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Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

It was a conversation with a lawyer that got me going, not the substance of what she said, for I was just a conduit of information, but when she asked for my fax number, I started to take exception to the process. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t used a fax machine for years, and don’t intend to, not ever again. I mean, those things are almost as antiquated as typewriters.

Let’s face it, the lady knows who I am and seemed truly surprised that I would prefer getting an email, the implication being that an old bastard like myself couldn’t possibly understand the intricacies of the Internet. And, in all fairness, that may be partially correct.

The first modern computer I ever messed with was some totally anonymous beast at the University of Colorado which, when I didn’t write my programs correctly, placed a stack of paper in my reception box about four inches high. If the programs were error-free, the computer reply was two pages long. I wasted a lot of paper in those college days.



In 1978, Aspen Trash Service Inc. glided into the future and purchased a mainframe, a Data General model similar to what the city of Aspen and Cap’s Auto were also buying. This made us a triumvirate of fearless musketeers, poised on the cutting edge of computer history in Aspen. We kept our information on interchangeable discs that were about a foot in diameter, which for obvious reasons, was quite propitious. Our discs were fully functional with any one of the other two computers, in case of malfunction. It happened a time or two.

The salesman installed the huge computer, showed me how to sign on, professed how much I was going to love it, and left. I learned the hard way (pun intended) by trial and error, and by the time Larry Johnson, the programmer, showed up to lead me through the process, I had transferred all of our account information (about 3,000 accounts) over to the computer.




In 1983, Fortune 500 company Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. (BFI) bought us out and in the usual big-deal way, required us to use its mainframe, located in Houston. They flew me down to pick up some insider knowledge, but the president, John Drury, and I spent too much time with our boots under bar stools and the learning curve back at the office was rather steep. While in Houston, I scored the secret phone numbers to the computer room so when I whiled away after-hours in my Aspen office and encountered trouble, immediate help was forthcoming.

Computer programmers are not bashful people, no matter the hype, and every time I’d call down there (about six times in all), some breathless guy would want to know if I’d get Hunter Thompson’s autograph for him. Could this be the same Hunter Thompson, our neighbor, who occasionally couldn’t get his car started without help, had trouble uttering complete sentences, and who, at least in our neighborhood, was known mostly for screwing over the Hell’s Angels, the very same guys who had propped up one of his books?

I made them all the same offer – stay at our Woody Creek ranch house and you’ll likely get a chance to meet him in person. What the hell that had to do with computers, I’ll never know, but it all sort of fit together in a Kafkaesque blur that is still dazzlingly brilliant.

BFI sent me around for a while, conducting individual tutorials for those having trouble getting a grasp on the philosophy of computers, sometimes even for those who had trouble computing. I’ll admit, I had a bit of trouble switching over to personal computers, steeped in complexity such as I was, but it all eventually came together.

So, seriously, if you want to send me a fax, email it.


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