opinion

The Long Road

Stephen Yagielowicz
It was 15 years ago this evening. September 15, 1995. I was hiding out in my concrete reinforced shower stall; the mattress from my bed pulled tight against the shower stall's narrow opening. I was drinking a bottle of Malibu rum and praying to God that I would live through the night, while the open-beamed ceiling of my home visibly vibrated as if shaken by a giant hand.

If I survived my ordeal, I told myself, then I would enter the online porn business, full time — and become a part of one of the wildest roller coaster rides in history.

Outside the confines of my shelter, the rest of the bathroom area was packed with enough food, bottled water and other supplies to last me at least two weeks — while beyond the walls of my cottage on the Havensight hillside overlooking St. Thomas' popular waterfront and cruise ship docks, Hurricane Marilyn was busily putting an end to my photography and video business — as well as to my profitable and rapidly growing travel and tourism websites targeting America's Paradise, the U.S. Virgin Islands.

I had been online for around two years already, helping to bring the Internet to this corner of the Caribbean, "erecting virtual billboards on the information super highway," and bringing the best of the islands to tourists the world over. During that time, I had seen a small handful of adult sites — those my friend Bob had recommended, telling me that "Internet porn was where the money is at." I had even made a few galleries using free sponsor content and made a few sales, but porn was not something that a good Catholic boy like me was interested in — after all, what would the nuns have thought?

A loud "bang!" followed by a terrible crushing sound signaled the end of the Baha'i center next door, as it blew off its foundation and rolled down the hill, startling me back to my present situation. I had heard about the devastation that Hurricane Hugo had wrought on neighboring St. Croix, which had never fully recovered, even a decade later. This wasn't my first storm in Paradise, but it was the worst, and I knew that my business was over, at least for a few years — and all due to forces well beyond my control.

The problem with living in Paradise, you see, is in relying on a local customer base that could be blown away at any moment.

The Internet frees you from this dependency.

Sure, I could have kept building websites for local clients and focused my own on delivering the message of recovery, but why try to make other folks happy? I could just add pop-ups to my sites and get 20 cents per click from everyone that visited, whether they liked the site or not — and if they bought from my sponsors as well, then cha-ching!

"White Boy!"

My head was pounding from the finishing of the Malibu. My roof appeared intact but I saw the sun shining through a broken window.

"White Boy! You safe?"

It was the young wife of the Rasta man next door, climbing over my smashed fruit trees and other landscaping that now buried the front of my cottage.

"Your car washed down the hill! It's upside down in the street below!"

I crawled out and looked around at what the day before was one of the most beautiful places on earth, but now appeared to be a war zone in some far off land.

"Whatcha gonna do now, White Boy?" Ras asked.

"I and I gonna be a porn monger, serious, me son," I replied in my best island lilt.

Faced with upheaval I could not control, I sought and found opportunity elsewhere. Others have come and gone as well due to their own fates and motivations and the industry goes on. The world has changed dramatically in the intervening decade and a half, and the type of bold opportunities that the early days of the Internet offered (adult or otherwise) have long since subsided. If I was in the same situation today, the options would not be nearly so clear or the path so easy to follow as it was when I first ventured down this long road.

For me, the adventure continues, while for others, it ends; and for others still, this is only the beginning. Wherever you are on your journey, good luck and enjoy the process — whatever the reasons are that brought you here.

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