Boom Town

This is part of a work in progress, to be entitled Boom Town, about the late-nineties technology boom in Atlanta. In this excerpt, the lead character, David Cairo (pronounced Kay-ro) enlists the aid of a local public relations firm, to help him deal with his new-found fame.

Before starting his own company, Cairo had been a low-level web developer at Bickering Plummet, a monolithic, multinational corporation based in Atlanta. He had seen the vast potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web from the beginning, however, and knew that in just a few years a lot of people would be making tons of money on it and he wanted to be a part of that. He convinced several of his co-workers, all highly skilled technicians with specialties in programming, web site design, and database management to form a start-up, and began to publicize the endeavor wherever anyone would listen. While initially promoted as a collective of workers, Cairo was listed as the founder, and quickly became the public face of the company. They had been together less than six months, and had picked up a number of expensive contracts when a financier proposed the lofty suggestion of taking the company public, citing the examples of Amazon, AOL, and Netscape as pioneers in the field and Cairo liked the idea. The company was listed on the market on Cairo’s birthday, April 20, 1997, priced at $40 per share. By the end of trading the following day, shares were going for $550 and climbing rapidly. Over the next year the stock split twenty times.

In less than twenty-four hours David Cairo had gone from being a no-name computer nerd to one of the richest men in the world and the movers and shakers in Atlanta definitely took notice. The city’s elite quickly lined up to pay homage and for several months, no one could turn on a television, or pick up a financial publication without seeing Cairo’s face. Whenever purveyors of the “new economy” were discussed, Cairo’s name was routinely mentioned alongside those of Jeff Bezos and Steve Case and yet, for all that was said about him, few knew the man himself for Cairo had adamantly refused most interview requests and the local news establishment had very little beyond anecdotal information about him and much of that was suspicious.

To the old-moneyed elite of Atlanta, Cairo was an enigma wrapped inside a conundrum accompanied by a puzzled look and a lot of question marks. He rarely drank; he didn’t play golf and, despite having amassed arguably the largest personal fortune in the region, had virtually no conception of how business actually worked. He refused to show up for business meetings unless he received a guarantee, in writing, that food would be served and he had been seen on a number of occasions packing left-overs into his briefcase to take with him. Many in the Buckhead business establishment regarded Cairo as a loon and steered clear of him unless it was deemed absolutely necessary to engage him. Given Cairo’s penchant for acquiring smaller, more established companies, however, it was becoming increasingly necessary to deal with him and many business leaders did so with the same sort of enthusiasm one garners for changing a child’s diaper. Their mantra concerning Cairo seemed to be “love the money, hate the man.”

If only it could be that simple.

Against all reason, the Buckhead Coalition decided to give Cairo their “man of the year” award, hoping against hope that this would satisfy him and he would go away and never bother them again. Unfortunately, this also meant he would be invited to speak and this was something many feared more than they feared the second coming of Jesus. At a previous gathering, Cairo had rattled on and on about the need for Atlanta to “embrace Freaknik” and proposed the building of a gigantic pedestrian bridge to connect Lenox Mall to Phipps Plaza. Then he complained about bus service along Buford highway and suggested to the mayor’s representative that a high level commission should be empaneled to study the issue. In the course of this same evening, he had insulted one of the largest and best-established real estate developers in the region, Paxton Walker, by saying, “Not since Sherman has anyone had such an impact on this city.” Walker, a life-long Georgian with deep family roots in the state, and a graduate of UGA was incensed, and refused to acknowledge Cairo for the remainder of the evening. The general mystery surrounding him and the repeated public relations gaffes were perhaps what led Cairo to contact Boomer & Associates Public Relations in mid-1998.

“I believe in giving smaller firms a chance,” Cairo explained at his first meeting with Boomer. “Sure, the big guys could get me a lot of slick coverage for big bucks but where’s the fun in that?”

“I understand completely, Mr. Cairo,” Boomer said, pronouncing “Cairo” like the name of the Egyptian city.

“Kay-ro,” Cairo corrected. “It’s pronounced kay-ro. Like the town.”

“I am terribly sorry,” Boomer responded. “Before we were introduced, I wasn’t aware that’s how you pronounce it.”

“You’re not from Georgia are you Mr. Boomer?” Cairo asked.

“Ah no, New Jersey by way of San Francisco,” Boomer responded.

“You’ll find we pronounce things a bit differently here,” Cairo went on. “It’s confusing, but you’ll catch on.”

Boomer smiled, though a bit put off by the suggestion.

“I’ve lived in Atlanta for over fifteen years,” he replied.

“Oh then you’re practically a native,” Cairo responded, a bit of sarcasm evident.

“I don’t feel we’ve gotten off to a very good start,” Boomer said, anxiously trying to save the conversation.

“Nonsense,” Cairo exclaimed. “You’re doing fine. I’m just about ready to hire you.”

“Really,” Boomer said, perking up. “Is there something that will seal the deal?”

“Seal the deal?” Cairo said. “You’ve already done that. You don’t need to sell yourself anymore.”

“What was it that did it for you?” Boomer said, somewhat uncertain.

“Boomer, I’m not someone who likes to devote a lot of time to hunting and gathering,” Cairo said. “I figure you’ll do a good job or I’ll find someone else.”

“Okay, then,” Boomer said, not sure whether or not to be insulted. He reassured himself by recalling how valuable this contract would be. “But how exactly did you find this agency if I may ask?”

“I looked in the phone book,” Cairo replied. “The name caught my eye. I don’t like acronyms and this was the first I saw that had a real name assigned to it.”

Boomer let this pass and offered to show Cairo around and introduce him to the team that would be working on his account. As he did, he tried to get a read on Cairo, some clue to allow him to better understand this man who had garnered so much press over the past few months. Cairo’s name, if not the pronunciation, was well-known to Boomer, but like most, he had many questions about who Cairo was or where he got his start. Apparently, Cairo knew a few things about Boomer as well.

“I hear you had something to do with the Olympics coming to Atlanta,” Cairo said as they toured the offices.

“Yes,” Boomer said, impressed that his new client had in fact learned something about his background. “I used to be with the firm that helped with the bid. We also developed Izzy, the mascot for the ’96 games.”

Cairo stopped suddenly and grimaced.

“I wish you’d told me that up front,” he said. He thought a moment, then said, “That could be a show-stopper. You weren’t directly responsible for that were you? I mean, it wasn’t your idea, right?”

“No,” Boomer responded a bit perplexed.

“Oh good, that’s a relief,” Cairo said. “That makes me feel much better.”

Boomer smiled and suppressed the urge to vocalize what he was thinking, now fully understanding why Cairo needed his services. Boomer was surprised to find there wasn’t much to his new client and certainly nothing that betrayed the fact that Cairo was the wealthy entrepreneur everyone knew him to be. Had Boomer not been introduced to Cairo, he might have assumed Cairo was just another techie applying for the job of network administrator. Cairo was shorter than Boomer, definitely below six feet, and his girth betrayed the fact that he probably spent most of his time sitting in front of a computer screen. Cairo had apparently made the effort to “dress up” for his visit to the firm, but that seemed to amount only to wearing a slightly newer pair of Dockers and topping it off with a slightly ill-fitting blazer over top of a dark polo shirt. His hair was long and pulled back in a frizzy ponytail and he had at least a day’s growth of beard and he was wearing thin, wire-framed glasses which he would frequently push up by applying equal pressure to the sides using his thumb and middle finger.

“So how visible would you like to be in promoting your company?” Boomer asked him.

“Not visible at all,” Cairo said.

“A lot of the Internet CEOs are out in front of their companies nowadays,” Boomer said.

“That’s fine for them, not for me,” Cairo said.

“Okay,” Boomer said. “What sort of approach would you like to take?”

“Anything that sells the company, not the personality behind it,” Cairo replied.

“So what is your mission statement?” Boomer asked.

“I’m not sure I follow,” Cairo answered.

“Your company, does it have a mission statement?”

“Ah, statement of mission,” Cairo said. “I’m not sure.”

“But you’re the founder of the company,” Boomer said.

“Yes, but I’m not sure I’d say I have any sort of mission,” Cairo responded.

“Then why did you start the company?” Boomer asked, growing anxious.

“I started the company hoping I’d make a lot of money so I wouldn’t have to work anymore,” Cairo said. “I knew the Internet was hot and figured a business tailored toward the ‘net would appeal to a large number of investors.”

“I see,” Boomer said. He took a long, deep breath, then expelled it slowly, then said, “Let’s take a different approach, what does your company do?”

Cairo shrugged, leaned back in his chair and said, “To be honest, I’m not 100% clear on that these days. All sorts of Internet stuff to be sure. When we did the IPO we just used a lot of words like ‘synergy’ and ‘e-commerce’ and Wall Street just ate it up.”

“Okay,” Boomer said. “That might be a bit hard to put on a billboard.”

Cairo leaned forward smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I have complete confidence in you — in spite of that whole ‘Izzy’ thing, of course.”

Boomer let the “Izzy” comment pass and said, “Anything you can give me to go on will be helpful. I just need a starting point.”

“I guess you could say, we’re in a state of flux,” Cairo said. “We build websites, but also develop applications that can run on the web. Plus we create graphics and video. We do a little of everything.”

Boomer nodded, smiled, then said, “How about Complete Internet Solutions for Home or Office?”

Cairo clapped his hands once, pointed and said, “See, I knew you’d come up with something. We’re going to get along great!”

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