Ward's interview stands as the most stressful of all of them, simply because
of the pressure of interviewing the guy who invented the thing the documentary
I had done everything I could to ensure there'd be no "surprises" with the
session. I'd interviewed folks for a month beforehand, and even scheduled a
flight to Washington DC a week before I went to Chicago, simply to see if
going on a plane with the equipment would cause any issues. It didn't and
it hasn't (although I've had to take all of the equipment out of my camera
bag and show them to security guards more than I care to mention). I pored
over historical documents related to Ward and the history around him, and
I had a list of questions in my mind to ask him. We had the interview
scheduled for that night, a few hours after I'd get in, figuring I'd need a
little time to get my rental car and find the location.
Disaster struck when I arrived at T.F. Green airport in Providence, walked
up to the ticket counter, and was told that since I had arrived 45 minutes
before the flight, there simply was no way I was going on it. Not only that,
but I got the real great "you're an idiot" attitude from the ticket counter
person, like I'd worn a silly hat to a debutante ball. I begged and pleaded
for something to be done, some other move or action we could take that might
get me in the air that night, even paying more money, but they were adamant;
I was not going anywhere.
I was basically in tears; here I had assembled this history-filled weekend,
starting off with the father of it all, and there was no way I was going
to make it there that night. I went downstairs and called Ward at a payphone.
He was gracious and understanding, and even went as far to say that my
cancelling Friday was in fact a boon, because he had a major project at
work and this would give him the whole night to work on it.
I went back to the counter and asked if I could have my ticket moved to a
flight the next morning, and was told I'd need to fly standby. I figured that'd
be no big deal, and since Ward had basically indicated I was doing him a
favor by moving things to Saturday, I went home and slept.
Coming back to T.F. Green at 6am (so as not to miss any flights), I waited
for the first flight to Chicago... and was told there was no space for standby.
The next flight came an hour and a half later... no flights. An hour and a half
after THAT... no flights.
It was obvious that I was getting jerked around here. Instead of just being
told "there are no flights not booked", I was being made to wait for flight
after flight without a hope. Finally, I took my bags and went over to the
Southwest gate, and was told I could get on the next flight for the price
of $300. I dropped that on my credit card immediately and gave them my bag
to check. I could not ask for a simpler process.
I arrived in Chicago, got my rental car, and headed off into the city. The
place where I'd meet Ward and other CBBS alumnus was pretty nearby and I had
some hours to wait.
I drove around Chicago to get my bearings; interesting town, and the last
time I could recall spending any time in it, it was the endpoint of an insane
road trip I took when I was 18 with two friends, Chris and Paul. We were
supposed to go camping in Maine, but they decided at the last moment to
do a "Blues Brothers" run to Chicago, and while I had no drivers' license,
I was brought along on this insanity. We drove from White Plains, NY to
Chicago straight through, no stopping. And spent a bit of a night in a nice
hotel, and then straight back. I still remember tons and tons of cornfields.
Now, an actual licensed driver, I drove around thinking about what Ward
would be like, what questions to ask him, and how much time I would get to
ask those questions.
The CBBS party is held in February (around February 16th) at a pizza place,
with all the various members of this community (now basically CHINET)
bringing cool technology, conversation, and a general sense of fun.
I recorded some footage at the CBBS party, but it wasn't very usable; the
major problem was that there was a loud, constantly blaring speaker in the
party area that was playing all sorts of pop hits. Pop music in the
background, even incidentally, causes major issues with clearances, so
there you go. The people were interesting, though, and it was good home
Ward was, as I guess I should have expected, an aging quiet fellow with
glasses and greying hair, with his flute-like voice able to be heard
across the room as he got excited talking about things.
Randy Suess didn't show, but I got the impression from others that he
generally doesn't show. My hope of interviewing them together was dashed,
and in fact I never did interview them together.
A bunch of people came back with me to supervise the interview with Ward.
We also brought the original CBBS hardware, which I set up next to Ward
during his interview, and which was a real neat thing to have. At one
point, it had been sold in a garage sale, but was now coming home to stay
with Ward. (It was originally Randy's, of course.)
This was the only time in all the interviews I've done where there were so
many people behind the camera and only one in front of it.
Ward was, as I had hoped, both talkative and informed. He'd forgotten some
details but remembered so many more. I tried to ask him questions along two
major lines: his memories of things from the beginning of BBSes, and his
perspective on trends that occured throughout BBS history.
At the end of the interview, I asked all the onlookers if I'd missed anything.
They said no, I hadn't, they were satisfied with all the questions and
Ward and I had dinner on Sunday, just chatting, and then we went back to my hotel
for another hour of interviewing. It turned out to be pretty content-free, since
we'd covered so much in the previous 4 hours. We did our best, though, and got
a few more paragraphs out of him before deciding to wrap.