Old-fashioned guy that I am, I prefer to do my work in the dusky hours of the evening, wearing out shoe leather and rubbing elbows with the Janes and Johns who work the alleys and byways of this dirty old town. From the Embarcadero to South Park to Redwood Shores to those funky salt marshes near Moffett Field, I cover the waterfront. But sometimes that isn't enough and I find myself, as I did last Thursday night, getting all dolled up in the back of a rented limo, this time practicing my plastic smile as I headed to hobnob with tech magazine Upside's "Elite 100."
Whether you consider Upside to be an indispensable guide to the tech biz or a sort of People magazine for the stinking rich of Silicon Valley, the bash, held in a fortress-like mansion in the hills above foggy San Francisco Bay, merited the coveted "4 fedoras" ranking.
After adjusting the beard-and-mustache disguise I assembled to stay incognito, I stepped into the fray and instantly beheld the overarching metaphor for the entire evening: advertising guru Regis McKenna and vulture capitalist Ann Winblad, twin towers of Image and Money standing at the front door. Ah, perfect, I mused with ironic relish. But first things first--a trip to le WC was next on the agenda.
Easier said than done, mes gentils amis: To reach the men's room, I had to wend my wary way down four flights of stairs into a catacomb-like part of the mansion where one might imagine meeting Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At long last, I and two equally desperate relief-seekers were forced to take refuge in an apparently deserted women's room.
Returning to the fete, I began to size up the crowd. Although the invite had suggested "business attire," there were precious few neckties to be seen among the chic 'n' casual, save for one CNET transplant from the East Coast in black tie, whom everyone was mistaking for one of the many waiters darting about. All around us, the buzzing throng was sipping white wine, tasting the superb pumpkin ravioli and listening to the classical pianist tinkling away in the next room.
In time to the music, Gary Reback--Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati attorney and long-time thorn in Bill Gates's side--waltzed in with a flower in his lapel and a Cheshire Cat smile on his face. For this barrister--who has spent much of the last three years keeping Microsoft's alleged monopolisms on the DOJ's radar--the Microsoft investigation must seem like manna from Heaven. Perhaps Gary will be named Man of the Year by the shadowy underworld SPOGGE: The Society for the Prevention of Gates Getting Everything.
In Reback's honor, here's the catch phrase of the week--no, not John Denver's latest hit single, "Thank God I'm a Country Buoy," but "Gatesgate." Credit that to the tongue-in-cheeky Need To Know Now newsletter and its slam-bam three-dot cattiness.
In addition to SPOGGE, there must also be a Society for the Possibility of Mike Homer Getting Something. I discovered that the gratingly unlovable Homer, Netscape's exec veep of sales and loud barking--and Mozilla's fractious answer to Microsoft's Steve Ballmer--is getting hitched. Yes, Little Napoleon of Sunnyvale is reported to be marrying a young ex-PR Netscaper. In light of these impending Nutscape neptials, one wag whispered in my ear, "Only time will tell if he'll trade in 'Hell, no!' for 'Yes, dear!'"
And speaking of moving mouth parts, perhaps the pinnacle of the Upside party involved the smackers belonging to none other than self-publishing pundit Dave Winer. Perhaps carried away by the excitement of the evening, Decadent Dave, who is known to be a terror not just to kiss but to edit, managed to plant big sloppies on both Upside honcho David Bunnell and EFF executive director Lori Fena. Given the pansexual nature of his affections, I must confess that I was rather disappointed that I wasn't part of the overtures. Perhaps my bristly bush of a disguise, which Vermel pointed out before I left the house made me a dead ringer for a Serbian Orthodox patriarch, was too much for Dave's politically sensitive lips.
One attendee who apparently evaded the ministrations of Winer was Marimba's Kim Polese. After introducing myself as one of the many exotic princes still rumored to be mulling an Apple buyout, Kim and I chatted about everything from the glare of the media to her love of dance to the subtleties of the current Bill vs. Janet fracas. In addition to being a charming conversationalist, let the record show that she is also a good sport: Although the Upside editors did not deem her worthy of inclusion in their Cyber Who's Who, Polese closed the joint, staying till the last of the uneaten pumpkin ravioli was carted away by the catering crew around 11 o'clock. How many fedoras will your tip garner you? Only one way to find out, Sparky--throw your hat into the ring!