19 San Francisco Millionaires

I am to be paid $65 an hour - that's about $150K for a years contract or around £100K. Anyway you look at it, that's quite a lot of money. It's a risk, however, because they could fire me at any time and this internet bubble could burst. Right now, in March, the NASDAQ is over 5000 and still rising. However, I'm going to keep my £10K in the bank.

Prices in San Francisco are exorbitant. I rent a one bedroom apartment near Pier 38 with a very nice view of the bay. It costs $2500 a month. Shit. It is comfortable though, and the apartment complex has a free shuttle bus service to the financial district where I will be working, so I don't need to rent a car.

On the first day of the contract (Monday 20th March), I am collected by my American agent Scott and taken to the client's address. Scott also took me out on Saturday for my birthday and bought me a fancy meal - well he has got to do something for his commission.

The offices at Buzzsaw.com are bursting at the seams with desks squeezed into meeting rooms and even corridors but it seems well organised and my desk, laptop, phone and userids are all ready for me. I am working in a meeting room with two other guys. We are all to work on the same part of Buzzsaw's web site - the marketplace. Dave is an intense 30 something programmer with a high opinion of himself and his ability. Mike is younger (late 20's). He is an Englishman who has been in the States with his wife for four years already and he is desperately waiting for his green card to give him permanent resident status. He also has a high opinion of his ability. I reserve judgement.

The marketplace software is from a company called Ariba. They are one of the darlings of the NASDAQ at the moment with a share price of $150 and a price to earnings ratio of several hundred. Madness really.

After a week getting familiar with the software, I am looking forward to relaxing at the weekend. Scott wants to take me out on Friday night to show me around San Francisco. I like Scott, at least he's making an effort to help me settle in - maybe he's actually worth his commission.

Scott picks me up at the office at 5pm and we begin driving to the restaurant. A call comes in on his car-phone and Scott answers it.

"Do you know where Paul is?" I can just hear the voice on the phone's speaker. It is urgent and harassed and belongs to my new boss Julia.

"He's with me" Scott answers, composed and smooth. After years of work as an agent, this is automatic - he is always composed and smooth.

"Look, Ariba have a cancellation for their training course which starts on Monday. We want Paul to fly out to Tampa on Sunday and attend the course," Julia continues.

Scott looks at me. I nod enthusiastically - Tampa is in Florida and I haven't come all this way to miss out on free trips around the States. Plus training makes you more useful and less likely to be sacked.

Over Saturday the arrangements are made and on Sunday I get a taxi to San Francisco's main airport for the flight to Tampa. In Tampa, I hire a car, make the short five minute drive to the hotel and I am all set for Monday morning's training course.

I arrive early at Ariba's offices for the course - this is likely to be stressful enough without being late. I had a couple of beers last night with my meal but it really was only two. American office hours are generally 8 - 5 with an hour for lunch but the course is due to start at 9am.

I wait patiently in the offices but at 9am there are still no other participants and no trainer. I talk to reception again and finally the training manager arrives for work and is summoned. I explain why I am there.

"But that course is being held in Atlanta, Georgia" she tells me.

Not only am I in the wrong city - I am in the wrong state. What a fuck up. I ring my boss's mobile number. I am on the east coast of the States and it is only 6am on the west coast. Despite being woken up she is very reasonable though still harassed.

"Yes, yes. I'm sorry. Someone's messed up. Just fly to Atlanta, hire a car. Anything. We'll pay."

Ariba's training manager helps make the arrangements. There's a first-class seat available flying from Tampa to Atlanta at noon. It will arrive at 2-30pm in Atlanta. I rush back to the hotel to check out and manage to make the flight. I lie back in my first class seat and try to relax. I resist the temptation to order a large whisky. My stress level, pulse rate and blood pressure must be off the scale. In Atlanta it is a one hour drive to the training site. I hire a car. I am driving on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, with unfamiliar street signs and I am very sure that I am going to get lost or have an accident.

I finally arrive in the training classroom just after 4pm. I am absolutely exhausted. The other participants are performing the final exercise of the day, so the lady trainer, who has been warned of my arrival, spends an hour briefing me on what they have been covering on this first day. That night in my hotel room, I read the documentation I have been provided with. I don't sleep well.

The final afternoon of the course there is a test. If you fail the test you receive an "Attended Course" certificate. If you pass the test you receive a "Completed Course" certificate. I don't know if it matters to Buzzsaw whether I pass this test or not, but I don't want to take any chances. The examination consists of a written paper followed by a practical test, modifying code. None of it is straightforward and I missed the first day of class.

I manage to pass the written paper - now for the practical. It's 2pm and I am becoming very aware of the time. My flight from Atlanta to San Francisco is at 5-30pm, so I must leave the training course by 4pm at the very latest. The practical test is difficult. The trainer is bombarded by questions from all the participants and she is unhappy and over-stretched.

I can't get my changes to work. The debugger won't run and it's 3-30pm. I run through the instructions again. Finally by some miracle the debugger springs to life and I pore over the output. I find my bug. A quick change, a recompile and I run the code. It works. It fucking works. I interrupt the trainer in mid-sentence, grab her by the arm and force her to watch my now working code. She issues me with a "Completed Course" certificate. They have spelt my name wrong but I don't care. I run for the door. I am the first to leave. Behind me I leave a dozen individuals in differing states of despair.

Back at Buzzsaw, talking to my colleagues, I discover that there are very few contract workers and the permanent staff all have relatively low salaries but huge stock options. They cannot believe I haven't got stock options.

"Everyone's got stock options and we're going to IPO (Initial Product Offer) on the NASDAQ in July or August. We're all going to be millionaires." Dave is serious. Everyone is serious. They are all going to be millionaires by the summer. All except me.

In April the NASDAQ collapses. Big time. Stocks halve in price or worse. Some lose 90% or more of their value. There are many stories of people who have lost millions. The Buzzsaw IPO is postponed but the crash is seen as a temporary blip and normal service will be resumed by the Autumn.

"We'll all be millionaires by Christmas" is the new cry, although I notice people seem to be a little more envious of the comparatively large salary I squirrel away in the bank every month.

After a couple of months, I buy Marcia a plane ticket to come and visit me. She will stay with me in San Francisco for a week and then fly on to see her aunt in Virginia. She only tells her husband about visiting her aunt.

Late one Friday afternoon in June, I meet Marcia at San Francisco airport - it's been nearly two years since we last saw each other. At first she doesn't recognise me. I am thinner because I have lost some of the beer gut I gained while drinking so heavily. Then she sees me and smiles. She's changed too - older, more mature, more composed but still beautiful. We embrace. It's just like old times. After a hesitant start we are soon talking like old friends. I can't take my eyes off her nipples - they haven't changed.

She is impressed by my waterfront apartment and equally impressed by the excellent restaurant I take her to a couple of hours later. The restaurant is a two minute walk from my flat and is called the Delancey Street Cafe. Interestingly enough it is part of the Delancey Street Project, which is a rehabilitation complex for recovering alcoholics, drug addicts and petty criminals. I feel very at home here. The service is fast and efficient, the food is good value and I understand the staff - they have been where I have been.

We have a lovely meal and a bottle of wine between us. Marcia is flirting with me suggestively. I haven't had a fuck for months; years even. It is worth waiting for. Back at the apartment we christen the rented bed.

I bang Marcia at least fourteen times during the week she's with me. After all, I do want to get value for the money I spent on the plane ticket. The next Saturday I take her to the airport for her flight to Virginia. On the way we make plans.

"As soon as I get my green card I will come and stay with you" she promises. She should get this within another 6 months. If she leaves her husband before this she may be deported back to the Philippines. Every week we talk on the phone.

Desperately Seeking Sex & Sobriety - Copyright Paul Pisces 2002-2004

(A Cautionary Tale of Sex Tourism, Drugs, Alcohol, Prostitution & Suicide)