Back when I moved to NYC, the last thing on my mind was becoming part of history, ie, the heydey of Silicon Alley, ie, part of the Great Dot Com Bubble.
As happens a lot in my life, I just needed something, put it out there and somehow fell into something very interesting. In this case, I needed a day job while living in New York to subsidize my acting efforts. I had no money, knew noone but was lucky enough to have had some great experience as a technical writer while I was still living in Jacksonville. One thing led to another and I got a temp-to-perm gig in some ad agency. Little did I know that this was a soon-to-be powerful online ad agency (a new concept at the time) that was a celebrated startup. And I joined right as they started getting big (along with the Internet itself).
This was 1998 and email had just crept into my life a couple of years before. I was hired as part of the publications department to write (and rewrite, then rewrite again) technical manuals about this new kind of software that would be able to identify certain traits about someone visiting a website and then serve ads targeted to their likely interests. All while preserving the anonymity of said visitor. I was a bit skeptical at the time – this seemed a bit Big Brother science fiction to me. But whatever. I was getting paid – well enough to rent my own shoebox of an apartment in the West Village and take taxis. I wasn’t about to question my new overlords.
There were lots of other benefits to working in a dot com before the turn of the century:
- office foosball
- office pool
- office darts
- pizza for the (many) folks working through dinner
- beers in the break room (on Friday only – we weren’t animals)
- glamorous christmas parties with sparkling drag bunnies and neverending sushi platters
- the freedom to wear (pretty much) what you wanted
Some of the not-so-great parts:
- elevated level of office romances with the subsequent dramas
- competitive materialism – in other words, taking ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ to new heights
- a mission statement of “world domination” – for real
- working in a tiny cubicle in a warehouse full of other tiny cubicles where individual conversations merged into a continuous mottled dissonant buzz – affectionately called “the hive”
Of course all this was a way to entice us busy bees to stay in the office as looooong as possible. Which worked pretty well. Except for me. My priorities were elsewhere – at first going to see as much theater as possible. Then going to see or play as much live music as possible. For criminy’s sake it’s NEW YORK CITY. But as I’d promptly leave my cubicle, ready to bid goodbye to the hive for the day, I’d glimpse the backs of many earnest, young programmers hunched over their terminal windows, clack clack clacking away for all eternity.
Part of the whole deal when you got hired was taking part in “stock options”. Ah, those were the days – easy money! Well, it was all in the timing. People who were really there from the beginning would soon become millionaires (at least on paper). It took some time ‘vesting’ before you could actually turn those stocks into cash money. I had come along a bit later but while the company was still young enough that it became a big deal. Thus thrust into the world of investing, I started the nasty habit of continually monitoring the stock market.
With newfangled 24/7 reporting, you could see what was happening constantly. And it just kept going up. But it didn’t matter if it was always good news, it became a nervous tic of mine (Where’s the stock today? What micro-change happened in the last 5 minutes?) I wasn’t alone. Stock speculation supplanted “rent” as the most widely engaging topic at work. And then one winter, Forrest Gump struck again. The stock was just so…high! Rumors were swirling wildly with conflicting information: It’s hit the ceiling! Time to sell ’em if you got ’em! No – there’s even more riches to be had, the market is long-term. Now’s the time to hang on for all your worth.
What to do? In the end I went with my gut and sold them all. By this time I was sick of checking the stock and figured with this lump sum I could stop working altogether (for a while at least) and focus on my new obsession: recording my first full-length album. I’ll be my own executive producer and the rest will be history! (Or not).
My gamble did pay off – first in the profit from the sell-off and then when the stock did indeed start going down. And I walked away from the glamorous hive just before the layoffs started. The money didn’t go far (it’s New York after all) and I didn’t even think of saving any of it (insert big sigh here). But I did get to just work on my music in the most culturally influential city in the world. Which is a whole nuther tale of joy and woe and drama that ended in abject poverty and going back to work for The Man. But for a while…I won’t lie. It was pretty damn cool. Gold rushes don’t happen every day.