I have a terrible habit of leaving late when it comes to road trips. We spend our whole lives trying not to be late, so when vacation rolls around it’s like the one time when being on time doesn’t really matter. Inevitably I’m always late out the door when beginning a road trip, a habit I always pay for when I’m on the road late at night, wishing I were anywhere but driving on the road, late at night.
Friday, September 29, I set out for Chicago. I had planned on leaving the house around six or seven in the morning, but a breakfast date with Susan and Mason at Waffle House set me back a couple of hours. I also had to make one last Wal-Mart trip. It’s the only place I can think of where I can get two bags of candy (for the show), a silver sharpee (for autographs), an FM transmitter (for listening to MP3s from my laptop on my car stereo) and a pack of AA batteries for my digital camera, all in one stop.
The drive up north was basically uneventful. Around 3pm I took a short break on a picnic table in a Missouri rest area. Someone walked up behind me and said, “Can you take your hands out of your pockets, sir?” When I turned around I saw a Missouri State Trooper, with one hand pointing at me and the other on his holster. After slowly putting my hands where he could see them, the trooper asked me whether or not I had seen a teenager with red hair wearing a red sweatshirt. The funny thing is, I’m a people watcher, so I’d been watching everybody at the rest stop for a solid ten minutes and hadn’t seen a kid with that description. The trooper then systematically searched the rest stop, including the restrooms and the port-o-potties. I had my camera ready to capture any shootouts, but alas, no bullets were fired. Guessing I was not in the best neighborhood, I hopped back in the truck and pushed on. I arrived in St. Louis at rush hour which slowed things down a bit, but other than that the ride was uneventful and I arrived in Chicago a little after ten.
Saturday morning, my aunt Mary brought over my cousin Patty, who was my partner and co-pilot throughout the day. With two sets of Mapquest directions, we set out on our trip. My backup plan (my laptop-based GPS software) failed miserably, as it was not able to contact any satellites due to the heavy cloud cover. Between my cousin and I we somehow managed to navigate our way over the suburbs via the tollway, to arrive in Lombard, Illinois only about half an hour late. In the parking lot I parked next to a white van with a Commodore logo on the back and a note that read, “I BRK for IRQ.” We found it.
My punishment for arriving late was that all the tables around the perimeter of the room had already been snatched up. No comfort zone for me. Instead, I ended up at two of the three tables that floated out in the middle of the room, dividing it in half. As it turned out, the show was small enough that there weren’t any “bad tables” to speak of.
Before I tell you how the show went, let me tell you a quick (and on the surface, seemingly unrelated) story. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, my classmates and I were required to read a book and then make a mobile, which was to be hung in our school library. The night before our mobiles were due, I wrapped a shoebox in gold tin foil, hung a couple of pictures from it and called it good. The next day at school, my mobile looked like crap compared to everyone else’s. All the others looked like they had been worked on for months, and mine looked like a lot like someone the night before had simply wrapped a shoebox in some gold tin foil. I will never forget how embarrassed I was standing in the middle of the library floor, looking at my obviously rushed mobile hanging around all the others.
Fast forward twenty years, and you have a pretty good idea of how I felt standing in the middle of ECCC. Obviously the main reason I drove 800 miles was to promote my book Commodork, but at the last minute I had also decided to set up a little demonstration on how to copy C64 disks to D64 images. I walked in to the show thinking about how I was going to impress everyone at the show with my great demonstration. Unfortunately for me, most of the people at the show were light years passed that. Just to give you an idea, one of the guys at the show has written a program that takes D64 images (like I was demonstrating how to create) and then allows you to edit them, do screenshots, and all other kids of stuff with them. Somehow, my display shot right through the middle of the two present demographics. The people who didn’t know what I was showing didn’t care, and to most of the people at the show, converting disks to D64 images was old news. And so, for the majority of the show I sat near my table, thinking about that stupid golden shoebox I had made back in elementary school.
Some of the stuff that was on display at the show literally blew my mind. Many of the things I’ve only read about were there on display – stereo SID chips, FSD drives, TCP/IP connections to vintage Commodore computers, you name it. I’m sure many of them found my D64 demo to be “cute.”
Several tables were set up near the front of the room for people to give demos. The three I remember seeing were Craig Ernster’s copy protection demo, David Murray’s C64DTV hacking demo, and The Wiz’s DirMaster (the D64 directory editing utility I referred to). All three demos were superb and I remember thinking that I could have sat down and picked any one of those speakers’ brains for an entire day or two. The Wiz’s DirMaster was particularly cool and I got a chance to speak with him later in the afternoon about his program. (I also gave him a wish list of features for the next release!)
Two of the three designers of the C64 all-in-one joystick (the DTV), Robin Harbron and Adrian Gonzalez, were on hand to talk to people (Jeri Ellsworth was not in attendance). Robin was particularly friendly and I spent a good amount of time chatting with him (I even got him to sign my DTV unit). There were only a couple of vendors at the show, but if you were hunting for C64 boxed software then there was a pretty good chance they might have had just what you were looking for.
My cousin Patty hung out with me at the show the entire day and seemed to have a good time (or at least did a good job of faking it!). My aunt Pam and cousin Kevin came out to the show as well and bought books. I was really glad that they came out.
The best part of shows is always the talking to people, and there was no shortage of that at ECCC. I had a fairly steady stream of visitors at my table and I sold around 15 books, which was a pretty good person-to-sale ratio. The overwhelming interest I got from Slashdot readers this week left me pretty short stocked, so selling less books than I had hoped actually worked out great since it left me enough to divvy up to family members after the show.
The show’s small size worked well and promoted intimacy. I can’t think of a single person at the show that I couldn’t have approached and talked to. I met a lot of really neat people at the show, hopefully several of which I’ll keep in contact with! From a business or financial standpoint it probably didn’t make a lot of sense to attend the show, but from a fun standpoint it was worth every penny!
Check out my pictures from the show here: