03 July 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


Happy Birthday, HP9825A Photo
United States of America

I've told this story many times, but never committed it to blog.  And today would be, if it were the 4th of July (for which there will be no blog), instead of the 3rd, for which this is it, the 30th anniversary of this story, or close to it.  The story involves two cars a Checker and a Mercedes and a photograph.  Here's the photo:

Hewlett Packard 9825A-Wallet photo - "This was taken last summer"Marvel at its quality.  This little snapshot has spent 30 years in a succession of wallets, all mine, all carried every day.  Imagine what you would look like after such a long strange trip.

The HP9825A was my first real computer.  Although I had an HP9810A in 1970, it didn't have a "language."  The 9825A used "hpl," in which one could actually write statements in compact ways, and have multiple statements per line.  I miss the language, and I miss the computer.  It was lacking certain features, such as a display that would show more than one line.  For this I compensated with a terminal display kit (CRT not included,) purchased from New York City's first computer store at Polk's Hobby Shop, Stan Veit, proprietor.  A story for another day.

Today's story is about a car accident.  By calling it an accident I've already overdramatized this event.  It would hardly have been considered an accident anywhere, and in New York City, where even legitimate fenderbenders are met with a shrug and/or a curse, this would have been ignored.  Were it not for Participant B, a gentleman of the Japanese persuasion, who was driving his friend's clean, shiny, expensive Mercedes.  (Participant A - this writer - was driving an old Checker.  Think large yellow taxicab and you'll be correct, except it was grey and had no meter or passengers or jump seats.)

What happened?  It was a blur of confusion!  I was at the curb lane, making a left turn.  That meant I had to go straight forward a bit before turning left.  He was parallel to me, also making a left turn, and to accomplish same he would have to cut across my bow, so to speak, which is what he did.  Ordinarily I would say "his fault" but he might well have assumed that my car was parked and so wasn't going to lurch into the intersection.  He would, in this case, have been half right.  I was parked, but not any more.  We collided with each other at perhaps as much as a tenth of a mile per hour.  There were no injuries!  The Checker had no damage.  Or if it did, it was indistinguishable from the pits, crinkles, dents, scratches, blotches, and the all-subsuming dings to which NYC cars are heir.  The Mercedes was another story.  It had sustained a true dent.  It was easily a centimetre in diameter, perhaps a millimetre deep, and, if you looked closely, you might have seen a genuine scratch in its geometric center. 

Not only was it not certain whose fault this accident was, it wasn't even certain who hit whom.  More to the point, it didn't matter, since this event would have rated just a shoulder-shrug even if the participants had been a cabbie going off duty and a commuter trying to get into the Lincoln Tunnel after an hour wait.  After scrutinizing the aftermath of this collision I was unlimbering my shoulders for the dismissive shrug when the other driver, exhibiting consternation, asserted that he would prefer to wait for the police. 

Overlong as this is becoming, you will probably remember that this was a Japanese gentleman.  He had little reason to Remember the 4th of July.  I, who was on my way to Jeff's 4th of July BBQ and had every reason to remember it, and was a bit nonplussed by his request.  Why?  Because I knew it would be a long wait indeed.  Why?  Because the police, in the late afternoon on a hot 4th of July, are all at home in the Boroughs.  What are they doing?  They are BBQing at their own parties, and preparing to render safe the illegal fireworks they have thoughtfully confiscated from the neighborhood kids earlier that day and week.  I don't imagine I need to explain the procedure.  The number of police eager to "investigate" this "accident" could be numbered in the single digits, and that would be because they were on a punishment detail in the Bronx.  Nonetheless, my accident buddy was within his rights and we begin exchanging the usual license and insurance information.

During this exchange, he explained how distressed he was because it was a friend's car, and how he was returning to Japan tomorrow.  At this point whatever minimal tension I was experiencing departed.  Not only was there nothing that could be considered an accident, the only person who cared was going to be half a world away before anyone found out.  My inner Freberg emerged. 

Wallet out, scrabbling among my driving documents, I spied my photograph of the HP9825A.  "Look!  Here's a picture of my computer!  This was taken last summer..."

"Ah!  Very nice.  You have computer!  They will be very important, you know!"  In fact, his entire demeanor changed.  I was no longer an American thug driving a disreputable vehicle, I was now a partner in a brave new future.  Either that, or maybe he finally realized that he had a long, long, wait for a policeman.  In any event, we concluded our document exchange and went our respective ways, mine being to a delightful BBQ in the 'burbs and his, I'm assuming, to apologize to his friend for the ding, hopefully in a way that required no sharp objects.  Needless to say, that was the conclusion of this minor interlude.

It all turned out well.  In fact, I enjoyed the suburban BBQ so much that when Jeff moved away and I myself moved to the 'burbs I decided to carry on the tradition.  Which is why, while you are reading this blog, I'm most likely carrying cases of beverages, adult and otherwise, to the refrigerators and ice buckets various.  And, since only a tiny handful of friends read this, you, most likely, are checking the weather and hoping it will be clement for tomorrow's festivities for which, of course, you RSVPed.  Clement or otherwise, attending or otherwise, Happy Independence Day!

Richard Factor