The Fribble
Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Midwestern Foolishness

By Howie Smith (

A few weeks ago I attended an all-day conference on investing here in Minneapolis. Upon arriving, the mood seemed upbeat. There would be the usual workshops and exhibits to look forward to -- many offering Wise information about how to invest (some of which sounded foolishly like how to succeed at market-timing) and which company I should select to handle and invest my money for me (which sounded equally foolish).

By 8:45 a.m., about a thousand of us had gathered in the main hall to hear the kickoff speakers -- none other than "the Click and Clack of the Investing World," Tom and David Gardner! They were the reason I came to this conference, and they gave a great speech (among others, they told some great stories about the eBay site award, the April Fool's joke, index funds, and one on comparing love and stocks when selling off winners and buying more losers).

After their speech, it was off to the workshops and exhibitors. A number of the exhibit stations were busy, and nearly all of the workshops I attended were standing-room-only. It seemed a lot of people were hungry for some Wise information. But as the day wore on, the mood seemed to change. I guess after mixing together a 600+ point drop in the Dow over the previous five days, several doom-and-gloom-rising-interest-rate speeches, and a couple of brochures about how to Y2K-proof your portfolio, it wasn't too surprising that the smiling and optimistic faces of the early morning were no longer easy to find.

Except at exhibit booths 9 and 10.

These two booths, side-by-side, were at the very end of the exhibit hall. And down at the end of this hall, there were people smiling. And many were laughing, too! Some of them were even laughing a lot! All day long, each time I checked back, the people at the far end of this exhibit hall seemed to be having fun! They were telling stories, wearing clever blue buttons and red buttons, and heck -- they were even buying T-shirts and boxer shorts and buying do-it-yourself books on investing! It
all seemed very Foolish, this laughing and cavorting and glad-tiding at a somewhat depressing investment workshop conference. You ask, what sort of Foolishness was going on at exhibit booths 9 and 10 at the Minneapolis Convention Center?

It was home to the first visit of The Motley Fool -- Tom and David Gardner -- and their weekly radio show, live from Minneapolis! It was like a steady diet of Wonder Bread and plain mashed potatoes had suddenly been interrupted by an Italian garlic and oregano feast. Those of us gathered around were sure that we had died and gone to heaven.

You see, we don't get The Motley Fool Radio Network here in Minnesota. While it might have something to do with our two seasons of winter and road construction, I think it has have more to do with our culture. Please understand -- money, in this part of country, is talked about even less than religion and politics. I mean, listen to Garrison Keillor and a Prairie Home Companion if you don't believe me. And while we are slowly changing, we are still primarily a land of people who, when the market goes down 500 points, will respond with a knowingly, "I told you so." By and large, we really are still a citizenry who think people with a lot of money somehow deserve to be punished for it. And certainly, anyone who does have money should never show it. (I think there are three, maybe four people who are allowed to wear a Rolex watch in public in Minnesota and not be viewed as "showing off.")

But we are changing.

If what I observed Saturday is any indication, it won't be long before we get the Fools here each weekend. And while we Minnesotans can be an unpredictable lot (Jesse Ventura, anyone?), one thing is for sure: If there is one thing we like even less than talking about our money, it is letting someone else claim they can manage it better than we can do it ourselves. To me, that makes it a slam dunk. Now, if only we can get the head of at least one of the two major talk-show radio stations here in the Twin Cities to thaw out (are you listening out there you guys? hello? hello?) we'll be laughing Foolishly each Saturday, as we rake leaves, shovel snow, or grumble about the latest weather forecast.

I don't know about all the rest of the attendees, but I had a great time at the conference. I heard the show for the first time, I got Tom and David to sign my well-read copy of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers, and I even bought a great-looking Motley Fool T-shirt. As I left the building, I was smiling. I was feeling educated, amused, and enriched. With Tom and David there, I thought that was the purpose of the conference. But maybe it was all a matter of perspective. Because as I walked out, the guy walking next to me looked to be frowning.

Maybe he wasn't a Fool yet. Or maybe he still hasn't heard the radio show.

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