Dean Clough

July 5, 2024

Portico Darwin: Maybe It Was Destiny, Chapter 2


4 Minute Read

Happy Friday, and this is the second installment of Maybe It Was Destiny.

Preface and Chapter 1

Growing up in Albany, NY, one's dreams are by nature somewhat stunted; still, I dreamt big as a kid. One constant fantasy was starting a company. 

Whatever that meant. 

I vividly remember working with my 7th-grade chum Jim Shahen and developing the Darwin-Shahen Transportation Company.  That was mostly because I loved building model trucks and watching the Claude Atkins/Frank Converse chestnut of a TV show about long-haul truckers called Movin' On

But also because - in my basement in the mid-1970s - I was already making up companies.  This one featured hand-crafted business cards, emblazoned with DSTC.  And my name had the word "President" under it.  

I will return soon to my belief that most entrepreneurs are born that way.

I often comment on my undying love for music.  I get a certain kind of energy from it unlike any other, and it is also the only thing that quiets my noisy monkey brain.  I am probably no more at peace than when I am immersed in a favorite song.   

That goes way back.  Indeed, I was the first kid on my block with a real stereo system.  I purchased it in 1979 or 1980, no doubt with an assist from Dad.  I had a turntable, tape deck, receiver, and speakers.  I can't recall the make or model of the first two, but I definitely remember the last two:  a Pioneer SX-680, and a pair of Boston Acoustics A100s, respectively.


Indeed, I would drop speaker wire out of my bedroom window to our backyard and put one of the speakers outside.  That was so we could crank tunes while skipping high school and drinking beer there.

I digress but not really.

In several ways.  For one, it's now 20 years later.  By this point, I had worked at Ernst & Young as a management consultant, directed a large international technology program from London, and was now successfully running another for Charles Schwab in San Francisco.  

But I still liked to rock.

I was already fooling around with integration while still working at Schwab.  We had recently gotten broadband Internet service, and it didn't take me long to connect a computer to the TV in our living room.  Soon, I was streaming (although I don't think we used the term then) high-res audio and video content from the Internet onto my big AV system; this was probably in the Spring of 2000.

Around this time, we had my London colleague and now close pal George Valiant Walker and his lovely bride, Sherry Pace, to our home for dinner.  I knew George, a geek himself, would appreciate what I'd pieced together.  On went the TV, surround sound system, and computer, and voilà: we were watching live BBC from London, the news in this case.  It was like we had a TV subscription in the UK, but here we were, in my living room in SF.

George, not one to mince words, took one look and excitedly exclaimed:

"That's the future!"

While I had had vague thoughts of some sort of a home technology company, the vision didn't crystallize in my mind until that moment.  It was then that the seed was planted for the most successful period of my life.

But I was still working at Schwab at the time, and resigning myself to it.

If you've read London Calling, you know that my dear friend Arthur moved from Atlanta into our SF apartment in 1998, while we were living in Britain.  It's now three years later, in Arthur's own apartment, tucked away perfectly in San Francisco's fine Noe Valley neighborhood.

At this point, we had already known each other for 17 years.

I am in bonged-out bliss and Arthur and I are also well into a bottle of Scotch.  It's one of our now-classic Portico-Arthur nights, and I am confessing that I am coming to terms with being a company man, what with the sweet set-up I had going at Schwab.  

I exhaled and said to my friend, "It's not how I pictured my life, but it only makes sense to stay there.  I'll be able to retire in my early 50s, for fuck's sake."

What Arthur said next is something we still talk about today.

"You will never be really happy until you do something completely on your own."

It was just like I had imagined my first big high school reunion. 

Stay at a posh hotel?  Check.  A lot of my old gang (the Immediate Family we called it then) present and accounted for?  Check.  All kinds of legal and perhaps even some illegal intoxicants?  Check.  Beautiful and cool wife on my arm?  Check and check.

Sweet job and making bags of dough?  Darn.

All of my buddies - my peers - from high school were doing great in life and I had been, too, just a few weeks ago.  Now?  At a high school reunion at which I had envisioned a triumphant return? 

Jobless after being kicked to the curb by SF's own Charles Schwab.   

If you're insecure like I am, or know someone who is, you probably can understand the pain of attending one's 30th high school reunion under such circumstances.  It was that way for me in Saratoga, New York, over a Thanksgiving weekend. 

At least we had a suite at the Gideon Putnam, a famous and storied hotel in the state park there.

Oh, did I mention this was all right after 9/11?  We had come to the reunion directly from a visit to Ground Zero; I took this photo myself.

Seeing it that raw, that soon, was terrible.  Julie and I both sobbed nonstop.

But we had not suffered at all in comparison to the fallen innocents and heroes on that awful day.  Reuniting without a job with high school friends was meaningless in comparison.

That painful perspective was useful as I sat at my 30th reunion, on the night of Saturday, November 24, 2001, trying to figure out what I was going to do when I got home to San Francisco.  Because that night, things seemed less certain.

And they would remain uncertain for me for about a thousand more, as it turns out.



I do enjoy it when the august Economist and I see it the same way.  Biden and his enablers are somehow making this entire situation even worse, which seemed impossible.   Now we get Trump AND the realization that leading Democrats are no less shamelessly opportunistic than Republicans?

Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


Today on KLUF, we're playing something that was a regular on my turntable during my A/V geek formative years and perfectly titled for today.  Here, on a live album often overlooked despite its Diamond Certified-ness is The Pat Travers Band and Go For What You Know

About Dean Clough