WILDER'S WHOLE WORLD: Remembering old stories

By Dwayne Wilder
Special to the Herald Democrat

I remember stories, especially ones told to me by my parents.

But I loved any story told by an adult as I grew up in Sherman. Usually they were about work because so much of life is simply work. This is where most people spend most of their time, so it stands to reason that stories would happen at this location for many of them.

My mother, Pat Wilder, worked for the cable company for 25 years. She was in customer service some of the time; billing in other times and various administrative positions at the end. She had some great stories about customers and co-workers, but the one that stands out all these years later is the ‘little man in the white building.’

Mom began her career in 1975 – during the early stages of cable TV – when everything was new. People really didn’t understand the difference between ‘cable TV’ and ‘broadcast TV.’ All they knew was that cable TV didn’t have commercials – we all know THAT has changed over the decades! Anyway, the little old ladies and gentlemen who came in to pay their bills during those early years were just precious-to hear my mother tell it.

One of the new-fangled features of ‘Cablecom,’ as it was called in Sherman during the 1970s, was the current atmospheric conditions ‘channel’ – you know, the temperature, wind speed, relative humidity and such. There is a facility with the company’s main antenna tower on FM 1417 near the intersection with US 75, which is still there today; and I presume is still owned by the company, ‘Sparklight,’ now.

There is a small building – it was painted white back then – and the company set up an automated system in it for these atmospheric meters. The camera would pan across – oscillate – back and forth from one monitor to the next. I think there were six of them. The automated system had a set timer so it would go at a certain rate—all day long and all night long. It was automated! This was all that was in that one room building.

Occasionally, the machine would ‘get’ off its routine; and boy, did those little ladies and gentlemen let Cablecom know about it. Mom would report the problem; and a technician would investigate and fix whatever problem there was. Mom would invariably get the calls from this one little old lady who adamantly believed that there was a ‘little old man’ working the apparatus for those meters. She would call and talk to Mom like there was this person in the white building (which the little old lady didn’t know about) working the camera.

She would refer to him as ‘the little old man’ who wasn’t doing his job; wasn’t very good at his job or simply slacking off! Mom said she spent countless calls trying to convince the woman that there was no ‘little old man’ working with those meters, but to no avail. Mom added that this went on for weeks – among other calls – the lady even offered to talk to the ‘man’ once so he would be better at his job.

And when the camera got stuck at the end of a cycle – and was focusing on one meter in a stationary manner – oh, Boy! The office would hear about it call after call after call. Apparently, every cable subscriber was watching this channel and couldn’t wait very long to see if the wind speed had changed a MPH since the few seconds that they last saw the monitor.

Heaven help CableCom if it was stuck on the temperature monitor. It might have been the most popular one, but people didn’t need to stare at a thermometer. No, they had other monitors to look at during their cable viewing in that primetime of the 1970s!

As a teen, I understood what was happening as Mom explained it. It was funny to imagine an employee – a little old man – holding the television camera (the huge studio kind) and panning across those monitors all day long every day – and then still doing it if I get up at 1 a.m. and want to know the current up to the second temperature! And to have all those people watching ready to correct all your mistakes – again in real time – all day long! Funny stuff…

It is amazing what you remember as you grow older. It’s the funny stories told by the special people in your lives that mean the most. And this one stands the test of time —just like that little old man in the white building… 

Dwayne Wilder

Dwayne Wilder is a Sherman native who currently lives in Denison. Wilder’s Whole World is his commentary about life in Texoma and the world. Wilder can be reached at cmandad17@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.