There I was yesterday, at the Mecca of all things tech. How I got there is a long story. It was partially due to my own drive to solve a variety of gadget based problems, but not really. I did not truly expect to find the solutions there, I just wanted to feel the buzz, the juice of the environment, to be bathed in gizmos even if I could not justify buying any of them, like it was my own little consumer electronics show. I was at Fry’s.
Now this might not be such a big deal to the rest of the west coast, since Fry’s has been part of the landscape of California for quite some time, but it’s a new addition up here in the Great Northwest. For years, I had been hearing stories from co-workers, certified technology wonks about the one store to rule them all, the grand palace of gadgets, gizmos, high-def, surround-sound, peripherals, parts, PC’s, pods and PDA’s. If you were wiring up your house for CAT-5, get it at Fry’s. If you needed a fifth pc for a door-stop mail server, get it at Fry’s. If you needed a bag of resistors and a bread board, don’t stop at Radio Shack, Fry’s has it all; software, CD’s, DVD’s, and a food court. If it plugs in the wall, runs off batteries, wired or wireless, or is just a darn cool tool, Fry’s has it. There’s an unadulterated sci-fi pulse to the place. That’s the rumor anyway. That’s what I wanted to feel.
For years I have been hearing from others that frequented the bay area or further south, or even ran a weekend jaunt down to Portland, about what an unbelievable place this was, and what a great deal they got. They had to bring a truck; it was too much to haul away! “Hey, Matt, I got myself a new DV Electroscopic Turboprop with a 3.3 gig nanoprocessor, and it was only half price at Fry’s.” Somehow I’d feel awkward that my DV Electroscopic Turboprop was only a 2.8 and that I must have paid full price for the thing because I didn’t get it at Fry’s.
So when the store opened up I was one of the first customers through the door a few days before the actually grand opening, a special time for the truly geek and in the know. And it was true. I felt the juice. I felt the electrostatic charges rippling through the air, arching from shelves to shelves. The building was like a huge airplane hanger, and being from Boeing country I know huge airplane hangers. The scale was beyond anything my eyes could readily adapt to. It would make other warehouse stores shy away in fear. I was in awe.
That’s what I really wanted to experience all over again yesterday. I still had the urge, the angst, the need to see it and feel it and be at one in the land of LEDs. So I called up a friend and got into the car, off to make the pilgrimage again. When we arrived it was still the same, a giant building with a parking lot to rival Disney Land. We walked the aisles and admired the packages, and I could hear the other customers talking, usually paired up, one the techno maven and the other the techno muggle. “What you need is a firewall built into the router.” “I’d get quad-shield if anything.” “What you really need is a fifth PC to run your mail server.” The air was so thick with sage advice you could just drink it in. I could feel the healing powers working. For a star-traveler from Sirius it was better than any day spa.
But that’s when the dream was ultimately shattered. I knew that one day it had to come, that one day it would all be debunked, the illusion would dissipate and my eyes would finally see the truth. Of course, you knew that I’d eventually get to this point, after all the build-up it’s the only place left to go. My friend was looking for a wireless access point. He was shopping for the best price. It didn’t matter what maker, just make it cheap and make it work. I guess that’s always been his mantra, he owns the AMD’s, the custom built boxes. He swaps out cards twice a month. They burn out, he upgrades. They run smooth, he tinkers. He’s got a closet full of cables and spare NIC cards. While he was puzzling over two different boxes, I happened to look to see if Fry's carried a product I already owned. How much cheaper would it have been if I’d have purchased it here? I didn’t really want to look. I didn’t want to see how bad I’d been duped by the cold-hearted markup of standard retail. I found it. The same model I’d purchased six months earlier, and in this business six months is a lifetime. That model should have been discounted and dropkicked by now. But there it sat on Fry’s bargain shelves, priced twenty dollars higher. I was stunned. How could this be? This was not right. Wasn’t Fry’s the best place around to buy anything? If I hadn’t been so self-conscious of appearing the ultra-geek, my jaw would have dropped.
That’s when the truth seemed to wash over me like an anti-static pad grounding me out. Fry’s was like a supermarket. Many items were on sale, but never the same item for very long. If you didn’t care so much about the maker, or the exact specifics, then you could find something on the cheap. If you were willing to wait like a common coupon clipper, week after week, until the exact brand of gizmo dropped below all other retailers, then Fry’s was your place. If you knew what you wanted, exactly, and wanted it now, today, on the spot, it was unlikely you’d find it here, cheaper than anywhere else.
It was not the haven of discount diodes that it was made out to be. It was just another store, making a buck, managing their market, preening their prices, knowing how to work the demand whether elastic or fixed. It was not a fantasy land, a hop in to the twenty fifth century. It was a business. All the magic had gone.
I wanted to leave, but I persisted. We continued walking the aisles. I tried to recapture what was lost. Look, here’s a shelf-stereo that might do the trick for my audio thing. It fit the bill, but somehow the luster was gone. Nothing seemed to glisten. It was static and real. But I could build a media PC with these parts, and that board and CPU and a hard disk and DVD burner and a; I had to stop myself. What was the use? I was burned out on the dream.
Then I remembered something else; something interesting and technical, something hi-tech and hobbyist, something that would easily lift me from my technology joneses. It was William’s blog, and his quest for storage. I had always envied Williams willingness to amass just about anything, video, audio, text, in a quest to prove that everything can be compiled and catalogued, even your entire life. I had never taken that step. I was stuck at the meager gigs pre-packaged into my Dell; enough for all my current needs, but not enough to explore the landscape, to take it to the limit. And then I saw it, a 200 gig drive, on sale at Fry’s for $99, it was ridiculously cheap, and I found myself not caring about maker or model or brand.
So as William would say, “there you have it.”