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Podkayne's BBS gained popularity pretty quickly, especially among the college-age and older crowd who were more interested in conversation than in playing online games. (In the early 1990s, most local BBSes focused almost exclusively on gameplay and file sharing.) On average, we'd get one or two new people signing up for accounts every night.
Most of these people I knew only by their aliases, although as co-sysop I had access to their real names (everyone was required to give a real name and contact information in order to receive an account). Because it's nice to have a face to put with a name, however, Podkayne would occasionally announce F2F (face-to-face) parties for board participants. She'd give the time, date and place (usually either at her home or in a public park), pick a theme, and people would show up and goof off. Intense curiosity usually got the better of shyness among this group, as most people wanted to know what everyone else really looked like.
Not too many months after Podkayne's birthday bash, a new user with the rakish-sounding alias of Captain Midnight started to call and leave messages on the board. His girlfriend, alias Beatrice of Castle Anthrax, had given him the number so that he could participate in the friendly chaos. His posts were funny and well-written, and usually detailed his mythic adventures flying through the galaxy in his trusty, somewhat rusty spaceship, the Flying Duck Flop. I was intrigued and amused by these comments, and often the nature of what he'd written provoked a response. It wasn't too long before Captain Midnight and The Pirate King were matching wits and trading banter on the BBS.
I didn't take any of this very seriously, for a couple of reasons. First, at the time I was heavily pining after a guy who shall hereafter be known as Captain Clueless in order to protect the guilty party. (Several friends and I referred to him by this alias on occasions when I was venting my frustration with him.) Back in high school I'd tried being direct on several occasions, boldly letting a guy know I was interested in dating him, and had promptly gotten shot down for my trouble; this failure had made me gun-shy of simply declaring my feelings. So I waited for Captain Clueless to make the first move. And although I waited, and waited, and waited, and several times received glimmerings of the idea that he might take a mild interest in me, eventually I realized the truth. I was focusing most of my romantic interest on a man who saw me as many things: a buddy, a confidant, a counselor, a default date, a partner in crime -- but almost never as a woman. (Yeah, you use a masculine alias online in the hope you won't be hit on, and in person the one guy you actually want to take an interest in you doesn't realize you're a girl. Warning: high irony content.)
Second, of course, it was already well established that Captain Midnight -- whoever he was -- had a girlfriend. I knew and liked Beatrice, had met her at a previous F2F, and I wasn't about to try zeroing in on her boyfriend. As far as I was concerned, Captain Midnight was taken; he was therefore perfectly safe to talk to and kid around with.
Still, I couldn't help but harbor a glimmer of interest as to who this Captain Midnight person was. I wondered what other interests he had, whether we'd possibly had any classes together at BYU. I wondered what he looked like. So when Podkayne scheduled another F2F at her house, I decided I'd probably better show up. It was my duty, after all; I was the co-sysop.
Continue to Part 3.