The great Amiga incident

For some reason, today I found myself remembering an incident from my youth–my father’s purchase of a computer for our household.

At that point I had limited computer experience, mostly in the school lab on already antiquated Apples. I remember making endless HyperCard stacks, spreadsheets, and dabbling about on some earlier incarnation of the internet, and I was wildly excited when my father proposed to buy a brand new computer all our own.

A friend of ours was an Amiga salesman, and one day we went over to his house so that he could demonstrate the marvels of the Commodore 64. First he showed us the word processing software, and then a crude music editor. At this point we were pretty into it, but then he brought out the final selling point of the system–the package of games which came with it. He loaded “Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom,” produced a pair of joysticks from somewhere, and invited us to sit and play a few levels.

We flung ourselves into the game with relish, and a few moments later sat back breathless and pleased in our seats. The graphics were incredible! It was just like being there, and the system seemed native to our hands.

Flushed with success, the salesman loaded another game, an auto racing simulator. (I can’t remember the name–I’m sure my father can.) The game was actually a lot like Grand Theft Auto, in that you were rocketing about trying to avoid police and knocking things over and having a generally good time. Inevitably, with my father and I speeding about the Commodore’s superhighways, we got into an accident. To our surprise and delight, in addition to the already impressive sound effects coming from the speakers, the keyboard started smoking and spitting sparks.

“This is brilliant,” my father said. “Does it do this every time?”

The salesman got a distinctly unhappy look in his face.

“Er…no…not really,” he said, as the keyboard actually caught fire and spewed black billows of smoke.

“We’ll take one,” my father announced proudly, and that very night we carted home a Commodore 64 all our very own, and set it up with pride in the spare room of the house in Caspar.

We had the Commodore all through my school years, and it actually only gave up the ghost quite recently. My father was devastated when he had to replace it, especially since of course none of his writing was convertible to any sort of system, Windows or Macintosh. And he argues to this day that the Amiga was simpler, less accident prone, and more pleasant to use than his new computer. (I am inclined to agree–when the Amiga malfunctioned, instead of a hostile blue screen of death, a message would pop up saying “guru meditation.”) I later acquired a laptop in high school, which I used for my own work, but the Amiga figured prominently throughout my childhood. My father and I both played games on it–in addition to the two above, there was a flight simulator which I remember being quite splendid, and of course Megaball, a game with which I was thoroughly obsessed. Even now sometimes I dream of Megaball. Even after I got the laptop, I would sometimes sneak back to the Amiga for a quick round of Megaball or flight simulation (I particularly liked trying to crash into the TransAmerica Pyramid in the San Francisco module, as well as flying under the Golden Gate Bridge).

I’m not sure what happened to the shell of the Amiga. I suspect my father has it sitting around his house somewhere. But I do have fond memories of it, which is more than I can say about any other piece of technology I have owned or attempted to control. While it had certain failures, like forcing you to boot everything from a disk (which also necessitated two disk drives if you wanted to save anything), it brought much joy and pride to my life, especially in later years when I remember the awesome special effects with the car game, which for some reason we never replicated.