Sunday Snippet – Alphasmart by Bill Chance

“She’s not my wife,” the man said, “She’s my aunt, and she likes you.”

—–Bill Chance, random file from my Alphasmart Neo

Map Bag

My Not-A-Purse. What is strange is that I found this image floating around on the internet – I don’t know where it originally came from. But if you look, there is an Alphasmart Neo sticking up in the bag. I can’t believe other people out there have Neos in their bags, exactly like mine.

Over the decades I have been on a quest for the perfect, distraction-free, portable writing machine.

I have experimented with netbooks, phones with bluetooth keyboards and tablets with wired keyboards (which actually works well – but not in the sun).

My Toshiba Netbook – rode my bike to a coffee shop.

Bluetooth Keyboard and my phone.

My android tablet and portable keyboard, I stopped my bike ride on the Bridge Park over the Trinity River to get some writing done.

My favorite (but long obsolete) solution, however, has always been the Alphasmart. It’s a portable keyboard, powered by double A batteries (which last years) with a tiny four line display. You type text into it and it keeps the text. To export, you USB the thing to your regular computer, hit SEND, and it retypes your text back into whatever program you want. Amazing and simple.

I used an Alphasmart 3000 for a couple years. I wasn’t happy with it – the keyboard was clunky and hard to type fast on. I replaced it with an upgraded version that had an excellent keyboard – the  Neo – which was really good. I still have it – I lost one key somewhere, but it isn’t an important one. I need to dig that thing out and start carrying it again.

The medium used to generate words (handwriting, Alphasmart, tablet, phone laptop, desktop, digital or tape recorder, manual typewriter, Dragon naturally speaking) has a huge influence on how I write. I think I’m going to dig out the Alphasmart Neo and carry it again. Since you can only see four short lines (a tiny bit of text) at any one time, it helps to kill off your internal editor – you just move on. It does tend to produce small bits of jarring snippets of text, however. These, hopefully, can be expanded and re-used later.

I found some files on my computer from many years ago labled “AS1, AS2, AS3…” and so one. These were collections of stuff I had written on the Alphasmart Neo up to a decade ago.

Here’s one:

I was about to leave a run-down roadhouse in Bumfucker, Arkansas, when I offered two bottles of Budweiser to a local couple I had just met.

“One for you and one for your wife.”

“She’s not my wife,” the man said, “She’s my aunt, and she likes you.”

Later I was lying on a noisy mattress in the back of her trailer, thinking, there are other people in this room. But they were only cats.

I’m actually sort of excited about bringing my Alphasmart Neo back from the dead. If you want one – they are readily available used for 35 bucks or so from Ebay.

A bit of text found on my Alphasmart, file seven

I’ve started carrying my Alphasmart Neo again. I’ll write about my Alphasmart soon – for now, if you don’t know, it’s simply a portable keyboard designed for schoolkids that works great for writing first drafts. I had to clean out the old text from the machine. Seven of the eight files are full of stuff I wrote a while back. Six were parts of short stories: “Single Malt” – a modern retelling of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” which  will be in my upcoming short story collection, and “Like Regular Chickens” which… well, won’t.

The seventh is a bit of text I wrote and never uploaded – at least I don’t think I ever took if off of the Alphasmart. If I’m wrong and I used it somewhere – sorry. It’s a bit of true story written down in the third person. My name isn’t Frank. The kid didn’t have spiked hair. I was involved in a minor accident in the MiniVan. It totalled the van, actually, but that didn’t take much, it was a rolling piece of shit. A shame, really, it was a rolling piece of shit, but it was rolling, and that is the only thing important to me.

Before I clear the memory of the Alphasmart I wanted to put the text somewhere, for safe keeping. Why not here?

At any rate, here’s a snippet of writing, truth, fiction, whatever.


The first surprising thing about a car accident is the sound. It is very quick and very loud. A pressure wave of impact, a punch of suddenly rended metal and a tinkling trail of showering glass and small steel pieces striking the asphalt.

The second suprising thing about a car accident is the way that your logical mind catches up with your limbic system. The inner ancient lizard brain knows something has happened, somthing bad, though it has no idea what. That hank of emergency response nerve endings, shoved up inside your big old bulbous fancy modern brainy grey matter has been there, unchanged, since the days of charging mastodons – so how could it know about automobile crashes?

Something sure sets it off, though. Before the final bit of physics (Newtonian laws observed, bodies at rest disturbed, bodies in motion trying to stay in motion, gravity, energy adsorbed and turned into waste heat) has played out it sends out its panic juices. Eyes bulge, heart races,  fingers clutch. Only then, too late, really, does the mind catch up. The eyes look around and the brain starts trying out scenarios – “Did that guy behind me just rear-end my car?” “Was that a truck?” “Where did THAT come from?” – but every possibility is thrown out – judged an impossibility by the information coming in from the eyes.

So Frank sat there motionless, stunned. He wasn’t hurt, though his teeth ached a bit from being forced together with his head impact-shoved into the seatback. Then he saw the mangled motorcycle out in the middle of the intersection ahead. That was what had hit him. He had been patiently sitting motionless at the intersection in the left turn lane waiting for the green arrow. He looked at the crumpled machine, watched fluids running out of the mess,  and realized the rider was nowhere to be seen. Frank’s engine was still running so he switched it off and started working up the courage to open the door. He didn’t want to. He didn’t even want to look around. He didn’t want to think about what had happened to the rider. Finally, he decided that there was no getting around it and with a rictus of dread stretched across his face, he opened the door and stepped out onto the little strip of concrete that served as the left-turn median.

The people from the other cars were already out and looking around.

“Where’s the rider?” asked Frank as he gingerly looked under his truck.

“Oh, he’s way back there,” said the guy from the Honda parked in back of him. “He was racing, doing wheelies, and he must of fallen off his bike.”

“You mean I was hit by a riderless bike?”

“Yeah, looks like it.”

“Did he hit you?”

“Nope, it went right by me, bounced off you and that red truck, then out there.”

Frank looked back and saw about fifty yards back up the road, some kid with blond spiked hair trying to stand, brushing road grime off his leather jacket. Frank was glad the kid was all right, relieved he didn’t have to deal with a mangled corpse jammed under his truck.

Still, looking at the damage to the back quarter of his truck, the twisted metal, the shredded tire, the pile of red plastic bits below where the brake light used to be, he found himself wishing the guy was hurt – at least  just a little.


Now that I read that snippet, I think I”ll steal a piece of it, clean it up, punch it up, and insert it into another story – “Tailgate.”

There’s a rear-end car accident in that one, and I like the bit about the sound of rending metal.