Buffalo, New York ... September 11-13, 1992
It's hard to believe that ten years have passed. When I look at Alf's photos, it all seems so fresh ...
Back in the early 1990s, before "the Internet" had achieved any sort of universal coverage, there were small pockets of people living online in various other venues. For some of us, our primary online home was the Legal Forum on Compuserve: LAWSIG. If you weren't around back then, it's difficult to explain how that system worked. There were no web pages; there was no Listserv or Majordomo. We wrote messages offline, our modems dialed a local Compuserve node, the text was transferred, and our modems quickly hung up. Later, we would check back to see if any responses had been attached to our postings.
In those days, connection charges were $22.50 an hour, so we ran automated programs that kept our actual online time down to just a minute or two at a time. Now, $12 buys me a full month of unlimited Internet access. While online life was much more expensive then, it was also much more slowly paced. 14,400 bps modems had recently become available, but when I had started out a few years earlier, 1200 and 2400 bps modems were "state of the art." In those first days, during the minute or two of actual "online" time, it was possible to read and keep up with the characters as they scrolled across the screen and ran into the TAPCIS program that we DOS users employed to manage our Compuserve messages on our 286-based computers with 640K of RAM and 10 megabytes of hard disk space.
"LAWSIG" was primarily administered by Buffalo attorney Dan Kohane, with assistance from New Jersey urban planner Perry Norton and Ann Arbor Microsoft hater Larry Halman. They were around to provide some organization, and to make sure that every stranger who wandered in with a question received at least one response. For the most part, though, it's impossible to exert any control over an online forum, and the rest of us inmates wound up almost equally running the asylum.
I should explain that, while we were conducting our conversations in the "Legal Forum," we weren't generally discussing legal matters. Oh sure, some of us would, on occasion ... especially when a new person would wander into the Forum specifically to ask a legal question. Largely, though, we were just chatting. There were a lot of one-liners, and occasionally more detailed stuff. It was a lot of fun. Indeed, it was a hoot.
The one organizational step that "management" did ultimately take involved setting up a new message "section," outside the sections devoted to topical areas of the law, and calling it the "Bar Room." Before that, we did our stuff in "Section 1: General," and it was something of a mess, especially for people who wandered into the Legal Forum for the first time because they had a General legal question. Once "Section 14: Bar Room" was set up, our little gang went even farther out of control, but at least we were limited to a controlled area where unsuspecting people wondering about how to beat their parking ticket wouldn't have to sort through our messages.
With a vastly smaller number of people online anywhere, and with most people who were online gravitating toward one (or perhaps a few) specific "Forums," our Bar Room group was very small, and we got to know one another pretty well. We all checked for new messages several times during the course of the day; after posting a response, we would eagerly await the passage of time that might be sufficient to allow some of our friends to read and respond. Before long, our friendships leapt out of our modems and into the actual world.
The first person I met "in real life" was Perry Norton, one of the LAWSIG administrators. On Friday, November 23, 1990 - a crisp and sunny fall day, the day after Thanksgiving - I caught a bus at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and headed for Leonia, New Jersey. Following Perry's directions, I walked through the town and found his house. Perry met me at the door, and for the very first time, I was in the physical presence of one of my fellow Bar Roomers. That day at Perry's I also met his wife Harriet, along with the Microsoft hater Larry Halman and the marvelously named Toni Savage. I don't remember exactly why this particular group of us happened to get together. Perry extended an invitation, probably to everyone within the sight of his online words, and we were the ones who made it. We chatted over coffee, and Harriet made us pancakes.
Over the next couple of years, more and more of us met "in real life." In January 1991, we had a "LAWSIG lunch" at Toots Shor's, across from Madison Square Garden (and only a couple of blocks from my office). I can't remember who was there. I think Perry and Larry were; I might also have first met Dan at that time. There was another Toots Shor lunch in January 1992; indeed January LAWSIG lunches in New York became an annual tradition for those of us in the area.
There were other events in 1991 that brought new combinations of us together. In April, I met Tina Bauhs, the little sister of LAWSIG member Jill, when Tina was visiting New York. On August 9, 1991, a date that will live in infamy, I met Patty White, Judy Russell, Gail Kernish, Claire Dick Ryder and others at Hurley's in Radio City. The night ran late, the beer was flowing, and the subsequent infamy largely involved Judy. (I wonder if I still have her explanation of her adventure here somewhere, on an old floppy disk? Geez, what a moron.) Later that month I first met Jill Bauhs and Brian Cherbo in Los Angeles.
On September 25, 1991, I first spoke with Laurie Jones, on the phone. For some reason, I was in a conference room in Dayton, Ohio at the time; she wanted to Federal Express me a prank gift for Judy ... because two days later those of us who could make it were meeting for dinner at Don Pepe's in Newark. If I didn't meet Dan earlier, I met him at Don Pepe's that night. I know that was when Judy first met him. Toni Savage was there, too, pretending to be Kate McClure. Dan pretended to be Carle Banura. Maureen Garde and Perry were there. Who else?
In 1992, we began the practice of having LAWSIG "Fests." While previous events had all taken place in the New York Area, a bunch of us met on the Ides of March in Breckenridge, Colorado for "Skifest." This was something of a misnomer, since Laurie and Larry were the only ones who actually did any skiing, but about a dozen of us sat around for a few days typing on our laptop computers and drinking home-made Irish Cream whipped up in a turkey roasting pan. Actually, we did get outside on occasion: We went sliding; we had a sleigh ride behind a flatulent horse named Dan; we had a great dinner in a tent. This was where I first met Kacy and Laurie. Who else?
This is all prefatory, however, to what I'm really here to write about. On September 11, 1992 ... ten years ago today ... we began "BuffFest": a weekend hosted by Dan, in and around Buffalo, New York. It was BuffFest where we all first met Alf. And, because Alf had the presence of mind that we had all previously been lacking, he brought a camera with him and actually created an excellent record of our weekend visiting Dan and Buffalo and Niagara Falls. A few days after the conclusion of the event, each of us received from Alf, via Federal Express, a photo album containing 210 pictures of our adventure.
A few days ago, I was watching a two-hour documentary about Niagara Falls, and I was moved to pull out that ten-year-old album. The pictures brought it all back. And now, thanks to The House of Corkscrew Balloon Dot Com, the whole world can remember (or, for most of the world, see for the first time) what happened on that weekend ten years ago.
Painting by Frederick Church
We met at the airport in Buffalo. We'd come from all over the place. I was the only one who didn't have to cross state lines. The rest came from increasingly distant places: Judy and Perry came from New Jersey, Amy and Mary Beth from Maryland, Kacy and Mike from Virginia, Alf from Florida, Patty from Colorado, and Laurie from Washington. As various planes arrived, the corner area of the airport bar began to fill with our little band of Buff Festers.
For our evening entertainment, Dan had arranged for us to visit Buffalo's famous Anchor Bar. This, friends, is the home of "Buffalo Wings." No, they don't come from prairie beasts, not that buffalo. They're ripped from chickens, and they come from Buffalo, New York. We nibbled our way through several orders, with varying degrees of spiciness that was cooled by the bleu cheese dip. Between finger licks, there was pinball, plus Kacy gave Laurie a new hair style and more.
Eventually the Anchor threw us out, and we went to various places to spend the night. Several of us stayed at Dan's large house, which accommodated us well. (There were so many bedrooms, we wondered if this was its first weekend after it stopped being a bordello.) A few members of our group resided off-site at some place that had even more bedrooms.
Today was the big day!! Dan scheduled a full-fledged tour of Niagara Falls from every angle. Most of us (including me) had never been there before, and we woke up in the morning ready for action.
We piled out of our vehicles into the parking lot where our Gray Line Tour would begin. It was a beautiful day, and the Falls were ready for us. Ready, too, was Jack the Tour Guide. During the next several hours, he would tell us the history of the Falls, regaling us with one grisly story after another. There is a rich vein of Niagara Falls lore, and Jack knew it all inside out. A dazzling array of colorful characters had passed through this area during the past couple of centuries, claiming their local bits of fame. The "going over the Falls in a barrel" stories were good, of course, and much more numerous than any of us had imagined. There were also tightrope stories, boating stories, bridge stories, and countless others. Each of Jack's stories was very interesting, and each ended with a horrible death or maiming ... except once or twice when he caught us completely off guard with a story of someone surviving (although they usually met with hideous doom later through some other means).
Tour transportation was provided by means of a large Gray Line van. We packed ourselves into it as if it were a clown car, and at every stop we spilled out and ran around in all directions, pointing and oohing and ahhing.
Our first major stop was at the top of the Falls on the Canadian side. Yes, this was an international Fest! Before we crossed the border into Canada, Jack - who immediately realized that we were a bunch of troublemakers - gave us stern instructions to behave ourselves at the border crossing because the guards did not tend to find everything as funny as we obviously did.
The Canadian part of the Falls is called Horseshoe Falls (on account of its shape, of course). It is very impressive! Until you see it, you just can't imagine the huge volume of water that goes racing over the edge into the abyss. And the roar ... oh my goodness.
Next, we went into the tunnels that meander through the cliffs around the falls. Some of these open up right next to the falling water. Apparently these tunnels lead all over the place in a labyrinth. One could imagine being lost in the rocks forever ... or entering a section that was deteriorating and about to crack off and fall into the churning waters below. The tunnels' proximity to the Falls, combined with the rock walls' acoustics which focus and amplify the water's noise, result in an even more tremendous roar than we had experienced on top. This thundering, vibrating force caught hold of Kacy especially; she kept talking about how the power of the roar worked its way straight inside her, stirring her nether parts in intense and unanticipated ways. She looked very happy, and I think she would have stayed there tingling forever if Jack didn't insist that we move on to our next stop.
We exited the tunnels at the Great Falls Portal, where we walked out onto a ledge. This was very close to the falls ... between the top and the bottom, but closer to the bottom. There were huge amounts of spray from the falls; our borrowed yellow rain gear was plainly outmatched. When we re-entered the tunnels, we were all a bit damp.
Back outside the tunnels, we headed for our van and rode to our next stop: the Skylon. This is a large tower on the Canadian side, built to provide scenic views of the Falls and the surrounding area. Amid further oohs and ahhs, with pointing and nudging, and with Alf bringing up the rear, our little group approached the Skylon and its speedy elevator.
The observation deck at the top of the Skylon afforded great views of the American Falls, the Canadian Falls, the Niagara River, and us.
And then, it was time for the most special part: a ride on the famous "Maid of the Mist"! For the boat ride, we went back to the American side and proceeded down a hill to the sub-Falls river. There are actually several Maids of the Mist; we were on Maid of the Mist IV. Having left our yellow tunnel raincoats back at the tunnels, we donned blue Maid of the Mist raincoats for our boat ride.
The Maid took us past the American Falls; it spun us around a bit in the Niagara River, and then it took us very close to the thunder of Canada's Horseshoe Falls. The currents at the base of the Falls go in all directions; the captains of the Maids must have a lot of practice, because we always seemed to go in the right direction even though we were often moving sideways or backwards. The idea of calculating the interacting forces of several different currents, as modified by the boat's engines and rudders, still makes my head hurt when I think about it. But it worked well, and as you can see, we had a great ride!
After a wonderful day of sightseeing, we bid farewell to Jack the Guide, and we headed back to Dan's for some relaxation. It's not entirely clear what happened at Dan's, even with the photos, but I'm pretty sure there was a lot of liquid consumption. Alf had promised Laurie a lot of champagne, and for good measure he provided a bunch for the rest of us as well. We also had dinner. I vaguely remember a bunch of Chinese takeout food, but I don't see any in the photos. Just more liquids.
Remember Compuserve Forums? LAWSIG? The thing that brought us all together for this weekend? Well, all of the messages in the Forum were consecutively numbered. One of the things that had us excited on this Saturday night was the rapid approach of Message #300,000. We were all eager to see who would post the magic message, and so we logged on frequently from Dan's phone lines. (I think the lucky person turned out to be Ruth Leistensnider of Albany, who for some reason was absent from this Fest.) We also made numerous phone calls to absent friends, including the elusive Brian Cherbo.
Kacy did some additional hair styling, this time for Amy, and then she discovered that Laurie had lipstick on her collar, which may or may not have been Kacy's. The evening culminated in Laurie and Patty performing something called The Doggy Duet. There was really nothing that could follow that, and so we all stumbled off to our various sleeping spots.
Unfortunately, the kettle boils quite dry at this point. Alf had an early flight this morning, and so there are no Sunday photos. Late Saturday night, after pouring one last bottle of Dom Perignon into Laurie, Alf bid us all farewell. Presumably, he made it to the airport all right in the morning. Mercifully, the roar of his plane's engines did not pass near Dan's house or our fragile heads.
After we arose and partially recovered from Saturday night, I vaguely remember our going into Buffalo for a tour. We had an al fresco breakfast around noon at someplace called Bertha's. We walked through a construction site that Dan said was his office. He then showed us his collection of cheap snow domes from all over the world. He said something about President McKinley, and I think we parked in a lot near some water and walked somewhere else.
See how important the photos are? Alf, we needed you today!! With no pix, it's just a blur.
At some point today, we all flew back to the far-flung origins whence we came. A few days later, on Thursday the 17th, Alf's photos arrived. And then the years just started to slide away, one by one. But we still have our memories (or at least some parts of them) ... and Alf's photos! Of course, since Alf shot all the photos, he isn't in any of them. Thus, despite his making this entire retrospective possible, we don't see him here. But we remember!