I was thinking recently. This site is supposed to be a blog, right? Well, it's not really very bloggy. I've been getting around that by calling VC&G a "blogazine" — that is, half-blog, half-magazine — and it works pretty well. But still, I think this place has been severely lacking in blogatude recently. I've become too serious, too obsessed with writing only thoroughly-researched pieces that take ages to finish. Everything I start writing turns into some kind of research paper, as if I have some compulsive need for incredibly documented detail in everything I do. That kind of obsession is something of a good habit for feature writers (as long as you can make a deadline), but a bad one for bloggers. Luckily, I'm having success in freelance work, where detail and accuracy is king. And if I want to keep getting writing jobs, I obviously want all my output to be as professional as possible. That kind of attitude leaves little room for silliness in case they catch me on a bad day. Am I being too uptight? Yes, I am. But consider this: If I wanted to interview the Pope about the first computer he ever used, and VC&G's leading article at the time was titled "Five Ways I Wipe My Butt With Computers," do you think he'd grant me the interview? (Hell yes, because the Pope loves that tingling feelin' as much as anyone else. But that's beside the point.)
Despite all the professional anxiety I just expressed (this sounds more and more like a real blog all the time, doesn't it?), I still need to remember to have a little fun. So let's have some. This entry marks the beginning of a new column about the current hectic happenings in my happenin' hip-hop VC&G lifestyle. I don't expect to be whining much (a perennial blog favorite), so bear with me. It'll try to find a suitably compelling and dramatic replacement. And have no fear, my loyal VC&G friends: aside from this blog-like column, you can continue to expect the same professionalish blogazine standard from Vintage Computing and Gaming as usual.
But for now, it's bloggerin' time.
What's on the Bench, Benj?
Well, my friend, I'm glad you asked, because I was just about to tell you. You're amazingly psychic sometimes, and I like that in a reader. But before we get to that, let me explain what the "bench" is and also interject a slightly amusing, almost completely unrelated story. The bench, in this case, is short for "workbench." In this section of my bloggy writing-post entry column thing (how expositive), I intend to tell you what I've been messing with in terms of video games and computers recently. And since I have a number of "benches" (actually, they're mostly desks), the bench term is more of a metaphor than a literal description. And now for the story I promised you.
My full first name is "Benjamin," but my nickname, as long as I can remember, has been "Benj." I'm not sure which of my parents came up with it first (and neither are they), but I find it pretty clever these days. It's an unusual and difficult nickname for some people to understand, so I usually just chicken out and say I'm "Ben" when I don't feel like it's worth the time to explain that my name is not "Benji." There's a local Raleigh, NC band called The Connells which made its mark as a slightly famous alternative pop group in the early 1990s. They even had a top-20 hit in Germany at one point, I believe. I walked backstage at a Connells concert in 1998 to talk to the band and eventually found my way to George Huntley, their lead guitarist, who unfortunately quit the band a few years ago to concentrate on his family and sell real estate (Yes, that's him, and yes, he's still awesome). George was (and still is, I suppose) my favorite Connell. I was a budding musician at the time, and I admired his melodic songwriting style the most. When I introduced myself as "Benj" amidst the cacophony of the opening band (Hobex, if you must know), he strained to hear me and replied, "Your name's Bench? Like B-E-N-C-H?" I corrected him, of course, but the misunderstanding was unique in the annals of Benjdom, and here I am recounting the episode in a lengthy 300-word paragraph on Vintage Computing and Gaming some nine years later. We had a great conversation, talking about music for a little over 30 minutes until he had to play. But let's get back on topic.
So What's Really on the Bench?
I'm glad you asked that as well. Right now, it's the venerable TI-99/4A computer system, complete with semi-rare Peripheral Expansion Box (PEB). And Alpiner. What a game, eh? The first time I ever played Alpiner was in a motel on the way to Texas. I live in North Carolina, and the part of Texas that my mother is originally from is a twenty-one hour drive away. Don't ask me why my family always drove there every summer instead of flying. It had something to do with moving furniture, having transportation when we got there, and saving money. I'm still impressed with my father's inexplicable trucker-like driving stamina to this day. Back when I first started collecting old computers and video game systems around 1992-93, the local hamfest was the highlight of my year (in terms of collecting, at least). For some reason the hamfest in 1993 (I think) fell on the same day we were due to leave for Texas. So, bright and early in the morning, my father and I made a trip to the 'fest for a few hours before hitting the road. While we were there, we snatched up my first ever TI-99/4A system and a Timex-Sinclair 1000, among other stuff I don't remember. Right after the show, we picked up the rest of the family and were on our way.
The trip to Texas is a long one, as I mentioned, and we usually spent one night on the way somewhere near the coast of Mississippi. I was so anxious to play with my new toys after the hamfest that day that I hauled them out of the car and hooked them up. We had a small, portable B&W TV in those days (that I later took apart) to which we connected the Timex-Sinclair 1000 through a flaky RF switch. I struggled to write my first Sinclair basic program on the cramped keyboard and super fuzzy black and white screen. My attention soon turned to the more exciting TI, however, which I anxiously hooked up to the motel's color TV set. I remember having some weird technical problem with one of the computers, but my dad helped me fix it. After the brief hiccup was over, I slid a dusty cartridge into the system, switched on the power, and was greeted with the haunting melodies of the Alpiner theme song. I think that my father recognized the tune as a piece of famous classical music, but I don't recall the title. It was interesting trivia at the time, but I was transfixed by the game at hand. I typed in my name ("Red Wolf," no doubt) and climbed up simulated real-life mountains, dodging falling rocks, mountain lions, and skunks in a gripping graphical adventure. All the vivid feelings of ecstatic joy and discovery that I felt that day, like uncovering a long-lost Pharaonic tomb, come back to me each time I switch on a TI-99/4A. Not so much with the TS-1000, though. Tough luck, Clive!
Do You Have Any Video Games? [Silence]
Today my wife and I took a joyride out into the country to get some fresh air and enjoy the sunny day. Every once and a while we like to step outside our comfort zone a tiny bit to explore and find some place new. Today we happened to pass through a nearby small town called Rolesville, NC. In an old barn-like former feed store off Main Street, there lies a hole-in-the-wall thrift shop that's full of rural charm…and a lot of junk. We looked around the place, noting all the the rusty mechanical typewriters and creepy straw-stuffed dolls with peeling painted heads that could be had for under $20.
On my way out, I stopped for a moment to chat with the proprietor, a friendly fellow in his mid-80s wearing faded blue overalls and a cap. He sat in a comfy old rocking chair, worn cane in hand, in the middle of a small office that was no less than a shrine to antique metal trinketry. Its walls sparkled with all manners of ancient bottle openers, expired license plates, lanterns, and even the occasional stove-top iron. Another man, much younger, sat silently across from him, looking like a jet lagged copy of the first that had just stepped out of a time machine set to 1960. Our small talk was nice, and he proved quite gregarious, as any Southern small-town shop owner should be. Just before I left, I asked him if he had any video games or computers — just in case they were stashed away in a box somewhere unseen (it happens). I was greeted, at first, with silence. Multiple waves of confusion and puzzlement washed over the old man's face as he searched every inch of his stores of knowledge, trying to figure out what in God's Creation I was talking about. Seeing his reaction, I added, "TV Games? You know, electronic games that you hook up to a TV set?" His face lightened up and he chucked a bit. "Ah." He paused and thought, "No, I don't normally deal with things like that."
In Other News
One of the plastic nose-pad thingys on my glasses broke off while I wasn't looking, and now the metal piece where it once was is digging into my face. Expect updates to this developing story as new details emerge.