MarketInsight | Mystery Trips
Growing up, my father would periodically ask, “Who wants to go on a mystery trip?” I would always say yes. Sometimes those trips were pretty mundane, like trips to the hardware store to buy tubes for the television. Not everyone will remember this, but TVs used to have tubes inside that would periodically burn out and need to be replaced. Dad would make a map of where the tubes went and head off to the store with as many of his kids as had signed up. Nowadays, you would just take a picture of the inside of the television with your iPhone. Of course, nowadays, TVs don’t have tubes.
Some mystery trips were a lot more exciting. This is the story of one such trip. I was home from Cornell at the end of my junior year and my dad asked me if I wanted to go on a mystery trip. I said yes and off we went. It turns out this was a rather long trip. We drove from Elmira, NY to New York City, about a four-hour drive. I liked taking car trips with my father. We talked about history and sports, mostly baseball. But, for this trip, I was glad I brought a book. Four hours is a long time to listen to talk radio and discuss the Reformation.
When we got to New York, Dad parked in front of a brownstone on 48th Street and I followed him to the door with no idea why we were there. Dad knocked on the door and suddenly there was Kurt Vonnegut. I remember that my first thought was “Oh no, we can’t just knock on Kurt Vonnegut’s door. We’re going to get arrested!” My father introduced himself and Vonnegut said, “Dr. Grant, I got your letter,” and invited us in. Dad had this thing he did. He would send someone a letter asking for something and then end the letter by saying he would come on a certain day and time to discuss the matter further. Then, he would show up. It was hard to say no to the Reverend Dr. Leonard T. Grant.
I should tell you that at the time, my dad was president of a small liberal arts college in upstate New York called Elmira College and we were there to try and entice Mr. Vonnegut to be the commencement speaker at the following year’s graduation. I think my dad brought me as an added enticement. Kurt Vonnegut and I were both products of the Indianapolis Public School system and Cornell University. Mr. Vonnegut talked to me a little about Cornell and signed the book I had been reading in the car, “The Sirens of Titan.”
What I remember most is that the entire time we were there, Vonnegut chain smoked Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes and his fingers were stained green with nicotine. Every Vonnegut book has a character who has nicotine stained fingers from chain smoking Pall Mall unfiltereds. I could not take my eyes off of his fingers. Vonnegut declined my dad’s invitation, saying he no longer did college commencements. On the way out the door, he did fire one last salvo. He said, “Dr. Grant, you should know that if Harvard or Cambridge calls, I might accept.”
Life is like a mystery trip. Investing is like a mystery trip. You never can really plan either out in advance. You sort of go along for the ride and accept that there will be highs and lows.
Scott A. Grant is a local author, historian, columnist, and speaker. He is president of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at email@example.com.
Scott Grant’s book, “The Merchant of Death is Dead: True Stories of the Progress of Humanity,” in which he shares some of his favorite columns, is now available: https://tinyurl.com/tn7tj65. Over the last 14 years, Grant has been a regular columnist for two newspapers and has perfected several history presentations. After two years of touring the local northeast Florida civic clubs, museums, and schools, he was asked to produce a book. This is his first publication. He is delighted to share his knowledge of history and investments.