My family unwittingly entered the digital age in the 1970s and in an unexpected and unrecognized way. My dad bought a piano for my mother that he found in the classified ads (want ads) in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. The piano he bought was a player piano.
A player piano is “programmed” using paper rolls called word rolls or piano rolls. These rolls have small retangular holes in the paper, nine per inch, which correspond to the eighty-eight keys on a piano. The piano has a mechanism to move air through the holes as the paper is moved across the trackerboard. The holes are the ones and zeros, the on an off and they determine whether a key is played or not. This is binary (digital) logic in a mechanical/pneumatic form. I saw a stack of these word rolls or piano rolls in my local Goodwill store. I suspect I am one of the few shoppers who recognized what they were.
My dad would spend hours on the weekend mornings reading the want ads in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). Then, unlike now, the classified ads were a significant part of the newspaper and a key source of revenue. In the AJC they were a whole section (two or three sections on Sundays) of the newspaper. Dad would circle ads, place telephone calls to the sellers, and make notes in his quick draftsman lettering or in his compact, intense cursive writing. Once he was satisfied the mission planning was complete, we’d set off in the car. To do so required one to clear their calendar because you never knew where you were going or when you would return. I remember country music on the radio - and I never got to touch to dials to change the radio station or adjust the volume - and there was always lunch eaten at a greasy spoon restaurant, the more obscure the better.
With this process, I witnessed my father buy a chest freezer (for the basement), two campers (trailers), a car or two, the piano, several motorcycles, and a motorcycle trailer for transporting our motorcycles. These transactions apparently required lengthy conversations and negotiations as if they were a peace treaty or something. This was my least favorite part of weekend life on the road with my father. He would talk with these strangers for what seemed like hours but they were not strangers to him.
Occasionally dad would sell items using the classified ads but more often he was the buyer and ready to take to the road in search of, ready to talk to strangers. The apple didn't fall far from the tree. My want ads are found in Craig’s List and I’ve bought and sold hundreds of items on Craigs List. And yes, I talk to strangers but they are not strangers to me. My kids tell me I will talk to anyone and they are right. I guess all those hours spent riding with my father was more than an informal shopping excursion. It was on-the-job training for me.
Our player piano is gone. I believe it was listed on Craig’s List and sold along with the two piano rolls we owned but these rolls play on in my head, my player piano.
Dad, happy Father’s Day and thank you for the gift of life-long music.