Of homeless geeks and earthquakes

The guy parked his shopping cart at the end of the Interstate 80 off-ramp at McCarran Boulevard in Sparks. The driver in front of me whipped a fiver out the window of his BMW as he passed. The bill fluttered to the ground, and the guy tossed aside his brown cardboard sign to dive in front of my car for the dough. As I waited for him to get out of the road, I tried to make out the words on the sign. It might have said: “Will code for Starbucks.”

Life ain’t looking too grand these days for poor code-heads, Web designers and their accompanying gee-whiz MBAs in spiffy suits. Start-up tech firms were just starting to come down from their venture capital binge about this time last year. Now even some of the more promising firms are falling apart. Reno’s Data Engines Inc. called it quits last week. Data Engines Inc. had developed an Internet filtering technology that seemed well on its way to helping many a small country suppress the free flow of information.

So it’s weird to hear the latest buzz over Reno as a techie hub of choice for what some hopeless optimists call “new technology firms.” At a recent city retreat, Reno’s elected officials pondered how to draw these new dot-com companies and the accompanying high-tech executives to Reno, where a new downtown will be crafted to include plenty of trendy hotspots and hip housing.

No one seemed to ask, “What new dot-com companies?” No one even uttered a perplexed “Huh?” when Mike Reed, dean of the business school at the University of Nevada, Reno, introduced the subject to the retreatees.

Where were these people three or four years ago when the discussion was valid? Oh, yeah. That’s right. They were touring the Mapes and plotting its conversion into a parking lot for the Cal-Neva. Not a bad idea. But here’s a better one. Put up a big coed tent in the dirt on the Mapes lot. Offer free sleeping bags and a roll of nickels for all those newly poor dot-com execs. Give ’em a two-for coupon for Starbucks and they’ll be ours for life.In other news, if you’re gainfully employed, live in a house or apartment that’s larger than a tool shed and haven’t had to deal with any natural disasters lately, you’re in a position to help some individuals struggling with needs greater than a lack of gourmet coffee. Folks in El Salvador who were barely making ends meet a few months ago are now facing homelessness and starvation after a couple of really nasty earthquakes thoroughly messed up their country.

Some caring Renoites are holding a fundraiser for a group that provides food and temporary shelter to the earthquake survivors. You can join activists from the Romero Foundation for authentic Salvadorean food, music and a photo exhibit at 6:30 p.m. March 4 at the Little Flower Church, 875 E. Plumb Lane. Your donation pays for admission. If you own more than one pair of shoes, consider yourself blessed and give generously.