Wheelin' and Dealin' in a High-Tech World : Shoppers Browse for Bargains Among the Paraphernalia of the Computer Revolution

For a phenomenon so new that many people still haven't noticed it, the computer and electronics revolution's latest surge has already left a surprising amount of flotsam and jetsam in its wake.

Last Sunday, at the North Orange County Computer Club's biannual swap meet, high technology combined with old fashioned wheelin' and dealin' and hucksterism, as 5,000 to 6,000 people browsed through stalls overflowing with everything from big mainframe computers to software, computer key chains and the odd incongruities--such as Olympic collectors' pins.

The 120 vendors who paid from $5 to $30 for a space in the gridlike parking lot of a Santa Ana computer store and industrial complex seemed evenly divided between computer hobbyists who had hurriedly cleaned out their garages and folks who have managed to find some sort of career in computers and saw the swap meet as a way to pick up a few bucks on the side.

Likewise, most of the buyers appeared to be either computer hobbyists or professionals. Beyond that, though, the bargain hunting crowd was as colorful as that at any big flea market. Even before the 8 a.m. official starting time, hundreds of computerphiles meandered through the open-air stalls, their faces--sallowed by endless hours under florescent lamps--already turning a slight pink with exposure to the morning sun.

Much of the merchandise had already achieved antique status, even though it was made only a few years ago.

"That's an old computer," said a seller who would identify himself only as Ralph, as he pointed to a big Intel 80/20 computer he hoped to unload. "Obsolete like all the rest of them. Something that cost $4,000 or $5,000 two or three years ago, you can't even give it away now . . . ."

Although most buyers and sellers wistfully agreed with that assessment, it didn't limit the low and high-tech ingenuity with which some buyers pursued deals. One man, for instance, displayed a hand-scrawled message mounted on a stick. It read: "Do you have Xerox 800 ETS parts and supplies?"

Antennae on Heads

More than a few HAM radio enthusiasts wandered about conversing into walkie-talkies, and some, who looked like oversized bumblebees in sports attire, strolled with little antennae wriggling on their heads.

"You find the hot deals this way," explained Tom King of Westminster, after contacting a friend over the built-in microphone attached to his antennae.

"Let me tell you something: Some of these people are looking for bargains, but they're buying junk," said Nick Anis, who ran one of the largest stalls and said he sold $40,000 worth of goods at the computer club swap meet last year.

"Believe it or not, legitimate dealers, who don't sell junk, who don't sell Taiwan copies, do less business than the people who sell junk," he confided, as customers swarmed around the tables from which he peddled everything from printers and "Gorilla" brand computer monitors to "variety packs" of Frito Lay products, 100% synthetic motor oil, sodas, and one white toilet seat.

Throughout the day, Anis loudly hawked his wares, drawing a brisk trade to his booth. Just after noon, for instance, Darin, a 15-year-old student at Sonora High in Fullerton--who needs a computer "mainly for copying programs and rewriting programs,"--arrived at Anis' stall with his mother in tow.

"He really wants an Apple . . ." the mother advised Anis, as she eyed the $600 price tag.

"I could live with a Franklin," Darin butted in.

"The only reason I have this is because a friend asked me to sell it for him," Anis said. "He's 16 years old . . . ."

"Well he has his heart set on an Apple . . . ," the mother repeated.

"Really, Mom! I can live with a Franklin," Darin pleaded, ignoring his mother's pointed sidelong glances.

"People are trying to buy computers the way they buy appliances," Anis said, after another customer had drawn him away with a question. "They have a problem knowing that they can't buy a computer like they buy a color television . . . ."

Sikhs in Science

Despite Anis' comments, though, most of the browsers seemed fairly sophisticated in their electronic knowledge.

"Sikhs are into science," explained Ram Dass Bir Singh of Santa Ana as he and his brother Karta Purkh Singh strolled from booth to booth wearing the traditional full beards and turbans of their adopted religion.

The Singh brothers said that they use a " 'Mickey Mouse' Atari" at home for word processing and making astrological charts. But Ram Dass added: "Sikhs are setting up a whole computer network between Ashrams--we're getting ready for the space age."

Not everyone at the swap meet, though, was ready to make the transition into the highly touted new era.

"This is really terrible, it drives me up the wall," moaned June Wymer of Chino Hills as her companion, Wayne Miller, browsed from stall to stall.

Miller, a computer hobbyist since '77, who now works as a software engineer, was helping his grandfather shop for a color monitor to use in his import-export business. Wymer had reluctantly agreed to tag along.

By afternoon, as Miller plunged into yet another stall to discuss the esoterics of a particular piece of microcircuitry, Wyler's patience was wearing thin.

"He knows what he's talking about. I just stand here feeling stupid," she lamented, restlessly shifting her weight from leg to leg. "There's probably a stand at the very end that sells Valium . . . It's all so boring . . . I'm not coming again."

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