Lightly hungover one afternoon, eating a limb salad at the literary agency, I read an article about a startup that had raised three million dollars to bring a revolution to book publishing.
It was an indignity to talk about money when our superiors, who ordered poached salmon and glasses of rose at lunch, seemed to consider low pay a rite of passage, rather than systemic exploitation in which they might feel some solidarity.
The surrounding area was tourist-addled even on weekdays, brimming with adults popping overstuffed cannoli and shooting tiny paper cups of espresso while their children eyeballed storefront displays of dusty parmesan wheels.
We moved into the late winter light, and waled to a Japanese dessert bar around the corner. I had never been to a dessert bar, let alone a Japanese one. The boys were delighted by the variety. They reminded one another that this was on the company card, and over ordered. Sitting with the four of them, watching as they dipped their spoons into each other's desserts, resisting as they pushed their plates toward me to make sure I tasted everything.
During our lunch breaks we would venture forth into the neighborhood and return with sandwiches or leaky plastic containers of Vietnamese takeout, which we would eat in the conference room while he patiently answered my questions about the difference between front-end and development and back-end programming.
I understood this and did not particularly mind, but Cam chastened them in the company chat room and then took me out for soup.
After the first few weeks, during which I wrote website copy, tried to help recruit engineers from a short list of top universities, and edited the user privacy agreement to make it sound more like a friend than a lawyer, it seems that mostly the founders were overpaying to look for a more permanent office space and order them snacks: single-serving bags of cheese crackers, tiny chocolate bars, cups of blueberry yogurt.
The concept of eating a snack at work was new to me. At the literary agency, eating at work during no-lunch hours was a source of not-insiginifcant shame, and gnawing at a bagel or crunching through a bag of bodega pretzels was, I thought, regarded as sloppy and unprofessional. In previous jobs, my inability to keep my homemade lunch untouched until lunchtime was an expression of my lack of self-control, the reason I still had baby fat at an age when the fat might have been postpartum, but instead was just me; I was the baby. The boys, by contrast, snacked throughout the day. They ate chips at their computers and dusted their hands off on paper towels, swished seltzer water and crumpled the cans beside their keyboards. I meticulously noted their preferences and tried to keep things interesting: a bags of clementines one week, bags of cheddar popcorn the next.
Hundreds of dollars' worth of cheese had been procured, and classical music streamed through the house. A man opened a bottle of champagne, which he reassured us was from France. People clapped when the cork popped.
I had gained five, eight, ten pounds in trail mix.
By the time the last guest filtered out, I was already in leggings and a sweatshirt, half-drunk and cleaning: scooping up cheese rinds, rinsing plastic glasses, sneaking slices of chocolate cake with damp hands.
The account manager and I procured large, sloppy sandwiches and sat down in a plaza between two hotels.
"This company is going to be worth a gajillion dollars," the account manager said, taking a bite of potato salad.
We ordered salads at a faux-French cafe in the financial district and sat at a rickety table outside, watching the midday stream of men with briefcases and women in shift dresses. ［...]
I wondered how we looked to them: two round-cheeked slobs in T-shirts and sneakers, eating sliced of grilled chicken like teenage miscreants with a stolen credit card.
A small team of caters worked furiously in the kitchen, arranging platters of cheese and replenishing coolers beer and bottles of local white wine. There was a six-pack of root beer for the solutions manager, who was Mormon. I found the root beer moving. ［...]
They stood near our cloth-covered lunch tables and loaded compostable plates with charcuterie and fruit, crudités and hors d'oeuvres: lamb sliders, steamed barbecue-pork buns, tiny shrimp spring rolls.
The food was low-carb and delicious, well worth someone else's money, healthier than anything I ever cooked. I was glad to share another meal with my teammates. We sat happily at the lunch tables, shoveling it into our bodies.
We offered each other oral histories of our own resumes while eating tonkatsu off biodegradable plates.
At lunch, my coworkers and I ignored the media apps clogging our phones with push notifications about the story, and debated where to grab takeout: the food court of the mall down the block, or the Mexican place? We returned with passable Thai food and high-saline ramen, and sat down at the large communal tables, where we talked about podcasts and prestige television, bad dates and upcoming vacations.
Everyone got to work early. The operations manager ordered fresh-squeezed orange juice and pastries, cups of yogurt parfait with granola strata. A bottle of champagne sat on the table, unopened.
Eight hours later, we were back in the office, slurping down coffee, running out for congealed breakfast sandwiches.
From time to time, the women in the office would go out to a nearby wine bar with fake fireplaces and plates of sweating charcuterie, and try to drink it out.
We traveled to a Michelin-starred restaurant, which the startup had also bought out for the night. Silent and dark-suited waiters served us Dungeness crab and seared Black sea bass, Wagyu beef and lobster potpie, bottles of wine.
I took a break from dancing and found Ian sitting alone, savoring his dessert. "This is one of the most memorable meals I've ever had in my life," he said, scraping his spoon along the edge of the plate. Desserts had been placed carefully in front of every setting, and they sat uneaten, discarded.
Our group stopped at a strip mall for bacon, eggs, and bread, sacks of crinkle-cut chips, thirty-racks of light beer and handles of dark liquor. We were on our own for most meals, except for a symbolic dinner on the final night that was intended to pay tribute to the startup's humble toors: the CEO and the technical cofounder would personally cook the entire company spaghetti and garlic bread, just like the lean times. Rolling a cart through the aisles, tossing in sugary cereal and protein bars, I had the distinct feelings of being on vacation with someone else's family.
One afternoon, I wandered into a fast-food restaurant during lunch and found the CEO sitting by himself, eating a veggie burger and looking at his phone. I sat down and he slid his fries across the table.
During intermission, we drank plastic cups of white wine and split a bag of candy.
"Our culture is dying," we said to one another gravely, apocalyptic prophets toasting eagles in the company kitchen. "What should we do about the culture?"
I liked taking long walks to purchase onigiri in Japantown, or taking long walks with no destination at all.
Unwinding over wine and potato chips one evening, the CEO sat beside me at one of the office kitchen tables.
I went to startups and declined offers of iced tea and string cheese.
My guide led me through the communal kitchen, which had the trapping of every other startup pantry: plastic bins of trail mix and cheese crackers, bowls of chips and miniature candy bars. There was the requisite wholesale box of assorted energy bars, and in the fridge were bottles of flavored water, string cheese, and single-serving cartons of chocolate milk.
Over catered Afghan food, I met the team, including a billionaire who had made his fortune from the microblogging platform. He asked where I worked, and I told him.
"I know that company," he said, tearing a piece of lavash in two. "I think I tried to buy you."
She dipped a French fry into her milkshake.
We pulled over at a lookout and sat on a boulder, eating curried couscous and drinking cheap champagne.
In the mornings, people woke up late and padded around the mansion in pajamas, frying bacon and responding to support tickets.
On the first night, my coworkers gathered over bowls of guacamole and sweaty margaritas.
I thought about my coworkers on the other side of the door, congregating after yoga class and eating tubes of popped wild rice.
I had wolfed a turkey sandwich in the food court, and was aware that I had a slight mustard odor.
We walked to a cafe and sat on a bench outside, eating lentil salad and rehashing our conversation from the microblogging platform.
このアカウントのユニークなところは、シリコンバレーの実態をギンギンに書いていながら一切固有名詞を出していないところ。The microblogging platformはおそらくというかほぼツイッター。
San Francisco was going through a culinary renaissance, a competitive effort to capture the attention of young money. Chefs were not competing with each other so much as against the apathy inspired by upscale office cafeterias, fast casual, and delivery apps. To differentiate themselves, they spun the dial all the way up, treating fried anchovies like luxury items and meting out slices of sourdough bread like manna from heaven. The food was demented: cheese courses hidden beneath table candles and revealed, perfectly softened, at the end of the meal; whole quail baked into loaves of bread. It was high-intensity, sensory overload: smoked corn-husk chawanmushi, pickled French fries, green beans and cherries enrobed in burrata. Food that the chef mandated be eaten by hand. Food that was social media famous. Food that wanted to be.
He asked, as we were presented with matching plates of fried chicken slathered in yogurt and dukkah.
In an outdoor kitchen, people chopped toppings for pizza. A lamb skittered between their legs, looking for scraps.
A champagne bar serving caviar on shrimp chips.
A Ping-Pong club with truffle fries.
I retrieved additional seltzer waters for us, tangerine flavor.
The developer and I ate soba noodles and made small talk.
Several slabs of salmon lay on the grill.
The salmon came off the grill and we incorporated it into the salad, gathering around the picnic tables to eat.
The tech industry would be fine, I said, dipping a piece of bread into a trough of olive oil.
Anna Wiener, Uncanny Valley: A Memoirより