"Dot com, dot com, dot com" -- Jon Wahl "Southern California Dreaming"
The Dot Com boom came at just the right time for me. I came down with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome in 1991, a year after I had gone in for emergency gall bladder surgery. I'm pretty sure I got exposed to whatever Factor X causes CFIDS in the County Hospital I wound up in for the surgery. However, by the end of 1994 I began a period of remission that continues to this day. Occasionally I feel like crap, but it's nowhere near how I felt when I was truly flat on my ass sick. Oh yeah: during the period I had CFIDS, I never got colds or flu. Now I do on occasion. I am a big believer in the theory that CFIDS is basically the immune system kicking into high gear to fight something and only gradually getting kicked back down to normal. For some people, that immune system never gets kicked back down. Those are the folks who get laid low by CFIDS indefinitely. Thank you Goddess for my fate not winding up like theirs.
By Spring of 1995 I had recovered enough of my strength to where I could think about going back to being a freelance journalist again. Somehow or another I wound up with a group of people who were starting a magazine called Anvil Anthology. It was going to be the American answer to Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant, and featured the work of primarily Animation people who wanted to get in on the comics boom. It didn't make it, but two things came out of it that are helpful to this day: I met Michael Swanigan, who started Toon Magazine and Toon Magazine Online, and I learned to build websites. The website I used to learn my trade was Animation Nerd's Paradise, which existed from late 1995 to mid-1999. The reason why I had to shut it down will become clear later. The lovely people at Animation World Network have been kind enough to let me keep ANP archived. AWN is an amazing survivor of the Dot Com Boom/Bust. They just keep on keeping on. Good.
In 1996 I hooked up with a networking group for women who were working on the infant World Wide Web called "Webgrrls LA." There I met Deborah Howard, who ran a very small ISP in her Venice, CA living room called 2 Cow Herd Internet with her then-husband, networking geek Tom Carr. We got to talking and she decided to take me on as a contract web designer.
I worked with 2 Cow Herd and with the ISP Consortium, a non-profit she had helped found, until I got a call in June of 1999. "Listen, I have gotten a great offer to work at a bandwidth startup run by a competitive long distance carrier. I want to bring you aboard as webmaster for this new company's sales and marketing division. 2 Cow Herd is being sold. Are you with me?"
For years, I had observed the Dot Com Boom from afar, hoping to get that tap on the shoulder to join something just blowing up. This was it. However, there was one consideration.
"Umm...where are they located?"
"Bay Area. Peninsula. Burlingame."
"I can't pick up and move..."
"No need, we'll set you up down there in your home office. You'll visit up North every few months. It will be cool. We've done the virtual office thing successfully for years, I can't see why we can't do it with them."
Opportunity knocking? Hell, it had kicked the door down and it was sitting in my living room.
One thing for certain: hopping aboard the Dot Com Boom in 1999 meant one thing looking back at it in hindsight: I wasn't going to get rich. If the offer had come a year or maybe two years earlier, maybe I would have done as well as an acquaintance of mine who got tons of Yahoo stock when his company got bought by them. The stock vested, he turned around and cashed it in, and bought a house with cash in Austin, Texas. Some guys had all the luck. I just wound up with a Mac G3 Blue-And-White, a ThinkPad 365x, a bit of office furniture and a bunch of 1999-2000 vintage software.
The company, which eventually got called Onyx Networks, lived for a little less than a year after I started with them. Nobody knew that the boss at the parent company was busy hollowing out the company and burning through the venture capital as we worked to set up new fiber conduits across the Pacific. We wanted to be the Pacific Rim answer to UUNet's domination of the trans-Atlantic bandwidth trade. We never got the chance.
March 2000 happened.
By June 2000, I was part of the second wave of layoffs. Deb would be part of the third wave. We had to part company at that point...she was established in the Bay Area, I was down here in the San Fernando Valley, and no opportunity to bring me onboard and set me up as a virtual employee was conceivable in the post-crash aftermath. I was on my own. I got exactly one Dot Com job after that, which lasted about 3 months. Pacific Gateway Exchange went bust in January 2001, and was liquidated by May of that year.
After that ended, my almost 5-year tech sector career ended too. I had retrained in 2001-2002, hoping to get a job as an assistant Windows sysadmin somewhere. Everyone needed computer support. so I thought. However, 9/11 happened towards the end of being retrained. What was left of the economy crashed. The stupid MCSE I earned was less than worthless. It had been a total time sink of the period between Spring 2001 to New Year 2002.
By the middle of 2003, I realized there was no way out of going back to school and getting my degree. Not having a sheepskin was holding me back, and dooming me to a lifetime of McJobs until I dropped dead. Now I have the AA I was supposed to get in the mid '80s. I'm on my way to getting my BA in Psychology. And I'm going to probably have to get my MA before all this is over. I should have been in process on this two decades ago. But I didn't. I got sidetracked in '85 when the LA Community College District started charging fees, and my mom refused to part with her precious personal info so I could try getting financial aid. However, if I hadn't, I don't know if I would have met Richie and I don't know if I would have experienced all I had experienced. Lennon was right: Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.
I have been thinking of fictionalizing my story, tweaking a whole bunch of details, and writing a book. Since I seem to have no problem ranting here on my blog, I might just do the writing here, through Blogger and Blogspot. Eventually I'd pack all the stuff up and self-publish it.
I think I have the title. Pyrite Rush. Pyrite is fool's gold. The Dot Com Boom was a Pyrite Rush, a run on fool's gold. The current real estate mania in Los Angeles is like that too. Another Pyrite Rush. When it will crash, I don't know. But it will. And we will be even more fscked than we are now. When the real estate bubble bursts, it will also run headlong into Peak Oil and the aftermath of the Iraq debacle. A recipe for a disaster that will make the 1930s seem like good times.
I picked a good time to get back to school, I think. No matter what happens in the world, you can't take a degree away from someone because they are dead flat broke. No amount of economic privation will change the accomplishments I achieved this year and am on the road to achieving in the next four or five years.