Walk into Pioneer Square's most curiously named storefront, PHO.COM, and be prepared to learn.
First off, if you're like a lot of Seattleites, you: (a) either work in the high-tech industry or have a spouse or very close relative who does, and (b) don't frequent the International District all that much and are therefore totally unaware of the fact that places that serve pho usually just serve pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup.
If you work for a high-tech company, your first move is with your laptop and not your lips—after all, who has time for restaurants when one takes a vow of workaholism upon initiation into the dot-com elite? So you look up PHO.COM and realize it's already owned by some sort of radio broadcast watchdog entity.
Relieved by your discovery that PHO.COM isn't some start-up about to pilfer the wads of cash being thrown at your online tube sock clearinghouse, you decide to see what PHO.COM's physical presence on Yesler and Western is all about.
You walk in and realize you'll be eating pho. Only this is turns out to be the first fusion pho restaurant you've ever eaten in. Despite the presence of Sweet and Sour Chicken on the menu, you're a creature of habit—so you order the Meatballs Pho. It's delicious—and your friend's wild rice and pork sucked.
Afterward you ask the petite woman behind the register, "So why'd you name the place PHO.COM? Are you going to sell pho over the Web or something?"
She informs you not only of PHO.COM's plans to launch a Web site (meatballspho.com, unlike PHO.COM, is available), but that "com" means "rice" in Vietnamese.
So, you and your pho-filled arse and your companion and her com-filled arse wander up First Avenue past the Lusty Lady, where you come across a panhandler with a sign that says "beer.com."
Seeking to cash in on this bum's stroke of marketing wizardry, you immediately run back to your computer and punch in beer.com, only to be disappointed by the fact that it's already spoken for (totalsports.net owns the domain).
Irked that you didn't start the company you're working for, you kick back with The Seattle Times in the conference room. Still hungover from the Loudeye.com IPO party at I-Spy, you figure the only thing your brain can handle is mindlessly assembled anecdotal fluff, so you go right to Jean Godden's column.
Enthralled by Ms. G's frequent use of the upper-crust slang term "cognoscenti," you easily make it to the last item, where Jean dutifully informs you that Rockey Company senior vice president Ann Foster "spotted a gaggle of teens milling around a hand-painted cardboard sign on the sidewalk that read 'www.sparechange.com.'"
You laugh at this second bum's naivete—I mean, the "www" prefix is so unnecessary and pass鬠the first bum was way smarter—until you realize that you're comparing the high-tech savvy of FUCKING HOMELESS PEOPLE.
Sweating out another long day, you decide that you've been hitting the free vending machine too much at work (Kit Kats'll kill ya) and shun Joe Metro for a long stroll to your spacious loft on Capitol Hill. Ah, a great escape of shoe leather and urban bohemian bliss. You can hardly contain your excitement.
You're real near your pad up by Volunteer Park when you look at a fence on 11th and Miller. Egads—someone's spray-painted "fence.com" on this fence! Your home computer yields that this, too, is a faux.com (not to be confused with PHO.COM), but you wonder if you can buy the domain as you smoke a Mt. Vesuvius-size bowl before falling into a deep slumber.
The next morning comes and you don't even make it to the bus stop before you spot a white Chevy Van with "washme.com" written on its dirty windows. You immediately wonder if this is some kind of brilliant new concierge service for dirty panel vans, but quickly come to your sense and write if off as a joke.
This, of course, doesn't stop you from punching it in on IE 5.0 and realizing that the name's for sale. You think about buying it but worry that the owner of the panel van will sue you for copyright infringement.
The weekend comes, and you just need to get the fuck out of dodge.com, so you drive to Central Oregon. Here, you are floored by a sign that reads: "Five miles to Half.com, Oregon— formerly Halfway, Oregon."
Horrified yet intrigued, you learn that the town agreed to issue a proclamation changing its name to the half-full domain in exchange for financial support for civic endeavors from Half.com, a sort of Value Village for the Amazon niche.
At this point, you floor the gas pedal, hoping to outrun the facts that seemingly brilliant Emma Thompson temporarily named her baby Jane.com and some guy officially changed his moniker to DotComGuy before locking himself in his house and vowing to buy everything off the Web for an entire year.
You relish memories of San Francisco's Candlestick Park back when the 49ers used to win Super Bowls (or games, for that matter), so you go there—only to find that it's now 3Com Park. Hoping that the city will be more sensible, you're greeted by cynical stickers ("FuckYouAndTheStartupYouRodeInOn.Com," "blowthedotoutyourass.com") that seek to spoof the dot-com obsession but, to you, seem only to further it.
Picking up a copy of the local Bay Guardian, you read that Guardian executive editor Tim Redmond can't buy billboard space in San Francisco anymore because the dot-coms have pushed ad rates so damn high.
"It's dot-com land and there are billboards everywhere and there are millionaires being created every day—and there are more homeless people than ever in the streets of San Francisco," says Redmond. "There's something very wrong with this picture."
Unless, of course, the bums are in on the gambit, soliciting venture capital to buy the domain on top of merely displaying the beer.com panhandling placard. It's all about buzz and acquisition, after all—don't need the seeing-eye dog and the accordion no more.