Forgotten Web Celebrities: Lunch Menu Man
Over the last 10 years, the Web has propelled hundreds of people to instant cyber-stardom and while it's true that a handful of them have have stayed there, most have fallen back into obscurity, leaving nothing more than a ghostly skein of broken links to mark their brush with greatness. Who were these people, how did the Web create them, and what's become of them now? In this new feature, Forgotten Web Celebrities, Ghost Sites will dig through the wreckage left behind once the engines of hoopla and hype ran out of fuel.
Lunch Menu Man, AKA Dave Price, was one of the first humans to suffer the joys and indignities of being shot out of the Web's fame cannon. Surprisingly, Price didn't even even have a Web site when cyber-notoriety knocked in early 1996; what he did have was a a voicemail service that students could call to hear him read the lunch menu for a North Carolina School district. Price's way of reading the menu was so wackily over the top that the phone number began to be passed around on e-mail lists and USENET groups, and within a short time calls to the Lunch Menu Line grew from 200 to 18,000 a day.
That's when the journalists pounced. First NPR's All Things Considered, Hotwired, Time Inc's The Netly News, and Salon came to call, and by the end of the year Price had radio airplay, an agent, offers from Good Morning America, Jay Leno and David Letterman, a book contract, and high hopes to be, in his words "a national icon".
Price did actually publish his book ("A collection of wacky jokes, song parodies, and short stories about lunch (that) includes tidbits on such celebrity foods as 'Okra' Winfrey and 'Johnny-Cake' Depp"), which, although out of print, is still on sale at Amazon.com. But it's hard to find much other evidence on the Web of what once appeared to be an inevitable date with immortality. Today the phone number that was once so popular (704-377-4444) directs to a plain-vanilla line at the Charlotte Observer (which once hosted a page devoted to him at www.charlotte.com/ads/menuman). The Netly News is gone, and Hotwired's servers contain no mention of him. Even Yahoo's listing of Lunch Menu Man in its Humor/Food_and_Drink/Lunch category yields nothing more than a "This Page No Longer Available" warning.
The best evidence that there ever was a mass phenomenon called Lunch Menu man is in an old Salon article by Dave Eggers that miraculously persistes more than eight years after its posting. It's a good story that captures Lunch Menu Man-omania at the absolute pinnacle of his cyber-fame.
Today, sadly, only one lonely audio sample survives to remind people of the man who Eggers dubbed the world's first "voicemail superstar".
What are we to make of the Lunch Menu Man saga? Well, it's proof again that the Web is both Warholian, in the sense of giving people with interesting ideas their "15 minutes" (or megabytes) of fame, and also Orwellian, in terms of the fact that most of these people are forgotten just as quickly.
If you have information about the current whereabouts of Lunch Menu Man or any amplifications/corrections to this article, please send e-mail to Steve Baldwin and I will include it as time provides.
Labels: Forgotten Web Celebrities