Today’s post involves traveling back in time, through the miracle of microfiche. So you know that it is going to be good. Because anything that involves Liz Ray trying to find one very specific nuanced thing by combing through spools of microfiche at the public library is exactly the type of thing from which hilarity will inevitably ensue.
Probably because I happened to not have my scooter with me, today was the day that I was tasked by my boss (I do have a day job — I have bills) to head over to the main branch of the public library and journey back to February 2006 to find and prove that something once appeared in a newspaper.
The Journey of a Thousand Steps:
Buses in Philadelphia purport to run on a schedule. I believe that the schedule was drafted by Samuel Beckett, possibly in consultation with Tom Stoppard and Eugene O’Neill. After spending some time doing my best Vladimir and Estragon impressions, I determined that it would be faster if I simply walked over to 19th and Vine. I supposed I could have waited for the miracle of quantum tunneling to occur, but the odds that all the atoms in my body would simultaneously all tunnel to the public library at the same time were, at best, remote. So I started walking.
Near 18th and Arch, I nearly died of heat-stroke. As I lay nearly dying, I debated whether I was dying enough to justify going into my old law firm just to absorb some of the air conditioning. I decided that, while I was dying a lot in the 4000-degree heat and 10,000% humidity, I wasn’t dying enough. So, I waved to my old firm from the street and dragged myself the rest of the way to the library.
Once there, I was told that the microfiche room was on the second floor “down the hallway with nothing in it,” which distinguished it from the “hallway with stuff in it.” Sure enough on the second floor landing, two paths diverged and one was definitely less traveled — and went into an abandoned hallway.
Down the bleak passage lay a room filled with technology from many decades ago. I am pretty sure that I saw something that looked to be the first IBM desktop ever created. And then, of course, the microfiche machines. And the coin-operated photocopiers. And me, with my $20 bill.
I asked the friendly Guardian of the Microfiche Room whether he could break a $20. Of course, he could not. But he directed me to go back downstairs to the wing of the library that had the cash register in it. Once I was armed with small bills, I was welcome to use the change machine on the second floor (which was located down the Hallway That Had Stuff in It, at the other end of the building).
So, down I went, in search of the part of the library that had the cash register in it. Imagine my disappointment when I was told by the Guardian of the Cash Register that she could not possibly break a denomination as grotesquely large as a $20.
“There are probably places outside where you can break it.”
Outside. In the volcano.
So, I headed outside and began to look for “places” where I could break the $20. Lo and behold, I found a guy selling water. So, for a dollar, I purchased a bottle of water. For reasons that will never truly be clear to me, he placed the bottle of water in a brown paper bag. So my water looked like this:
Now I looked like a hobo, hiding an unfortunate bottled-water habit in a brown paper bag. Upon returning to the library, I realized that I would not be allowed back in with my beverage. So, I hunkered down on the library steps alongside some other individuals who were similarly drinking things out of brown paper bag (although I doubt it was water), and began imbibing.
Once I was beverage-less, I returned to the library and went up the stairs into the Hallway With Stuff in It, in search of the change machine. When I found it, I was greeted with a sizeable “OUT OF ORDER” sign and instructions to go back downstairs to the part of the library with the elevators in it. There was prophesied another change machine might be found.
So, down I went, to find the part of the library with the elevators and other change machine in it. Happily, this machine was working, as I was not relishing the notion of schlepping over to the Whole Foods a few blocks away and buying a $7.00 apple so that I could justify begging for change.
Armed with my stash of quarters, I once again ran up the stairs, down the Hallway With Nothing in It, and into the Microfiche Room. The Guardian of the Microfiche got me a month’s worth of newspapers from February 2006. With his help, I learned the lost art of threading the great spool of microfiche through the anachronistic contraption and busied myself with reliving the Great Era of American History known as Early 2006.
February 2006: It Was The Best of Times; It Was The Worst of Times
For those of you without total recall of February 2006 (and, until about five hours ago, I was one of you), let me assure you — you aren’t missing much, and the space in your brains is likely being used for better stuff. I spent four hours in February 2006 today, and it was plenty.
Most of what happened back then appears to have been the Winter Olympics in Torino. Absolutely nothing else at all happened in February 2006 apparently. It was the time that that one Russian guy swept all the gold medals in men’s figure skating. (Not to be confused with all the other times when a Russian guy swept the gold medals in men’s figure skating.) It was the year when there were a lot of falls among the women’s figure skating competitors. (Again, not to be confused with all the other years when ice skaters fell on their ass while trying to complete triple axles. This time was different.) And, despite what was characterized as a “half-pipe controversy” in one article (Editor’s Note: I have no idea how half of a snow-covered a tube can generate a controversy), I relived the joy of Shaun White winning gold in the men’s snowboarding event. After reading about snowboarding for several hours, I am reminded that I’ve always wanted to learn how to do it. Come hell or high water this winter, I will learn to snowboard — even if it involves me strapping myself to a board and hurtling myself down the side of a mountain in Colorado until I figure it out. Perhaps I will also try my hand at learning curling — the Olympic “sport” that I never remember is a “sport” because Bocce ball on ice should not be an Olympic “sport.” Props to the reporter who tried to make curling seem exciting and sexy by penning an article entitled: “Curling’s Ice Is Fast and Shots Are Hot.” (No. No, they are not. Nice try though.)
February 2006 was also a time of 5% APYs on Certificates of Deposit. (Yeah, my jaw dropped too and I nearly started to cry.) And NBC was engaged in mortal combat with ESPN over the rights to Monday Night Football. Also, I saw an article about a guy who hanged himself in an airplane bathroom. (I can’t even fathom the physics of that.)
Without a doubt, however, the Classified Ads from February 2006 made the entire trip to the library worth while. For those who don’t remember, February 2006 was a time when dialing any of a series of questionable 1-800 numbers would allow you to get your hands on cheap “but real” (really, we swear) Viagra. Mail-order Russian brides could be yours by the dozens (hence the need for the “cheap but real” Viagra). There was also an ad that promised “$10,000 weekly to infinity.” What I would need to do to earn this Buzz-Lightyear amount of cash was not clear. My attorney friends will recognize that the offer violates not only the laws of physics, but the Rule Against Perpetuities as well. (For the non-lawyers among you who don’t know what this is, be happy you don’t.) There was also an ad for “Free Silver” — not a sustainable business model.
And my personal favorite — the ad that promised “Nobel Prize Winner Helps Clean Your Arteries! HUGE $$$!!!!!” With my luck, it would be the Nobel Prize winner in Poetry or Literature — I’m not sure I would want that person helping to clean my arteries.
Next time I have my scooter out, I will certainly try to get it up to 88 mph and see what happens (probably I will kill the fuel injector). Maybe I can get back to February 2006 — learn to snowboard with the Flying Tomato and invest in some CDs…