The Big Turn-Off

Running cable TV out of Loudoun County


| September-October 1996



big-turn-off

Image by Flickr user: Horia Varlan / Creative Commons

Jake came to dinner a few weeks ago. We talked about the nine muses, and why tragedy is important in human storytelling. Jake has been reading a lot of Greek mythology lately. A few nights later, Jake’s dad, Mike, and I walked up the hill to the old schoolhouse for a Citizens’ Association meeting about bringing cable TV to Waterford, a town of 250 people in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The hills do terrible things to TV reception.

The president of the cable company had come to tell us that it probably wasn’t a moneymaker for him to string the cable all the way out to our eighty-some houses, but he felt it was only right to give us the chance to partake of the rich offerings of his service. He passed around the latest full-color guide describing what we were missing that month. The cover featured Melanie Griffith. If we had cable, we would have been able to watch her in the movie Milk Money.

Mike’s house on Main Street doesn’t have a TV. But like most houses here, it has broad views of farmland rolling away to the wooded hillside, and big old maples in the garden. From the high meadow behind town you can look at Catoctin Creek as it wends through the valley, and see why a young Pennsylvania Quaker, Amos Janney, figured back in 1733 that this would be a fine place to build a mill.

The mill is still there, and like most buildings in town, it has American history written into the horsehair mortar holding up its walls. Just opposite, there’s a stone house whose Quaker inhabitant found slavery a worse evil than war, even though fighting for the Union caused him to be read out of Meeting for violating pacifist principles. The Baptist church on High Street still has bullet holes in the bricks from the skirmish that took place there between the Confederates and Waterford’s Loudoun Rangers, the only regiment raised in Virginia that fought on the Union side.

There aren’t many Quakers here now, but they left behind a tradition of stubborn singularity. The townspeople—farmers and carpenters who’ve always lived here, artists and software designers who’ve arrived more recently—like the fact that this place is different: always has been, always will be.

At the Citizens’ Association meeting, the cable guy brags about how his service offers “more than 70 channels of the finest programming available.” Mike, beside me, fidgets on his chair. Suddenly he’s speaking, softly and diffidently, as he always does. “People here have time to talk to each other,” he says. “I’m proud of our bad TV reception because it gets us out of our houses, and I’d kind of hate that to change because there’s nine different football games to watch. Personally, I’d rather go fishing than watch the fishing channel.”

mary c._2
4/14/2011 1:31:15 PM

Are there any houses for sale there?