Networking and I haven't gotten along since she burned me. A year ago, I found myself at a UT journalism event that brought members of the media and community together. I was just a few weeks into my job at the Planet, hungry for stories, and I passed out my business card like I was being paid by the handshake. "Gimme a call if there's something I should cover," I told folks, sure I'd be getting scoop after scoop.
Only one person called. I didn't remember meeting Cedric, but he remembered meeting me. "I've got something for you," he said ominously on my voicemail. This was going to be good. We planned to meet at a coffee shop.
I showed up, notebook in hand, ready for my scoop. Cedric was sitting in the corner, a few folders aligned neatly on the table in front of him. He's got evidence, I thought. Documentation! Watch out Woodward.
"So Max," Cedric said as I sat down. "Have you thought about your future?" He pulled a few pieces of paper from his briefcase and slid them across the table. They were filled with charts and graphs showing dollar figures multiplying over time. What does this have to do with my big story? I wondered. Is it an impending environmental catastrophe? An Iorio sex scandal?
"We need to get you an investment portfolio!" Cedric said, slapping my shoulder. I'd been duped, suckered into a pitch to invest money I don't have. Never again, I told myself. Me and networking are through.
It was an amicable break-up, at least until last Thursday, when I once again waded into networking's treacherous waters, this time in the form of Tampa's Largest Office Party at the XO Club in the St. Pete Times Forum. Every office in town got an invite. Swedish meatballs, parking and admission were free. There was only one goal:
It was a scary world; a high school prom for professionals with lounge music, awkward handshakes, finger foods and a surprising amount of argyle. But I faced my demons. Sort of.
Here's what happened, all times p.m.:
5:51: I get out of the elevator, where a young woman wearing a Santa hat offers me a Grey Goose espresso martini shooter. Yes, please.
5:52: Party flyer by the door says: "Get to know your associates and colleagues in a relaxed social holiday setting."
5:53: I head back to the elevators and grab another shot.
5:55: The XO Club is actually very nice, a series of narrow rooms, each one with its own wooden high-end bar and seats facing the ice. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that anyone is going to actually get down there and do some skating. Now that would be a party. Good crowd, at least a hundred people and growing. Lots of blazers. Lots of people eyeing me and the camera bag slung over my shoulder.
5:59: Items Available For Free:
• Chicken Wings
• Pretzels, popcorn, peanuts
• One complimentary chocolate martini for
• A five-minute back rub from a South
Tampa massage company
• A psychic reading from a guy in a Santa suit
6:01: Waiting in line for a back rub, I tell the woman behind me that I'm writing a column about the party. She gets very excited, starts talking very fast. Somewhere in the monologue she advises me to use the phrase "community-friendly" to describe the event. "I just wanted to give you some words," she says. Thanks.
6:23: Grace Perdue, the miracle worker from Massage Envy, is officially the greatest human being alive. Every party should start with back rubs.
6:29: The place is starting to fill up, and the line around Psychic Santa is like eight deep. I have yet to network. Gotta find someone to talk to. What about those women by the bar? They seem animated...
6:31: Jackpot! Jan Tinder, who sells pre-paid legal sevices, and Ellen Smith, an Apollo Beach realtor, are sitting together.
6:43: The Tinder-Smith Tips For New Networkers:
• Ask people to talk about themselves
• Get business, not business cards
• Eavesdrop ("But we don't call it that,"
6:55: I meet a banker, a dental equipment salesman and a cruise organizer. Three business cards, but no business. Apparently I'm a bad student.
6:58: The Lightning's "Ice Girls" show up, taking "business casual" to whole new levels.
7:03: Overheard quote #1, two guys in the corner: "Someone was hitting on her, but dude had no shot."
7:10: Psychic Santa still has a crowd around him, but I walk over there anyway. Rachel Cantor, a 24-year-old already president of her own engineer recruiting company, introduces herself. She was recently featured in the Tampa Bay Business Journal's "30 Under 30" issue. She also, apparently, has her shit more together than any 24-year-old in the history of the world. "My goal is to be someone in Tampa and have people know who I am," she tells me.
7:14: Finally get my reading from Psychic Santa, who will only give me the name *ANg-EL*. (That's his capitalization, not mine. Same goes for the *'s.) Before he starts I ask him why he's here. "To make money!" he says.
7:20: Apparently, I am a little devilish. And according to Psychic Santa's board, so is everybody else born in 1981.
7:40: Overheard quote #2, a woman in the cigar room: "Oh, I'm sorrrry, but my husband is FUCKING the neighbor!"
7:41: I realize that everyone is drunk.
7:45: I realize that I need to get out of here. My pocket is filled with business cards, my stomach with meatballs and the trancey lounge music has officially invaded my brain.
7:46: Overheard quote #3, two women near the bar: "Every time a guy would come in there I'd have to leave. I didn't want to hear them peeing."
7:47: OK, definitely time to go.
7:48: Walking down the long hallway to the elevator, and rethinking my break-up with networking. Maybe it ain't so bad. You can get back rubs, meet Ice Girls, get your mind read and have a decadent cocktail just for showing up. And I met some interesting folks, too. Sure, it's a little forced, but networking's got its advantages. I'm almost glad I came...
7:50: I'm the last one in the elevator. As I step through the doors, I hear "Hey! Weekly Planet, right? Linsky ... Max Linsky." I look up.
"What happened to you man? We need to get you a portfolio!" he says. "You still got my card?"