Surviving Without Cable … Will the Cell Phone Be Next?

GELFAND’S WORLD--On New Year’s Day, instead of watching the Rose Bowl I watched a sunset. It wasn’t entirely intentional at the time.

I would have sat in my comfortable chair and watched the game, but it wasn’t on broadcast television. You had to have cable tv, and I have to confess that I didn’t even think about watching the game because it wasn’t in the tv listings. So instead, I enjoyed a wonderful drive up the coast, after a walk around the Cabrillo beach area. 

There are two stories here – one about corporate greed and the now-total monetization of college football. The other is about our south bay cultural attributes – something I haven’t written about in a while. 

New Year’s Day began with a little tongue-in-cheek viewing of the Rose Parade. I have to admit that it’s more appealing on modern, wide-screen high definition television, compared to a fuzzy image on a black and white tv. The florid words of the announcers about the floral displays makes more sense when you can actually see the colors. What I noticed was that even now, the sound quality isn’t overwhelming. Maybe it would work better using a $6000 home entertainment system in a dedicated room, but I suspect that it’s a little simpler than that. To be blunt, the sound of a high school marching band, even one with 76 trombones, is generally a little dull when heard from nearly a block away, or down on the field of a stadium. Mahler it’s not. And the monotonous drone of the announcers about the botany is not appealing – “and the drum head is composed of yellow asters, green peas, and philodendrons.” 

There is also a little bit of the negative when it comes to watching the parade on a beautiful southern California morning. As one colleague lamented, the tv images shown to easterners merely serve to motivate more people to move here. The effect on them is exactly the opposite of the effect on us from watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, where we get to see tens of thousands of people who are freezing cold. 

An underappreciated attribute 

I walked down to Cabrillo beach on January 1 for the annual Polar Bear swim. That doesn’t mean that I actually go in over my head, but it’s a nice way to start the day, and I go in maybe to waist-deep. In 55 degree water, that’s still plenty deep and plenty cold. The organizers give out cupcakes, hot chocolate, and official certificates which for this new year of the new roaring twenties announced “Our 68th Anniversary.” I was doing a mental calculation of how many thousands of cold toes each year, multiplied by 68 years, resulted in how many tens of thousands of cold toes. 

But after the cold feet and the cocoa, I wandered through the parking lot and once again realized what a nice way this is to spend the winter. There were ships you could see across the LA Harbor, and lots of blue water. 

In this same Cabrillo Beach area, there is the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend that you give it a try. It’s not a theatrical showing like the other places along the coast, but it’s way cheaper (like a suggested $3 donation). It’s full of small tanks which provide an honest picture of what the underwater environment is in this area. The first time I went there, it came across as the closest experience to actually skin diving in the immediate area that you could find. 

There is also a side building which houses the research activities, including growing various jelly fish and algae. This is the place where you can talk to researchers. 

Sometime during the afternoon, I was reminded that there was a Rose Bowl game going on, but it wasn’t being shown on broadcast television. It didn’t seem like that much of a loss, now that the Rose Bowl Game is mostly not at issue in the competition for the national championship. (This is quite different from the days when USC or the Big 10 champion were, often enough, vying for the title.) 

Instead, we took a sunset drive up the coast, ending up at Vicente Point and pulled over at the Pt Vicente Interpretive Center. Here, there is a lighthouse, a view across the channel where the whale census people were busily counting (they saw at least 4 whales that day), and a recently refurbished coastal trail that wends its way northward along the cliffside. Free parking too. You can do a reasonably long walk past what is mostly native vegetation, an area of our dwindling coastal chaparral. 

And then the sunset happened, and it was spectacular and beautiful, and lots of other adjectives. Although there were probably about a hundred people there at the time, I’m actually glad that this place is so little known, so for the moment we can have it to ourselves. I know that all of you reading this will also keep the secret. 

And then there was college football. Or wasn’t, in my case. New Year’s Day used to be a celebration of the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl, and often enough the realization of a national championship. That’s all gone by the way what with the championship series. And that is another thing to complain about – the semifinal games were also off of broadcast television. You see, the college football establishment has found that it can monetarize pretty much everything, ranging from the names of bowls to the television rights. So the minor bowl games (and they are, indeed, minor) can be found on the broadcast dial, encumbered with sponsor names and teams that barely broke six victories. But the big games are behind the cable television wall. 

This year symbolizes the near-total monetization of college football. Curiously enough, almost all of the top teams are in the reddest of the red states. Even more curious, the state of Alabama is not represented in the title game. One wonders if and when there will be a series of scandals hitting these red state schools. Or maybe they are honest as the day is long, and just good at what they do. Maybe the Big 10 and west coast schools have become overly academic. We’ll see. 

The take home lesson from the New Year holiday was that a walk along the beach or along the cliffs competes with television watching. There are remarkable cultural resources that are available for free or for next to nothing. 

Right at the stroke of New Year, there was the annual ringing of the Korean Friendship Bell overlooking the Catalina channel. It was a serious and even somber occasion, but happy nevertheless. There was even a connection one could make between the Bell and the Cabrillo Aquarium. Both were largely brought into their current prominence through the aid of the late John Olguin, a harbor fixture for nearly 9 decades.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)