Friday, January 6, 2012
A Friend With a Lot of History
This week we said goodbye to an old friend who had been a big part of our lives for the past 13 years. Just this past May we learned through it that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.
The old friend was our television set, a 32-inch non-HD model with a nearly square screen from Panasonic. It was huge and heavy — a mastodon compared to today’s flat-screen gazelles — but it worked great. We set it up in August 1998 and never worried about it afterward. No repairs, no problems, nothing. When we needed it, it was there.
And the history it’s seen! We watched the 2000 Presidential election returns and subsequent controversy on it, turning it off at night when the networks gave Florida to Al Gore and turning it on again the next morning to find that perhaps they had been premature.
On 9/11 we were glued to the set, watching the horror unfold and feeling shocked and frightened just like everyone else in America. With something like that, watching the story develop and new information come in is a big part of how we now assimilate what happened and come to terms with the fact it has.
There were happier moments as well. We watched on that television as Barack Obama accepted the results of the 2008 presidential election in Grant Park in Chicago. Hope was in the air, and the partisan rancor that followed was yet to come, its ferocity almost impossible to imagine that night.
Through that television, we also experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It showed us the San Francisco 49ers incredible comeback from a 38-14 deficit in the third quarter to a 39-38 victory over the New York Giants in the 2003 Playoffs; Tom Brady’s Super Bowl winning drive in the 2002 Super Bowl; and Brian Wilson’s final pitch when the San Francisco Giants won the 2010 World Series.
But most of the time the memories were more prosaic. Many of the hours we spetnt in front of that set, we were simply recharging our batteries while watching Mad Men, The Closer, Law & Order, NCIS and other shows, not to mention the hundreds of movies we rented and saw on that TV screen.
Other television sets have appeared in my life, and a few have associations with specific memories. The first set our family ever owned was a 19-inch black and white Hoffman, which my father bought for my grandfather when he was made an invalid by the stroke that eventually killed him. He and grandma lived in a small apartment behind our house, and as a six-year-old, I used to go over to watch old cowboy movies on that set. Then there was the big, standing-furniture set in the student lounge at UC-Santa Cruz, where a handful of us sat up all night to get the outcome of the 1968 presidential election. California and the election finally went for Nixon just before breakfast.
No other television, though, has been in my life as long as that Panasonic. The average American family buys a new set every 7.5 years, and this one lasted nearly twice as long. For the past few years, we’ve known it was time to switch, and the prices have come down so much that Best Buy was practically paying us to buy a new one. For the foreseeable future, we will be watching history being made on a sleek Samsung flat-screen HD that cost half what the Panasonic did 13 years ago. And that’s the way it is.