Did you know that Christopher Dunn and Pamela Jensen are the first nationwide couple to meet and marry though a computer communication system? Pre-Internet no less.
The article below was written in 1983, at the dawn of the Internet era. The “Internet” as we know it now only existed on a few college campuses and military research facilities. But a few private business had begun to lay the groundwork for the communications revolution by offering remote access and communications facilities to the public. Some notable names were Compuserve, Genie, America Online, and others. All access via dial-up modems and your phone lines. In addition to these nationwide offerings, many local hackers and computer buffs had implemented their own “BBS” systems out of their homes or offices. Serving small areas with text based chat boards and trying to “relay mail” from hop to hop in the middle of the night when long distance phone rates dropped.
The article here takes a good deal of dramatic license. To put it bluntly, neither Pam or myself were as bad as the article reads. It makes us both sort of sound like we just crawled out from under some rocks. When in truth all we did was crawl out from under some growing up awkwardness and shyness. The take-away here is that everyone grows up at their own rate and in their own way. Our way just happen to involve the modern analogy of old fashion Letter Writing; now perhaps an almost lost art.
When this article was published in Chicago, it also went out on the Chicago Tribune wire service. The article, in one form or another, was published in dozens of papers around the world, and we heard back from people about what a wonderful story this is.
The article was also seen by the TV News stations, to the extent that at our civil ceremony at City Hall, it was myself, Pam, 3 close friends, and 5 TV Camera crews! All the local TV stations were there doing the story about how we met, along with 2 crews from ABC’ 20/20.
Then to get even stranger, we were flown back to New York City to appear on Good Morning America with David Hartman to tell the story live. Then to top it off we wound up on the Phil Donahue show, and also on a silly TV game show where we won a honeymoon trip to a Caribbean island. We also did a bunch of radio call-in shows around the nation. It was quite a time.
There has been the occasional follow-up story, Chicago Tribune 25 year later followup article, but nothing to match the splash we had in 1983.
And to just to set the record straight, Pam and I do claim to be recognized as the first “National” couple to meet and marry though computer chat/communications. However we were not the first local couple, not for the CB simulator anyway. For about 1 month before Pam and I married, Arwen (Nancy Beauline) and Aragon (Kevin Hauser) married. These CB users both lived in New York City, and I stood up at their wedding.
I now take you back to 1983, pre-internet, and the time of our lives…
Cupid and computers conquer all
By Ann Marie Lipinski
Chicago Tribune – Jan 26,1983 – Used under Fair Use.
HE WAS CHRISDOS. She was Zebra 3. From her bedroom on the North Side she would log onto her Radio Shack terminal and connect with his Heathkit in Queens.
“Hello, Chrisdos," she'd type.
He'd answer, “Hiya, Zebra 3."
Chrisdos — the handle Chris Dunn chose, an amalgam of his name and a computer term — was a loner. He was 26, never had had a date, had few close friends. He worked with computers and electronics for a security firm in New York City, and in five years there he had asked for a raise only once, reasoning, “What would I do with the money?”
When he was 3 his father gave him a broken record player [to tinker with.] Since that day Chris had passed the years alone in his room, mending increasingly sophisticated electronics and watching TV.
"He was a hermit," said his father, Don, an editor for Business Week. “I had given up on him long ago.“
ZEBRA 3 — the handle Pam Jensen chose, one she had heard on Starsky and Hutch — was a loner, too. She was 30, never had been in love, had few friends. She was an animal keeper at the Lincoln Park Zoo, responsible for the tenants in the old Primate House. She was fonder of Sinbad, the zoo's 500-pound lowland gorilla, than of most people she knew.
“I’m into my animals," she would say, or, “They're my babies."
She lived with her parents. She was very shy. When her family went out to dinner, Pam never would pay the check because she feared the encounter with the cash register keeper, a stranger.
"The kind of person,” a friend said, “who apologizes for living."
It was inevitable that Chris, who was crazy about computers, would discover CB Simulator. The program, manufactured by CompuServe, a Columbus, Ohio, company, links computer users the way CB radio links truck drivers.
Chris could type a message onto his terminal in New York, and all who were tuned into CB Simulator would receive that message instantly on their terminal screens. Not only that, but they could send messages back, signing them with the handle they had chosen.
Thus, 10, 20, sometimes 30 people from around the country would "talk" with Chris and one another, much the way they would if they were all linked by a conference call.
The benefits to the shy were incalculable.
“How can I say this?" asked Chris, a dark-haired man with hazel and a wan complexion.
“Two years ago I found CB Simulator, and I fell in love with it immediately. Do you know the experience of calling someone on the telephone, and you’ve never talked to them before, and you're very nervous and don’t know how to break the ice. . .? Well, maybe you don’t. Me, I couldn't call people.
“But with CB I had no problem. There is no voice communication. You can reveal whatever you want about yourself. If you don’t want to say anything, that’s fine, too. You can just watch the conversation because there are other people talking back and forth. In fact, some CB users never talk. They just watch. We' call that lurking.
"I found myself using CB four, five hours a night."
It was fate that Pam, who had no interest in computers, discovered CB Simulator. One night she went to a party. She didn’t normally attend parties, but this one was for a friend's birthday and she was obligated. The friend, an engineer, owned a computer. He had tried frequently to interest Pam in computers but never had succeeded.
Then he showed her CB Simulator. “He logged me into CB," Pam recalled, “and it took me about five minutes to fall in love with it. I had just been to California, and even though I would have a hard time talking in person about the trip, there were all these people on CB I could share the experience with. It was wonderful. I had never felt that way.
“There’s something intimidating to me even about a telephone. But on CB, well I could give as much of myself as I wanted, or nothing. And you can be anything you want. I always thought that if I didn’t have the qualities assigned to, well, you know, if I weren’t gorgeous, that no one would bother to find out what was going on inside me. On the computer, that’s all eliminated.
Every woman is a 10, every man is a 10. For all the other CB users knew, ‘I was Miss America.
“I was on his computer for five hours that night."
Her friend was so pleased with Pam's interest in something that wasn't an animal that he bought her a terminal for her own. Soon Pam, like Chris, was terminal-talking every night.
Ms. Rainbo, Cosmo, Mimi, Big Frog and others make up the cast of CB users. Some nights they might share Japanese recipes; or nights they'd play Dungeons and Dragons. Most nights they just talked.
In time they became intimate friends. They gave each other CB hugs. They typed [[[[[HUG]]]]] and thought the parentheses a pretty good approximation of the act.
“Some nights a bunch of us might get together and have a hot tub party, Chris said. “Somebody would say, ‘Okay, everybody over to my house; we’re having a hot tub party,’ and we’d all imagine ourselves at this person's house relaxing in a hot tub. We have a lot of people on from the West Coast, and they all go for that kind of stuff."
Then Chris, who in 26 years never even had held a woman's hand, let alone done so in a hot tub, grinned impishly and said, “Luckily, I wind up with all the girls sitting in my lap." He giggled.
“Chris, you never told me that."
“That was before I met you, Pam."
That exchange took place not on computers, as for many months their conversations had, but in person, face to face, his hand stroking her arm, in the primate library of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Chris, who at one time would not make the trip from Queens to Manhattan to meet his father for lunch, has moved to Chicago to be with Pam.
Make no mistake. Chrisdos loves Zebra 3.
“At first I would see the Zebra 3 handle in passing, but I never had spoken very directly to her besides the usual hello and goodbye," Chris recalled. “In fact, I didn’t even know Zebra 3 was a woman."
In time, though, the zookeeper and the computer expert discovered a world in common. He liked science fiction. So did she. She liked fantasy and Tolkien. So did he. She said she liked unicorn lore. He said he did, too.
“She was so pleasant to talk to,” he said.
“He made me feel so comfortable,” she said.
Before long Chrisdos and Zebra 3 were switching off into “talk,” a CB channel allowing private conversation. There, nightly, they shared their lives.
“After an hour or two of that each evening we’d go back into public CB and hang out there some more, maybe go to a hot tub party,” Chris said.
“You went to hot tub parties,” Pam corrected him.
“Excuse me,” he said.
One day a CB user messaged Pam, “Watch out for Chrisdos. He’s a Casanova!”
Among CB users a trend had developed: CB parties. Real parties.
A user would post an invitation on the program's "bulletin board," and occasionally CB users would travel cross-country to attend.
“I don't know how to explain to you the feeling you have for your CB friends," Chris said. “You’ve spent so much time talking to them – or rather typing at them – that you truly feel you know them. You have no idea what they look like, what they sound like, how old they are half the time, but that doesn't matter. You go to these parties, finally meet in person and then just pick right up.’
“Before you've even seen them," said Pam, "you know them intrinsically.“
Last April a message appeared on the CB bulletin board to the effect of “Party at Zebra 3's house."
"How would you feel if I showed up?" Chrisdos typed.
“Right,” said Zebra 3. She never thought he'd make the trip. But he did. She agreed to meet him at O'Hara International Airport.
It occurred to Pam when she got to the airport that she didn't know what Chris looked like. It didn't matter. He was easily the one with the stainless steel suitcase emblazoned with his handle and his computer code number.
"I always had been, believe it now or not, a relatively shy person,” Chris said. “Don‘t rock the boat. Don't make waves. Stay in the background. Usually, you know, if I had to meet somebody new I'd be nervous and have to wait for the ice to break or whatever. But with Pam, I walked right up to her, there was no fear, no nervousness, none of the pain that usually comes when you have to meet somebody new and you're being nervous.
"With Pam, I look one look and thought to myself, ‘Damn! That's a beautiful looking woman.’ "
To her he said, "You must be Zebra 3.”
She smiled. "You must be Chrisdos”
Later he would say, “Six seconds off the plane I knew I was in trouble.” He meant he was in love.
Pam described the weekend this way: "He stayed a couple of days; we had the time of our lives; he went back; I got immediately depressed."
They arranged another visit, this one at his father’s cabin in the Catskills. One night, in front the fireplace, Chris reached for Pam's right hand and removed from it a unicorn ring she wore. He placed it on her left hand.
“I blew it,” Pam recalled. “I said, ‘You’ve put it on the wrong hand,’
“’No, I haven’t,’ he said. I blushed. I waited until I got home and called him, this time on the telephone, and said, ‘Um, did you ask me to marry you?’
“He said yes.”
So did she.
“At first I asked myself, ‘How can I possibly care so much about someone I have only physically seen twice?” Pam said.
“Then I thought of al1 the hours and hours we had spent communicating on the computer, as compared to the average dating couple. Say every weekend they go out to dinner and then dancing. The amount of time they spend actually talking to each other is but a fraction of the time Chris and I have spent talking.
“We probably have spent more time talking than the average couple has done in several years, and the talk has been intense. All you can do on the computer is, well, type-talk. I've accepted the fact that I can feel this way about someone I've seen so few times."
Pam and Chris tentatively plan to be married April 23, a year to the day they met at O’Hare. Chris is looking for a job here and meanwhile is volunteering his time at the zoo, much to the consternation of Sinbad.
"He's very jealous," said Pam, who demonstrated by having Chris walk in front of Sinbad’s cage. The gorilla threw his feces at the cage window. When Pam appeared in front of his cage, Sinbad stared plaintively.
“If he gets out,” Chris said, “I’m dead.”
Not long ago Chris read that Carolyn, a lowland gorilla from the Central Park Zoo, was in need of a home. He told Pam, and the two of them dreamed about inviting Carolyn to Chicago to live with Sinbad.
“It was a very nice fantasy," Pam said, “but there could be many problems.
“You never know how Sinbad might react, an animal like him who has been alone all his life."
It's not over yet... Still going strong and more to come!