When it comes to the Internet, I was what you might call an early adopter.
Back in the Wild West days of the Internet, when you actually had to dial up to your provider with a modem, there were lots and lots of choices for ISPs. These days you more or less have Comcast or Verizon, but back then you could literally just open the phone book and pick a new company.
When I finally got tired of pretending to cancel AOL unless they offered me “50 more hours for free!”, I did exactly that and found a new ISP. In order to sign up for service, I had to drive to their office and pick up an installation disk (and I mean disk, not CD). I wrote down the address and hopped in the car.
When I got to the place, I thought maybe I had written down the wrong address. I drove around the block a few times, but the address clearly pointed to a chinese restaurant. This was a freestanding building, not a strip mall or anything, and there really wasn’t anything else around that could possibly be an Internet provider. Finally, I parked and walked in.
I approached the hostess. “Hi, I, uh, wanted to sign up for the Internet?” I asked, feeling ridiculous. “You have to go around back,” she said, “Knock.”
“Of course!” I thought, gratified that she wasn’t looking at me funny. “You can’t sign up for Internet at a Chinese restaurant; that would be crazy! There must be an office building around back.” But when I got around back there was just a plain, windowless, steel door next to a dumpster. I knocked.
This was the door to the kitchen, and a chef opened it up. I mean a full on chef, with a white apron covered in food stains. “You want Internet?” he asked me. You better believe I wanted his dirty, back-alley Internet.
It did not, unfortunately, come with a side of fried rice, nor did he give me the access numbers inside of a fortune cookie. I filled out a paper with my desired username (an actual piece of paper, your average back door Internet didn’t have fancy-schmancy online forms back then), he gave me an installation disk, and away we went.
And believe it or not, that was probably the best ISP I ever had. They were fast (a blazing 56k!), they were cheap, and when I canceled my service when I went to college, my account was still active for at least 2 years afterwards. When I’d come home for the weekend I used to connect up, and sure enough I was in, despite not paying a dime in years. That back door Internet was the good stuff.
I feel bad for you kids today and your high speed wi fi two step authentication itunes app store. You’ll never get to experience a dial up bulletin board, or get kicked off a chat room because you forgot to disable call waiting, or yell at your little sister for answering the phone to modem squeals even though you clearly told her you were waiting for a friend’s computer to direct dial you so you could play Warcraft II. You’ll buy your Internet from a faceless corporation instead of following your Internet dealer into a dark alley for an installation disk. You probably run virus protection too, and keep all the ports closed on your firewall.