Peter Zelchenko shows up to deliver a single line in the totality of the 5.5 hours of BBS Documentary. He didn’t even want to be on camera, actually, but I had him sit down to ask me something and I started peppering him with questions and the next thing he knew, we had a little interview that I ended up using.
We first came into contact almost the same day that I announced on Slashdot that I was thinking of making a documentary about bulletin boards, back in 2001. More accurately, he came into contact with me, insisting that I not make the mistake others had made in cutting the midwest and especially Chicago out of the story.
Pete is Chicago, through and through, and he wanted me to not end up making a documentary that started with the WELL and ended with Wired. BBSes, after all, were “invented” in Chicago, and Ward Christensen and Randy Suess were both in the Chicago area. The Chicago Area Computer Hobbyist Exchange (CACHE) is the second-oldest computer group still running, and was founded in 1975. In fact, members who were there at the founding of the group still attend!
I found this all out because of Peter. He was my man in Chicago, getting me a hold of names, of places, of information I’d need to tell the full story. He got me into meetings, he got me to the Northeast Levy Senior Center for a CACHE meeting, where I interviewed a number of people (and snuck one in with him).
Realize, if you will, that Randy Suess didn’t want anything to do with this production. BBSes were done for him decades ago, and he’d well and truly moved on. But Pete didn’t want Randy to be just a face, a photo and some narration. He wanted Randy in there. And I have to say, it was Pete who made it happen. I still remember sitting in a bar, waiting until a roughly appointed time, talking and discussing stuff with Pete and then him making the call and solidifying, for that day, the interview with Randy. He midwifed a vital interview, and did it in the Chicago way: phone calls, bridging gaps and a dash of toughness.
After we got things done and the documentary came out, Pete and I naturally drifted apart and he’s gone on to other things (as have I). I saw some time ago that he’d made a book called “It Happened Four Years Ago”, which was a non-fiction recounting of political insidership and corruption. I bought it, and enjoyed it. (By the way, the book is available for purchase or digital download, however you prefer.)
I idly browsed his website today, and saw that not only has he continued loving Chicago and fighting to improve things, but he’s also a father, and running for Alderman in his Ward. He’s gone ahead and made a cool pamphlet, and his website and weblog have all sorts of thoughts on the political nature of things and life in a city. It’s great stuff.
Zelchenko’s one of the patron saints of my documentary; it’d not be the same without him. I’m glad to see those skills are going to a good cause.
There are a bunch of stories like this from the production of my BBS Documentary. With time, maybe I’ll recount them all.
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