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 The Brancatelli File

joe LOADING UP MY LAPTOP:
MARK MCGWIRE MADE ME DO IT


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

October 2, 1998 -- Despite the fact that our lives on the road are more Kafkaesque than comfortable, I am fully aware that you don't point your Web browser in my direction looking for deep philosophical insight.

But just between us existential business travelers, let me ask you this: If a hurricane dumps two feet of rain on the Gulf Coast, Alan Greenspan cuts interest rates 25 basis points and Mark McGwire hits 70 home runs, but your laptop isn't equipped to tell you about such events, have they really happened?

Believe me, fellow travelers, this is no mere philosophical exercise. I don't raise this question to stimulate debate. I bring it up because I have lived this hellish scenario during the last week.

Stuck between being and nothingness in Central Maine, I found myself cut off from most of the rest of mankind. My Walkman pulled in exactly two radio stations, one that played Johnny Mathis on heavy rotation and one that played static. My five-inch television, not wired for cable, sporadically tuned the signal of a single station: a CBS affiliate broadcasting Jerry Springer all day and infomercials all night. The nearest newsstand, about 25 miles away, sold nothing so esoteric as USA Today or The Wall Street Journal.

Unanswered calls to my travel agent in Gulf Shores, Alabama, led me to guess that Hurricane Georges was smashing into the Gulf Coast. An overheard snatch of conversation in a local tavern brought news of McGwire's awesome, season-ending slugfest. I didn't even believe the village idiot when he said that both the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox had made the baseball playoffs. The briefest, snowiest glimpse of the CBS Evening News brought word of the impeachment process planned by the House Judiciary Committee. And I think it was a financially savvy loon who brought word of the Great Greenspan's rate splitting.

Why, you may be wondering by now, didn't I just fire up my laptop and get all these answers--and a couple of streaming-media playoff games--from the web?

I tried. Believe me, I tried. But my clunky 100-megahertz geezer was no match for the awesome requirements of today's Internet. The whole world may be out there for the surfing, but not if your laptop is three years old. Even with an external 56K modem, McGwire was hitting homers faster than I could download news. And you do not wanna know the kind of cash I burned while connected to a $6-an-hour access number.

Having just decamped to a luxury hotel elsewhere in Maine, I have finally caught up with the course of human events. Besides knowing the score--baseball, political, financial, meteorological and otherwise--I have also learned of the invention of the deep-fried Oreo at the Pennsylvania State Fair and the toppling of Helmut Kohl after 16 years as Chancellor of Germany.

But the issue of my wheezy, old laptop remains. Assuming you believe in a philosopher who believes god is not dead, I promise this: As god is my witness, I shall never be newsless again. From this day forward, my laptop will be state-of-the-art so I can surf for scores, hurricanes, financial updates, the creation of other deep-fried delicacies and the ceremonial frying of other Central European politicos.

Which laptop shall I buy? I haven't chosen the brand, but I know it will be loaded. It will have a Pentium II chip that runs at least 266 Mhz. It will have 64 megabytes of memory and a hard drive no smaller than 4 gigabytes. It will have a 56K internal modem. It will have a 14-inch screen. And it will be sheathed in one of those sleek, nearly indestructible titanium cases. Money will be no object. I have learned my lesson.

The day it arrives, I'm gonna load it with Netscape and Version 4.0 of America Online so that I can surf the CNN.com, ESPN.com, MSNBC.com, C-SPAN.com, USAToday.com, WSJ.com and FT.com, the Web site of the Financial Times. Then I'm going to Real.com, where I can download the RealMedia player, so that I can watch live broadcasts of the baseball playoffs and impeachment hearings and listen to the BBC World Service and radio stations that don't play Johnny Mathis four times an hour.

One other thing. I'm going to charge this laptop to my credit card. I figure there's no sense paying cash with the end of the world just around the corner.

After all, if the Red Sox and the Cubs reach the World Series in the same year they invent deep-fried Oreos, you know the Apocalypse is near.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.