magic show is just a magic show. I saw the magic show multiple times over the years, each year with a new magician, and the theater was always packed. Kids loved the show because they love magic; adults loved it, I suspect, because it was one of the few places in the park that had seats and air conditioning.

Each year, the magician on stage magically linked and unlinked metal rings and made rabbits appear from nowhere, but the trick that made the biggest impression on me is known as Metamorphosis. In Metamorphosis, the magician is placed inside a bag, and the bag is placed inside a trunk. The bag is bound, and so is the trunk. The assistant then climbs on top of the trunk and holds up a sheet. The sheet is raised, and when it drops, the assistant and the magician have magically changed places!

The reason why Metamorphosis is so impressive is because of all the parts of the trick our minds fill in. We see the magician placed inside a sealed bag. We see the trunk closed and locked! Sometimes we even see the magician’s hands bound in some fashion. But as my dad used to remind me, all of those props belong to the magician. We assume that the handcuffs are real, when in reality they can be opened with the press of a button. We assume the sack the magician is placed inside has a bottom. We assume that the top of the trunk is the only way in and out. All of those assumptions are incorrect. We also assume that the transformation is “instant,” but if you watch it a second time, it’s not. Curious, how long the magician stands at the front of the stage, soaking up all that applause…

(If you want to see how the trick is done, The Masked Magician will be happy to show you.)

Although early versions of the trick existed, Metamorphosis was perfected and popularized by Harry Houdini. Not long after seeing the trick performed at Frontier City, my dad loaned me a book about Houdini that explained how the trick worked. The book showed everything, from the fake bag to the trunk’s fake back. I felt betrayed. The magician at Frontier City had lied to us! Why would anyone watch a magician perform that trick, or any trick, once they knew the secret?

The answer, of course, is in the performance. It’s the appreciation of the art itself that keeps people coming back. Whenever I watch someone perform the cups and ball trick or palm a coin, it’s not less impressive because I know how it’s done, it’s actually more. Once your mind has been opened to what’s going on behind the scenes — the the psychology of misdirection and the hundreds or thousands of hours of practice it takes to look like you haven’t practiced a move — it becomes entertaining on a whole new level.

And now that my mind is beginning to open, I feel the same way about fiction.

When I began studying the art of telling stories I realized that everything in fiction happens for a reason. As a kid, I used to wonder what Luke Skywalker could have differently to save Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru from being torched by Stormtroopers in the original Star Wars. The moment Luke realizes his Aunt and Uncle are in danger, he zooms back home in his Landspeeder only to discover that they have already been killed. We are told that they were murdered because the Empire is in search of the Death Star plans stored inside R2-D2, but the real reason they die is because George Lucas needed to sever Luke’s ties with his home planet and add some motivation so that the young Jedi would agree to go with Obi-Wan “to learn the ways of the force, like [his] father.”

When people first begin writing fiction, they hear a lot about motivation. What is the protagonist’s motivation? What is the antagonist’s? The real question is, what is the author’s motivation? What point is the author trying to convey with his or her story?

Lots of beginning authors start out telling stories from their own life. I certainly did. Those stories can certainly be enjoyable, but they’re never going to become great fiction, because real life isn’t fiction, and fictional characters aren’t real. They are created to make us think they are real, and authors go to great lengths to make them seem real, but underneath their descriptions and actions and witty sayings they are all plot devices. Each character that appears on the page must do so for a reason. I recently had a professor tell me she is hesitant to write people she knows into her books, and I can understand why — because characters are our pawns, our loyal servants. It’s hard to be loyal to our friends when our characters must be loyal to our plots.

Throughout my life I’ve learned how lots of magic tricks work, and I’ve seen a lot of tricks performed that I already know the secret to how they are performed, but every now and then I’ll see a good magician do a good trick and the result is a great performance. It’s the combination of a good performer with a good gimmick that can take a trick to the next level. I’m starting to enjoy books and movies in the same way. When good writing mechanics combine with a good story, the result is a great book or movie. You can have a good movie by only understanding the character’s motivation, but when you understand both the character’s and the author’s motivations, you may find yourself enjoying stories on a new, deeper level.

Apple II: Back in Business!

Just over six months ago, my Apple IIe blew up. The smoke was impressive; the smell, even more so. As I mentioned in my post from last year, and as you can see in the following picture, I paid $1.98 for this particular Apple IIe computer.

The most frequently suggested solution I received was to replace the failed vintage power supply with a modern one, which runs $100. I simply couldn’t justify spending $100 to repair a computer I spent less than $2 on, so I began looking for alternative solutions. Jimmy, a co-worker who reads my blog and listens to my podcasts, offered to take a look at the computer for me. I handed Jimmy the machine, now disassembled and stored in a cardboard box, to see what he could do. After replacing all the capacitors in the power supply, Jimmy fired it up and within five minutes, the power supply had short circuited again. I then resorted to buying a new old-stock power supply for the computer (still less than half the price of a new one) and Jimmy installed that for me as well. It blew up, too, but between the two power supplies, he was able to assemble one good one.

The last disk image I had mounted on my CFFA3000 card was Law of the West. After reconnecting the computer to my television and turning everything back on, the game fired right back up. We’re in business!

This whole ordeal has made me think about how these old machines are aging. I often think of them as limited in terms of graphics and power, but before this, I didn’t think of them as being fragile. As these machines and their components continue to age, I can only assume that they will being to break down more and more. If that’s the case, I see guys like Jimmy being pretty busy in the future!

Hunted

By and large I’m not a fan of reality television, but every now and then a new show grabs my attention. On Hunted, a new television show this season on CBS, nine pairs of people go on the run from a team of the country’s best hunters. Any pair that is able to avoid being captured for 28 days wins $250,000.

Upon hearing the premise, I think most people’s natural reaction is, “I could do that!” I know mine was. Before you buy a month’s worth of protein bars and build yourself a nest in your attic, here are the show’s official rules:

  • Fugitives must stay within a 100,000 square mile “Hunt Zone.” This will be set in the southeast.
  • Fugitives will be given a one hour head start before the Hunters are alerted.
  • Fugitives are provided limited funds ($500 in $100 bursts on an ATM card).
  • Command Center is given only a name, photo, and last known location.
  • Fugitives that evade capture for 28 days win $250,000 per team.
  • Capture requires physical contact between the Hunters and Hunted.

    In addition to those rules, former contestants have revealed the following rules that are not explicitly made known on the show:

  • Fugitives must move every 48 hours and travel at least 5 miles.
  • Fugitives can not return to the same spot more than once or use the same resource/person more than once.
  • Fugitives must access the ATM at least twice and it can’t be in the same day.
  • Fugitives can not receive money.

    Most of those rules ruined my initial escape plans. Hiding in a neighbor’s basement for a month was out, as was borrowing money from friends and family to avoid those pesky ATM cameras. The producers say that these rules were put in place to “simulate real people on the run,” but some of them feel like they were put in place to make things run like a game show — which, ultimately, Hunted is.

    Another rule not listed above is that contestants give up all rights to privacy to the investigators. An hour after contestants are notified and told to go on the run, the investigators can be seen raiding their homes. Computers are searched, papers are rifled through, and trash cans are dumped. The invasion of privacy doesn’t stop until the contestants are caught. Phone records are obtained. Cell phones are triangulated. Known acquaintances are interviewed. License plates are tracked. Videos from closed-circuit security systems are acquired. Hunters are notified instantly when ATM transactions take place. Rewards are offered. Wanted posters are distributed. In some cases, social media and email accounts are hacked.

    Some of the techniques, like cell phone triangulation, are very real. Some of techniques shown seemed simulated and, shall we say, “suspect.” Because of the logistics of filming a reality show, it stands to reason that many of the show’s events are recreated. Some of the techniques shown, like obtaining pictures of every piece of U.S. mail sent, seem like things that would be limited to fugitives on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

    Week by week, the teams have been taken down. In some cases, the investigators got lucky. Once, a contact accidentally butt-dialed the investigators. In another case, someone tipped off investigators in exchange for a $500 reward. Contestant mistakes and weaknesses were shown time and time again. If your plan is to use burner phones to call immediate family members, that’s not going to work.

    The best part of the show by far has been all the conversation it has sparked around our house. Susan said her original escape plan would be to take a sleeping bag with a backpack filled with minimal food and water and head off to the woods for a month. Mine involved spending a month in my car, driving circles around the city and confusing investigators with digital red herrings. My dad had a great idea about sleeping in hospital waiting rooms. Then we put our heads together and came up with a great idea… that I can’t share in case we are ever picked to be on the show. ;)

    On the season finale, the show introduced a new set of rules that seemed heavily tipped in the hunter’s favor. To win the game, teams were required to withdraw their money from a bank (notifying the hunters immediately of their location) and then travel on foot to their final escape vehicle. The previous 27 days of thinking turned into a physical race between contestants (on foot) and hunters (in suburbans).

    The show is not without issues, but I’m willing to give it another chance next season to see if they can right the ship.

  • Hero

    All a father wants, I think, is to be a hero in the eyes of his children. I’ve tried to do this with varying degrees of success, but this week, I think I finally succeeded.

    We upgraded the kids’ phone plans to unlimited data.

    I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was twenty-five years old, in the spring of 1999. The reason I got one is because I had recently been hit by a truck on the side of the interstate after our car broke down. Before then I had got by just fine using payphones and land lines, which I just realized makes me sound really old. So I bought a Nokia 5160 (selling points included “three built-in games” and “clock with alarm”), tracked my monthly minutes on a piece of paper, and constantly checked AT&Ts map to see which states I had coverage in.

    Ten years later in 2009, I got my first iPhone. The following year, Susan got one. Before the time Mason was out of grade school, he had one. Morgan’s in sixth grade now. She’s owned three.

    I don’t remember how much my first monthly cell phone plan cost, but it’s done nothing but go up. When Susan got a cell phone, it went up. When we traded in our simple cell phones for smartphones, it went up. When Mason got a phone, it went up. When Morgan got a phone, it went up.

    As of February, our base cell phone bill was $250/month, but that doesn’t include overage charges. With that plan, Mason only gets 3GB/month and Morgan gets a paltry 1GB. Each time they go over their limit, AT&T charges us an additional $10 and I do a lot of yelling. Last month our bill came to $310, and my throat hurt.

    Enter Verizon, who last month announced a new four-phone unlimited plan. By the time I noticed it, AT&T decided to match the deal — four phones, unlimited minutes, unlimited data, for $180/month. They also expanded our coverage to include all of North America, including Canada and Mexico. All of that, and we’re saving $70-$130 per month.

    And my kids think I’m a hero.