It's risky to write about Web-based anything. For all we know, any of these local companies could be out of business by the time you read this. But we hope they hang around, because they're great for shut-ins like us.
A movie lover's dream, the Los Gatos-based company delivers DVDs by mail for $19.95 per month (you can hang onto three at a time). Keep them as long as you want — you get a new title when you send one back in the prepaid envelope. The Web site lists just about every DVD ever made (over 10,000 and counting), and you can browse by genre, category (themes like the American Film Institute's “100 Greatest Movies” list), or expert opinion. Sign up at NetFlix and you need never take attitude from some snooty video-store clerk again.
Ever walked through the rain to your bus stop, only to see that evil orange Muni coach pulling away? With NextBus, based in Emeryville, you can stay inside your toasty apartment until just the right moment. Using GPS satellites linked with wireless trackers attached to each vehicle, the company combines a bus' actual location, its planned stops, and the usual traffic patterns to estimate arrival time, which it then delivers to its Web site, to Palm devices, and to electronic signs at shelters. Skip the wait in a downpour — or just sleep a few extra minutes.
Waiters on Wheels
With 115 restaurants in San Francisco alone listed on its Web site, WOW can deliver a hot, fresh dinner to your door in a little over an hour. It's not as cheap as going out — the delivery charge is $8 and the minimum order is $20 per restaurant — but the convenience factor is high. WOW is based in S.F., and its folks know that climbing hills and finding parking are two major obstacles to a good dining experience.
We were sad to read that Webvan might have only enough money to stay afloat until the end of the year, because the grocery delivery service has always been a friend to us. Begun in the Bay Area, Webvan now covers six other cities or regions around the country. Its items aren't much more expensive than those in the average neighborhood store, and the selection is huge. If you've never tried it, you obviously live in a ground-floor apartment next to Safeway.