Two weeks ago, I walked into an upscale restaurant for a networking dinner. I was brand new to Miami, a city whose residents pride themselves on two-story strip clubs, too-orange spray tans and rented Ferraris.
I didn’t want to be here – neither at this dinner, nor in Miami – but since I was supposed to spend six months stuck in this city receiving medical treatment for a weird dizziness issue I’d been dealing with, I figured I’d try my best to make friends with any non-terrible Miamians I could find.
Cue networking dinner.
“Sir,” the maitre d’ told me, “you can’t come in wearing shorts and sandals.”
I sprinted to a TJ Maxx and, not knowing anything about clothes, I put on the first thing in my size, threw my shorts and sandals into a plastic shopping bag, and returned to the restaurant anew.
Upstairs in the dining room, Eric, the dinner host, walked over. He’s a bro. I’d had a phone call with him a week prior through a friend of a friend, and he kept using the word “sick”.
Eric gave me a fist bump and then pointed to my seat next to a tall man wearing a blazer, who looked both nerdy and kind. Perhaps this man could be my new friend.
I caught Blazerman mid-sentence: “ … and I minted two NFT bananas last week and then resold them for 5x the next day,” he said.
Oh no. I don’t do crypto people, I thought.
I turned to the attractive woman across the table. She appeared to be in her late 30s, had dark brown hair wound tightly in a bun, and wore an expensive-looking suit. Her name was Janine.
“I haven’t touched NFTs yet,” Janine said to Blazerman. “But I might finally step out of Ethereum and check out Solana.”
“Solana’s all hype. I’m only touching Avax for now,” chimed another man next to me who did his best to show that he wore a nice watch.
On all sides, trapped.
Over the past few years, there’s been an explosion in crypto. In the US, 86% of us have heard of it, and 16% have bought it. This seems to make sense. In our uncertain political times, the case for crypto feels more and more grounded: “The stock markets are riskier than ever! Keep your assets safe! Don’t let big scary governments block access to your hard-earned money!”
All around me, culty, shortsighted sheeple seem to yell at me, ordering me to buy digital Jpegs of apes or sell my children for two Ethereum.
Here in Miami, where the municipality itself has already made $7m off of “MiamiCoin”, the sheeple yell louder.
Though I wanted to leave the dinner right there and then, I wanted to make friends even more. I soon realized that my role of ill-informed cynic who thinks all cryptopeople are incels who sit in dark basements using semi-clean spoons to eat out of ice cream cartons would only hold up for so long.
I looked at Janine and figured I’d try engaging her again. I noticed her perfect red nails and good posture. She was probably powerful and important, I thought. Like a prosecutor, or some kind of big wig exec who manages gigantic factories where children make shoes.
“What do you do for work?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, sipping a glass of dark red wine. “My company helps organizations move Fiat off their balance sheets and into crypto.”
“What about you, Alex?” she asked as everyone turned to me. “Are you into crypto?”
“Well … I bought a little bit on Coinbase last year, but most of my money is in stocks. It feels more secure?”
The cold faces around the table pressed me to continue: “… But I’m definitely going to trade much more crypto soon.”
Janine didn’t like this. “You’re very late to the game,” she said in a voice that sounded like I had told her I had just learned about the picture phone.
“Yeah. I know. I just don’t want too much of my money in it. It could go down at any point.”
Blazerman interjected. “At your age, it’s better to have more of your portfolio allocated to riskier bets, obviously.”
“Mmhmm. Obviously,” I said, wondering how old he thought I was, all the while realizing that I still hadn’t found a Miami derm for Botox.
I looked back to Blazerman. “Do you trade crypto, then? Like, is that your job?” I asked.
“Ha,” he laughed flatly. “I used to daytrade Eth,” he said. “But now the fees are too high. Recently I’ve just been buying and holding L2s.”
“L2s are layer-twos,” he said, excited to share the gospel. He used words like protocol and settling and bridging. Words that seemed to almost mean something, but not to me.
“Oh, gotcha,” I said.
Janine tried to help – she jumped in to offer an analogy her son had come up with – about how lazy teachers give out group projects to their classrooms so that there’s less grading per student, which is the same as L2s and L1s and reducing something called gas fees.
“Your son came up with that?” Blazerman asked. “How old is he again?”
“Fourteen,” she said.
Impressive, I thought. Perhaps I should divert the conversation to finding out who did her botox.
“He’s part of a new generation of degens,” Blazerman said, using the slang word for “degenerate”, a term adopted by the crypto community for someone who throws money at trades without researching what’s happening. It’s a label proudly worn.
The appetizer arrived. It looked like some sort of dairy dish, which I tend to avoid because dairy gives me acne, but I didn’t want to be the TJ Maxx-dressed, anti-crypto newb who also had dietary restrictions.
“So. OK, I still don’t get what the big deal is,” I said. “If there are these things called gas fees, which just sound like transaction fees, and none of it is as safe as money, then why does any of it matter? Like, it’s not better than Venmo or Zelle or any of those. And no one really uses it to pay for things …”
“I mean, not yet,” Janine said. “But the market is growing, and outside the US, many people are using it to pay for things. In Switzerland and Turkey, 11% of people own crypto, and in Nigeria, it’s 32%.”
“Crypto is going to change everything,” Blazerman pressed on. “Especially with decentralized exchanges.”
“Oh, like Coinbase?” I asked.
“Ha. No.” They laughed at the idiot.
“Coinbase is a centralized exchange,” Janine said. “That means Coinbase knows each person that is buying and selling. They make the transaction go through and they get in trouble when things go wrong, which is the opposite of something like a decentralized exchange, where the traders may be anonymized,” he said.
“I mean. That sounds scary,” I said. “What if I’m giving my money to a drug dealer? Or a sex trafficker, or maybe even a gun lobbyist?”
The joke at the end didn’t land. I was still in Florida.
“Fintech’s wild west,” Blazerman said.
The waiter arrived holding steak and cheesy pasta. I had worked up the courage to say something about dairy but the host, Eric, was walking over and I wanted to impress. I bit my tongue and accepted my pimpley fate.
“Alex!” said Eric. “You getting the lay of the crypto land?”
“Ha! I guess. I don’t really get it, but it seems like lots of people are making money, so …”
Eric smiled. “Yeah, man. It’s about being early to these things. Most of the liquidity to projects nowadays is coming from traditional institutions starting to pour in,” he said, not really addressing my comment. “Let’s face it, the financial systems are crumbling, and we’re building the lifeboats.”
I looked around to see if this sounded crazy to anyone else.
“In time, you’ll come around,” he said, sounding like a Scientologist.
“Yeah,” Blazerman said, “Alex’ll be a degen in no time.”
“OK. So …” I began. “Let’s say I was potentially interested in this. I don’t want the world to crumble or whatever, but if I can make some money … I mean … I’m not a developer.”
“Oh, you’re fine. You don’t need to learn Solidity or anything. That’d be overkill. Just put some cash into things and join some Discords. You’ll be up all night. That’s what happened to EthMaxiPad over here,” he said, looking at Janine.
“Dude, no,” said Janine, shooting him a look for having revealed her tasteless Discord name.
Discord is like Slack, but for people with no jobs.
“Eth maxi pad?” I asked Janine.
“I changed it,” she said, “I was getting too much hate.”
“She’s an eth maximalist. Thinks that Ethereum is the best,” Blazerman said. “Which, I don’t know that she’s wrong, but Alex, if you really wanna make money, it’s all about the L2s. Riskier, but more upside.”
I pulled out my phone and texted myself: It’s all about the L2s.
“Just go start placing tiny bets on things that sound fun. Follow crypto accounts on Twitter,” Eric said.
“Get on Telegram. Watch the Bankless dudes,” said Janine.
I texted myself again: Watch the Bankless dudes.
“And then I just become rich?” I asked, half-joking.
“Haha, sure, man,” Eric said as he turned around and sailed on his lifeboat, back to the other side of the room.
The dinner continued like this for another hour or so. I took notes about things I don’t think anyone actually understands, like yield farming, cold storage, and stablecoin treasuries. And then I went home and fell into a hole of radicalization, learning about how our financial system is to be replaced by what I still think might just be a well-marketed Ponzi with a very loyal tribe.
But that was two weeks ago.
Now, I’m sitting at my desk in the dark with a semi-clean spoon and a carton of non-dairy ice cream, while I learn a programming language called Solidity.
For the next few months I’ll be stuck here, dizzy in Miami, where people pride themselves on two-story strip clubs, too-orange spray tans, and rented Ferraris.
Tomorrow, I’ll be going to a karaoke event with a group of degens, who are only mildly terrible and will undoubtedly continue to do their best to convince me about an impending financial crisis that I don’t know I believe will ever arrive.
But hey, if I’m wrong, I’ll be thankful to them for having given me a lifeboat.