Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Time at the Speakeasy

This seems to be a summer of endings for me. My favorite show, LOST, concluded its six year run; my old high school closed its doors to high school students (and will reopen in August as a Junior High for eight and ninth graders) and my pal Derek (a.k.a. Flint) ended the run of his message board on Buzznet, “Flint’s Speakeasy.”

I should point out here that Derek’s last name isn’t Flint (unlike the action espionage character of the 60’s) and that his home in Wichita is close to the scenic Flint Hills of Kansas. Flint is his onscreen handle, so I’ll respect that and won’t “out” him here. God knows what irate powers-that-be or lovelorn damsel, this radical thinker and renaissance man may have crossed paths with and would like this information to track him down. So here, he’ll just be “Flint.”

I met Flint several years ago on the Retrocrush message board. Under the helm of Robert Berry, Retrocrush was and is a hilarious and illuminating Pop Culture site, with a message board for visitors to discuss their favorite topics. Where as Berry’s writing style and pod cast commentary had the fun and friendly feel of Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters magazine, the message board and its moderators were a different story.

In what could only be described as West Coast Hip meets Middle American Amiability…and then has a knife fight, the message board imploded over time, and Berry moved it to Buzznet, a free social expression website, that would never catch on in the manner of MySpace or Facebook.

Shortly thereafter, Flint started his own message board, “Flint’s Speakeasy” on Buzznet as well. In literary terms, think of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” The Speakeasy offered a calmer, more humane alternative to discussing pop culture and our everyday lives, much in the same way that Mother Abigail’s settlement in Boulder offered an alternative to meeting up with Randall Flagg in Las Vegas!

Within a few months, the Retrocrush board went dormant, and all the action was over at Flint’s…only minus the acerbic and often profane responses of the old Retrocrush crew who enjoyed having a laugh at other’s expense.

On Flints board ,we continued our discussion of movies, music, television and art, but also we were much freer to discuss what was going on in our lives, even if we identified ourselves through on-line handles like Varooka, Chuckie, Keb Mo‘s Girl, Bob Wong, Flash, Oliver’s Army, SeaStar, STVJ and Senor Servo. In time, my wife Jacqui came on board with the handle Restless Mind.

Varooka became a mom for the first time and we threw her an on-line shower; Chuckie and Keb became grandparents; Flash became a great uncle. BobWong (a mother from northern California) kept us posted as her children grew into adolescents. We marveled at the artwork of STVJ from Arkanasas and pictures of the house he was building with his brother-in-law. We encouraged Senor Servo after being mugged in his community in Miami Beach; Amanda Sparks and Cash Flagg (who met at Retrocrush) when their YouTube Vlogs were being harassed on-line by former Retrocrushers and SeaStar, a devoted chef who was always far more concerned with feeding her diners quality food than her employers seemed to be.

We were as tight as any on-line community could be, but over time, life happens. Jobs, responsibilities and lifestyles change. And the net changes too.

When the Speakeasy began, Facebook was a social networking site for college kids. Now its open to your grandmother, long lost relatives, former co-workers and your very first crush in first grade. You can reconnect with nearly anyone you’ve ever known in life (if you can find them and if they accept your friendship request.)

SO the numbers dwindled at the Speakeasy, down to four die-hard posters: Chuckie, BobWong., STVJ, SeaStar and Flint himself, regularly contributing, with us former stalwarts only checking in from time to time. Even if we weren’t posting with the same regularity that we once did, it was reassuring knowing where we could always go to find good conversations, with good friends.

Ultimately it was Buzznet who pulled the final trigger when it reconfigured its service and turned it into a confusing Facebook wannabe, and the message boards ended up on its old server, and only visible with Google searches. Flint pulled the plug on the 18th of this month, nearly three years to the date the site first went up. For as deep as the connections went with everyone on the message board, I’m shocked that it has only been 3 years.

During that time, I had the pleasure of meeting Flint three times: twice here in Kansas City and once on his home turf in Wichita. He’s a thoughtful friendly and funny guy who is a talented artist, passionate about his work. For the last three years, he has been the glue that held the Speakeasy community together. He's one of the truly good guys in life. I wish him all the best.

To Flint and all my fellow barflies -I salute you. And I hope to find you here, once more.