Vagneur: Better than Dixie cups
November 9, 2015
There are more than a few trails in the West, but one that I find uniquely interesting is the trail of technology. Back in the 1970s, during my years on the Aspen Mountain ski patrol, we had three hand-held mobile radios — one each for the chief and his assistant, the third passed around the crew depending on need. On any given day, our entire radio call log consisted of maybe four or five calls all day.
Our neighbors at Snowmass Mountain apparently had a lot of radios (and in all fairness, more patrollers and more terrain) because they had four or five radio calls per hour. We used to joke with them that if they knew what the objective was first thing in the morning, they wouldn't have to drive the rest of us crazy with their constant double-checking all throughout the day. Today, a radio is standard issue for every patroller on Aspen Mountain.
Fast forward a bit and my first post-college, full-time employer, Aspen Trash Service Inc., bought an in-house computer about the same time as the city of Aspen and Cap's Auto Supply. The Big Three, as we liked to call ourselves, for at the time, these machines were probably the most sophisticated ever to land in Aspen, and occasionally we all shared computer time with each other due to various reasons and problems. These were state-of-the-art, Data General computers that stood about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. We used huge, interchangeable discs about 12 inches in diameter that we dropped into large drawers on the front of the CPUs, and should we be forced to use another's computer for billing or other important matters, we managed to keep every confidential detail private because that was in the days before identify theft and other dastardly deeds committed by lowlife people with no sense of honor.
In the '80s, before cellphones, I had a permanent phone installed in my truck that sent and received signals either off the top of Aspen Mountain or Sunlight Mountain, and which was not portable. What a great advantage, being able to call the office from anywhere in the valley, and just think, irate customers could find me almost anywhere, too, if they could wrest the number from the folks in the office. And I learned rather quickly to be selective about which women in my life received the number.
Sometime around 1990, Motorola came out with what they called the "bag phone," a portable phone contained in a large, black plastic carrier, which if strapped over the shoulder looked alarmingly like a "man bag," which I don't think had been invented yet. "Hey, cowboy, where you going with the purse?"
Thankfully short-lived, they were, at best, sinister, for they really looked like something 007 or maybe his nemeses might have used for detonating bombs or some such thing.
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The early cellphones, if you recall, were rather cumbersome, and I carried one religiously for it really was crucial to the success of my business. Being very active, I can't tell you how many of them I lost, always replenished by insurance until the day my carrier refused to replace any more phones. Their loss, if you ask me.
When volunteering for the U.S. Forest Service in the 2000s, the Forest Service demanded I carry a hand-held radio "for safety reasons." If I got hurt alone in the mountains, I could call for help or, if needed, for reinforcements. The odd part was that although I could hear all of the Forest Service transmissions from Aspen to Parachute, limited coverage wouldn't allow me to call out on the radio. However, one channel on the radio allowed access to the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, which amazingly was the only agency I could contact.
One day in the area of Kobey Park, I came upon a small forest fire just starting to really expand after some careless hunters had struck camp and failed to put out their campfire. Immediately, I tried the Forest Service on my radio, without luck, and then called the Sheriff's Office to let them know of the impending problem. I told them I'd call back if I needed assistance. Propitiously, I had a brand-new shovel strapped to my pack horse and managed, after close to an hour of frantic shoveling, to put the fire out.
Feeling like a hero, I radioed the Sheriff's Office and told them the event was under control and to please inform the Forest Service, thank you. The next day, I got an ass-chewing from the Forest Service and Sheriff Bob, explaining that I should only radio the Sheriff's Office for emergencies. OK, explain this again.
I'd like to end this column, but now I'm looking at the new iPhone 6s. Help me.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.