The strange cases of vintage Apple hardware sellers — Part 2

After an unforgivable delay, here’s another installment of my diverse experiences with vintage Apple hardware sellers.

2. The elusive Macintosh SE/30
I have wanted this particular Mac since the 1990s, but for a reason or another, it’s been an unexpectedly difficult hunt, to the point that I started giving it another codename: White Whale. If I recall correctly, I’ve had at least 10 good opportunities to acquire a SE/30 over the years… or so I thought. Here are some notable examples of those occasions.

  • Attempt 1: A seller lists a “MAC SE30 with CD-ROM”, rather cheap, available for pickup only, fortunately at an address very close to where I was living at the time. I take my car and go to his house at the preferred time of day he indicated in the ad. He only gave his address, so I couldn’t contact him to check the veracity of his listing. (I was a bit suspicious of that with CD-ROM part, but I figured it was a Macintosh SE/30 with an external SCSI CD-ROM unit, which is not that uncommon a combination). After a friendly handshake, he told me he was glad someone was already showing up for the Mac, he only put the ad the day before. Then we went on the back of the house, he opened the garage door and there it was… a Performa 630CD. “Not the model I was looking for,” I told him. He looked puzzled and a little annoyed, so I explained I was looking for a ‘Macintosh SE/30’ and that the ad (I showed him) said indeed ‘Mac SE30’, not ‘Performa 630’. “They must have misread my handwriting when I placed the ad,” he replied, “I wrote Mac 630 on the slip”… A long awkward pause, then I politely took leave of him.
  • Attempt 2: I notice that a mailing list acquaintance mentions that the company where he works is in the process of transferring him to another office in a different building and since the space is a bit more cramped, he’ll have to get rid of some of his old Macs he keeps in a shelf for display, a SE/30 among them. I contact him immediately, manifesting my interest for the SE/30. He’s a bit taken aback by my promptness, but we easily arrange things (the usual drill: here’s my address, send the Mac to me and I’ll pay shipping, etc.) and he even goes as far as telling me “I appreciate your contributions to the list and I’m glad the SE/30 goes to a good home”. After that, silence. A week passes. Three weeks pass. I send emails, nothing. I ‘ping’ the guy on the mailing list, nothing. Two months go by. I’m not the kind who obsesses over things, but that suspended situation simply made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t hoping to see the SE/30 anymore yet I was curious to know what happened. I admit I was starting to worry for the guy himself: maybe something bad happened to him, maybe he was involved in an accident or something. So I went to the nearest Italian branch of the company he worked for (he was in Germany) and asked if someone could get him on the phone for me. “Urgent personal business” I said to the receptionist. She was kind enough to phone the German office and after a while she got his extension and gave me the receiver. “Hello? How can I help you?” – I explained who I was and why I was calling. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about” – I said something like ‘heh heh, nice joke’ – “No, seriously, who are you and how did you get my number?” – I explained what happened two months before in greater detail, then his chilling answer: “Yes, that’s my email address, but I never subscribed to that mailing list you mention, never heard your name before, and I’ve never even owned a Mac computer. So, if you don’t mind, I have work to do” and he hung up. I thanked the receptionist and went away, more puzzled than before. Had someone taken his identity to post on mailing lists and scam people? (But there was no scam, since I hadn’t paid shipping costs in advance). Had it been a prank from a co-worker of the guy I spoke with on the phone? Or was it him all along? You know, maybe he gave or sold the SE/30 to another person for better money and, instead of apologising for such rudeness, he came up with all that “I don’t know you and what you’re talking about” bullshit. If so, it was a great performance since my call was totally unexpected and two months after the fact. Every time I recall this episode, it still makes me wonder…
  • Attempt 3: Seven years ago I briefly collaborated with a graphic design and advertising agency. As it often happens in these places, you could spot the occasional vintage Mac when visiting the offices. Usually someone keeps the first machines that were running when the agency started its business a few years or decades back. In this case, it was the founder himself and his son. Both great people, I must say. Both treated me well while I was there. But the Macintosh SE/30 affair was another memorable episode. At that point I was starting to believe that that machine was sort of cursed. Or had a proprietary port my karma couldn’t connect with. One day I was at my temporary desk and the founder’s son, G., approaches me and tells me that there are some old Macs and assorted hardware they have to throw away to make room for more modern equipment and because they need to set up a new office for a recently-hired designer. “They are in the storeroom at the end of the corridor. Go take a look and then you’ll have a couple of days to take away whatever you like before we dump everything”, G. said. Music to my ears, especially when I saw a Macintosh SE/30 lying there, complete with video card to attach an external two-page black & white 21″ Radius monitor. Later that same afternoon, when it was time to leave, I picked the SE/30, an Apple Adjustable Keyboard, an ADB mouse, an old ADB graphic tablet, the 21″ Radius monitor and loaded my trusty Fiat Panda. It felt like Christmas. It was Thursday. The following Monday G. came to me, remarkably agitated and asked me to pray tell him whether there was a Macintosh SE/30 with a B440010 sticker on the back among the things I took from the storeroom. I told him “Why, yes, it’s the only SE/30 I found”. “Oh thank God!” – he replied – “You’ll have to bring it back, I’m afraid”. I was confused: “Didn’t you tell me to take what I wanted because all that stuff was to be thrown away?” I replied, and G. said: “Yes, but there has been a mistake. That SE/30 is from my father’s collection, plus it still contains sensitive information. You understand…” “If it’s a matter of personal data, tell your dad I haven’t even turned the Mac on yet, and I could pull the hard drive out and give it to him…”, I replied. He got agitated again: “NO, no, believe me, it’s best if you just bring the SE/30 back tomorrow. You don’t want to see my father angry…” — Oh well, I gave up: “Calm down, G., tomorrow that precious SE/30 will be back, and cleaner than before”. The day after I put the Mac on G.’s desk.

Just so you know, I finally got to enjoy a Macintosh SE/30 only rather recently and thanks to Roberto, a reader of this blog, who sent me one two years ago (read more here, with another two little anecdotes about my misfortunes with this particular Mac model). I guess the spell is broken now, yes?

(To be continued)

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