When we first starting coming here, any talk of having television “upta camp” would’ve been as far out as waiting for a magic carpet to take me to the end of the rainbow. “And what would you like for your other two wishes?” Aladdin would ask. “Immortal life and money growing on birch trees?”
Back in the very beginning, I dreamt only of electricity coming up our rutted road and into our cabin. Then I longed for a toaster oven, a couple of lamps I could switch on and off from the wall, and maybe even a coffee maker to plug in on top of my plywood counter.
For more than 20 years, watching “camp TV” meant picking one of two channels with very similar programs: the wood stove or the fire pit. Television, and pretty much anything more electronic than a boom box tuned into “The Mountain of Pure Rock,” was the stuff of fairy tales. Only the really, really spoiled women dared to dream of watching Oprah way out here. And when a stray antennae or satellite dish sprouted up among the forest canopy, the rest of us could only stare at it like a unicorn or a leprechaun had landed on some lucky biotch’s roof.
Visitors from away didn’t always understand that the only big screen we had was the one keeping mosquitoes from swarming as we watched our own National Geographic episodes live from the porch—especially after they got water logged and the thrill of going to the Pine Tree Frosty wore off.
“But what else do you do up here?” one of my daughter’s middle school friends, who reportedly had Nintendo and her own TV/ VCR in her bedroom, asked.
“We play Yahtzee and Monopoly and eat s’mores and read,” we said. “We read a lot.”
“Woah. You mean like chapter books?” the girl said. By Sunday morning, her attention span was shot. And that was in the summer.
It took another decade—and talk of an eventual Big Move to Rangeley—before the possibility of television ever crept into our “someday” planning matrix. The year was 2009, and I knew I had forever crossed the “it’s just a camp” line when my mother-in-law almost fainted in my kitchen. We brought her up to see how we’d expanded our tiny log cabin into a year-round residence and added a few twenty-first century conveniences. “You have a dishwasher?!” she gasped.
Yep, built right into my faux marble counter top! I didn’t dare interrupt her “I never even had hot running water in my camp kitchen” story with the news that, after being the only neighbor with a naked roof for miles, I was finally going to join the DirecTV lineup.
“I s’pose this will be kinda nice in the winter,” Tom said just after we made the Big Move. He was kicked back in the new double recliner watching our first ever camp TV, which also happened to be our first ever flat screen, hi-def, bigger than a breadbox TV. It was a huge buying decision, solely mine to make, while Tom had been away working out the last days of his teaching contract before retiring. Did we really need to bring a boob tube into our “dream” log cabin? Was it time to ditch the tiny Discount Warehouse set we bought back in the ’90s, even though it still had some life left to it? “Yes!” I decided in a moment of early spring slump. I closed my second novel of the week and called DirecTV.
A few days, a really tall ladder and some serious roof hook-ups later, our local installation guy clicked through the remote, and presto chango! We could see glaciers calving into the Gulf of Alaska, the real shades of The Color Purple, and every single palm frond and bug bite on Survivor. And even though we didn’t get suckered into the ultimate-supreme-money-grows-on-birch-trees channel lineup, we were enchanted. Who needed the sports/movie super-mega-bundle dish package when, by the end of the first winter, we were like two kids who finally made it to the Magic Kingdom and just couldn’t stop gawking? We didn’t have a bedroom TV and a kitchen TV and a bedroom TV. We had one TV in a small corner formerly known as “the beagle room” that was more than just “kinda nice.” It was a freakin’ fairy tale. And forget DVR! All that fuss over recording and rewinding so you didn’t miss a single plot twist or witty comment? That’s what bladder control, and looking forward to reruns during the “dark months,” were for.
“Just record ’em,” friends would say if I was ever torn between seeing who got Chopped and who was The Biggest Loser on the same night.
“Can’t,” I’d say. “Don’t have DVR.” But I did have a whole-room-length HDMI cable that I could stretch from my laptop to my TV and stream away. And, as long as I wasn’t on the brink of a data overage on my Verizon broadband account, I could see whatever I imagined I’d missed the night before. It was the perfect setup, I thought, way better than I ever dreamed lake front TV viewing could be.
Then came the winter of my discontent, when I convinced myself that hundreds of programs coming out of the North Woods sky or off a tower atop Bald Mountain onto only one TV wasn’t enough. It all started, as most ruminations do out here this time of year, with a bad body image nightmare. How was I ever going to emerge from my cabin come May looking better than the couch potato I’d been the year before? By getting another TV, I decided. A TV in front of an elliptical machine that could just barely fit in the loft bedroom. Then, on days when it was too gloomy to strap on my ice cleats and go outside, I’d watch it to ease the monotony of shuffling in place up under the eaves in February. No need to shell out more for DirecTV which, thanks to the premier channels that used to be free but now cost an arm and a leg, was right up there with paying for car insurance or buying groceries. All I needed was another HDMI hookup and enough Verizon wireless gigabytes left on my data plan and, for the first time ever, I’d have a bedroom TV. Not my bedroom, because that already had the best lake view in the whole house, but in the bedroom where company could watch it off their devices when they got water logged and the thrill of going to the Pine Tree Frosty wore off.
Then DirecTV called and my field of dreams expanded exponentially. “Good afternoon Miss Joy. Did you know that you qualify for a free upgrade to a whole-home DVR package? We’ll replace your old equipment with a Genie 2 receiver and wireless Genie Minis for up to three TVs.”
Say WHAT? Free? I peppered the phone rep with all manner of questions about free actually meaning they weren’t going to start ratcheting up my bill right after I got used to having all this new stuff kind of free, and grabbed the next available installation appointment. Viola! Suddenly the gates of the Magic Kingdom were wide open so Miss Joy could venture to the far corners of DirecTV Land all her friends bragged about!
Installation was set for sometime between noon and 5 p.m. the following Friday. But sometime between noon and 5 p.m. the following Friday, a Stormageddon got here before Josh, the regional DirectTV guy and, somewhere in the snow drifts between here and Waterville, he called to say he’d have to cancel. “No problem,” I said, trying to keep my voice from quivering. “I’ll reschedule online.” Five more days crawled by as I watched The Price Is Right downloads holed up in the attic bedroom until, finally, the DirecTV van pulled down the driveway. I scampered to the door, chirping out a welcome like one of Cinderella’s desperate step-sisters. But Josh was not my prince that day. Cancelling my original date with him had voided the too good to be true free upgrade deal, he declared, and he’d arrived without my Genies. I’d have to wait at least ten business days for the offer to reappear on my account for him to do his magic. Swoosh! Back to the Price Is Right reruns and treading air while I ached for the ability to watch anything I wanted whenever I wanted, simultaneously, in one or two rooms 25 feet apart.
I’d waited more than 20 years for the first TV, I could wait a week or so for the second, right? Barely! By the time Josh finally installed the new Genie in the beagle room and the mini Genie in the loft, I was happy dancing up and down stairs like I was on Space Mountain with a FastPass. I got the whole-home fairy tale at the touch of a button, including a spare Genie and remote in case I fancied cramming a third TV atop Tom’s dresser or, who knows, out in the garage attic. “I’ve got all the bells and whistles now!” I cheered each time I grabbed a remote. Then I got something even more splendiferous: A February thaw—the kind you can’t ignore no way no how out here in the woods in the dark months. I strapped on my slush boots and my all-weather layers and burst out the door for some real deal exercise.
About halfway down the road, striding into the sun with Indian Cove Brook starting to flow and the chickadees twittering, it hit me. Cool as my Genies were, they could stay buried for a bit. The real magic—the best live show in town—would not be available for reruns.