Schmooze Control
Cruising the Willamette with the Pirates of
Silicon Forest.






"I hope we don't hit a reef," says my photographer Marty, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lip as he tries to strike and shield a match against the stiff twilight breeze with one hand while balancing a pint of MacTarnahan's in the other.

We are standing on the prow of the Portland Spirit as it chugs up the Willamette carrying 502 local high-tech industry live wires--programmers, developers, designers, software engineers, marketing people, producers, public-relations types, account reps and assorted privateers--on the Portland Interactive Community's second annual “Schmooz Crooz.”

It's hard to deny that the prospect of a massive collision with a hitherto undiscovered shoal off Ross Island holds a certain perverse appeal. Just imagine waves of affluent web developers plunging headlong into the briny deep, their stock options suddenly worthless, their cell phones out of range, frantically brandishing their Palm Pilots in search of an Internet site with color-coded instructions on how to survive the shark-infested currents of the Willamette River.

Dream on. Instead of gallantly documenting a spectacular nautical disaster, Marty and I are reduced to observing a flock of twenty-somethings wearing identical gray jackets with the company's name, AQUENT, embroidered on the back, toying with yo-yos. Inside the cabin, dot-communists sport eye patches and paper pirate hats as they wolf down hors d'oeuvres to the strains of Steely Dan.

The Crooz seemed--on paper, at least--an ideal opportunity to watch the interactive community interact. But Marty and I are experiencing some technical difficulties: the digital camera we borrowed to record the evening's festivities ran out of batteries before the boat even passed under the Marquam Bridge. Truth be told, Marty's not exactly a professional photographer--he's actually a web developer we smuggled aboard under the WW banner because he forgot to sign up for tickets in time. After stuffing the camera in his pocket to "warm it up," he declares there's probably enough juice for one more shot.

But where's the money shot? If there are any geeks in attendance, they are well-disguised. The pocket-protector, short-sleeves-and-tie crowd is made conspicuous by its absence. Hell, even the ponytails are in short supply. Instead, we are treated to a parade of sideburns, nose rings and bare midriffs. Yes, they are here to schmooze. But they are also here to cruise.

The Portland Interactive Community (a.k.a. the PINT) is the brainchild of two young webheads, John Craft and Augi Garred, who wanted to develop Portland's networking network. When they hosted their first PINT event at Kell's Irish Pub in August 1998, 31 people attended. Today, the PINT boasts a membership list of more than 2,000. "The growth is incredible," says Craft, an affable, 33-year-old managing director of Rapidigm/Interactive.

Despite the recent downturn in Wall Street's Internet stocks, the demand for web-savvy workers has never been higher. "You can't find enough talent," Craft says. As a result, the PINT has become a headhunter's paradise--which probably explains why talent scout firms such as Creative Assets have signed on to sponsor the cruise.

As the sun sinks behind the West Hills, the scene heats up. Leaning over the gunwale, gazing out to shore, Sonia Kim remembers when she and her friends would go wake-boarding on the river. They used to make fun of the old fuddy-duddies on the Portland Spirit. Now, at the ripe old age of 30, she is one. "Generation X grows up and gets a job," she sighs.

Kim attended her first PINT function four months ago and found a job on the spot. Now she is the director of marketing for Tweak Interactive, a sort of script doctor for websites. "I wasn't even planning on it," she says. "There's, like, recruiters everywhere. You just start mingling and they'll
find you."

But for some reason, the recruiters do not find me. Or Marty. Can they sense that my Javascript skills are deficient? Or is it something to do with my nervous habit of collecting paper napkins in my wallet?

The DJ has switched over to disco, and the dance floor becomes a kaleidoscope of high-tech booty shimmying to the tune of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." The cruisers have every reason to party. They are young, they are well-off, they are sought after--they are, in short, the backbone of the new economy. Like the yuppies they grew up despising, they have discovered the joys of the high life, and they are giddy.

Marty and I consider staging a mutiny. In a single stroke, we could cripple Portland's entire cyberworld and return to the halcyon pre-internet age when wired meant too much coffee and Amazon was a river in Brazil. Our conspiracy lasts about three seconds before I realize that I'd have to go back to looking stuff up in the library--and Marty would be out of a job.

First published in Willamette Week, Aug 23 2000