So long, Seattle

After bouncing between jobs and getting laid off, the musician's life—and Portland—looks mighty appealing.

I spent my immediate post-college period living the band life in Portland, Ore. After several years of shows, records, and small tours, the band essentially broke up, and I found myself working a retail job without the excuse, the cash, or the patience. On the advice of Craig, an electrical engineer I knew who also played in local bands, I decided to go for a job at one of the Internet companies springing up around Seattle back in the late 1990s.

If I'd known this move would lead to a total of seven positions at three companies (all now defunct or close to delisting) over a period of three years, I might've balked at abandoning my Portland digs. Though I can't really complain: Coming home from most tours, I was usually broke. My Seattle diversion, however, took care of several years of rock debt and gave me something of a direction for work.

I ended up packing a U-Haul and driving the three hours to my folks' rent-free basement—and an entry-level position at a start-up that didn't seem to require specific knowledge or experience with modern communications or computing.

TechWave (a.k.a. ShopNow, Network Commerce) wasn't a bad start, even if it was customer service. Although we were all told it was temp-to-perm, and then were all laid off when the CS team was outsourced to Texas or somewhere a few months later, at least it helped me get my second dot-com position—and prepared me for the "immediate perks (free cereal, lax dress code), long-term letdown (being outsourced)" scenario that would typify my time in the Internet world. My salary doubled from retail.

Highlights included the CEO strolling through the department and handing out 50s to everyone for "doing a good job." Lowlights included hearing the temporary staffing liaison repeating the same explanation of why we weren't being hired to permanent status—as had been promised to each individual on the CS team—as we all worked away in one smallish room.

As of mid-June, TechWave (now under the Network Commerce moniker) had filed for a 1-for-15 reverse stock split, partially to meet the NASDAQ's listing requirements.

A developer I'd met suggested, a pre-IPO, REI-ish gear distributor and outdoors/adventure- oriented Webzine best know for its riveting coverage of modern mountaineering expeditions. They needed temp holiday help in the commerce department, and I felt pretty confident, given my experience with outdoor retailing and the TechWave CS thing on my r鳵m鮠They brought me on, and I started doing everything from telephone/e-mail customer contact to minor accounting.

My guess is that it was a fairly typical e-commerce situation: hellish fulfillment partners, outraged or overjoyed customers (the auctions were popular), and rumors of massive amounts of capital being burned on this initiative or that deal, or just getting lost in the developed-as- we-went systems. Shortly after getting hired on permanently (here's the "immediate perks, long-term letdown" thing again—my salary increased by 30 percent), we had a company meeting in which it was disclosed that we were in a funding crisis and would need to sell the company in order to continue operations.

In short order, the company was acquired by Quokka Sports Inc. from San Francisco, which seemed OK as Quokka had a compelling CEO, fairly deep pockets, and some impressive technology. There were nice severance packages if a person left (inevitable in an acquisition), and good raises if you stayed (my salary went up another 60 percent—immediate perk, where's the letdown?), plus benefits, business cards, the works. The only real drag is that they'd done their IPO, and MountainZone options translated into a less-than-stellar conversion. My 500 options at around 76 cents a share became 72 options at $12 a share (ah, the letdown).

"Oh well," I thought, "at least I have a job. And if the market continues on its upward swing, the Quokka stuff could be worth something someday."

Highly motivated people from San Francisco started infusing the office weekly, each one glued to his or her cell phone, and all seeming to manage or direct some arcane branch of the business that "heavily impacted" our jobs in seemingly innocuous ways. Some of these people were amusing, some annoying, some inspiring, and some really, really lame.

Ultimately, none of it mattered much. Our budgets were cut to almost nothing, our staff dwindled from 100-plus to around 25, the stock hovered at 75 cents, and the Seattle office was closed within a year. I remember walking to the fax machine with my mortgage application in hand, only to be asked: "Can you step into the conference room? We're listening to a conference call from the CEO . . . it's kind of important."

In retrospect, we were very lucky. We were given a few months' notice and a few months' severance. From reading the reports of others around town, ours was a pleasant anomaly.

I moved back to P-Town two months ago and started fishing for Web-dev work (I'd moved into the publishing department at MountainZone shortly before the end). I've heard it's a little better than Seattle at this point. Nothing yet . . . but the bike shop is always hiring, and I missed playing in bands anyway.

Next Tuesday I leave for a four-week, 30-show summer tour, playing guitar for a band named Slackjaw. This tour will also end in Portland, Ore. And I will probably be broke.

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