Ward Christensen
February 16-17, 2002
Schaumburg, IL
4 Hours

cache1178.jpg () Front page of CACHE Newsletter (1978)
cdto.zip () Utility: Find a file, and then CD there, by Ward Christensen
res86.zip () Utility: Disassembler (RES86) by Ward Christensen

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 is about.

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 I pored over historical documents related to Ward and the history around him, and I had a list of questions in my mind to ask him.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 movie stuff.

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 answers. Excellent!

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.