I wrote the following colum in June 1998, a time before Yahoo needed to buy its cool.
FINDING YAHOO WORKER’S WHEELS DIDN’T REQUIRE A SEARCH ENGINE
by Mike Cassidy
Mercury News Columnist
BJ Heinley knew when he heard about the contest that he wanted his truck wrapped bumper to bumper in purple plastic and Yahoo logos.
Yahoo is where he worked. It was like family. His community. A group that brought him in when he had few other places to go.
“It’s kind of like being passionate about the Dallas Cowboys, ” he says, “or the Bulls.”
Kind of. But it’s a company. A workplace. Which in Silicon Valley can be like the Dallas Cowboys or the Bulls. Logos sprout on clothes, caps, even derrieres. (It’s a tattoo thing.)
So, he entered the company-wide contest, writing an e-mail explaining why his truck should be a Yahoomobile. His argument?
“Surface area, ” says Heinley, who commutes from Belmont to Santa Clara. “I have the biggest car I know of in the parking lot, and I drive up 101 every day.”
He had a point and a 1975 International Harvester Travelall — a behemoth that could go tire to tire with a Chevy Suburban. A vehicle that seats how many?
“If you seat people in the back, ” says Carrie Heinley, BJ’s wife, “there is almost no limit.”
BJ won. The Travelall was shrink-wrapped like a county bus — Yahoo! on its sides, on its hood. People loved it. They honked. They waved. They left resumes on the windshield.
“You get attached to a car, ” BJ, 27, says. “The way it moves, especially an older car.”
He bought the Travelall for $1,000 after moving from Texas. Coming to California was a dream. The Travelall was part of it.
“It fit into this idea, ” BJ says, “of the ultimate beach car.”
When his first job didn’t work out, he called the only local person he knew, a Yahoo manager. Yahoo hired him to do graphics. Then the company shrink-wrapped his truck.
But people grow. Times change. The honks and waves and cheers, well, they can get old.
“Eventually, it kind of stops being fun, as much fun, ” says Carrie, 27, a gardener, whose work truck is sprayed with sand to look like, well, a sand pile. “I guess it’s kind of like we outgrew it.”
It was time to sell. But who would buy a Barney on wheels? BJ pondered that very question aloud one day when he ran into Yahoo! co-founder David Filo in the company lunch line.
“You can’t let go of that car, ” BJ says Filo told him.
Heinley politely suggested — the way you might politely suggest to your gazillionare boss — that Filo put his money where his mouth is. And, in a way, Filo did. The company agreed to buy Heinley’s truck for $2,000.
Now, Heinley is hunting for his next wheels. He thinks maybe a classic convertible.
“I probably won’t make it a Yahoomobile.”
How could he? For Heinley there will never be another.