Online at Last
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Written by J. Dennis Robinson

Fireworks over North Church (c) Ralph Morang
OUR FIRST ONLINE COLUMN

Who could guess back in 1996 that we would still be online a decade later? Actually, we could. This regional site was built to last. SeacoastNH was born with an attitude and lots to say. Now with thousands of pages online and millions of readers later – we’re still standing. Here’s how it all started – back before Monica, Dubya, Iraq, Google and SPAM.

 

READ: New open source format launched in 2004

ONLINE AT LAST
Published January 1, 1997

We pulled the switch at midnight on New Year's Eve. If you can read this on your Web TV in Zanzibar, then the deed is done. We're on-line. A grueling year of brainstorming, loan applications and finger blistered keypunching, suddenly gives us the opportunity to lose our trousers in front of the whole global village.

The web crawlers won't discover us for weeks, the techno-weenies say. Fine by me. I'll cherish these last days of anonymity. Maybe this whole internet site isn't such a clever move after all.

I mean, it's one thing to make a fool of yourself for years and years in the local newspapers. God knows, no one reads those. And if a columnist runs amuck now and then, he can always make amends with his readership while standing in line for a Snuttynose at Richardson’s.

"Hey, nice column, man," the reader says, shifting his case of Bud-lite from his shoulder as Basil Richardson rings up the total, his ever-present stogie in place.

"Thanks," I beam, catching my foot in the cracked linoleum by the cash register where I've been catching my foot for more than two decades now. "You kinda ran amuck last night, though, man," the reader adds. "Like, she is the mayor and all that."

"Sorry," I frown. He's right, as always. "Hey, can I borrow a tenner?" the reader asks and in the transfer of cash my pseudo-journalistic sins are washed away. I am at peace with my Seacoast again.

But this web stuff changes everything. You, precious reader, probably don't know a Smuttynose Pale Ale from a Squamscott Cola, couldn't tell Richardson's Market from Marelli's Fruit and Real Estate. You could be anyone on Earth -- or off, I fear. For all I know, you're Bill Clinton himself, curled in your presidential jammies right this moment, surfing these very pixels.

But hey, I've got my mandate too. I'm here to convince every darn one of you that this little Seacoast is the true center of the universe. Bill knows it. Didn't he just get all weepy-eyed remembering his first primary kick-off in Dover, New Hampshire? Isn't that where he told us he was gonna run "till the last dog died"? My house was just a few blocks from where Bill made that historic statement. Although most of us around here have no idea whose dog Bill was referring to, we take full credit for where he said it.

All the candidates eventually come here. In New Hampshire, if you want your car Simonized, just wait four years and ask a politician. George Washington got that tradition going when he visited the Seacoast back in 1789. The rest just followed in his tracks.

You're going to face some pretty strange facts on this web site. They may shake your vision of American history. For example, Paul Revere first thought the British were coming to New Hampshire. The first shots of the American Revolution were fired here. Our founder, David Thompson, saved the Pilgrims from starving, but that Thanksgiving isn't celebrated. John Paul Jones sailed into history from a Portsmouth-built ship. Oh, in the famous painting, that unsung black soldier crossing the Delaware with George Washington? He was from around these parts too. George himself died in the hands of a Seacoast boy. I could go on, and will as the weeks roll by.

You're going to hear about some of the fastest tides in the world, the best musicians, performers and artists, the prettiest scenery. And we're going to tell you stories, warts and all, because this ain't no theme park and I'm no chamber of commerce. We make plenty of mistakes in New Hampshire and that's probably what makes us so interesting -- well, interesting to ourselves anyway.

Which brings me back to my original concern. How will all this local trivia play in Peoria? Take New Year's Eve, for instance. Around here we have this festival where people walk around downtown Portsmouth all night freezing their buns off. Crowds move from building to building watching a pile of local performers performing their hearts out. Then we all stand in the middle of the freezing street watching fireworks explode over the South Mill Poind and the North Church steeple.

When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, my parents used to celebrate New Year's Eve with a cabbage. My father delicately carved a hole in the top and inserted a can of sterno. Then my mother decorated the thing with dozens of Vienna sausages on toothpicks stuck into the head of the cabbage. It looked like a Sputnik. We pulled out sausages and cooked them in the crackling sterno flame, then we watched the big ball drop on TV. In the morning we slept late, then ate a lot of cole slaw.

Coming from out of state, I thought everybody celebrated New Year's with a cabbage Sputnik. When I arrived in the Seacoast, I finally learned that everyone should instead freeze his buns off watching fireworks. Am I making my point? We all live and learn. There's your way and then there's the way they do things around here. Since I live at the center of the universe, the onus is on you to learn our customs. Smuttynose at Richardson's, anyone?

So here we are about to pull the big switch and usher in, not only the fireworks and the new year, but also to expose our shiny new web site to millions of out- of-towners.. To ease the tension, I'm going to practice what I learned in high school oral report class. I am going to pretend that it is you, dear reader, not me, wearing only underwear. I am going to blather on as if I am just gabbing with my neighbors, no matter how many millions of you might be listening in.

And if, sometimes, I run amuck, feel free to send an email. But don't bother asking to borrow a tenspot unless you live around here. This is the internet, after all. I can't afford that much good advice.

Photo by Ralph Morang

Copyright © 1997 by J. Dennis Robinson at SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.