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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Keeping Up With the Gateses: While national media had a feeding frenzy over Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates' mega-million dollar pad in Washington state, local high-tech kingpins such as Cisco honcho John Chambers (gate pictured above) have sunk millions into their own homes throughout Silicon Valley. Is there a competition going on?

Me and Larry

It's amazing, when you look closely, how much the dotcom billionaires and I have in common

By Kelly Luker

IF THE HORSE-LOVING TOWN of Woodside had a soundtrack, it would not be the neighing and nickering of the million-dollar show ponies and colts. It would be "clickety-clickety-click-click" the clattering of dozens of cleat-shod bicyclists milling around Buck's--Woodside's power breakfast nook for moguls and magnates--before, during and after a morning ride.

Besides being stables to some of the biggest, richest studs in the dotcom universe, this tiny berg near Palo Alto also appears to be Mecca for the two-wheeled crowd. It is in this mixed terrain of oats, greenbacks and spandex that I find myself early one foggy Sunday, lacing up my running shoes and planning a route. Far from my usual stomping grounds, there is a purpose to this particular jog. With a few addresses stashed in my fanny pack, I am off to see how the other .000001 percent lives. And prove that the billionaires and I may be kindred souls, after all.

The quest finds its motivation in a recent news report that Netscape/Silicon Graphics/Healtheon founder Jim Clark just picked up 11 acres somewhere around here for a cool 52 million.

So, he's got more money than me--world peace will never be accomplished if we keep looking at our differences rather than our similarities. Also, it seems mighty fashionable to assume that someone's a jerk because they're rich. First of all, I've known a lot of poor jerks and furthermore, you know what they say about "assume": it makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me." It's this positive thinking--no doubt the same positive thinking that got the fine Mr. Clark his billions--that will propel me up the winding roads and past the homes of people just like me--the rich and famous.

Panting and out of breath, I come upon the first address, that of Apple wizard Steve Jobs. I don't expect to see Steve (I hear he actually lives in Palo Alto), or even Steve's house. There may be a reason why "exclusive" and "reclusive" sound so much alike--if you've got the bucks, hide the house. Not that I blame him, of course. I suppose I'd give ol' Steve a little taste of buckshot too, if I caught him jogging down my driveway to get an eyeful.

Unfortunately, the view from Steve's address sets a new tone for the rest of the run--gates of the rich and famous. However, it's a very nice gate. [see related story]

As I try to decipher the assessor maps, it appears that Steve's into creating a compound. Three pieces of property near each other boast two homes with a combined total of around 20,000 square feet, 29 rooms, a couple of pools and about nine acres to stretch one's cramped-from-sitting-at-a-computer legs. Studying the tax rolls, I immediately spot our first similarity. He's got 15 bathrooms and I, well I have also been cursed with a somewhat small bladder. Poor Steve; I know how he suffers.

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First, De Fence: A brief overview of how the bigwigs keep riffraff like you and me out.

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WARMED WITH THIS newfound closeness, it's now time to head down the street to another pal--Larry Ellison. Although it's not exactly the address of the Oracle giant, but that of his ex-wife--one of many. Again, the similarities between us are remarkable. Both Larry and I have been married so many times we keep our wedding-cake baker on retainer. Multiple trips to the altar could possibly be a hint of problems; problems that all the mansions, yachts or Metro pay stubs cannot hide.

"I have seen a fair amount of people who have been enormously successful and have very difficult times with their relationships," reports David Geisinger, Ph.D. The San Francisco psychologist would know, specializing in couples counseling and sex therapy for the past 30 years. He's also co-written a book with Lonnie Barbach, Ph.D., titled Going the Distance: Secrets to Lifelong Love. In the last decade particularly, Geisinger has gotten his share of "enormously wealthy" and enormously miserable cyber-barons.

"Men whose lives are about performance have a hard time slowing down and being emotionally accessible, being vulnerable, being receptive and yielding," observes Geisinger. "They become human doings instead of human beings."

Human doing instead of human being.

Fascinated, I realize Geisinger is using the exact same phrase a therapist once used to describe me.

As if our troubled inner life were not reason enough for Larry and me to become fast friends, there's more. It turns out that I ordered a piece of replacement marble for a small stand in my living room. That same marble specialist also supplied the marble that was installed on Larry's floor. Or wall. At his house, or office, I'm not sure. The point is, I still get goosebumps when I look at that piece of marble. It's like the time I was in Jerusalem, sitting under the millennia-old olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that You-Know-Who probably gazed upon these very same trees.

Heart full and feet heavy, it's time to fight my way back down through the swarm of Range Rovers to explore other hills and valleys--Los Altos Hills and Portola Valley, to be more precise.

THE SUN IS BREAKING over a hill--a very high hill. There on the tippy-tippy-top would be John Chambers' pad, at least according to the map. Again, we must be content with staring at a lovely gate and reading the specs of Cisco System's top doghouse. Like my new friend Steve, John likes to amass adjoining properties to create his fiefdom. Although Steve's got a bigger one than John, John has better control--he only needs seven bathrooms.

Troubled, I feel a distance grow between John and me. It's not bad, just ... different from what I've come to feel for Steve and Larry. We just don't have that much in common, I suppose.

But hope returns after a visit to Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang's domicile. Obviously, this is a downhome guy, since his is the first house I can actually see from the road. No hiding behind wrought iron for Jer--he'd probably be pleased as punch if I rang the doorbell and invited him out for a quick bite at Denny's. Jerry's probably sick of all that goofy stock option/IPO gobbledygook, so we'd talk about X-Files and drought-hardy perennials; maybe he'd have some suggestions about how Larry and I could work through our intimacy issues.

Knowing we'd be fast friends is good enough for me. I wave bye-bye to Jerry's mailbox and speed down the road to visit Sun Microsystems titan Scott McNealy.

Once again, a gate in front of a long, long driveway is there to greet me. But I do a double-take as I study the specs. Wow--talk about understated. Unless Scotty has a few mansions squirreled away elsewhere, he may be the first dotcom gazillionaire to migrate from nouveau riche to acting like old money. A one-story house of only 2,700 square feet? Only four bathrooms? Perhaps he has a big, long yacht like Jim and Larry. Or a huge, smooth muscular Testarossa. Or something. But it doesn't take a Sigmund Freud to figure out that Scott just might be a little more secure with his masculinity than some of the rest of our mutual friends.

Speaking of Jim, where is he? How could Jim Clark inspire a whole tome--Michael Lewis' The New, New Thing--and plenty of ink in David Kaplan's The Silicon Boys, yet keep his stupid house so well hidden? The word "ostentatious" comes up in the same sentence as his name almost as often as it does with my very dear friend Larry's name. After all, this is the skipper of Hyperion, the world's biggest yacht (Yup, just a little longer than Larry's). And now, Jim's the new owner of Champagne Paddocks, a rundown Woodside stable purchased for 52 million dollars (yup, an amount a little bigger than Bill Gates' reported initial investment in his Redmond, Washington home). Bigger, fatter, longer--whew, is it just me getting a little hot and bothered here?

"Ostentation does not tie in with the size of their genitals," reports Geisinger, deflating my swelling hopes. "Men's concern with the size of their genitals is notable among men who have little money. Conversations about how many women they've laid or how big they are is extremely common among people in the lower socioeconomic classes."

The alpha-boys in cyberspace apparently take a chill pill instead of a Viagra over this nonissue. "I don't think they're as worried," continues Geisinger, "because they've already made it."

Not that any of this matters a whit to me. I like my newfound friends--Jim and Larry, Jerry and Scotty--for who they are, not what they have. Or don't have, as the case may be. Underneath those Armani slacks or Ross Dress-for-Less jeans, it turns out we all put our undies on one leg at a time. Relationship problems, nosy neighbors--you name it, we can all probably claim it.

Jerry? I'm booked this weekend, but let Jim and the rest of the gang know that brunch next Sunday at Buck's will work. Ciao, babes.

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From the July 27-August 2, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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