it’s been 110 degrees and more in
Fresno, why not go to
Las Vegas, where it’s hot all year!
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.
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).
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.
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.
the basic Commodores were designed to read and write data using only
a floppy disk, they now can work with hard drives, flash 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
enjoyed a good lunch at Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner, a few miles east of
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.
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.
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).
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.
directions I had received to the Plaza were vague, and I could not
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.
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
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
Palace, load up the equipment from the room, and return to the Plaza.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 was 11 a.m., but there were people who needed to get in and set up.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Estel, July 2006