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DOT-COM REFUGEES: LIFE IN CAMP ALPHA

Hope Dwindles for Thousands; Kozmo.com Gang Doing OK

Since the fall of Internet stocks began in April, former dot-com employees, forced from their jobs, have made their way to Dot-Camp Alpha, a makeshift settlement on a barren hillside in Silicon Valley. Despite its lack of even the most basic facilities — plumbing, air hockey, on-site masseuse — the camp has swelled to nearly 5,000 lost souls. SatireWire editor Treat Warland reports from the front.

NEAR EMERYVILLE, CALIF. (SatireWire.com) – Kara Deitzer stares, glassy-eyed, at the dusty road leading into Camp Alpha. It is literally choked with dot-com humanity, 200 more this day – refugees forced out in violent business model upheavals at CriticalPath and Tickets.com.

Dot-com refugees reach for the Jolt Cola ration

As they trudge into camp, their belongings barely contained in cardboard boxes, most of the refugees look confused and disoriented. Deitzer, who arrived here from Techies.com more than a month ago, knows how they feel.

“They’re thinking what I did when I showed up here,” she says. “It’s the same thought that we all have, every hour of every day: ‘I have no cubicle. I have no stock options. I am nothing.’”

And their spirits aren’t likely to improve. Though the United Nations has attempted to provide hope by granting the exiles official refugee status (see story), hope only truly comes once a day, when the Red Cross trucks pull in with relief supplies. This morning it was 30 dozen pair of roller blades. The blades were size 6, and all for the left foot, but they were snapped up in minutes by vicious mobs of dot-commers desperate for anything reminiscent of their previous lives.

And that exposes another truth here: despite the impressive pedigrees of the inhabitants, society quickly breaks down in the wild, and Dot Camp Alpha is now a vision of post-New Economy chaos, or perhaps modern-day Russia. One shining example: Internet company stocks are highly valued on the camp’s thriving black market, not for their monetary potential, but for their use in latrines.

PlanetRX refugees guard their stash

While many faced atrocities before arriving – tales abound of close-knit teams at MaMaMedia being broken up, placed in separate SUVs, and driven off – life inside the camp provides new anxieties. The biggest fear is kidnapping. According to the refugees, high-tech recruiters sneak into the camp in the middle of the night, and the next morning, five or six programmers are missing. No one else. Just the programmers.

The tent-mates of the missing, however, aren’t talking and are likely being bribed into silence. One man from Mediconsult, who gave his name as Aziz, had shared a sleeping bag with a programmer until the night before. He insisted he saw nothing, yet his backpack, which had been empty, was suddenly stuffed to bursting with chocolates, cigarettes, and panty hose.

He tried to hide the stash, and for good reason. There are two dozen refugees here from delivery site Kozmo.com, who have a reputation for “acquiring” and delivering anything a refugee might ask for.

According to Ron Turner, a TalkCity exile who never shuts up, the Kozmosians split their allegiance and profits between two powerful factions. One is the Amazonians, who are feared, not because they are bigger or stronger. “There are only about 100 refs from Amazon.com,” Turner explains, “but we obey them because the consensus is that any day now, they’ll be getting major reinforcements, if you know what I mean.”

The other power brokers come from PlanetRX, who, with their drug connections, are able to sustain profit margins their former employer could only dream of. Efforts to speak to their leaders, however, were unsuccessful, as stern-faced former customer relations representatives, wielding Nerf Ball Blasters, would not let outsiders pass.

On the opposite end of the power scale are the untouchables. At 300-strong, the exiles from software maker Corel are the single largest group in camp, yet they are shunned by others because they are not considered pure-play refugees. But then, even Net blue-bloods can find themselves in the lower castes if they prove themselves unable to adapt.

The AltaVista refugees, for instance, are widely regarded as useless. “Just yesterday, we sent them out to search for sticks to make a fire,” says Turner. “And they came back with Thai sticks, Stickley furniture, old Styx albums, all kinds of shit. They still don’t get it.”

Back near the camp gate, Kara Deitzer wishes she didn’t “get it,” but she does, and good. Every day, she and the other ex-Techies.com crowd endure a stoning at the hands of other refugees. “It’s painful, but I understand it,” she says, “I came here from a career site for techies, so naturally people look to me for hope. But the very fact that I’m here depresses them.”

So why doesn’t she just leave? Her answer is the same as that given by most of the refugees.

“There are thousands of dot-commers here,” she says. “It’s an incredible networking opportunity.”

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