Golden Age of Chat

Yeah I remember those times. For me it started around Christmas of 96 (or was it 95?). Ant’ny was over with his family and I was showing him my new Compaq Presario. Probably had 16 meg of ram and a 1 gig hard-drive on that baby, a minitower attached to a 14 inch monitor that was deeper than it was wide and weighed 40 pounds. But anyway, we fired up one of those promotional cd-roms that came with the computer. It was for an internet/chat service. Back then there was Prodigy, Compuserve, and America Online.

The dialup-modem made it’s strange haunting sounds and we were connected! Rip-roarin’ at 28.8! We selected a chat name, something like NRA911, we were just makin’ up something crazy, for laughs. Back then ya see, you’d enter into a chatroom with about 20 other people all “chatting” at once, just typing away. Sure it was sometimes hard to follow, but back then most people weren’t fast typers — plus a lot of folks just sat there watching the conversations scroll by.

Not me though. I was active, pickin’ out my prey and teasin’ the heck outta them. In a good-natured way of course. I’d break the ice and get the room all whipped up, boy you shoulda seen me go! Nothin’ like my quiet, reserved everyday self. Eventually the room would settle and I’d select someone to talk with privately. I loved those deep one-on-one conversations. But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Long-story short is that me an Ant’ny had a great time that night and I was hooked.

You had to pay for so many minutes of usage back then, it wasn’t until a bit later that they offered unlimited hours. I went through free-trial-disk after free-trial-disk. I’d be on all night chattin’ up a storm. Imagine it, I rarely had anyone to talk to in meat-space, always just watched TV or sat quietly in class. But now, there was a constant flow of people all itchin’ to chat. Sure there’d be quiet nights with minimal fishies to catch, but eventually someone interesting would show up.

Heck, it was even in a chatroom where I met my best friend twenty years ago. I was busy tearin’ it up in a Lobby on AOL and something about her style caught my attention — she was different. I singled her out and sent her an instant-message. I think I was vexed in some way, perhaps it was a bit of that hard-to-get stuff. Well I added her to my buddy-list and hoped to see her whenever she was signed-on again.

Soon after that we started exchanging emails. Deep thoughtful letters. Again, somewhat different than what I was used to. From then on we’d skip the public chats and just chat with each other. That went on for awhile. These were the olden days we’re talking about, not many people had digitized photos of themselves — you had to literally mail stuff or know someone with a scanner. But the only picture she ever mailed me was one of her 6-year-old self holding a tin of cookies at Christmas time.

We eventually moved over to phone calls, which were “long distance” and kind of expensive. We’d talk for hours and eventually she got in trouble with her mom for racking up big bills. My mom was happy I found a friend — heh. That’s how I laughed in chat by the way: heh. None of that “lol” stuff for me. Maybe a “haha” if it was really funny though. But anyway, it was 9 months until we finally met in person and I saw her for the first time. She non-coincidentally applied to a nearby college.

It was in the summer and she was taking some placement tests. I had a general idea of what she looked like and I knew what building to be in. Everyone didn’t have mobile-phones back then. The last time we talked was before she left her house the previous night. But lo and behold I spotted someone matching her description talking to her parents. She eventually made a solo trip to the restroom and I was in pursuit. “Michelle?!”, she turned around and it was her. Long black hair and racing-stripes on her jeans.

What a time. It was only a few minutes before her dad showed up wondering why she was taking so long. I left but I was on cloud 9. In a few weeks she’d be moving to be near me — oh and to go to college of course. But anyway, that was pretty much the end of chat for me. Oh sure, I went back a few times after that but never for too long. And eventually, high-traffic public chatrooms stopped being a thing. But at the exact time I needed them, they were there for me. Thanks chatrooms.