Thursday, November 29, 2007


I was shuffling through some songs on my iPod today when I stumbled across a long forgotten song called “Six Underground” by the Sneaker Pimps. It’s a great artifact of the mid-90s electronica and trip hop sound typified by Hooverphonic, Massive Attack, and of course Portishead. Listening to the song had two effects on me. First, it made me feel very old. I was in a very different place leading a very different life when this song was in heavy rotation on KCRW’s evening music shows. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but it’s been ten years.

Secondly, I realized I miss the internet boom. Those were good times, those late 90s. I was living in Los Angeles and pretty much being a bum. I lived in a garage apartment that cost me $50 per week… cash. With such low overhead, I didn’t have to work all that much, and I didn’t. But that sort of bohemian lifestyle was almost impossible back in the late 90s because of the internet boom.

Everybody was working. There was no way to avoid it. Once I made three phone calls that led to a bunch of people getting hired by some company bankrolled by the Crown Prince of Dubai. (They were going to be YouTube, but they got there a little too early.) I made $6,000.

Months later, I found myself behind a desk at an internet startup company that offered what was called “enhanced 411.” (Kind of like OnStar, but not successful.) I was in charge of marketing, or customer service, or perhaps copy writing. To be quite honest, I don’t quite know what I was hired to do. But I did have a desk, high speed internet access, stock options, and health insurance, so I wasn’t inclined to ask too many questions.

There really wasn’t too much time to ask questions because we were all busy playing Galaga and the “Back to the Future” pinball machine in the lobby of our shiny new offices. You see, back then us Gen Xers had decided to remake the workplace as a magical playland. As long as there were enough amusing diversions, the work would get done somehow. (We used to play office chair basketball in a warehouse in the back of our office, CNBC actually came to do a story on it.)

To a business major, this must have been an infuriating time. Hundreds of companies with no business plan were swimming in millions of dollars. There was a joke floating around the startups back then, it went a little like this:

Reporter: Your company is selling groceries over the internet and offering free shipping. You lose $8 on every transaction. How do you plan to make money?

Internet CEO: Volume.

Ah, I loved that joke. And for some, that joke counted as a business plan. It was easy to see that the fat times wouldn’t last once those billionaire investment bankers began asking exactly when they would start making money.

But it was a great party while it lasted, and when the Sneaker Pimps come on random play, I miss it quite a bit. In some ways, I would be perfectly happy to roll back the clock to those days before the Iraq war, before the Bush Administration, before 9/11. But in the years after the crash, I fell in love, got married, and had two very cool kids.

I’m not willing to give that up. But I do think I’ll listen to one more spin of “Six Underground” before drifting off to sleep tonight.

(*That's a lyric from "Sour Times" by Portishead. I briefly danced with Portishead singer Beth Gibbons backstage after a concert in 1998. I was really looking for a way to work that detail into this story, but it just didn't fit anywhere.)



At 7:15 am, Blogger imitate said...

I didn't know you could dance....

At 10:12 am, Blogger Workman said...

I can't. That's likely why we only danced briefly.


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