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Ross Rambles: My recent ordeal

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Some people are aware of my recent ordeal. I'm not talking about my major surgery followed by life-threatening complications.

What I'm referring to is the fact that my TV remote control went out, a situation that brought back nightmarish memories of my childhood when I had to walk up to the television set to turn it on and change channels.

Channels were changed by twisting a knob for selection among the 13 available channels, a ridiculous number of channel selections since nobody had access to that many different TV stations.

In my hometown of Fort Madison we had a choice between two channels, sometimes three depending on weather conditions. This was eventually increased by availability of cable.

Since the town was in a river valley, antenna reception was poor and Fort Madison was one of the first towns in the state to have cable TV. Cable enriched the TV offerings immensely, offering two stations each for the three networks, a public television station and two independent stations out of Chicago. One of the independent stations broadcast Cubs games and the other broadcast White Sox games.

There was also a station that showed a clock and a row of gauges, displayed by means of a camera slowly panning back and forth. This prompted occasional suggestions in our household such as, "Hey, let's find out what the barometric pressure is."

Building cable systems was prohibitively expensive in urban locations, so smallish cities, in the range of 10,000 to 25,000, were the first towns to get cable TV, usually in the mid 60s, about two decades before major metropolises did.

Well, that's enough history, back to my hellish situation with a malfunctioning remote. I went to Radio Shack to purchase a universal remote control, a device I didn't know existed until I shared my despair about the faulty remote control with all who would listen.

I bought the universal remote and took it home. I programmed the device by feeding in the four-digit code that corresponds to my make of TV. It worked and I settled in for some TV viewing.

While I was watching Jeopardy, the Sioux City station broke in for a severe weather bulletin. A massive storm sweeping through western Iowa, spawning numerous tornadoes, was a significant event but did it justify interrupting Jeopardy? I think not.

There were several other interruptions of regular broadcasting that evening. At one point, Cherokee was put under a tornado warning. I heard the sirens sounding outside.

A couple days later, I got a call from Aimee Barritt, county emergency services coordinator. She told me about what people should do in the event of a tornado warning and what they should not do.

I don't know whether she called me because I work for a newspaper or because she somehow found out I did not seek shelter when I heard the siren.

I figure that even if Cherokee was in the path of an actual confirmed tornado, the chances of the tornado arriving at my precise position with lethal force was, at most, 10 percent -- 15 percent tops. That's far too remote of a possibility to get me up from the couch when I'm comfortable.

The 'what not to do' part of Aimee's comments referred to the fact that people were calling 911 during the warning, seeking information and making comments rather than reporting an emergency. This ties up the time of dispatchers who need to deal with real emergencies.

I'm glad I restrained myself from calling 911 to ask when the broadcast of Jeopardy might be resumed.