It was twenty years ago this month that The Back Bumper was first launched!
Back then, the Internet seemed to be catching on. There still weren’t a lot of personal web sites out there, but I wanted a platform on which I could write about my quaint little hobby of collecting old vehicle license plates. I just needed to learn how to do it, but back then, there was no Google, no Wikipedia, and even the “…For Dummies” books were in their infancy. If I wanted to learn how to create a web site, I would have to take a class. It was the only way.
The local internet provider at the time, Soonet, was operated by a good guy named Tom Stephenson who offered a series of evening classes on web site construction. The next session of classes was starting soon, but the fee was about $200 per person. I was an unemployed university graduate, so I had to find $200 somewhere.
As it happened, my parents took the whole family out to dinner one night, “over the river” as we called it, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Since my sister and I had attained the age of majority, we decided to hit the local casino, Vegas Kewadin, located on a nearby native reservation. My mother was feeling generous and handed each of us fifty bucks and told us to make it last.
I had a stellar night playing blackjack, and I parlayed my fifty dollars into $250. By the time we cashed out, the rest of the family had spent their kitty, and I was the only one who came out ahead.
Before my mother had a chance to make “suggestions” on how to put that $250 to use, I paid Soonet to join their next round of web classes. That pissed my mom off. She thought the Internet was silly, and a waste of money and time. But I had a feeling that investing my winnings in this way would pay dividends.
The classes ran for a couple of hours on Monday nights. I found out how simple it was on that first evening—just use a text editor like notepad, type out some simple HTML code, photoshop a few graphics, and then upload it to the Soonet web server. Poof! Your page, however simple, would be on the World Wide Web for all to discover. That was basically all I needed to know. Over the next day, I assembled some pictures into a basic web site. I called it The Back Bumper. I uploaded it on September 17, 1997, and sat back to surf through my work.
The site had a little biography about yours truly, a want list, a trade list, an opinion column called “My 2 Cents”, and an ill-fated feature I called “Bolthole Row”, where collectors could tattletale on others who hadn’t held up their end of a trade bargain. That was a dumb idea—making drama for drama's sake—to say nothing of the potential libel ramifications, and it was soon axed from the site. I replaced it with “Traffic Jam,” where I posted content about my other transportation-related interests.
The very first “My 2 Cents” post was entitled Plate Geeks Unite! At the time, there was a group of online plate collectors with no place to go, aside from a rudimentary email list. My inaugural column was a call to action of sorts, suggesting that we band together to start a new collecting club online. The need was there, since Facebook didn’t yet exist, and even ALPCA didn’t yet have a web site. I proposed that online collectors could string together some web sites, start a formal organization, release an electronic newsletter, or some other such thing. That inaugural post is now lost; it was overwritten because my file names weren’t as unique as they should have been. However, the second post, and all of the posts I’ve written since then, survive in dormancy on my hard drive. Some of them will be reposted to the 2Cents Archive on this newly-redesigned Back Bumper site as time permits. But I won’t post all of them, because some of the earlier installments are pretty mindless and make for terrible reading.
The web classes continued at Soonet, but I had advanced beyond the rest of the group and spent my time scanning plates and photographs. Later in '97, I designed a personal, non-plate-related website so that I could appear more "normal" to people who might eventually hire me. A cute girl soon stumbled across it, we got to talking, and we even went on a blind date. We eventually got married, and we’re still here.
Those HTML codes and photoshopping skills have served me well over the years. I took a job maintaining a genomic research website. I freelanced. I co-designed and co-maintained the first version of the ALPCA website, and served as its chief webmaster for a few years. After I became a teacher, I created web sites for my classes. But as the years went by, the Internet left my 1990s-era skills behind. HTML is limited in what it can do. The web, nowadays, is rich in free online tools that are very powerful and intuitive to use. When the 20th anniversary of The Back Bumper loomed, the site was stale and clunky. It was the perfect time for a rebuild.
As for this column, which has morphed into a blog, I often can’t explain the inspiration behind its contents. Sometimes I have writer’s block. I’ll want to write a 2 Cents post, but I won’t be able to think of a damn thing to say. That can go on for weeks, or even months, especially through the winter when there are fewer interesting things going on. But there are other times, like right now, when subjects just come to me, and the words just stream out of my mind, through the keyboard, and onto the screen. I’ve been writing at a prolific rate lately. Since I relaunched the site, about eight weeks ago, I’ve written five articles, and they’re all pretty good ones. This is the sixth article. I admit that this installment won’t be remembered as one of the “good” ones, but hey: My little web site is 20 years old, and I’m pretty stoked about it!