Sysop Wants to Chat

I dial up Citywheels BBS to see when the next bus comes past my apartment, and begin to get dressed for work. While my modem chirps and whistles away, I pour a cup of coffee and hope that Laura won’t be too busy today to chat. Citywheels was not the best way to plan your commutes if you had to take the bus; people miss buses all the time waiting on a slow modem to tell them if the bus is on time. Citywheels was one of many government BBS’s that made sense when the funding was doled out but proved to be less than ideal in practice. When I got back to my monitor I found my bus on the long scroll of routes and saw that mine would be outside right at 8:03, like usual. There was no message board or chat room on Citywheels (why would there be), so I had pretty well exhausted the system now. Laura was the system operator for Citywheels – a government employee responsible for keeping the running times current by talking to bus drivers and monitoring traffic. Since most people would rather wait blindly at the bus stop for their rides to work than go through the hassle of being ready early enough to dial up Citywheels and wait for the schedule to print to their screens, Laura didn’t receive much traffic. I’ve always made Citywheels part of my morning routine, and one day last month Laura, much to my surprise, had dragged me into a chat (as only a sysop can do) to thank me for giving her a steady customer, a reason to take this job seriously. We chat most mornings, unless she has a rare surge in callers (that normally happens around holidays and other touristy times when visitors to the city see advertisements for Citywheels). I waited at my terminal until the last second, but my bus was arriving and I couldn’t be late to work again.

Before I can put my coat on the back of the chair in my cubicle, my boss streaks past me and shouts a string of words that ends with “check the bulletin board.” I take a seat at my desk and dial the number for TeleServices BBS, enter my employee ID number and password, and wait for the company bulletin board to load. My boss sent a lot of messages with subject lines like: “DIAL DIAL DIAL,” “KEEP THOSE FINGERS MOVING,” and “QUOTAS ARE PAYCHECKS, QUOTAS ARE LIFE.” I work in sales. Modems for the masses. The last message in the mailbox was from our sysop: “A reminder to dial in and vote today – every vote counts.”

Since President Gore won the 1988 presidential election, we’ve used the BBS system to vote in all federal elections. There is a BBS set up for voting in all major and most minor cities and the sysop of each BBS is responsible for reporting his or her count to the voting supervisor for that state. To my great dismay, Gore’s party has won every major election since then, and the tides don’t seem to be turning, but I always call in anyways. I dial the number for VoteNow and see the welcome screen scroll down my screen. On the command line, I enter “A” for “2000 Presidential Election” and hit enter. I enter my driver’s license number and state to log in. Pixelated portraits of my options slowly load on the screen: “Enter command ‘A’ for Al Gore (D),” (President Gore elected to ignore the two term limit in 1996).

“Enter command ‘B’ for George W. Bush (R).” I type ‘B’ and push enter… “SYSOP WANTS TO CHAT” appears on my screen, unsolicited. My screen splits into two windows and text starts pouring onto my screen: SPREAD THE WORD. PRESIDENT GORE HAS RIGGED EVERY ELECTION SINCE 1988. After he was elected president, he cut funding for internet research and founded a number of public BBS’s to be run by government officials. These could be as simple as communicating bus routes or performing DMV functions. Once people got used to BBS’s as a tool of the government he changed the voting process. His sysops rig ALL elections. PASS THIS ALONG: PRESIDENT GORE PREVENTED THE INVENTION OF THE INTERNET. Neocities.

Explore more stories at hoos&history

More Al