I dialed-in, looked around, and found a bare-bones FidoNet messaging center with no apparent games and no local message activity to speak of. It was a Texas ghost town.
FidoNet is the most popular inter-BBS message network, with about 2,500 listed nodes (or connected systems) worldwide. That might be a stretch; recent attempts to verify that number by actually connecting to the services have come far short of 2,500. It's more likely that 100 to 150 are still active. It's a long fall from FidoNet's peak in 1995, at over 35,000 nodes. [...]
Intrigued, I left a message for the sysop, Mike Luther. No response. I called again and left my phone number. About an hour later, my phone rang: "Caller ID Blocked."
The BBS as a digital bunker for the age after privacy on the internet. It was Luther. He spent most of our hour-long conversation talking about things like Area 51 and the Mafia. They reflect the colorful nature of some of the BBS holdouts. In part of our conversation, Luther described the activities of Adolf Hitler and how they related to Texas. I had to ask: "Did Hitler ever use a BBS?" Luther replied, "I don't know."
This veteran sysop was born in 1939 and has been using computers as long as he can remember. He says his father once led the math department at Texas A&M University, which is located in College Station. Today, Luther runs his BBS out of the small house where his dad once lived, and he does so out of a sense of obligation to provide a dial-up avenue to FidoNet that is -- supposedly -- free of government surveillance. The BBS as a digital bunker for the age after privacy on the internet.
Eventually, Luther expressed grave concern for my safety given his complex life full of dangerous connections, so we exchanged polite goodbyes. [...]
Ten years ago, when I dipped back into BBSes, I still got a sense that many sysops ran them to provide a libertarian alternative to the internet. Among them, the unoppressed who wanted religious freedom, the unsurveilled who wanted freedom from surveillance, and those prepping for the day when BBSes would provide shelter after the internet came crashing down.
Today, those sentiments are much more unusual in the BBS community. In 2016, calling a BBS mostly means reliving glory days long past: 1990s technology as comfort food, nourishing the fragile soul with a slow drip of information at a rate that old-timers actually can comprehend.
How fitting, I thought, that a rugged individualist-type would still be running a dial-up only BBS (no Telnet) out in the middle of Texas.