Unlike the hit show Silicon Valley, my time in cyber space during the dot com 1.0 boom did not pan out. That said, I was glad to be along for the ride.
“Moving to San Francisco now, and not working for an internet company, is like living here in the 1800’s and not panning for gold,” Mark, a handsome 25-year-old marketing VP said while he interviewed me to be his roommate. I looked around his two-bedroom apartment in the Presidio in San Francisco, and wasn’t sure I wanted to live with all those brightly colored Mac computers and wires that overtook his living room. But I needed to find a place to live.
“You are really vice president of your company?” I asked. I was 28 with a Master’s degree and unemployed. “Yeah, it’s a great place to work,” he smiled.
“Well, I don’t have a job yet, but I’m interviewing next week at a dot com,” I said.
And then Mark gave me the look everyone in San Francisco gave me. His eyes said I like you, you are sweet. His head said, Are you crazy? Who moves to a city without a job? “I’ll let you know,” he said politely. He never did.
I wanted to live in San Francisco proper, but damn if anyone was going to take this unemployed New Yorker into their domicile. I wore thick black chunky shoes, I didn’t hike, I didn’t have two months rent, and worst of all: I was the California leper—I was a smoker.
I needed to find both a job and apartment, as my roommate’s boyfriend was moving in with her in a few weeks. I moved in with Daphne, a friend of a friend—and we hit it off. It was her strong allegiance to Buddha that made this New Yorker slightly ill at ease. “It sounds kind of like an electric can opener,” she told me. That’s how she described her daily chants at five in the morning. An accurate description. At first it was strange, however, like everything else I had to deal with in my year and a half in San Francisco, I simply got used to it.
Through a connection, I managed to get an interview at a new start-up in downtown San Francisco. I put on my best hip outfit and headed down to SOMA. Entering the building, I was nearly knocked over by a man on a skateboard, whirling by with a Jamba Juice in his hand. “Oops my bad,” he said and then skated off. I stood there and saw an amazing world.
Everyone was under 30. They all were plugging away on large computer screens. I was glad I made the move here. I saw the gold. “They are ready for you now,” A young woman with short platinum hair said to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I only knew Madison Avenue and blue suit type interviews. Instead, there were nine people resembling the cast from MTV’s The Real World who interviewed me in what I later learned was a bathroom. They used words like “groovy” and “right on,” and could care less about where I saw myself in five years. And just like that, I was a customer service representative. I went from Luddite to technical expert overnight. I was digging Cali. Hell ya!
If you told me that after graduating college and graduate school, I would be typing “hot keys” (pre-fabricated responses) and instant messages into a computer all day, I would have barked at you. The job certainly had its perks though. I was allowed to listen to my headphones all day and take breaks as needed. Naps too. I’d sit down in the funky lunchroom and abuse the free soda machine. The first day I drank five Diet Cokes, because of the novelty.
The luxuries of this workplace were endless. I see now why they folded so rapidly. We had a staff of 200 hipsters who were all taken care of. Our office manager would organize “Thanks for staying” parties, and lead us on karaoke nights, dressed in her all leather garb. Dogs were even allowed at work. Shoes optional. Parties were on the premises, often including live bands and endless favors. Salaries were ridiculous. Everyone was happy.
One day, while back East presenting my dissertation, my new boss called to tell me I was laid off. I had just been promoted too. No more free soda. No more IPO’s. I tried desperately to find another internet company to plug into. I temped at one, but it wasn’t the same. Soon enough, everyone was fashioned with the ubiquitous pink slips. Life as I knew it was gone. Game over. I lasted about three more months on the left coast before I finally went back to the big city. The first thing I did when I got back home was to light up a cigarette. No one said a word.