Sobering and trivial reflections on a 25th anniversary
Every five years in March, I seem to write this same article reflecting on the history of Jammer’s Reviews and/or the unstoppable passage of time. This marks the fifth of those five-year articles. That I’ve done this website for 25 years and am still doing it is something worth noting. I will continue to take note every five years (as long as I and my website are still here), because they provide markers for myself even if no one else cares. I looked back at some of those previous anniversary articles and grinned while taking the trip down memory lane.
But it feels different this time, because as I check in today, the COVID-19 crisis continues to escalate in the United States and across the world. Had I written this even three weeks ago as I’d originally planned, I might not have mentioned the coronavirus at all. Yes, it was definitely already happening and was a serious concern, but it was still a slow march seemingly far away, something to keep an eye on but not all-consuming. Things have escalated quickly.
Right now this crisis has not personally touched me or my family in a serious way (no one I know has gotten sick yet, but that day is probably coming), other than the mild inconvenience of having to stay home. I’ve been working from home, and my kids’ schools have been closed, for two-and-a-half weeks now, although it feels longer. I’ll just say that if you can stay in your house, you should do it to do your tiny, easy part in slowing down the spread of this thing as much as you possibly can. Where you live might not look like New York City right now, but I fear that fate may be coming for all of us, to one degree or another.
This is frightening when you look at what’s happening. The more I think about it, the more scary it is. I try to push it out of my mind. My wife is one of those front-line healthcare workers they keep talking about on the news. As of right now, the hospital where she works has announced no confirmed cases, but that could change at any moment. It’s stressful and real, and it feels like a disturbing calm before a very certain storm. Everyone talks about working from home, and for those of us who can, it’s a great option. Trying to do my day job while also parenting two young kids while my wife goes to work — that’s not practically conducive for my idea of being a good parent or employee, but if that’s all the sacrifice I have to make to help keep my family safe, I will consider myself lucky.
I just wish my entire family could hole up in the house and wait this out. Three of us can, for which I should be grateful, but one of us can’t. There are countless people who simply can’t do that, and those people and their families are subject to what feels like a daily roll of the dice, despite all the attempted precautions. Not only the healthcare workers, but everyone who works in the operation of an essential service, of which there are countless. (People who don’t seem to get enough attention in all this: grocery store employees. We all need to eat, and the people working in grocery stores are exposed to an insane number of people every single day, many of whom are probably not practicing the safe practices that are going to mitigate the infection risks.) I wonder what actual percentage of people working are actually working from home. I doubt it’s as high as we need it to be to slow this down enough.
My hope is that most of us can look back in a year or so and be glad that it’s over, and have been able to have long ago moved on with our lives. My fear is that there will be far too much lasting damage experienced in our families and communities because of a death toll that will touch far too many of us in an immediate way. (That’s setting aside for the moment the economic damage, which will be severe.) I suppose we should take some hope from the numbers, which indicate the large majority of us will be fine even if we end up getting infected. But a large majority of us is not all of us, and yesterday the federal government announced that a “good” outcome in the U.S. would be if we could keep the deaths “down” to about 100,000 or 200,000.
That is a chilling figure, especially if it’s very possible that number will be much higher. This is scary stuff, and reflecting on the anniversary of a hobby website feels trivial amid what’s going on right now. Going back and reading this article in a year, after we have a full picture of the outcome, will be … well, I don’t know what it will be, since that reflection will be framed by something that’s currently unknown. We are truly a moment in time, uncertain what the future is. I suppose that’s always the case, even when not staring down the barrel of an unfolding crisis.
The flip side of the coin is that even if those of us who can remain in our homes for the duration of this do so, we can’t and shouldn’t shut down our lives. We continue to work from home, we continue to post articles to our websites or social media, and we continue to observe our silly milestones. Life goes on for most of us, even amid a bunker mentality, and so we try to maintain the normalcy we can.
So on that note, let me tell a trivial little story.
Rewind: Fall 1992
I’d had my driver’s license for maybe six months. In those days, very few people were on the internet, there was no such thing as social media, and entertaining yourselves as teenagers meant being with your friends and driving somewhere. Sometimes that meant driving with no destination in mind — simply driving around as its own form of entertainment. We had cars (often borrowed from our parents) and time to kill, and in not living in a major city, simply exploring pockets of our town or nearby towns had an appeal when there was nothing else hugely interesting to do.
Cell phones existed (as big, blocky things), but most people did not own them, and certainly most teenagers didn’t, and definitely we didn’t. I had a small, core group of a few friends, with some other people who would rotate in and out of the core group. We would frequently go “country roading,” which meant driving on Old Route 66 a few miles north or south of town before turning off and then just seeing where the county roads, surrounded by unending miles of corn and soybean fields, would take us. Where would they connect? Where would we end up? Back at a main highway? Lost in some rural area? (Getting lost, even without GPS, was pretty hard, because the road system was a simple grid, with intersections roughly every mile.) Would we end up unexpectedly driving into some small nearby town where we could stop and get something to drink? Riveting questions, these were.
We did this in either one car or a few, depending on how many of us were together. If there were four of us, we might pile into one car, or head out in two cars, with two of us in each car, and one car following the other, sometimes with no knowledge of where the lead car was taking us. This sometimes led to pranks, where the driver of the lead car would at first let the driver of the following car believe he was going one place, and then make a sudden turn in the opposite direction, prompting the following car to wonder what had changed. Expect the unexpected, or something.
One day, we decided to incorporate CB radios into this activity. CB radios were inexpensive, had a pretty good range, and using them was free. We’d pick a channel to have our back-and-forth, set them on our radios, and then head out in our two or three cars. Of course, you don’t use your real names on CB radios (anyone can hear your conversations); rather, you use CB handles. I remember one of my friends went by “Floor Tile,” because one of those words incorporated part of his last name. I lamely decided to incorporate part of my name as well, and went by “Jam Man.”
I hated it the instant I picked it.
A few days after picking my initial handle, we decided to go out driving with the CB radios again. I decided a do-over was in order regarding my terrible name. After a few seconds of consideration, I settled on “Jammer.” That was better. I guess.
We went out driving with the radios maybe a handful of times. We quickly lost interest, or gave it up as stupid. This was all within probably a few weeks or months, if memory serves, which it may not. Even without the CB radios we continued to drive around as an activity. (I’m reminded of what the Dude does for fun: “Bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.” We did the second of those things. Not so much the first and never the third.) This adventurous driving did eventually result in an incident in the spring of 1993. But that warrants its own story that I’ll tell some other time.
In the fall of 1994 when I went to college I had my own internet connection and student account, and discovered the internet community of Star Trek reviewers and commenters. I started posting my reviews on Usenet, initially under the subject title “Epsicokhan’s Reviews.” That was prosaic and cumbersome, albeit not as prosaic as the title Star Trek: Picard. Within a few months I decided to repurpose the short-lived unofficial CB handle, and started posting my reviews as “Jammer’s Reviews,” which had a much better ring to it. You know the rest.
So now, after more than 25 years, I’ve revealed my origin story and you know where “Jammer” actually came from. Please, please, please don’t tell anyone.