I've been a Fool for a long time. In fact, I was brought on to watch over the food and restaurants sector in October 1995. We may have been little more than an AOL keyword at the time, but you just knew that something exciting was taking place.

These days, the little guy (like me) has access to company conference calls, analyst conference webcasts, and even IPO road shows. It certainly wasn't that way when I first got here. It certainly wasn't that way the day I met David Gardner.

Robotic gorillas in the mist
It was the summer of 1996 when David Gardner flew down to Orlando to meet Paul Larson and me at the opening of a Rainforest Cafe in Disney's (NYSE:DIS) shopping and entertainment district.

Paul and I were the two workhorses for the Fool's sector-specific area. There were nearly a dozen industry experts for the online site, but Paul and I dove in headfirst. We were the only ones to learn the archaic Rainman programming language that AOL used at the time, and did so only because we wanted more of our industry updates published immediately. Although the industry area has been shuttered for years now, the concept for an annual end-of-year stock publication -- a la Stocks 2006 -- started with Industry Focus over the 1996 holiday season.

Paul covered casino stocks. Rainforest Cafe had a gaming connection in original investor Lyle Berman, but Paul had flown down from Chicago so we could flesh out ideas for our industry areas in person.

I invited Tom Gardner, but he passed. It was Tom who had contacted me about joining the team in the fall of 1995, after I'd won a few "Post of the Day" awards on the Rainforest Cafe and Discovery Zone discussion boards. Even though I was helping head up the investing roundtable on General Electric's (NYSE:GE) online GEnie service, I could see that GE wasn't committed to GEnie. But Tom and David were making things happen. They had me at "Fool On."

I invited David to the Rainforest Cafe opening, figuring that he too would pass on the offer. With bustling traffic online and the first of the popular Gardner books, The Motley Fool empire was just getting started. Paul and I had mostly been in contact with Tom at the time. David was likely too busy to fly down to Florida just to chew the fat and check out a huge restaurant housed under a fake volcano.

I was wrong -- David did accept the invitation. The night before the grand opening, Paul and I had set up an online chat for the Fool community, interviewing executives from Rainforest Cafe. The unit was a big deal, opening up just paces away from the world's most successful standalone eatery -- a globe-shaped Planet Hollywood that at its peak was grossing $50 million a year.

David arrived the next day and met us at the restaurant just as Disney and the Rainforest Cafe were wrapping up their press conference. Donald Trump was there. Olympic medalists were there. We were there, too.

In the sea of proven executives and camera-friendly celebrities, we weren't there to stand out. We were just three new-economy mercenaries in our mid-to-late 20s, and we had a different plan for the future. We took part in the festivities, discussing the prospects of not only Rainforest Cafe but also The Motley Fool and the future of the online medium. As the night started to wind down, we walked over to Planet Hollywood to check out the competition.

When worlds collide
"Look around," David said at one point at the Planet Hollywood bar. "Do you see anyone smiling or having a good time?"

It was probably at that moment that I realized that David wasn't just a great stock picker in terms of breaking down a company's financials. I had never doubted that. The Fool ran a real-money portfolio at the time, and David's insight into stocks like Iomega (NYSE:IOM) and AOL had the site's stock picks smoking the market average. However, his ability to grasp the human side of the retail experience -- in a way that would make Peter Lynch proud -- impressed me deeply.

As we went our separate ways that night, Paul and I seemed fairly sure that David's next move would be to short the freshly minted shares of Planet Hollywood. It wouldn't have been a bad move: The star-studded eat-ertainment giant went on to crash and burn just three years later. (He never did short it.)

I wasn't sure whether Rainforest Cafe would be the next buy in the real-money portfolio, either. It wasn't, and that worked out just fine, because the stock languished before being acquired by Landry's (NYSE:LNY) at a meager premium.

The price of reflection
It's strange how a single night, more than nine years ago, can linger so vividly. Paul and I went on to do some pretty cool things. It was that night that I was able to further my Dueling Fools concept by personally presenting it to David. It's a feature that has come and gone over the years, but it's been back every Thursday since the summer.

Paul and I also were able to champion our own Foolishness. We went on to write many of the Rule Breaker portfolio recaps. When the industry area was closed down, we were able to maintain working relationships with the coolest personal finance site around.

Paul eventually left the Fool in 2001. He's doing some pretty amazing work these days in the equity research department for Morningstar (NASDAQ:MORN). I'm angling for getting a "Fool for Life" tattoo -- or maybe just a bumper sticker.

That's why when David approached me to be a part of the analyst team for his new Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter -- a premium research experience based on the same principles that David perfected through the 1990s -- I jumped so high that I probably could have cleared the Rainforest Cafe volcano and the Planet Hollywood globe.

We're uncovering the next Iomega. The next AOL. But these companies are not making removable storage drives or leading an online service. The new breed of Rule Breakers is actually even cooler: surgery-room robotics and flat-panel displays, for example. And yes, stocks like Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) and Universal Display (NASDAQ:PANL) have been taking flight. Just like the old days.

I realize that you probably weren't there that August day in 1996. If you were, my apologies, Mr. Trump. However, you really have no excuse not to join me in picking David's brain on a perpetual basis. You can even try to see if Rule Breakers is right for you with a free trial subscription that will grant you a great all-access peek for the next 30 days.

If not, my next piece of advice would be to invite David over the next time a fake volcano goes up in your part of town. Great ideas have a fine way of erupting that way.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz didn't meet Tom in person until a year after that. He owns shares of Disney. AOL parent company Time Warner is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool has adisclosure policy. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.