The time: Monday night.
The place: The back room of Julie's Supper Club in San Francisco.
The event: The almighty networking mixer, this one hosted by Mediabistro -- a gag-inducing yet necessary evil to surviving the employment bull-run in Silicon Valley.
The point: Lost on me.
I don't usually go to these things -- I never have anything impressive to write on the name tags -- but last night I happened to be unemployed. The latest (third) dot-com on my résumé closed down two weeks ago. I didn't see myself as having a choice in the matter of networking, and, for once, I'd been invited to a party.
The first thing I said to anyone was, "Do you see any Tanqueray back there?" This to a guy at the bar who also had come alone. After 10 minutes of assuring one another that we weren't losers for coming at all, we talked about what we were there to talk about: why we should hire each other. He was a travel and health writer; I was a copy editor. Soon I began to feel that I wasn't the only one avoiding mention of where I worked. It turned out that he didn't work anywhere either -- his dot-com had let him go six weeks before.
The hostess came by and ushered us into a group of five partygoers, encouraging us to discuss our respective fields. We were all silent until one woman piped up that she'd been collecting unemployment since her dot-com had tanked seven days into operations. (I gave her a low-five on that one, I'd sent my first claim in that morning.) But her dot-com's launch party had been approved before the company went under, she said, and she had flown to Los Angeles recently for the $50,000 event. The guy next to her was a former co-worker and also had flown to the party to observe the self-congratulations of a company that had put them both out of work.
So far, no one was networking with much success. We were a roomful of unemployed people staring at the Parmesan polenta. One woman in our group had remained silent, however, and we all looked to her with hope. She smiled. She took a drink of her cosmo. She reported that she had been working at the San Francisco office of another dot-com, which would be closing down shortly and moving to Philadelphia.
I finished my second Tanqueray and tonic and drove home. The mixer was a bust, but I did learn one useful thing about networking events in San Francisco in the post-dot-com shakeout era: The drinks aren't free anymore. Bring cash.