The art of waiting for the best deal

With Dad, a few years after purchasing the TI-99/4A, June 1985

There we were standing outside in a line during the wee hours, shivering like we never have before. We weren’t camping out for Bruce Springsteen tickets nor were we lining up to go into a football game. We were with others on a mission to purchase a new computer. Yes, there were computers on sale in late 1983. These so-called computers hooked up to your actual standard definition TV which served as a monitor for most systems. The exception was Radio Shack’s TRS 80 which was later called, “The Trash 80.” The now-canceled AMC cable television series Halt and Catch Fire more than got the scenario with the computers right with the portrayal of the Commodore 64 in most scenes.

But we are not talking about the popular Commodore 64 here. We are talking about the TI-99/4A Texas Instruments computer. Word got out that it was selling for a ridiculously low price. Little did we realize that the futuristic piece of machinery was going to depreciate faster than a new Pinto automobile leaving a dealership right after its sale.

To me, it didn’t matter. I wanted to get my hands on some type of special gadget for our lonely RCA television set in our paneled suburban basement. Our Odyssey 300 gaming system, which sat atop the TV, was well over six years old at the time. It was dated and quite frankly, collecting dust. I lost interest in the banana-colored console – especially with the fact that I had friends with advanced gaming systems like the Atari 2600, Odyssey 2 or Colecovision.

When we were on our computer quest, we had to arrive early at K-Mart because quantities of the closeout item were limited. Retailers like K-Mart saw the writing on the wall: the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A was probably less than a year from being discontinued, so it was a relief to unload the machines.

It was beyond freezing that December 1983 morning. My then-soon-to-be 50-year-old dad was braving the elements with me, a 16-year-old desiring to get a hold of a soon-to-be-obsolete computer. That was Dad, always wanting to go on an adventure with me no matter what the conditions presented. One time we were driving in Dad’s 1972 blue Pontiac after getting ice cream on a steamy summer night. I noticed a search light.

“Let’s find out where it’s coming from,” he said.

Dad hit the gas and we were on our way. It seems like the journey took forever to find the source of the search light. When we finally found the light, we learned that it was for a local church’s fish fry.

If a fire engine roared by us on the road, there was Dad getting curious.

“Let’s follow the action!” he exclaimed, while trying to keep up with the first responders.

Of course, most of the time, we couldn’t keep up with the emergency vehicles.
On trips that involved driving my sisters to move them in and out of their college dorm rooms, Dad and I did some side trips to rather unusual locations like the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ottawa County,Ohio. Then there was time we went on a search for whatever foul odor was emanating from the town of Vickery, Ohio off I-90.

So, whatever happened to that Texas Instruments computer? I recall keeping it for at least four years. I learned how to program the computer using the BASIC computer language. With my drug store work money, I saved up a little to buy a few gaming cartridges and a special cable which hooked up to my cassette player/recorder to save the programs that I created. There was no way I could even imagine how computers would advance over the following 30 years. I’m sure in another 30 years, I’ll be even more astounded at society’s tech advancements.

We lost Dad on New Year’s Eve 2013. Even though I wrote about his passing in this space before, I’m reminded of some new angle about Dad. This year, I cannot forget how much Dad went out of his way for his family. In the many lectures, I received on those quests or long trips, Dad always talked about how his father sacrificed so much for his family and how much that inspired him. Today, as a dad myself, I completely understand what he was talking about during those journeys.

With Dad, November 1996


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