The Hundred Thousandaire
By Jodi Mardesich

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Once you've been in the Valley awhile, your views toward wealth start to change. In 1992, when Jonathan Bates first drove out West from Minneapolis--borrowing $65 from his dad for gas--he was shocked at the cost of living here. But then he got his first job, as a graphic designer, and it paid the princely sum of $25 an hour. "I realized," he says, "that the streets were indeed paved with gold."

Seven years later, as a multimedia producer at Excite@Home, Bates has discovered that the more you get, the more you think you need. "When you go through a company like this and see every motorcycle is a Ducati and see the rows of BMWs, and everyone has the Rolex, you realize people don't think one million, five million, or even ten million dollars is a lot of money," he says. "The scale is different."

To Bates, it feels as if all those who got into the Internet industry a few years ago have had their million dollars. His, however, slipped away as effortlessly as it arrived, when Excite@Home's stock took a plunge this summer. "Now I'm a several-hundred-thousandaire," he says, a bit ruefully.

"To say I want more may not be completely accurate," he says. But it's a struggle to find the right way to talk about it at all if you don't want to sound greedy. "The way I view success in the Valley is access to opportunity," he says. "Being able to work at a cutting-edge company--just being in the club." Wealth is a natural byproduct of success.

He knows that he and his wife could go back to Minnesota with what they've made and live like kings and queens, in a monstrous house, with a butler. But this is where the club is.

"I don't care about the money as long as I'm able to go to an ATM and take out $100," he says. "I never want to worry about Am I going to be able to have lunch? or Can I buy this pair of shoes?"

"The crash was really good for me," he insists. "It made me really appreciate what I'd spent this far, and that this could all disappear."

--Jodi Mardesich