Going to California

Making Magic — 15.5

Once Andy and I were on the plane, seat belts snapped, I was almost able to relax, though my memory of the ten or so days before were not especially clear.

The final rush to completion had been a frenzy. The enormous sheets of card layouts looked fine, the art was as decent as it could be with what little sanity we’d had remaining — our earliest work was making me cringe, by then — and I’d put finishing touches on a stripped-down design for the various cardboard boxes and other packaging needed to hold the products together.

The last few pieces of art we made were for the Illuminati themselves. Jeff threw several together in a day in Photoshop, while I went the roundabout way to produce a few myself, such as borrowing some high-end 3-D software to render a golden apple.

I have no memory of actually turning the game in, of sending it off to the printer. I remember us standing around downstairs, saying, “Okay, well, what do you think? Is this it?” But we must have. I don’t think I did a lot before getting on the plane.

Unfortunately, after landing outside of remote Holland, Michigan — home to many large printers as well as three of the largest American office furniture companies: Haworth, Herman Miller, and SteelCase (which we were later told was technically in Grand Rapids, less than 30 minutes from Holland) — we hit a fundamental impasse.

Neither of us had any money. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, because we had bank cards and credit cards.

“You’re not going to believe this,” Andy said. “There are no ATMs here.”

It’s not as though we needed a lot of money. We only needed a quarter, to call our printer’s office so they could send over someone to meet us.

Imagine, if you can, being one of the few people traveling through a small airport in a relatively remote part of Michigan, when up walks a shaggy, sleep-deprived guy in torn jeans, sporting a bright nose ring and a look in his eyes of unparalleled paranoia. A bristle-headed companion stands by in a worn, black leather jacket, cooly staring you down.

The first guy says, “Motherfucking do you have a quarter?” While you have no way of knowing how hard it is for him to start a sentence with a D — like trying to pick up a house of cards; even using both hands does not help — you can imagine it being hard to be sympathetic.

You can imagine not giving him a quarter.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Andy. “I can’t believe how old this place is.”

Something sparked in my mind. I began digging through my backpack.

“How old would you say this place is?” I asked.

“Green-shag-carpet old. Dark-wood-paneling old.”

I pulled free a device, grinning so hard that it hurt.

“Fucking watch this,” I said, not only because starting to talk with a W-sound was like buying a first-class ticket to Porky-Pig land, but because, well, fucking watch this.

The thing I held up to the pay phone receiver was an Apple Newton, which looked like this:


As far as I knew at the time, it was the most powerful portable computer in the world. Even though I was nearly always broke, when Jim McCoy heard that Apple was releasing a special, small batch of this new, incredible hardware in transparent plastic, he let me know. He and I and another io.com guy each bought one, making the three of us the only people we knew who had Newtons, and so even with the terrible press that the first device had gotten we were the only people we knew who understood how awesome its newest incarnation had become.

Because there wasn’t a lot of software for them at the time, we’d share whatever software we came across. Through the usual secret three-way-handshakes and esoteric quote exchanging, Jim and I came to understand that we shared a specific background. One day, he’d buzzed my office.

“I got a new piece of Newton software,” he said. “It makes Red Box tones — that mean anything to you?”

I blurted, “Can I have a copy?”

That’s why a few months later, in Holland, Michigan — which was so far behind the times that the phone company had probably not updated their infrastructure in well over fifteen years, I was able to hold my Newton up to the phone receiver and tap an image of a quarter, which triggered the device to make a series of high-pitched “budda-dudda-dink” noises.

“What are you doing?” Andy asked, glancing around to check if we were being watched.

“What’s the number?”

He gave me the number. I told the printer rep that we were at the airport. She said she’d send someone right over.

Walking to the airport exit, Andy whispered, “Holy shit, dude. What did you just do?”

“Magic,” I said.


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