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Remembering Ryan Gale

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 5, 2005
(Issue 2331, Internet for Techies)

It may seem odd to write about someone who died some years ago, but Ryan Gale has been on my mind quite a bit of late.

Mostly, he's been on my mind because his music has been on my stereo.

And listening to his reel to reel tapes of Spirit, Frank Zappa, Robin Trower and Wishbone Ash has had me thinking back to my early days in cyberspace – back to the first group of friends I met online. A group that included Ryan.

It was on the East County-based PdBMS bulletin board system that Bill Blue and Morgan Davis ran where I met Ryan. In 1987, I was sharing a bit of a dive in Ocean Beach with Andy Rathbone, future ComputorEdge editor and best-selling author of the "Windows for Dummies" books. At the time, though, we were both underemployed writers fascinated by computers – Andy (Ray to those of us who met him in college – and it will cost you the first round at Pac Shores to find out why) had a Kaypro, and I had an Atari. We both had 300 baud modems, and were fascinated with this whole BBS phenomenon wherein you could use your computer to dial in to other people's computers, where you could find message forums, e-mail, online games, and shareware files to download. Each BBS was its own mini-Internet, although the Internet was then restricted to the government and larger universities.

One of the largest characters on this PdBMS bulletin board was Ryan. He had the sharpest wit of any of us, the most wicked, cutting comebacks – and this was a collection that included Dan Gookin, then editor of Byte Buyer and soon to be best-selling author of "DOS for Dummies"; future MSNBC correspondent Brock Meeks; and Lyle Davis, proprietor of the Dixon Lake and Moonlight Beach snack and rental shops and occasional candidate for elected office.

But where Dan, Brock and Lyle had camps of both admirers and detractors, I don't recall Ryan having any enemies – despite having the sharpest wit of all. He was the most likeable person I ever met – charming, smart, well-read. He was self-educated in that 1970s bohemian sort of way in that he read everything he could get his hands on and remembered most of it.

I only met Ryan a few times in person – a couple of the old Time Change Parties that Jerry Hewitt and Bruce Webster used to host for the PMS ("People's Message System")/PdBMS/P-Net community, and once when Andy/Ray bought Ryan's Ovation guitar and Ryan came by our O.B. pad to complete the transaction. Ray ended up having a date that night, but left the money with me to give to Ryan if the guitar was in good shape. He also left a new, unopened half-gallon of Jack Daniel's he bought that day – "just to help close the deal if you need it," he warned me.

Ryan showed up around 8, and the guitar was as good as advertised, I give him Ray's money – and we're done, right?

Not a chance! What I'd forgotten about Ryan from all his posts on PdBMS and the P-Net board it morphed into was that he was one of the biggest music fans on earth. When he saw that Ray and I had a thousand or so LPs between us, heavy on '70s rock and blues – and saw that J.D. sitting on the kitchen counter – well, I was in for one of the most interesting nights of my life.

Ryan not only led me in polishing off Ray's whiskey, but he went out for a case of beer at some point that night, too. When Ray came home the next morning from his date, Ryan and I were still spinning records, with Ryan teaching me something new about each band.

We talked philosophy that night, and history; literature and science. There was no topic Ryan wasn't interested in, nothing he hadn't read up on.

He was also dying then, the cancer already eating him up. That sense of mortality was scary to me then, in my mid-20s, but even in my youth I appreciated how lucky I was to meet someone like Ryan, to be able to learn from him.

Now, some 18 years later, Ryan's widow, Cristina, is selling their old house, moving with her husband, Greg, to the Northwest. Greg e-mailed me a few weeks ago, and I swung by their place and picked up Ryan's reel to reel tapes and tape deck. Cristina said Ryan would have wanted them with a friend – and as I've been listening to them, in a sense it's been as if Ryan is here with me. I even keep checking my whiskey to make sure it's not disappearing on me.

It also has me realizing that while the Internet is a glorious achievement, the World Wide Web an undreamed-of fantasy in our BBS days, we've not necessarily done all that good a job at creating new online communities to replace those of the BBSs we left behind.

There was something cozy about the dial-up BBSs. And with long-distance charges being what they are, there was a geographical intimacy to them that Web sites lack.

I have found a few communities on the Web that have some of that same warmth of the BBSs. is one, with its forums area having that sense of sometimes heated camaraderie. And San Diego musician Buddy Blue's has a forums area where I've made a group of friends I've never met in person – Jocko and Hippo and Vik Rude being every bit as interesting and crazy as Ryan and Forsythe and Lyle.

It took us a while to get the Web to have that same community-building characteristic, but I have the strong feeling that if Ryan were here with us, he'd be on some of these Web forums, raising hell while he emptied my Maker's Mark.