On the Make in San Francisco's South Park

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - Monday was the kind of day to make market troubles seem very far away. A cool breeze blew clouds across a deep blue sky, and the denizens of South Park - a two-block-long oval of grass with swing sets and picnic benches in the high-tech heart of San Francisco's South of Market district - ate their takeout risotto and salades nicoises under a warm spring sun.

It's the preferred lunch spot of locals from Wired, LookSmart, Organic, TheMan.com, bSource and other companies whose stock prices - or market plans - have changed dramatically in the past few weeks. The market had stabilized like the weather after a week of Pacific storms, and the only panic in the air was the flapping of wings as pigeons narrowly escaped the clutches of a blond toddler in the sandbox.

As a city worker buzzed a lawn mower back and forth, conversation topics ranged from the growth of various world religions to someone's damn boyfriend to the usual pain and suffering on the New York-San Fran red-eye. Other than the kids and the lawn mower, the most bustle came from 22-year-old Marina S. (she asked that her last name not be used), a San Francisco State University computer science and marketing major who is spending her spring break looking for a high-tech job. She zigzagged the narrow park, introducing herself to strangers who looked "dot-com-like" and asking for a job. Despite Friday's big dip, Marina's networking was undeterred. "This is where everything is happening," she said. "It's great for young people starting out."

Online job listings were too impersonal, she said. "Here, I have a feeling for a type of energy. Plus, I don't want random companies calling me." At the other end of the park, casting director Betsy Horan and her assistant flagged down passers-by and asked if they wanted to audition for a Volkswagen Passat commercial. Why South Park? "It's not about the high tech per se," Horan said, but the area's blend of youth, success, creativity and hard work exemplifies the image Volkswagen is looking for. The commercial will feature real people in their late 20s or early 30s who did crazy things in their youth (like follow speed-metal bands on tour) but then settled down and bought a Passat.

In other words, people who've lived a life of high-risk stimulation followed by a more sedate lifestyle and sensible purchasing patterns. South Park itself might not have shown the outward effects of the market's burst bubble, but Volkswagen's timing couldn't be better. With its new campaign, the Passat is perfectly positioned to become the official car of the Internet economy: newly sober but risky at heart.

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