Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; A Love note to Douglas Adams

(dates not precise)

About 1984, my father bought an IBM XT with a 10MB hard drive and 3.5 floppy, with a Hayes 1200 baud modem.  It was for the office, but it ended up at our house, rather quickly.  He upgraded for more memory, and loved the Lotus 1-2-3 and Wordstar.  But this XT ended up in my room in 1985, which was probably a mistake. I so enjoy the memory of it.  Beyond the traditional modem experience, and pictures loading like penny arcades showing a peep at a time, there was something delightfully furtive about being a quiet passenger into a new dimension that few had access too.  Free games, naughty jokes, penpals, etc. It was surreal, because I knew my folks had no idea what I was dialing into.  But that is such a minor note to Infocom.  Which also becomes a rest stop on the way to Douglas’ influence on me, in general.

It’s interesting to say, the allure of that online realm, and my first flutter of naughty possibilities (we all should have learned to phone phreak), there was another exotic universe that had addictive draw.  I dove into it, headlong. I am not afraid of betraying my potenial nerdiness to say that I got into Infocom like one might Renaissance Faires, or Civil War Reenactments.  Of course, there is slightly less committal, with the added bonus of added brain power.  There I was, drawing room after room on maps, until my mind was blown.  Zork I is legend.  Is that silly to say?  It was amazing.  I did Zork II, and more.  Planetfall, Wishbringer, Infidel.  More that I can’t remember. I sucked at most of them.  THEY WERE SO HARD.  These were some of the only video games in my life (save a spat of Nintendo worship) that I lost time to.  Zelda and Metroid not withstanding….

But something REALLY caught me, about this game called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It felt like home, like the Monty Python type of odd humor I enjoyed. I think that is ingrained, to a spectacular level.  Here’s what the video game box included:

  • A pin-on button with “Don’t Panic!” printed in large, friendly letters
  • A small plastic packet containing “pocket fluff” (a cottonball)
  • Order for destruction of Arthur Dent’s house
  • Order for destruction of Earth written in “Vogon” (actually an English cryptogram written in a thinly-disguised Cyrillic alphabet. The text was nearly identical to that of the English Order for Destruction)
  • Official Microscopic Space Fleet (an empty plastic bag)
  • “Peril Sensitive Sunglasses” (a pair of opaque black cardboard “sunglasses”)
  • How Many Times Has This Happened to You?, an advertising brochure for the fictional guidebook/encyclopedia The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • No tea

NO TEA. Really.

So this felt right to me.  I love Infocom, they could do no wrong.  So I go on a trip.

Almost.  I kept getting hit in the head with a brick.  Then I think it took some time to get to a bulldozer, and then I got hit in the head with a brick, I believe.  So, I am ’bout 9 years old, and I am trying my damnedest to figure out clues. I remember going online looking for information about it.  I think there were hitchhiker’s hints from infocom, in some manner. Hazy, things become hazy.

So I finally realize these things are a book, and do my normal weekend bmx to get a burger, get some candy, and then go to electric avenue, look at weird buttons and t shirts.  I wander over to what I remember to be Waldenbooks, and take a rare break from buying Bloom County strip books. That Breathed stuff is, and was, and still will be, brilliant and relevant.

Now, in the past, I am holding this book thing in my hand, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I am excited. I still am.  Now I have read all three books.  Now there’s four, now five. It’s a 5 book trilogy.  It’s years later in this sentence and I have the huge compendium of all the books, including the Zaphod story.  Douglas felt pigeon holed by the series, because he wanted to be more than that, but sometimes your art controls you and you have little choice but to suffer playing the same, one song, over, and over again, night after night.

In this sentence we are years younger, having read the first 3 books.  I figured out the Infocom game. Read the book, as the time-life mysteries of the unknown commercial of that day recommended.  The game is absolutely brilliant, and beyond imagination.  But sometime around 11 years old, I realize that the books were written just prior to the computer game, whereas I thought they might be ancient, or timeless, as I wasn’t dilating time, yet.  It was either immediate or it had at least existed longer than my person.  But I realize these things are being written in my lifetime.  And these things were written after, *not* before, a comedy radio broadcast.  The radio series first 3 hours is exactly like the first 1 1/2 books, and then veers off in an exceptional, wonderful realm that never mirrors the text.  I’ve always enjoyed re-reading the radio scripts, because it is a delight at the bizarre and ridiculous people the group find themselves mixed up with.

The radio broadcast, then books, then the BBC TV series, were all being released relatively simultaneously.  It was probably a drag for Douglas, who was writing Dirk Gently, when he could.  He was on KGO in SF one day, and I had a chance to talk to him.  There’s a cassette tape out there that has a wide eyed fanboy gushing to a guy grinding out the media circuit.  He was so kind, and funny. I haven’t the foggiest what I asked but I will let you know upon discovery of said cassette tape.

The radio series became a tradition, of sorts, on holiday eves, where I would listen to my boom box under my sheets with my headphones on.  I thought I was sneaky. My mom new. Years later, she became convinced it was bad for me to sleep with headphones on.  The radio series was like a warm blanket, and I actually made a 90 minute cassette tape of my favorite samples from the 6 hours. I STILL HAVE THAT TAPE! I am digitizing it soon.  Will post. It’s hilarious. I think I work backward from the end of the series, and Arthur’s statue and the cup suspended in air with the birds that evolved from people with bad shoes.  And that guy that was on a cruise in intergalactic space in his office.  That used to sound more unlikely.

Whatever the case, Hitchhiker’s seeped into me for decades, such that I was at the theatre, opening night for the Hollywood production, in a bathrobe, holding a towel. I had zero expectations other than joy, and it was playful, creative, and delightful. And yes, I cried when it said “For Douglas”, at the end.  Gone far, far too early, he had done so much, and had so much more to do.  Still, as big as he was, Hitchhiker’s overpowered his life in similar ways it overpowered his fan’s lives.  There were stage plays that I saw, there were readings (maybe those were my own and private. If you would like to listen, you’re likely insane, but surely I might humor you).

I am reminded, because of HHGTTG, I was adding a bunch of U’s to things for years, as well as switching me “er”s.  Lifts, and car parks.  To this day, I say Cheers, like a longtime Ha-ole might adopt Aloha.  Hitchhiker’s was never some overt pursuit, but more of a backbone.  It was always there, I would pick it up once inawhile, I would interrupt Dr. Demento for a Hitchhiker’s marathon, listening to and almost wearing out the last 3 tapes.

It took me years to finish that Infocom game, which isn’t likely possible without having read the books.

This weekend (this sentence is in the present), I went to Big Sur with the wife. We did midnight sulfur hot spring baths over the ocean, until 3am.  We unplugged.  We expected nothing but hot tubs and reading, sleep, recuperation. Wifey does sleep a bit, so I thought I might have some waking time where I would watch a film, etc.  The only DVD I brought was the early 1980’s TV series. LOL  It’s quite entirely not unlike the other incantations, but absolutely dissimilar.  It’s complex, but you sort of have to treat all forms as different works, with their own quirks.  Radio Series, then first 3 books during the BBC 6 hour series.  I have the 45rpm vinyl records that Marvin the Paranoid Android released. There’s two of them.  I have a bunch of LP’s of the radio series.  I have the complete 1994 100-count trading card set, that tells the whole story in cool comic pane format.  So yeah…..

Don’t panic, this is over soon.

THE BBC JUST RELEASED a 30th anniversary addition of the INFOCOM game with cartoon panels, and SO MUCH FUN STUFF OMERGERD

So there’s that.

Which is nice.  I know that’s a Murray Caddyshack quote in deference to Harold Ramis and *not* Douglas, but I am sure Mr. Adams wouldn’t mind an interloper or too.

Until my next post, be assured that I will be bouncing around with a sub-ether thumb and a man from Betelgeuse. Not from Guildford, after all.  Sorry it took over your life, Douglas, because of fans like me.  I promise to make it up to you.  In good time.  No worries though, as Time is an Illusion, Lunchtime Doubly So.  I have three pints to get through. At lunchtime. On a Thursday.

Never could get the hang of Thursdays.

(obvious homage in this, riffing. Derr… no Leboeuf’n)

About Uncle Fishbits

I'm.. just this guy, you know?

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