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Photograph by Mary Spicuzza

Geek Love

Premiere Geeks & Gals Ball aims to end those nasty stereotypes

By Mary Spicuzza

EVEN WITH SELF-ASSURED businessmen strutting around cradling cell phones, an unmistakable tension emanated from the parking lot of the Hyatt Rickeys Hotel in Palo Alto last Friday night. More accurately, the entire block surrounding the first-ever Geeks & Gals Ball--promising Silicon Valley bachelors a chance to compete for prizes and women--had the scent of a bizarre chemistry experiment.

The hubbub around the event was understandable, especially considering the gravity of its mission: topple the assumption that all single guys in Silicon Valley are geeks and workaholics. Rich Gosse, Americansingles.com chairman, a married man from San Rafael, organized the event to prove once and for all that the valley is brimming with attractive and eligible bachelors.

"Just as it is unfair [and racist] to stereotype all black people as stupid or all Hispanics as lazy, so too it is unfair to overgeneralize about Silicon Valley bachelors," Gosse says.

Most people don't associate high-tech geeks with centuries of slavery and state-mandated oppression. But while scrambling for a pre-event pocket protector at Longs Drugs, it became clear that certain stereotypes about Silicon Valley do exist. For all of the area's revolutionary high-tech discoveries, the boys behind the valley's success are more often portrayed as emasculated, cubicle-hugging nerds than fearless mavericks. And nobody knows this more than those swarming nervously before the big soiree.

Breaking away from the fashionably late tradition to arrive first brings with it a whole host of privileges. Besides winning first dibs on the snack bar and a chance to chat with Gosse and his sprightly wife, Debbie, playing the early prey provides the best view of the evening's budding potential.

One fellow was friendly enough at first. He showed impressive openness as he shared his extensive knowledge of every singles event held in the greater Bay Area--based on first-hand experiences which seemingly spanned back to the creation of the Internet.

Yet when I mentioned interest in a glass of wine, he grew suddenly absorbed in the veggie dip until the $4.75 for the chardonnay, plus tip, were safely within the bartender's reach. Perhaps Gosse, a prolific author whom the Society of Single Professionals describes as "America's foremost authority on finding a romantic partner," has insights into smoother ways to dodge picking up the tab for a woman's drink. But Gosse was too busy registering new arrivals, collecting $20 per head, to chime in with advice.

While high-tech singles events certainly draw those indulging in sugar-daddy shopping and mail-order bride seekers, singles sliding into nearby chairs--all at an impressive distance away from one another--seemed to be genuinely sweet, shy professionals merely looking to make a connection.

Some conversations did sound like bad lines from dating books gone awry.

"You know the great thing about email?" one financial manager asked, smiling coyly. "You can email anyone else who has an address. What's yours?" But before the bachelor could revel any longer in what he thought was an impressive show of wit, Gosse interrupted to remind everybody to fill out their free personals advertisements. He looked much like a camp counselor as he bounced around, pocket protector and all, handing out blank pieces of bright pink paper. For those of us who didn't show up using pocket protection, filling out the form was the only way left to win a copy of 101 Fun & Clever Ways to Get Noticed by the Opposite Sex.

While filling out the free ad, which asks participants to create a written mating call in 30 words or less, I noticed that the two shy people at my table seemed completely absorbed in conversation. And before finishing my ode to the boy of my dreams (I really wanted to win the book), I noticed the pair self-consciously ripping off small corners of pink paper and exchanging phone numbers.

At a hipper, swankier bar later that night, cynicism about the whole singles shopping scene returned pretty quickly. Between watching martini-laced mating rituals and flipping through the ball's complementary book, which offers advice like getting a job at a dating service to get the "pick of the litter," trying to meet the right person sounded more like a weekly trip to the meat market.

But seeing the shyest pair at the table make a love connection made all of the evening's bad lines and mandatory '80s slow jams fade into ancient history. As the woman closed her lips shyly over her braces and the man's permanently raised shoulders shrugged even more with excitement, it became pretty clear that fighting the geek image was the last thing on their minds.

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From the March 9-15, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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