By Leah Ireland: In a time of great optimism and fear the money changers still hustle us with pay-later mortgages, boats and big-gas cars, not to mention almost free loans for fast vacations.

In a time of great optimism and fear the money changers still hustle us with pay-later mortgages, boats and big-gas cars, not to mention almost free loans for fast vacations. We are a country of victims, and however much we expect freedom, we are more comfortable with stupidity.

The economy has sobered us up, but the past-due business tactics of big corporations continue to make us suckers. Take any service we can't do without, like cable. If we do get past the robots and extension numbers and make it to a live person, the trouble begins.

We just want to pay our bill, but not before hearing how they can save us because they know "our time is valuable." It seems we can actually spend less by expanding our service. They will not take our payment for what we've got now without us hearing how they can improve our lives after being on hold with torturous music.

The big cable company starts off low enough to drive the small competition out, then doubles or triples the bill, which operators can lower if we're serious about stopping service. Its "business" — the word that justifies anything.

Some of us remember when customers were right and service kept us coming back. There is still one cable company that keeps it simple, the local one. When we need help the experts come out, and we know that the company is a good employer because we can ask any question and get a straight answer.

Local cable people know what's happening in town and the working difference between "the two systems" here in Ashland. (Don't ask.) Often they can come by on the same day, and they don't use or sell our personal information.

If we spend money each month for a service agreement, the local company doesn't ignore it and charge us anyway. No one requires us to take equipment back to Medford when it is the company's responsibility to pick it up and customers should just say no.

The local cable has better programming for Ashland like the Free Speech Network and Democracy Now — which the local public radio won't broadcast. The Classic Arts Showcase, a 24-hour advertisement-free MTV of all great art on film is only available on cable locally.

The local operators are not required to sell us something to keep their jobs, and they make it extra easy for seniors and the technologically terrified. The locals go by the small-town rule of good faith inherent in serving neighbors.

The local service does need to get its act together and put its name and phone number out there more boldly, but it's the best deal if you can find them. The joke is that the big company is owned in part by someone who has a house in Ashland. God forbid they should have to use their own service and get a taste of what hell paying and getting a picture can be.

Leah Ireland is a writer living in Ashland.