Etymology of an E-mail Address


I bought my first car when I was 17 years old.  I worked at Burger King all summer and had almost a thousand dollars saved up.  I found a 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit and bought it with help from my dad.  It was seven years old, but in pretty good condition.  It had a radio, automatic transmission and a sunroof you opened manually with a crank.  The car was painted a deep red color, called something like “73A” by Volkswagen.  However, I couldn’t afford to buy touch up paint from Volkswagen.  The closest color I could find at the auto parts store was “Wagon Red”.  My car was small, especially compared to my friend’s 1977 Ford LTD station wagon (we could stuff my car into the back and he wouldn’t even have to put the seat down).  My Rabbit was seriously underpowered; I could beat riding lawnmowers on the line, but other than that…  We started thinking of it as “The Little Red Wagon”, like one of those Radio Flyer wagons we had as kids. 

The CB radio craze was long dead by 1987, but you could pick up a used  CB radio at a garage sale for five bucks.  I had one; some of the other kids at school had one in their cars too.  In order to use a CB radio, you needed to have a “handle”, a special code name reserved for you and you alone.  Since my car was already thought of as not much more than a toy wagon, my handle was “Radio Flyer”.  CB radio was a neat idea, but didn’t work quite as well as planned.  The range on the radios was pretty limited.  Generally if you could hear someone on the CB, you could probably just roll down your window and talk to them directly. 

When I first started using computers, you did not choose your own name.  I remember I was “BOB357” on a Bulletin Board System in the early 80’s and “rcf36963” at the University of Illinois.  I got connected to the World Wide Web in 1994 and was automatically “francb136983”, whether I liked it or not.  Soon after, web based e-mail started showing up.  You could get an account on Yahoo! or Rocketmail for free and you got to choose your own e-mail address.   Since “bob@yahoo.com” had already been taken (even in 1994), I thought I would adopt an alias online.  I thought back to my CB radio days and tried “radioflyer”.  That was taken as well.  I added the year to the end and – as Paul Harvey might say – that’s the rest of the story.

I didn’t take many pictures of my first car.  I only have memories, a spare key and possibly a CB radio stuffed in a box down in the basement somewhere.  But the lasting legacy of those heady days of 1987 live on and I think about them every time I get SPAM in my inbox.

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