Personal History : 1981

  • Ronald Reagan is president
  • DeLorean cars are now purchasable
  • The first Space Shuttle, ‘Columbia’, is launched
  • Arcades are where everyone hangs out
  • Mtv is launched
  • And I’m 12

It’s 1981. I live with my parents in the sleepy little town of Longmont Colorado, in a tiny little house on East 4th Ave. and Lashley St.

Taken in 2006 – all of the solar and radio stuff has been removed by this point.

The house is pretty high tech; the solar assisted hot water panels and my father’s 40-foot HAM radio tower makes the place stand out. Up on the tower is a collection of antennas, an antenna rotator, a repurposed snow sled, and a PA loud speaker.

The speaker is what the neighborhood calls “The Billy Beeper”… It’s attached to a box on top of the TV in the living room with a button, and pressing that button makes a warbling car-alarm-esque noise come out of that speaker that can be heard for several blocks.

That’s my cue that my parents want me to come home…

It’s my electronic leash, and unless I’ve told my parents I’m going to a specific location out of range, like the library or one of the arcades, I’m expected to show up when the Billy Beeper goes off.

My room is in the basement; the north-west corner. The rest of the basement is taken up with the stairs, the laundry room, a storage room, and my father’s radio room which occupies half of the basement. My room has a black and white checkerboard tile floor and my mom painted it up with these cool 70’s style brown / orange / yellow stripes that are reminiscent of 70’s era Sci-Fi shows. Kinda like this:

Longmont is pretty rural, so the big news this year is that the town will start work on an overpass at Pratt and Terry streets! This will prevent the town from being physically split in half every time a train comes through…

I’m in the 7th grade this year so it’s my first year at Northeast Jr. High…

It’s an okay school.

My next-door neighbor, Philip Pike, and I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons down in his basement for 4-ish years at this point. I’ve created an entire world for us to adventure in, along with Flinthorn Gamboge the Unicorn. Outside of D&D I’ve been spending a lot of time in the vacant field on the east side of Lashley on my metal-flake gold and white Schwinn Stingray Fastback – you know the one, with the big banana seat and gear lever mounted in the middle like a 70’s stick-shifter…

The the rest of the world has moved on to BMX bikes though, and my bike isn’t super reliable, so I wind up walking the mile or so back and forth to school most of the time. It’s a nice walk though, just north up Lashley to east Mountain View Ave. I also walk up there a lot to go to the Centennial community pool just east of the school.

The walk to school passes another friend’s place. He lives in this big barn on 5th and Lashley, which is also a truck repair place his family owns. The next stop on my walk is the shopping center at 9th and Lashley; there’s a 7-11 here with bins of penny candy and an arcade across the parking lot where I spend most of my lunch money.

The hot games this year are Defender, Donkey Kong, Galaga, and Tempest… I spend soooo much money on Tempest it’s not even funny.

Anyway, across the street to the north the huge Trend Homes plant was turned into a YMCA a few years back. And just past that is the Longmont Rec Center where the yearly battle of the bands happens.

Just after the rec center I turn off on the sidewalk and cut across the park to get to school. Clark Centennial Park is pretty huge and it’s nice – but I don’t really spend any time here… I’m far too preoccupied with my roleplaying games and computers to spend time hanging out in a park.

Speaking of games, I’m in the games club which is run by my earth science teacher — Mr. Schultz.

He’s pretty awesome; he has a life-size dud bomb that’s painted fire engine red in the classroom, and he once took all of the folding tables he could find and created a cave system full of back-lit overhead projector images of minerals we had to crawl through. He also does this yearly event where we get people to sponsor us to play games for 24 hours straight at school… It’s a lock-in thing where we get pizza and soda to play games non-stop from Friday at 5pm to Saturday at 5pm – and people donate money to the school for it. Hehe.

I’m a huge music freak and on top of being a fan of all of my father’s ‘dad rock’ like Jethro Tull, Santana, Cream, The Beatles, and other 60’s era staples, I’m also into modern rock like the just released Rush “Moving Pictures” album, and tunes from Styx, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, and others. I’m also starting to get into New Wave and have albums from bands like The Police and Devo.

Computers are a big deal as well. My father has had an OSI-Challenger and a TRS-80 model 1 for a couple of years now, and while he’s not one for sharing I do get to use them on occasion. I’ve also been messing with the Commodore PET machines at school since since I started here… There are four of them in a room and no one does anything with them, leading me to guess that A) even the teachers don’t have any idea how to use them and B) that means it’s okay for me to monkey with them.

With relentless pestering – and no doubt to keep me away from his machines – my father finally caved and bought me a Sinclair ZX-81 for my birthday in February this year, and that really gets me started on both hardware and software systems. I also become even more of a social outcast by adding ‘geek’ to my already well-worn ‘nerd’ moniker from being a gamer – but that’s fine. I find that I have a legitimate talent with computers and by the end of my first month I’ve written my first text adventure based on my D&D world.

Other than that, the big movie this year was “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, which was fun and had some really great special effects. Outside of the staples like “The Muppet Show” and “Mork and Mindy”, I’ve lately gotten into “The Greatest American Hero” on TV… I don’t really watch a lot of TV, but any good sci-fi or fantasy thing is guaranteed to catch my attention – if only briefly.

Oh, and the Space Shuttle launch was cool. My dad works at Beech Aircraft, which is now a division of Raytheon, and he works on some of the cryogenic systems used in the fuel cells. So, the house is full of weird little bits of Shuttle tech or memorabilia. My dad is also kind of a workaholic, so several of my birthdays have been spent at Beech in and around the test and engineering facility. This is where I got my first real taste of computing power too, because I’d get to spend time with some incredibly expensive HP series 200 machines. This year’s model is the 9826, which uses a bleeding edge 68000 CPU and 2MB of ram and makes the z80 in my Sinclair seem like an abacus…

Otherwise, this year is pretty boring. I’m really looking forward to 1984, because I’ll be in high school and I hear Skyline H.S. has Apple II machines and classes that use them!

That’s me, the last kid on the page.