Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

Silicon Valley Fight Club (or "How to be Silicon Valley, Part 4")

Ethan Discovers Silicon Valley’s Secret

In the comments to an entry from earlier today, Ethan tells me that he has discovered the secret of Silicon Valley: there’s a software engineers’ Fight Club. He points to a Globe and Mail article, Superheroes for a Night.

I wrote about it in Tucows Farm a couple of months back and pointed to a news report complete with hilarious video clips (I always crack up during the fight where they use “Hello Kitty” toilet seats as weapons). Here’s an excerpt:

Never mind blowing off steam with videogames or going to the gym: a group made largely of software engineers in Silicon Valley have started The Gentlemen’s Fighting Club, a group whose activities are similar to those depicted in Fight Club. Unlike Fight Club, which is all about unarmed and unprotected combat, fighters in this club wear fencing masks, gloves and jockstraps and fight with all sorts of improvised weapons, from rolled-up Oprah magazines bound with duct tape to cookie sheets to “Hello Kitty” toilet seats.

Apparently it’s stress relief for these guys, and none of them seem to mind the injuries that come with the territory. If I were a member, I’d dress up exactly like the guy in the “Spongebob Squarepants” t-shirt.

Beat-Downs vs. Boredom

Those of you who haven’t been reading this blog for too long may be unaware that I used to busk a lot more, back when I lived right by the club district. On weekends, I’d bring my accordion along and go clubbing with friends like everyone else. After last call, I’d go to the Amato’s Pizza where everyone grabbed a late-night bite and start playing. On a good night, I could easily get a hundred bucks — going out often ended up being a net gain, money wise — and if I played my cards (and accordion) right, I could get a phone number or two.

Most people who buy a late-night slice at Amato’s usually hang out on the sidewalk outside, which became my busking “stage”. Depending on the night, anywhere from 50 to 150 people would hang out, eat their pizza, chat with their friends, look for another party and sometimes, look for a fight. Sooner or later, in a crowd that’s come from a bar or club, someone will be itching for a fight. In all but one case, the fight involved two guys, and after the fight broke up, they’d be hustled into a car by their friends before the cops came. In every case I’ve seen this happen, the car had a dealership stciker that clearly marked them as from “The 905” — the area code for the ‘burbs.

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote that the way suburbs are designed and laid out results in boredom, and boredom leads to trouble. In the case of the guys fighting outside Amato’s, I’d say that boredom was part of the problem (the other part being that downtown was merely a playground to them); in the case of the Silicon Valley Fight Club, I’d say that their problem was a toxic combination of boredom and some other kind of emptiness in their lives.

That boredom and emptiness is why Dinesh Prasad, a member of the club, skipped meeting his wife for their first-year anniversary and went to the club instead (he’ll be divorced in a couple of years at this rate). Gints Klimanis, the organizer of the fight club, explains the club’s appeal:

“We have to go to work every day. We’re constantly told to buy things we don’t need, and just for a couple hours we have the freedom to do what we want to do.”

This is a complete seat-of-the-pants supposition, but I’d be willing to bet that the guys in the Silicon Valley fight club didn;t work at start-ups, but at large, established tech companies that once were start-ups but now have hundreds, if not thousands of employees and a very well-defined org chart. They’re not in the garage, they’re in the Dilbert Zone: cubicle-bound cogs in a large machine, not living the dream, but the nightmare described in the blog Mini-Microsoft.

Next: The first act of nerd violence I ever witnessed, and how it affected my choice of university.

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