A Walk in the Park

I know that I am usually assaulting you, my faithful readers, with musings, tips and tricks of the online media marketplace sometimes helpful, sometimes a retread of what you already know, and sometimes just a plain offense to your sensibilities.

But this time I’d like to tell you about the most momentous day this capitol of dot-comdom, the San Francisco Bay Area, has witnessed in the years since Wired first opened its doors: the Giants’ home opener at Pacific Bell Park on April 11.

After watching this structure go up, piece by piece, for the last couple of years, it was a sight to behold this completed monument to municipal will, community commitment, and the success of the “new economy.” A beautiful brick facade that harks back to the ball parks of old greets fans approaching from all sides of the park, save for the south side, which opens onto the bay.

I approached the park from the west, crossing a street very crowded with buses, motorists, and people on their way to the game.

Interceptors handing out a vast array of dot-com collateral immediately assaulted me. Family Wonder.com, formerly KidFlix, was giving out coupons for free videos right in front of the Willie Mays statue.

It felt like a frightening experiment had taken place, where the Grateful Dead was spliced with the Silicon Valley: khaki-clad hipsters with cell phones and hands-free connections holding signs imploring passers-by, “I need a miracle.”

I was there that day as a guest of Real Media, an advertising network of over 1,000 sites, mostly online properties of local newspapers. I think most everyone in attendance that day was either a dot-comrade or a guest of a dot-comrade. There was in-stadium signage for Schwab.com, Nortel, Exp.com, and Skillsvillage.com. I saw a MySimon sticker already defacing the brand-new railing in the arcade section of the park. It was a stadium of Internet surround sound marketing.

The pre-game action took place with all the fanfare befitting Baghdad by the Bay. First parachutists arrived with dirt from all the MLB parks. Then there was the blessing of dirt by Father Floyd Lotito. Next there was the obligatory introduction of Giants Investors, followed by a video tribute to the building of Pacific Bell Park. Local celebrities including the cast of Beach Blanket Babylon sang “San Francisco,” there was a presentation by Danny Glover, and the San Francisco Symphony Horn Section played “America the Beautiful.”

The announcer then introduced the lineups. The Dodgers were greeted by roiling boos from the crowd. Enthusiastic cheers met the Giants. Bobby McFerrin sang the national anthem, followed by a ceremonial first pitch thrown out by Peter Magowan and Larry Baer.

Play ball!

It was amazing to see the opening-day visitors, both in and outside the park. The lagoon to the south filled with a small flotilla of yachts, motor boats, 14-foot whalers, Zodiacs, kayaks, canoes, and even one guy with two surfboards roped to an old wooden pallet. Half of these vessels carried signage for dot-coms based in the area, most of which I had never heard of.

Overhead flew a small squadron of aircraft pelting the skies with advertising for everything from local radio stations and bars to restaurants and car dealerships. All of these aerial displays featured URLs.

But what about the game? How was the game? Did play on the field match the level of thrill among the crowd? Well, sure; if you were there to actually watch the game, it was a pretty good one.

Kevin Elster of the Dodgers roped the first home run ever during regular season play (and proceeded to hit two more during the game). Barry Bonds clocked the first Giants home run hit in this new park. The ball sailed over the Gap sign and right into the hand of a man in a row down in front of me. Photographers and reporters anxious to get his name and a snapshot of his mug for the morning sports section immediately set upon him.

Yet it seemed as though few people were actually watching the game. There were visitors with laptops and cell phones going the entire time. People conducting business, making deals, checking in with less fortunate buddies unable to be there. Dot-comrades all around were paying more attention to their PDAs than the RBIs or the ERAs. Physically they were there, but mentally they were at least half elsewhere, ensuring that what was going on at each location didn’t receive their full attention.

We have a new environment in which one should be able to spend time away from the crush of the modern world. But now time spent away from the beeping and the blinking and the ringing isn’t time spent away at all. We are bringing the beeping and the blinking and the ringing with us. Lawrence Ferlinghetti mused, “You know what they used to say in the ’60s? ‘Be here now’? Well, with all these cell phones and small TVs and everything, it’s like their motto is ‘Be Somewhere Else Now.'”

There were sushi stands, a giant Coke bottle, and dot-com advertising signs the size of houses. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. Which was a drag the glare made it hard to read my email.

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