[vcf-midatlantic] Nice story about getting into computers in the 80s

jsalzman at gmail.com jsalzman at gmail.com
Sun May 30 03:09:40 UTC 2021

OK. Time to throw my story into this ring...

My first computer came as a surprise. When I was 15 years old, my parents
surprised me with the notion that they wanted to get a home computer for me
(or was it for the household?) Na... it was for me. 😎

I really only had operating experience with Radio Shack computers at the
time because they were at the local mall. On most mall trips, when I ran
out of quarters playing video games at the arcade, I went to Radio Shack to
play with their computers until the manager kicked me out. So it was
obvious to go to Radio Shack and look at their computers.

As a snotty teenager, Radio Shack employees had little patience for those
who came into the store to poke around on the computer systems on display
and then not buy anything. However, when you bring your parents along, and
they have blank checks they are prepared to write, the employees suddenly
grovel over any whim you might have about a computer. Of course, the TRS-80
Model III and 4 were off the list due to their hefty price tags. So, the
only other option was the Color Computer. This was 1981, before the CoCo 2
came around.

So there I was, in temporary command of a mercedes grey Color Computer,
with the employee hawking over me, making sure I understood everything
about the system in order to be happy with what it had to offer. It was
$499.00, and it came with nothing else. The cassette was extra. Software on
cassette and cartridge was $29.99, $39.99, and up. It had 4K of RAM and
that funky flashing cursor that traveled on a 32x16 display.

The price kind of put my parents off. It was still a contender as an
option, but they wanted to look around to be sure they were going to be
getting a good deal. I wasn't aware of any other places to buy a computer.
We did not have a Toys R Us in the area to see the Atari computers. There
was a local department store called Mailman's that stocked the Atari, but I
already knew they cost more than the Color Computer. My parents were the
ones who found about and knew of a local dedicated computer shop called
Computers Unlimited. So, we took a trip to that place.

Remember, it is 1981, and I knew little about the computer industry, much
less the consumer market.

When we walked into Computers Unlimited, we saw quite a number of Apple II
computers. They were a licensed Apple dealer. They were also a licensed
Commodore dealer. There were a few PET computers on display. PET computers
were unknown to me at the time.

I played around with some of the Apple II computers while my parents talked
with the salesperson about the various costs and configurations of the
Apple line. After a while, my parents asked the salesperson if there was
anything else that wasn't so expensive.

Now you know, there is a time in everyone's life where something hits your
senses just right that you swear you see a glowing light and hear angels
singing. This was my time. In what could be perceived as a slo-mo film
sequence, we all watched as the salesperson pointed his entire arm to a
display that was on the other side of the room. The first thing I saw was a
poster for a Commodore branded computer called the VIC-20.

Well... that poster actually GLOWED in my eyes, and I could hear angels
singing, because it called to me with its auspicious statement of a home
computer that had 5K of RAM (25% more than the Color Computer had), full
color display, and a price tag of only $399!

Before the salesperson could even put his arm down, I was off in a dash and
standing in front of the display model. I started working the keyboard,
making it display the quintessential PRINT "HELLO" GOTO 10 program code. I
found it to be far easier to use than the Color Computer, as I was easily
able to correct my programming mistakes simply by moving the cursor around
the screen and correcting the errors on the spot. Full screen interactive
editing is what they called it. I couldn't do that on the Color Computer. I
had to either re-type the entire line on the latter, or use an EDIT
command. Too cumbersome...

I was hooked! I had so much fun with the VIC-20 at that display. The screen
size was weird at 22x23, but I could live with it. I was entertained with
the notion that I could change text color on demand using the CTRL key, and
I could make primitive graphics using the C= and SHIFT keys in association
with the character keys on the keyboard. This was the one! There was no
need to look further, nor go back to Radio Shack.

So my parents bought me the VIC-20, a PET style C2N cassette recorder, a
couple games on cassette (RACEWAY and VIC-21 Blackjack), a home finance
program, and an issue of Transactor magazine, so I'd have some programs I
could type in. I still own all of these items today.

This was in October 1981. Needless to say, I spent the next few weeks
indoors, and hardly played with my friends. I was too obsessed with having
a home computer of my own, and seeing what all I could do with it. I
learned a lot with that simple computer, which eventually led me into a
career of computer programming.

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