The City Council of the District of Columbia, which has been screwing around with cable television since around 1947, is now considering a 60-channel system that would offer two-way communications with almost everything (hospitals, schools, banks, shops) and would allow residents to vote at home--an innovation that would be all but useless unless the board of election stays home, too. Thanks, but no thanks.
I do not want to have my vital signs read by a hospital. I do not want to communicate with a school. I do not want the bank to be wired in any way to my house and I do not care if my gas meter can be read by my television set. All I want is movies.
That, though, seems too simple for the District government. While people all over the Washington area, not to mention the rest of the country, are seeing some terrific movies or sports events or even entertainment shows, we are stuck debating whether the proposed cable system should be able to read the gas meter or, better yet, my vital signs. (Channel 52: Richard Cohen's Vital Signs, Rated R.)
Now I ask you, fellow citizens of Washington, would you rather see a really terrific movie or read my vital signs? Would you rather see a good old shoot 'em up, or have your gas meter read? Would you rather see a baseball game or be able to vote from home, taking into consideration, of course, the choice of baseball teams as compared to the choice of politicians?
No matter, the choice will be ours. The system to be installed will be, in the words of the chairman of the design commission, "futuristic." This is an apt description since it will not be ready for the entire city until 1989, which is six years from now if the schedule is met. But since no schedule is ever met anywhere and especially not here (Have you ridden Metro's Green line lately?), it will be in fact sometime in the 1990s when the people of Washington are finally able to see movies made in the 1980s.
In the meantime, Washingtonians will have to put up with years of coming to work and hearing people discuss television programs that we cannot see. We will continue to scan the television listings, noticing wonderful programs available to people elsewhere who were willing to settle for some chintzy cable system that could not read their vital signs and we will, of course, pity them. All they have is movies--like, maybe, "Lawrence of Arabia." I would give up having my gas meter read for "Lawrence of Arabia." In fact, I would kill for "Lawrence of Arabia."
Soon, Washington residents will be able to recreate the days when television was new and not everyone had a set. In fact, one of those who did not have a set were Pearl and Harry Cohen and their children, Judith and Richard. The latter used to go to school and hear kids talking about Six Gun Playhouse and Howdy Doody and, of course, Milton Berle and wonder what all the fuss was about. Now it is the same with cable.
I see stories in the paper about cable and I know they have nothing to do with me. CBS folds its cable enterprise. What do I care? I live in Washington. Showtime and The Movie Channel will merge? What's that? Who's that? Don't bother me. I live in Washington.
Friends tell me about the delights of Cable News. I have to take their word for it. I read in the paper that you could watch the Los Angeles libel trial starring Dan Rather on cable and that CBS was miffed at the coverage. Very interesting. Might as well be reading about Afghanistan. I read about of disputes over "adult" programming on cable. I would settle for any kind at all.
But have patience, Washington residents. Assuming you are young enough and your health holds, our turn will come. We will, by the 21st century or so, have cable television and when it comes it will be the envy of the area. People who have been able to see nothing but terrific movies or wonderful sports events, will drop everything and hurry to Washington on election day to watch us vote via cable television. But given Washington's history with elections, the result is a foregone conclusion.
A gas meter will be elected to the city council.