June 1997
s m u g
by Joe Procopio

Herndon in a Handbasket

Monday morning, right before lunch time, my boss appeared at my office door with one of those looks of empathy that they make you practice at your better Master of Business programs. I knew this could only mean one thing.

Instant business trip.


Now, if I were called upon to select a phrase that would effectively describe the last few months at my day job, I probably wouldn't stray too far from the verb "suck." Sure, I could employ a fancy adverb or two ("My job really, truly, sagaciously sucks"), or even toss in a variation ("My job rots like dead hippie"). But I pride myself on efficiency and, thus, have boiled the description down to its purest form: "My job sucks."

So it wasn't exactly unexpected when I woke up that morning with an upset stomach. However, pain is a sign of something far more foreboding than simple day-job stress. Like maybe an ulcer. In hindsight, I think I have developed some sort of "yer-about-to-be-screwed" sixth sense. Make your own joke here. I honestly believe somebody was trying to warn me of the malfeasance that would rear an ugly noggin as the day progressed. I had spent all morning trying to figure it out.


Usually when I travel, I end up in a great place like New York, Denver, Chicago, or Austin. And when I'm in these places I squander whatever free time I have immersing myself in the culture of where I am, hoping to find some new experience to bring home with me. This time it was not to be.

I've seen hell. And it's in Herndon, VA.

Okay, so maybe I shouldn't say that. You can't blame a place for what it is. After all, hell, one could argue, is an unfortunate piece of real estate that suffers from nothing more than a horrible climate and lousy tenants. I'm not really slamming Herndon, just what they've done to it. The overall strip-mall, office-park, personality-free, beigeness of the place. It's an amusement park of the mundane.

And it's swimming with Faux Geeks.


The Faux Geek is to our generation what the Yuppie is to the Boomer generation. It's what we become when we're all grown up. You can't be grunge all your life, right?

Revisionist History: There was once a time when everybody, myself included, wanted to be Han Solo. Yeah, Han Solo was the epitome himself, a rogue pirate with a ship, a blaster, and not much more than a hint of moral fiber. If we could only someday be so hip as to respond to "I love you" with "I know." And this is nothing new. This desire for achievement of character stretches way back beyond my time. Before Han Solo there was James Dean and Marlon Brando. And before that there was Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart.

And nobody ever wanted to be Lee Iaccoca.

So why does my generation model themselves after Bill Gates?

Okay, I understand that on April 23rd, it was rumored that Bill Gates increased his net worth, in that one day, by $1.3 Billion. That's BILLION! That's nine zeroes. That's greed. And that's one hell of a reason to emulate. You can make more money in the software game than, say, being the dictator of a small island.

But Faux Geek isn't about making a living as a programmer, it's about attaining that heady, go-go, programmer lifestyle.

Bill Gates is a real geek. The computer-tapping, source-code generating, bug-zapping, social life desiring, romantically impaired, revenue generating, income swallowing real thing. And nobody actually stands up and volunteers for that sort of life. It either happens at birth (see: gargantuan IQ), or it doesn't happen at all.


It's All About Perspective

Interesting Danger Story: My dad has this story about this game he and his friends used to play. They would take two cars and face them at each other, grill to grill, with enough room in between them so that a third car could pass through with about two inches clearance on either side. They would then back that third car out about 100 yards, and tear between the cars at speeds of over 60 mph.

Faux Geek Danger Story I got in Herndon: A fellow contractor was relaying his experiences one night and told the tale of how, a couple months back, he got a speeding ticket on his way back to his hotel room. He figured that since the company was paying for his hotel and the rental car, why not expense the ticket? And guess what? He got away with it.



Faux Geekism looks to be the evolution of slackerism. And as Kurt Cobain embodied what we were four years ago, all angst and bile at top volume, it is Hootie and Dave Matthews providing the soundtrack for the Faux-Geek lifestyle (I mean, come on, someone HAS to have seen through No Doubt by now. Right?). Sweet secure, pretty melodies that never threaten or provoke. Sure, it's nice and all, but what does it mean?

Faux Geeks check the internet stock updates a lot.

Everything in Herndon is in a strip mall. The bars are in strip malls. And the strip malls are zoned down to the colors. Single level, beige stucco-like walls, forest green trim, white lettering for the store signs.

If there is a nightclub in Herndon, I missed it.


Outside the bars, the parking lots are filled with Tauruses, Camrys, Civics, and Corsicas. And many, many minivans. Not one sports car could I find. Not one junker either. What is it about instant prosperity that influences such conformist behavior? It's as if the faux geeks are afraid that, if they step out of line, it will all be taken away as quickly as it was doled out.

Inside the bars, cigars and dark, stomach-coating imported beer are the orders of the day. Oh, and don't take a thick cloud of dung-smelling cigar smoke as a sign that you may light a cigarette. The logic there eludes me.


The company I was sent to is a prime example of faux geek run amok. This particular company is one of the new breed of software startups who got hot with a lucky first punch and now need to fill impossible demands. So they've gone and hired anybody who knew what a computer was. Within a month their entire new division admitted, en masse, that this stuff was a lot harder than it looked when they put it on their resumes.

Within five minutes, they pointed out to me that the office coffee was from Starbucks. Yes, they were actually proud of that.


The fashions at this company were all donned with a "Hey man, it's cool here" attitude. You know what the problem with casual office wear is? Not everybody can match the requirements of taste on their own accord. That was the beauty of business attire, it was easy for the fashion impaired. By the third day I had seen enough bad shirts to fill up a sweeps week worth of Starsky and Hutch.

A huge buzz tore through the office the next day when the stock jumped four points.

By the fifth and final day, I had still found nothing worth doing. Suggestions were leveled at me (unsolicited) left and right for places like the virtual reality center, more cigar bars, Japanese steakhouses, and coffee shops ("Have you been to Starbucks?"). And every single one of these places (I began asking after a while) was located in a strip mall, somewhere in Herndon.

One nice thing: Fargo was on Showtime in my hotel room.


If I had one wish for my generation, it's that we don't become this. We obviously didn't learn all we could from the eighties and we're going to be doomed to repeat those mistakes. Software is the real-estate of the nineties, baby. It's scary that a generation who chose to shock the world at our debutante ball, now cowers in conformity and scrambles to find out what "Java" is.

We can do better than this.




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