Jacking in from Wired Magazine Headquarters:
San Francisco -- Despite the fact that the Wiredscribes here are treated several times a week to lunch prepared by the staff chef, but you can't find a pot of coffee in the whole place. It's a fact that Managing Editor John Battle acknowledges as "odd." On deadline, he tells me, the chef even prepares dinner.
Nice imagery: The White House twenty-something wonks scarf down Dominos pizza on all nighters; Wiredscribes get a custom prepared meal at crunch time.
The headquarters here on Second St. are jammed into the 3rd floor of an old converted warehouse. Rounding the top of 3 flights of stairs you're immediately dumped into a vast open space. No partitions in sight. And it's dark. Only the pale blue glow of computer monitors lights the rows and rows of Wiredscribes sitting damn near shoulder to shoulder.
There's a dearth of overhead lighting; the omnipresent 60 cycle hum of florescent lights gives way the gentle whirring of 30 or so Macintosh power supply cooling fans. And despite about a bazillion CDs, there's no music playing. The acoustics from the high ceilings, brick walls and all wood floors must be something else when someone snaps the Dead Milkmen's "Eat Your Paisley" CD into the player.
But even before you get to make the trek up the dusty wooden stairs, you have to be buzzed through the front door. Punch button #3. Buzz....
Yeah, can I come up?
"Who are you?" I hear gum smacking in the background.
My name's Lenz.
Buzz.... and the door is opened.
At the receptionist desk (it can't be called a "front desk" because, well, hell, there is no "front" here, just North, East, South and West walls) the two women ask if I need help. I'm gazing over the expanse of bodies, eyes dilating with the dark: "I'm here to see John Battelle."
"Do you have an appointment?" one says. I figure right here I have two options. I can actually say what I'm thinking, which is "Why the hell would I need an appointment? I'm a contributing writer fercrissake..." or I can be polite, because, well, they don't know me from dick and they're just doing their job. Since it's been a good day and nobody's fucked with me, I choose option 2 and decide to ride the good karma for all I can get: "No, I'm afraid I don't. But I believe he's expecting me." Which, was the truth. Kind of. He was expecting me, he just didn't know what day.
The receptionist plants a note under Battelle's nose -- he's on the phone -- and asks me to wait. Meanwhile, I case the joint.
The place looks more like the movie set of "The Paper" but without the frantic dashing about one expects in a newspaper news room. And goddamn, it's dark. (Maybe my eyes are still dilating.) Along a single wall are a row of windows, but the light doesn't seem to penetrate more than 15 feet into the editorial section. Battelle's back is to me; his open space "office" faces a window. To his back sits Executive Editor Kevin Kelly, who is absent.
Then come rows and rows of the Wiredscribes, mousing away on their own particular niche of the magazine. There's not a suit in sight. From what I know of the Wired pay scale, these aren't high paying jobs. But working for the hottest book on the market these days has its advantages. The "Wired Magazine" tag line in the resume portends future success and is probably worth a year or so of Rice-A-Roni dinners.
Battelle cuts the phone call and strides over. Never met him face-to-face. I only know him through phone calls and Email. I'll never get over the dynamics of actually meeting someone in the flesh that I've known online for any amount of time. It's always a kick and my preconceived notions of what someone looks like is invariably wrong.
Battelle is tall and lean. Close cropped hair. And much younger looking that I expected (I told you I was always wrong.) He could be the poster boy for the Cal. Berkeley water polo team, except his shoulders aren't quite that bulky. He's wearing the remains of a suntanned "mask," the remnant of some fading outdoor adventure.
Battelle plays tour guide, leading me first into the offices of publisher Louis Rossetto and President Jane Metcalfe. Walking into their offices from the central Wired-zone the effect is startling. The contrast is quite literally that of night and day. Whilst the Wiredscribes edit away in relative darkness, these offices are lit by natural sunlight streaming in from windows that line two full walls of this corner office.
Neither of them are here, but my eyes (after adjusting to the sudden onslaught of light) are drawn to a focal point: The National Magazine Award for General Excellence Wired has recently won. It sits behind Louis' expansive desk. This isn't some polished hands-off icon; there are enough smudged fingerprints plastered to this puppy to keep a forensic expert dusting for a month.
We swing out back to the kitchen where, as I recall, there's a some kind of natural overhead light source. I really don't notice because I'm too busy taking in the floor to ceiling, 15 foot wide reproduction of the Crypto-Rebels cover that adorned Wired 1.2. No joke, this thing's huge. The chef, peeling potatoes, smiles as he prepares lunch.
The kitchen is split down the middle by a line of boric acid (yes, boric acid) as white and wide as the chalk foul line at Candlestick park. Seems the Wiredscribes aren't the only ones treated to a free lunch.
"We have a small cockroach problem," Battelle says. A small scuff in the Boric Acid DMZ is silent testimony to what was probably an ill-fated late night charge of the roach advance troops... that or someone was munching on a bagel and just forgot to pick up their feet.
The ad department sits behind the receptionist desk, with the Online Wired folks tucked into a cubby hole further (and darker) back of that. A high school chum that now owns his own advertising agency just told me that Wired is so hot right now that he predicts that within six months, advertisers will be throwing so many dollars at the magazine that "they'll be overwhelmed" trying to fit them all in. Battelle smiles at this news: "I think we'll accommodate them somehow."
[MEMO To the Ad Dept.: Just a reminder. The appearance of the first Jaguar car ads in Rolling Stone was a foreshadowing of drastic change.]
We wade into the scribes' worker-drome. Of all the faces my eyes light on, I don't detect a scurrilous look among them. A furrowed brow now and then appears as they peer into the faint blue glow of Mac monitors, but the lines soon disappear as a few mouse clicks solve the pagination crisis of the moment.
Here I met, also for the first time, Associate Editor Mark Frauenfelder. He's medium height, slightly rounded at the edges. An affable chap with a quick smile and firm handshake. His jet black well-jelled hair, this day, is fashioned into several spikes jabbing at compass points roughly equating to N, NNW, SW, ESE, and NE.
The Women of Wired are, as far as my unscientific survey could tell, all attractive in a "no bimbos here" kind of way. Revlon and Max Factor would go bankrupt trying to market to this fresh face crowd.
No doubt I've grossly overstated my observations, but my 25 minute tour didn't leave a lot of time for nuance. The place probably isn't as dark and somber as I've portrayed and somewhere there's probably a scowling face hiding among the smiles. Battelle has mentioned the word "expansion." And I do recall that Wired's analog ancestor, Rolling Stone, started out in digs that were a far cry from New York City's 5th Avenue.
You see, I've only parachuted in on my way to the airport. And I parked on the street in front of a fire hydrant and I'm beginning to visualize the San Francisco Public Works Department towing my rental car. I say quick goodbyes and dash down the steps.
My karma holds (remember, I was nice to the receptionist for a reason) and my rental car hasn't been towed.
Next time maybe I'll stay for lunch.