Dick diligently writing the above report

Las Vegas Expo 2006
  
Links to Photos, related links, and More Travel Reports at bottom
  

Since it’s been 110 degrees and more in Fresno, why not go to Las Vegas, where it’s hot all year!

So I’m sitting in the Nevada Palace Hotel, several miles off the strip, where there are still many opportunities to get rid of your money, studiously avoiding the casino. I’m here instead to attend the 2nd Annual Las Vegas Commodore Exposition (CommVEx), having (perhaps foolishly) volunteered to come and help out and see what such an event is like.

A bit of background info is necessary here. Commodore, with the C64 and C128, was the best selling computer brand ever, offering a very versatile machine for a reasonable price back in the 1980s. The company moved on to other, much less successful models, and eventually went out of business in April 1994 (the name has been resurrected by another company, but they do not plan to produce anything that would resemble Commodore’s flagship models).

I acquired my first computer, a Commodore 64, in the fall of 1987, when Sears had them on sale for $199. I was interested in word processing and data base work, and was able to do the basic things I wanted to do. However, I soon realized I needed more help than I could get from the often vague manuals. In the spring of 1988, I learned about the Fresno Commodore User Group/Sixty Fourum from my colleague at work, Don McClellan, who also had a C64.

I joined the club, and over the years, served as newsletter editor, vice president, president, and finally treasurer. As the C64 and C128 fell out of favor and Windows-based PCs began to dominate, our membership declined, but there were always a few diehards to keep it going, and a few clever programmers and hardware experts to make the computer do things its designers never thought it could do.

While the basic Commodores were designed to read and write data using only a floppy disk, they now can work with hard drives, Zip drives and CD-ROMs. The very slow processing speed was overcome in the late 90s with an accelerator unit that multiplied operating speed by a factor of 20. You can access the Internet and get Email, although the graphics on web pages can’t be seen.

Even though I switched to a Windows PC, and rarely use my Commodore, I remained in the club, partly for social reasons and partly just to see how far it would go and how long it would last. Meanwhile, a number of years ago our club was blessed with a new member named Robert Bernardo, who is now unofficially president for life and the main reason the club still exists.

In its heyday, Commodore was the centerpiece at big computer shows in Las Vegas, Toronto and other locations, but for the last decade, Commodore shows have been small one or two day affairs, usually sponsored by local user groups. Robert attended several in the mid-west, and about three years ago began discussing the possibility of a west coast show with the members of a club in Las Vegas. Thus was born CommVEx 1, with about 50 people attending last year. This was enough to justify a second show this year, and I decided that I ought to attend at least one Commodore show in my lifetime.

 
I left Fresno on Friday, July 28 at 6:15 a.m., and headed down Highway 99 and over the Tehachapi mountains on Highway 58, a route I seem to take several times a year. This time when I reached Barstow, I got on Interstate 15 and headed northeast to Sin City. The drive was long but uneventful. No trailer this time, so I was able to take the Honda, and am getting double my usual mileage on long trips, and traveling 15 to 20 MPH faster.

I enjoyed a good lunch at Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner, a few miles east of Barstow at the Ghost Town Road exit. I recommend this place for the food, and also for the 50s décor and gift shop full of useless but cool stuff, including the essential Elvis and James Dean items.

I got to the edge of Vegas about 2:30, but spent I don’t know how long in 5 to 20 MPH traffic on the Interstate until I reached my exit. Here traffic moved at normal city speeds, 30 to 45 MPH, and I followed Tropicana east to Boulder Highway, where the hotel is located.

Robert had already registered, so I picked up my key and brought in my luggage. I knew immediately I was in the right room – one bed, half the dresser, and much of the floor were completely covered with Commodore computers, keyboards, software, joysticks, and other odds and ends (when we later loaded it, it took two trips with the hotel luggage cart filled to overflowing).

I set off for the Plaza Hotel & Casino downtown, the site of the expo, to see if Robert was there setting up. This proved to be more of an adventure that I had imagined. I had called the Plaza earlier to try and find out if he was there, but my call was transferred, then ended without reaching anyone.

The directions I had received to the Plaza were vague, and I could not find Main Street or the Plaza. I phoned the hotel and got directions, but a dead-end street led me off in the wrong direction, and I found myself back where I had exited from the I-515 freeway. I called the Plaza again, and this time got clear directions that led me there in minutes, after a half hour of frustration.

Hotels in Nevada don’t have the registration desk in plain sight; they want you to pass through the casino first, so I had to ask directions, then head for the third floor to register. They did not know anything about our meeting and referred me to the bell captain, back on the first floor. After several false stops (and many yards of walking through the casino), I found the right place. The second person I talked to knew who to refer me to, and phoned the convention department. The lady I talked to knew immediately who and what I was talking about and gave me directions to our conference room.

I went out and moved my illegally parked car to the hotel lot, and headed back to the third floor, where I found Larry Anderson of San Andreas CA and a dozen or so Commodore monitors. Robert soon returned from an errand, and we discussed our next move, which was to return to the Nevada Palace, load up the equipment from the room, and return to the Plaza.

Along with a badly needed rest and snack break for Robert, this proved to be a two-hour task, which included loading the equipment, going to Office Depot for some markers, paper to use for signs, and push pins; and a useless journey to buy snacks for the meeting at Smart and Final, which had closed just ten minutes before our arrival.

We got back to the Plaza where we found Larry, now quite hungry and ready to go eat, along with a number of folks who had arrived from around the country and stopped in to see what was happening in the room. We also found that Larry thought we would pick up his wife from their room at the Palace and bring her with us to go eat, but neither Robert nor I had picked up on this information.

We decided to bring in the equipment, and with a bigger cart (and a bigger bellman), we brought all but a few hand carried items in one trip. But there was a delay in starting this job…Robert had just received a DVD which contained a brief talk by three of the engineers who designed the Commodore way back when. The fanatics in the room wanted to see it immediately, so they spent 15 or 20 minutes trying to get it to play in a laptop. This proved unsuccessful, so they decided they could wait till the official presentation the next day, when we would have a DVD player and a large screen TV.

We finally got the equipment brought in and unloaded, then we starting matching up computers with monitors with keyboards, plus rounding up all the required cables. We got four or five units ready to go, by which time everyone was exhausted and ready to leave. We closed up the room and headed back to the Palace about 11:15.

Larry decided that he and his wife would eat there, while Robert and I went up the road a couple of blocks to Sam’s Town. By the time we ordered, it was after midnight, and by the time we got back to the room, and got ready for bed, it was after 2 a.m. (My usual bedtime is 11 or so, and I rarely get up before 8, so it was a very long day for me).

 

Robert asked Larry to call him at 7 a.m. Saturday, so the phone rang way too early for me. Robert had to buy candy (M&Ms that were to be put in little boxes as a gift to each attendee), and a few other items that we’d discovered we’d forgotten or just didn’t have, so he wanted to be out the door by 8, and get to the Plaza by 9. The official opening time was11 a.m., but there were people who needed to get in and set up.

I stayed in bed for a while, but could not get back to sleep, so after Robert left, I went out and jumped in the swimming pool to wake up. I dried off and got ready to go, deciding to stop at Denny’s for a small breakfast. I was going to collect admission at the door, and there are no lunch breaks, so I wanted to have something to eat in case I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch.

I got to the Plaza a little before ten, and found more Commodore fans had arrived and were talking with each other, setting up equipment, or wandering around looking at the various items on display. While the standard Commodore 64 and 128 sold in the millions, events like CommVEx usually bring in some lesser known equipment – prototypes, products that were made for sale in other countries, and other interesting stuff. One example is a machine made for use in Europe that competed with the early Nintendo machines. It is nothing more than a C64 with no keyboard and no disk drive connection, just ports for cartridges and joysticks. It is just as usable for game cartridges as any standard Commodore, but it’s an oddity to most people.

I was in charge of money – collecting admission and selling raffle tickets. Robert had put up a substantial chunk of his own funds to rent the room. By the start of the show he had recovered all but about $300 through donations from several computer clubs and on-line sales of raffle tickets. However, he was somewhat worried about covering the remaining costs, since it had been very close last year, and turnout tends to fall off after the first occasion of events like this.

We had a little over 25 people attending (at $10 each), and did well with raffle sales, and by mid-afternoon we had covered expenses with some to put toward the next event.

The program was fairly informal, but we had demonstrations throughout the day, including a couple of different discussions of ways to transfer files from Commodore computers to Windows-based PCs.

We also had door prize drawings, tickets for this being included with the cost of admission; and one drawing for the four major raffle prizes, for which tickets were sold separately (the rest of the big prize drawings would be held on Sunday). In between these activities people played with different programs, discussed the joys of Commodore, and generally enjoyed the company of others who still think there is life in this so-called obsolete machine.

 

July 30: Needless to say, there are a number of other events going on in the hotel. Around the corner from us is Fantasy Pinball, which goes 24 hours a day, and has several dozen pinball machines set up, as well as related merchandise. Also nearby is a roller derby convention, so we’ve enjoyed the sight of roller girls in their costumes – fishnet stocking, heavy tattoos, punk and Goth styles, etc. None of them are old enough to remember when roller derby was a staple of prime time TV. The referees are men who wear skirts.

When our show ended Saturday, about a dozen people decided to go to a roller derby competition at another location. I thought this might be interesting for ten to fifteen minutes, so I went back to the Palace with Larry, and along with his wife, had the buffet dinner at the nearby Sam’s Town.

I got to bed at a reasonable hour, but Robert did not get in until his usual 2 a.m., having gone to the roller derby, then to Henderson, about ten miles away, to take care of his Email at a Kinko's.

We got up at a civilized hour this morning, and got into the Plaza room about 11:30. The majority of people who were here yesterday returned, along with one gentleman who was making his first appearance. Right now I’m guarding the door (a very easy job today), working on this report, and trying to stay awake.

Earlier today I did a demonstration of a program called VICE, which is a Commodore emulator that runs on a Windows PC. Emulators are programs that allow you to run programs made for older computers on a PC, and VICE emulates not only the Commodore 64, but also the 128, PET, VIC20, and Plus4. The PET was Commodore's first computer; the others were all less successful models before and during the C64's heyday.

We had people attending from Texas, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Colorado, Arizona, Illinois, California, and of course, here in Las Vegas. There was also a gentleman here from Denmark, who’s been enjoying the Commodore since he was a kid. One of our special guests was 7-year old Connor who was here with his father Jeff. Connor charmed everyone, ate as many M&Ms as we’d let him, and found some big kids to play with in multi-player games.

It’s now 5 p.m.; we’re scheduled to go till 7 but I’m hoping people start leaving early, since I am very tired, and we have to take everything out of the room tonight.

This will probably conclude my report, since there shouldn’t be much to say about packing up, getting through the final night, and driving home on Monday. We’re spending tonight here at the Plaza, so at least we don’t have to drive across town.


Epilogue
: Some people associate Las Vegas with gambling, and there are indeed many opportunities to risk your money. I’m not a very big fan of gambling, having found so many ways to get rid of money without going near a casino. However, I usually put a few dollars in the slot machines, and almost always help finance other people’s winnings. Saturday I had to go down to the main floor to get my parking ticket validated, so I decided to play two dollars on the quarter slots. To my surprise, I won about $18 on my second roll. I played about two or three more rolls, then cashed out.

On Sunday in a fit of madness, I put a $20 bill into a machine, vowing to cash out when it got down to $10. I won a few small jackpots, just enough to keep me within a dollar of my original investment, then started to go down roll after roll. I alternated between one-credit and two-credit rolls, and when I was down to a little over $15, hit a jackpot on a two-credit roll. The machine began dinging and ringing up credits faster than I could count, and when it stopped the next button I pushed was the “Cash Out” button. When my ticket printed, it read $105.25.

With a lucky streak like this, I could not resist one more fling, so after dinner Sunday night I put a $5 bill into another two-credit quarter machine. This was soon gone, and I was going to leave, but decided to try a different machine. With another $5 bill, I soon hit a jackpot that doubled my $10 investment, so off I went to the room, hoping to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for loading equipment and the long drive home on Monday.

--Dick Estel, July 2006

Photos
(Photos open in a new window)

Paul Armstrong, Robert Bernardo, Glenn Holmer Connor & Jeff Krantz Dick diligently writing the above report

Paul Armstrong, Robert Bernardo, Glenn Holmer

Connor & Jeff Krantz

Dick diligently writing the above report

Yul Haasmann, Larry Anderson, ?, Dick Estel Rollergirls!

Robert & Jeri seeking virtual reality

Buy the "Rollergirls" Soundtrack here
For many more photos, go to the official CommVEx photo page

Related Links

Bo Zimmerman Glenn Holmer Larry Anderson
Las Vegas FCUG CommVEx 2005
  

Connor & Jeff Krantz

 
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