Wherein the author rambles about childhood, famous people, a fast car and how to lose in finances.
By Mike Smith
When I was a small child we lived in Normandy Park. At some point during 1962 or 3 my father got offered a job working on the Dyna-Soar project with Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach California. The Dyna-Soar project was a competing space shuttle project that several contractors were trying to build in the recently launched “race to space.” The concept was a vessel that could be launched at high speed and high altitude and then “coast” to its target to deliver ordnance and power up to skedaddle (aeronautical term for “light-a-shuck,” “get the heck outta here,” and so on) and subsequently land.
Ironically my Dad left his job at Boeing to take this position, and two years later Boeing was awarded the project. The Dyna-Soar project was eventually scrapped when then-Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara decided the project was too costly and of questionable military value. Dad moved us all back to Seattle. He got his Boeing job back.
But it allowed us a bit of time to live in California so that we could experience the California-that-was in the 1960s. I can remember a view from our house in Palos Verdes of Marine Land of the Pacific. Where the famous “Shamoo” killer whale performed for awestruck audiences. (Marine Land closed in 1987.) This was the California that was the land of opportunity and hope. I can remember my parents driving us to Huntington Beach to swim and pretending to be real excited when we found oil blobs on the beach. We would run up to my mom with a blob of tar and ask what kind of fish it was. Little did we as kids know that it was simply the crude oil that California was known for washing up on the beach. Fun for kids up and down the coast.
I remember quite a bit of living in California. I remember starting Kindergarten and having to walk down a very steep hill to get to our school. I remember most vividly my art experiences as a ‘gartner. Our teacher wanted us to “finger paint.” That, as you will remember, is dipping your hands in paint and using your fingers as a sort of paintbrush. I remember hating this. I screamed bloody murder when my teacher grabbed my unwilling hands and dipped them in paint so that I would participate. That was my last day in class. Soon after I was enrolled in a different class.
It doesn’t seem that big a deal now. But I hated finger painting. I do have some residual dislike of getting my hands dirty. I also don’t like to eat finger food. I simply don’t like to get my hands dirty. Of course when you are 5 years old you can’t cognificate like an adult. So I screamed. I sure wish someone would have understood me then, though. Could have saved me a bit of pent-up stress. Perhaps I could have been a famous person, or a scientist, or an artist of non-finger painting variety. But, nope. I was left to my own 5-year-old ignorance, and the belligerence of a poorly trained Kindergarten teacher to make me what I am today. A writer-bus driver-simple guy with a dream. Who has very clean hands.
I didn’t realize that celebrity was all around me living in California. Donald Trump had a place there. Rod Stewart owned a home there (a bit later though). Countless other famous actors and actresses lived in nearby Los Angeles. But as a little kid, I didn’t know or even consider these things. I remember going up the street to see Craig Breedlove, whom had just broken the land speed record in the Spirit of America rocket car. Breedlove was from Venice, CA but I figured he was my neighbor and we simply walked up to see his fancy car.
The biggest shock to most people when I tell them about my time in California is that across the street from our house was an empty expanse of desert and sage brush that went all the way to the ocean. We actually lived in a little three bedroom house in a brand new subdivision. Since we’d moved from Normandy Park, in which we were surrounded by woods, I did not think anything of having a different type of play area across the street. There were rattlesnakes there, but they don’t bother you if you don’t bother them.
I learned later that when we moved back to Seattle in the late ’60s we sold the house for $35,000. (Apparently my Dad made a little profit on the house.) The guy that bought it from us sold it years later for $350,000! A few years ago I was at a press junket in Florida and met a composer who lived on my old street in Palos Verdes. He had just had his house appraised for a remodel at $1,000,000!
I bring this up because as investors, I have inherited both my dad’s and my grandfather’s knack for negative investing. Which can best be described as death-spiraling dollars. When not done, you miss out. When done you fail badly. I should probably farm my investment advice out as a hedge against making a bad investment.
“If the Marine View Driver recommends it, bet against it.” It’s a sure bet.
My grandfather could not see how anyone could make money selling twenty-five cent hamburgers at a place called McDonald’s.
My dad thought he was going to make his millions selling a product called Koscot. Here is the lawsuit and order to cease and desist. He lost on that one.
So I am carrying the torch for my progenitors. I have owned three businesses and have seen my worldly fortunes whittled away like a piece of willow branch in the hands of an Appalachian hillbilly.
I am a bad investor. Which is probably why I’ve owned so many cars. I’m a sucker for a bad investment. As bad an investment as most average cars are, though, I love owning and driving any car. Investing to make money? Ha! But a good bellwether for what not to invest in? Hey, now that’s a business I could get behind. I think, anyway. Hmmm, have to consider this further.
In the meantime go ahead and ask me some investment advice. Just do the opposite and be a winner.
I once had a guy approach me about investing $900 in his little coffee company he was calling Tully’s. He sold it to Green Mountain Coffee Company for tens of millions. I said I would keep my nine-hundred dollars, “Thank you very much!”