SAN FRANCISCO — Patty Beron steps inside a downtown skyscraper, slips out of her chic black overcoat and prepares to lie her way into yet another dot-com party--the first of several soirees tonight.
Splendora.com, an online firm that sells spa packages, is hosting a gathering for 150 bons vivants. The fare, which consists of a single table of sparkling water, is open to the public. The good stuff, tucked away in a VIP area, is in the back.
Beron, slender and sleek, gets a peek at the tantalizing display of goodies in the cordoned-off room. Free-flowing champagne and crudites. Soothing manicures and complimentary makeup.
It's a heavenly spread even for the 33-year-old Beron, a legendary yet jaded party crasher. She has slipped her way into hundreds of such events, which have become fewer and more elite in these increasingly hard economic times. For her and her friends, it has become a nightly outing that is part emotional thrill, part social ritual, part financial survival.
Slicking back her golden locks, Beron strides with her friends into the crowd of Prada-wearing women--all of whom have ponied up $60 for a Splendora.com membership card. Beyond a door marked "VIP," Beron can see the masseuses, the stylists, the makeup kits and bottles of body glitter that gleam seductively at her.
"Gina said she put us on the list," Beron says, cooing at a handsome greeter at the doorway. "Wait, it might have been someone else. . . ."
Sydd Hubbard, the guardian of Splendora.com's splendors this night, calmly shakes his head.
"I don't think so," he says with a sniff. "We are not giving handouts."
So much for being a cute blond.
Life these days on the beaten down, dot-com party circuit has become equal parts humiliation and backbreaking work, even for the likes of Beron.
Arguably the city's most celebrated party girl, she is known to Bay Area techies by her now-notorious Internet handle, SFGirl. Her party-crashing exploits have made her a cult icon among the young tech crowd, and a constant headache to some corporate event planners now charged with keeping out the ever-growing crowd of riffraff.
Economic Reality Has Rippling Effect
It wasn't so long ago that mass celebrations and an open-door policy were the norm on the Internet social scene. Parties were not meant to be intimate affairs, but sword-waving victory dances heralding the triumph of technology.
As money from Wall Street flowed as fat and wide as the Mississippi River, even the masses were swept into the good times. They weren't on the official guest list, yet the official attitude was the more the merrier.
But the hard slap of reality has hit dot-coms on their bottom lines. People like Beron aren't part of the Bay Area's ruling elite, the computer programmers and chief technical officers and venture capitalists who are the drivers behind the dream of high-tech wealth.
Instead, they are the industry's fringe players, the first to be fired when Internet firms tighten their budgets. And they are the first to be crossed off the party lists.
Milling outside the Splendora.com party, Beron can smell the smoked salmon piled high on the water crackers. Tuxedoed waiters carry silver trays heaped with fresh sushi rolls and glasses filled with purple cosmopolitans. The waiters look past Beron and her friends, who wander about like a troupe of rock music fans longing to sneak backstage.
"I thought they were going to have food in the lobby," moans Beron, glancing at a table shoved against a nearby wall. All she sees is empty glasses and bottles of water.
Keeping her cool, Beron slips back into her jacket. She and her friends walk out and head to the next spot.
There was a time when such rejection would have been unthinkable. Beron's nightly prowls started as merely a hunt for good times in the early, giddy Internet days. At the peak, Beron dined regularly on lobster and champagne, and danced until dawn at free concerts and underground nightclubs.
The Los Angeles native graduated from college in 1995: She sheepishly admits she earned a bachelor's degree in "recreation and leisure service management" from San Francisco State. After school, in 1998, she landed a job as a Web developer for Sun Microsystems. A year later, she longed to cut back her commute and return to working in the city.
"My husband and I had split up, and I realized I needed to go out and meet people," Beron said. "I didn't want to stay in the suburbs."
Living in an apartment in San Francisco's hip Haight Ashbury neighborhood, she supported herself with a string of Web design and consulting contracts with technology start-ups.
Long hours working at home by herself convinced her that she needed to explore the city at the height of the Internet boom. Never before had companies spent so much on their workers, as well as people who didn't work for them.