Another July, another trip to Las Vegas for CommVEx, our annual show devoted to Commodore brand computers.
But first, a
brief note: This report will focus on the
backstage and off stage aspects of this event, and the human
interaction. For those interested in classic computers, the
demonstrations presented, and the more technical aspects of the
event, you can visit the 2012
Las Vegas Commodore Expo page.
You can read about the beginnings of this event and previous shows
by clicking on the various Las Vegas Expo links at
the bottom of this page. For
additional photos of previous events, go to the 2011
page and click on the links at the bottom for the desired year.
I had not planned to attend
this year, but CommVEx founder-director Robert Bernardo's usual right-hand man, Larry Anderson, had a
serious illness in his family and could not make it, so I became the new
right-hand man by default.
start my trips to Las Vegas as early as possible, and stop somewhere
for brunch, usually the Denny's in Tehachapi. This time I ate a
good breakfast at home, and just made short rest stops. This put me
into Las Vegas around 2 p.m., avoiding most of the traffic that
clogs I-15 on Friday afternoons. After checking in at the Las Vegas
Club hotel, I met up with Robert in the hallway. I advised him that I had not had lunch, and would be back
to help with the set-up after a quick visit to a nearby restaurant.
After an OK
lunch at the California Hotel, I returned to the meeting room, and
helped Robert empty his Ford Crown Victoria, which was crammed
from floorboards to roof with Commodore stuff.
By the time
we got everything unloaded, a number of
people had arrived and were setting up equipment for displays and
demonstrations. These were mostly regular attendees who like to get
together for a pre-CommVEx gathering, and stretch the event to all hours
of the night. We got a lot of equipment in place, and everything at
least sorted onto the appropriate tables.
there would be more work to be done later and in the morning, Robert finally reached
a point where he was ready to go to dinner. Everyone else had already
eaten, but by this time I was ready for some dessert, so I joined him at
the Golden Gate Casino for a sundae, while he had a chicken dinner.
We then returned to the
meeting room, but I soon left to try to get some sleep, hoping that I
would not be kept awake by the loud music blasting from Fremont Street,
as I had experienced last year. Fortunately, I was in the North Tower of
the hotel, a block away from the wild night life, and did not hear any
sounds from the street. (I did have to call security Saturday night, due
to a dog barking in the next room - something I have never experienced
in a hotel and never expected to.)
On Saturday morning
I arrived in the meeting room around 9 and set up my laptop and other things needed for my
duties as collector of admission fees, seller of raffle tickets, and
this year, seller of software for a Commodore dealer who had given Robert
two boxes of programs to sell. We had a number of major raffle prizes,
and I set up a box for each item, so that attendees
could put their
tickets in the container for the item they wanted to win. I also had a
spread sheet already created that lets me keep track of receipts and
maintains a list of names for door prize drawings.
People who have not kept track of what has happened in the world of Commodore the last 15 years often express amazement that anyone still uses
these "outdated" machines. But Commodore enthusiasts continue to create new software and hardware for
them, making them do things the original designers never dreamed possible.
For example, on Saturday, we watched a Commodore
PET 4032 from 1980 display a video film, using the machine's built-in character set. This is the equivalent of printing out a bunch of letters on paper in the shape of a Christmas
tree, but animated. Viewed from about ten feet away, the quality was similar to a security video.
Mike Hill, the presenter and creator of this program,
was two years old when the PET was first introduced.
We had the
best attendance since the first event, which had free admission and
was at a power company meeting room, and took in enough to pay for
this year's expenses and get a good start for next year. We also had
some of the more interesting presentations I've seen, so even though
I'm no longer a user of Commodore, I enjoyed the weekend
At the end of the Saturday
events, we made our usual trip to Main Street Station, which seems to
have the best buffet in downtown Las Vegas. I didn't keep track of who
all went, but it was a group of people who have been at most of the
expos I've attended, so we all know each other to a certain extent. We
ended up in two separate groups of about six each, and had a great
dinner accompanied by far-ranging topics of conversation.
As usual, CommVEx brought some fun and interesting happenings that weren't
on the schedule. Connor Krantz of Las Vegas first attended (along with
his dad, Jeff) when he was seven, and has
become a sort of unofficial mascot of the event. At age 13, he's recently started playing
guitar, and spent
Saturday at a rock concert, but
came on Sunday and did his usual fine job of drawing raffle tickets, as
well as winning a prize or two himself.
It's inevitable that some
raffle prizes will draw more interest than others. There was lots of
competition for the SX-64, a combination computer, disk drive and
monitor; and the 1581 drive that uses 3.5' floppies. Other items had only
two or three people trying for them. And a couple did not get any
interest - or at least not at first. One empty drawing box was for an
early Commodore product, a VIC-20
computer in near mint condition. Sensing an opportunity, ten-year old Vincent Mazzei pulled out $10 of his own money, bought a single ticket,
and dropped it into the empty VIC 20 raffle box. Since we were sticklers
for protocol, we then called on Connor to draw the winning ticket, which
not surprisingly had Vincent's name.
The event ended with a one-on-one competition for a $10 prize
between Connor and Vincent, playing the
"Decathlon." The various events require an ever-changing
combination of joystick and button pushing, including the grueling 1500-meter run, an over-long event that threatens to leave the player with
carpal tunnel from constant joystick operation. Connor ended up the
winner by a slight margin and made everyone there proud by splitting his
winnings with Vincent.
event was over and the room was empty of
all equipment, there were six of us ready to go out for the Sunday night
final dinner - Greg Alekel, Rik Magers and Steve Davison, who I dubbed
" the Portland Three," plus Tim Waite from Orange County, Robert Bernardo, and
myself. We walked across to the re-modeled Plaza Hotel, and checked a couple
of restaurants, finally settling on the Hash
House a Go Go. This proved to be a good choice, and we all recommend
this location. A couple of the guys ordered breakfast, which consisted
of one pancake - but what a pancake! As Greg texted his wife, it's
"as big as the spare tire on your Mazda." Indeed, these
pancakes were well over a foot in diameter, and were accompanied by
eggs, fruit and other goodies. I had a sandwich that included a huge
piece of chicken on inch-thick bread, with layers of cheese, tomatoes,
and onions. All the other dinners were equally huge, and most of us left
carrying take-out boxes.
"contract" specifies that my duties end on Sunday night,
so I got up when I was ready to on Monday, got packed up and checked
out, and headed home about 9:30. I had only a V-8 for breakfast,
planning to stop fairly soon. However, when I arrived at Primm at
the California-Nevada state line, I realized there was no place to
eat there except the casinos, so I got gas, ate a candy bar, and hit
the road again.
I stopped in
Barstow at Domingo's Mexican Restaurant, where I've eaten several
times. It's good, not great, but fine for "road
dining." Even with the lunch stop, I was making good time and
had visions of arriving home by 5 p.m. Alas, this was not to be.
Heading into Bakersfield on State Highway 58, there were lighted
signs warning of congestion on Highway 99. This is not unusual, so I
didn't give it a lot of thought, but it turned out there was CONGESTION
beyond anything I've ever experienced there.
getting on to 99 and nearly to the north end of town, I hit a
traffic jam, and spent an hour and twenty minutes covering the next
ten miles. There were two places where lanes ended, and people wait
till the last possible second to merge, creating a slowdown. Then
past these two bottlenecks there was an accident that involved a big
rig. Everything was off the road by the time I passed, and we were
back to normal speed, so the only thing I could see was that the
left rear corner of the trailer was smashed in. There was obviously
another vehicle involved, but I could either watch the road or look
at the disabled vehicles, and I made the smart choice.
made it home around 7 p.m., triumphantly carrying a bottle of wine
that I had won in the door prize drawing. I considered winding down
by emptying the bottle, but again made the wise decision to save it
for an appropriate meal.
Estel, August 2012