The most amazing thing I’ve done in every US state
Thanks to adventurous parents, 35 years of work, and 58 years on the planet, I’ve been around. Indulge me a bit as I describe the most amazing things that happened to me in every state I’ve visited (45 plus DC).
Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming
I was 5 and my brother was nearly 4 in the summer of 1963. We camped across America in a Chevy station wagon as my parents drove from Pennsylvania to California and back. This was before seat belts, so my brother and I just happily rolled around on cushions in the back part as they drove. I can’t imagine the hell it must have been for them — my mother had quit smoking just before, and I’m sure was jonesing for tobacco the whole way — but my recollection is that we had a blast. In addition to Disneyland in California, we visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. On the way back, the car hit a deer, which destroyed the radiator. My dad ended up buying a new station wagon to get us the rest of the way home.
Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana
On the honeymoon of my first marriage in January of 1982, we started in Orlando at Disney World and drove across the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, ending up in New Orleans. The trip was awesome — using a AAA guidebook, we visited attractions like Weeki Wachee Springs (where they filmed “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”) and a decrepit, crammed dollhouse museum. The marriage didn’t end up being as awesome as the honeymoon. I still need trigger warnings for Disney.
After my book with Charlene Li, Groundswell, came out in 2008, I got the opportunity to present to about 80 of the top management of Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Arkansas, including the CEO. Forrester’s CEO, George Colony, and head of research, Cliff Condon, joined me; we traveled by private jet. (Saved us about 6 hours each way on the flights.) In addition to the speech, I had them workshop developing social strategies in groups of 8 or so — it was awesome to see these people from all over the world, working for the world’s biggest retailer, using the stuff in my book to build strategies. And it almost didn’t happen. On the morning of the session I took a walk near my hotel for exercise. I found myself 5 feet away from a huge skunk. Thankfully, we both turned around and went our separate ways without incident.
Two amazing things happened to me in California. I’d be hard pressed to pick one, since they were both so memorable.
In 2004, I was supposed to visit a client in San Francisco and emailed my brother Andy suggesting a visit. Andy wouldn’t commit, which was weird. I deduced it might have something to do with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to start allowing gay San Franciscans to marry, a decision that might get overturned at any moment. I changed my travel plans to arrive earlier and joined Andy and his partner, Tom, as they arrived at City Hall to take their chance to get married. It was an incredible scene. I passed a long line of hundreds of men and women waiting to get permits to get married — some had children with them, some were dressed as bikers, some were in tuxedos and wedding dresses, and the vibe was totally peaceful and uplifting. A city clerk married Andy and Tom under the cupola in city hall — and I was the official witness and photographer. It’s not often that your treasured family memory is also a historical civil rights event.
While nothing could compare to that, 2001 came close. My house was under construction and my family and I were holed up on Martha’s Vineyard (Massachusetts) until the water pipes were reconnected. When that was delayed, my wife and two little kids stayed in Martha’s Vineyard while I flew to San Jose to meet with a client who was traveling down from Portland, Oregon. I turned on the TV on the morning of our meeting, saw that terrorists had flown planes into the World Trade Center, and realized that the day would not go as we had originally planned. Since the client and I were stuck, we went ahead and met — they presented their technology and I made recommendations on how they might commercialize it, but all of us were depressed and distracted. Then they drove back to Portland and I realized I was stuck in California. I met with Tom and some of Andy’s friends one night, and another night had dinner at the home of Steve Perlman (the founder of WebTV), who was gracious and welcoming although we’d had a tumultuous professional relationship. My mentor Bill Bluestein had died suddenly the week before and I was already emotional; being separated from my family who were also unable to return home was physically painful. Three days later, flights resumed out of San Francisco airport and I flew one airline to Chicago, another one to Philadelphia, stayed overnight with my parents, and then flew from Trenton to Bedford, Mass., the only airport anywhere close to Boston that was open. There were a lot of tears when I was reunited with my family.
Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, asked me to speak at his organization’s summit/junket in Colorado Springs. (Later we ended up as antagonists — see the entry for DC.) In the thin air, I found myself out of breath every time I went up the stairs. When a doctor tested me later, I found out I had a serious thyroid deficiency and would need to take pills every day to make up for it. The thyroid pills cured my depression; they told me if I hadn’t been diagnosed, I could have had life-threatening health problems.
My first wife’s family lived in Hartford. My father-in-law was the science fiction writer Ben Bova, a brilliant and fascinating man. His wife was a nasty and hard-hearted caricature of a mother-in-law. So those visits were always a bit difficult.
Unless you count seeing a med-evac helicopter pick up an injured motorist while highway traffic is stopped for 45 minutes in both directions, nothing interesting has happened to me as I’ve driven through Delaware.
I visited Atlanta frequently because of clients at Turner, The Weather Channel, Cox Communications, and Scientific-Atlanta (the set-top box maker, now part of Cisco). One day I was presenting to about 6 people in a conference room at Scientific-Atlanta. One person from the client side, a skinny, balding guy, showed up late and then kept interrupting me with pesky questions. I look at my hosts, the heads of strategy and PR, hoping they would restore order and put the rude guy in his place, but they did nothing. Of course, he was the CEO, Jim McDonald. His interruptions and questions indicated that he was intensely interested in what I was saying, and he became a trusted source and a steady and challenging presence every time I visited Scientific-Atlanta.
When my kids were little, we took a trip to the big island and visited lava tubes and volcanoes, snorkeled among tropical fishes and turtles (one of which I looked right in the eye from 6 inches way), and had a luau. The island was full of wild turkeys who woke us up early every morning. It was an incredible trip. Almost all of our vacations involved renting a house for the whole family, which is an awesome way to travel.
In 2007, just before Groundwell published, Charlene Li and I were the featured speakers at the Forrester Consumer Forum 2007. I wanted to make the point that while social media could make companies feel like they were under attack, they could turn the power of social media to their advantage, like a jiu-jitsu move. In a prearranged stunt, as I described this on stage in front of 500 people, Harley Manning, an awsome analyst in his own right, started screaming and charged me. I performed a karate move to flip him over on his back. The audience loved it.
In reality, that move takes a lot of skill for the person being flipped and just a little sleight of hand for the person doing the flipping — I turned my back to the audience, and you just saw Harley flipping over as I waved my hands around. We’d padded the stage. Luckily, I didn’t hurt Harley — much.
Perhaps the oddest group I ever gave a Groundswell speech to was the entire marketing group for a company that made replacement hip and knee joints. Their headquarters was two hours from the closest airport in Fort Wayne. They sent a car to get me and put me up in their own hotel, which had artistic photos of stainless steel body parts on the walls in the hotel rooms. Still a successful speech.
Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia
Memorable client speeches that were much more interesting to give than to describe. The clients included Brown-Forman (maker of Jack Daniels), Best Buy, Target, Sharp, Spring, FedEx, and the late lamented Circuit City.
My wife Kimberley’s mother was a wonderful person. She had a house on the water in Maine and we spent many relaxing visits there. She’s gone now, and I miss her.
My sister and her family lived there as part of a huge orthodox Jewish community. Family’s great, and I learned that you can learn to get along without electronic devices on Saturdays.
I’ve lived here since 1982. Too many memories to choose. This is where I quit MIT in shame, made a lifelong friend of my boss in my first job, met and fell in love with Kimberley, raised two kids to adulthood, endured many feet of snow, watched the Red Sox break our hearts in 2003 and break the curse in 2004, and created a neat little way to classify consumers that became Technographics, Forrester’s data business.
Perhaps the most memorable moment professionally for me was when I walked into a one-on-one meeting with Forrester’s CEO, George Colony, in 2006, and told him that it had been a great 11 years but it was time for me to quit and write books. After a few minutes of discussion, George, to his credit, said “Why don’t you write books for us?” We worked out a deal and that led to Groundswell, which led to me being an author and spending another nine years with the Forrester as SVP, Idea Development. Smart business decision for both of us.
I spent a summer here as a little kid while my parents participated in workshops on science teaching. We went to the Kellogg’s cereal factory in Battle Creek. That was so cool that I remember it 50 years later.
A bunch of us gave speeches in a strategy day at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis. Then I went to see Kevin Rose, CEO of Digg, do a video podcast in the midst of a beer-soaked party at a bar space downtown. It was only at that moment that I realized how somebody could be a Web celebrity. I profiled Kevin in Chapter 1 of Groundswell.
Every January, 100,000 people descend on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics show. At these events I got to see speeches by the likes of Bill Gates and Sony’s CEO, Howard Stringer. The taxi and transit situation in Las Vegas is so intolerable during CES that I rented a bicycle. There’s nothing like pulling up at a hotel and dropping your bike off with the valet while you have a meeting, then strolling out past 30 people in a taxi line, asking the valet for the bike back, and pedaling away while a bunch of incredulous executives, salespeople, and journalists grumble. It’s also fun to wheel your bike through the casino on the way to storing it in your room.
Great ski trips with my late friend Josh Friedman.
I used to go down to the Jersey Shore with high school friends — we’d change in the car and go swimming in the ocean. It was a lot of fun in Atlantic City before the casinos arrived. First time I ever drove 100 miles per hour. (My parents will learn about this for the first time when they read this.)
I faced down News Corp. President Peter Chernin, who, as he was about to go on stage at a Forrester event, asked if we would pay him. (He had told us he would speak for free.) In the end, I convinced him that failing to speak would be embarrassing for him as well as for us.
When Rick Clancy was head of PR for Sony Electronics and I was an analyst, I interacted with him frequently. When he decided to blog, Charlene and I helped him . . . and he became the opening story in Groundswell. Soon after he started teaching public relations at the University of North Carolina, he invited me to speak to his classes and students there. That was my first official engagement as an independent author — and a great introduction to the energy and challenge that comes from working with students.
My first paid speech on Writing Without Bullshit, to, oddly, the Northeast Ohio Oracle Users’ Group.
Spent my whole childhood here. Successful science fair projects and support from my parents and teachers encouraged me to believe I could make a living as a nerd. My writing teachers came in second. Until I became an author, that is.
Early in my Forrester career, the company tapped me to run an offsite for the whole research staff. The topic was storytelling. So we gathered about 70 people in Newport while I told them about telling a story about DVRs and the television industry to my toddler. Then I had a professional storyteller describe what makes a narrative into a story. It actually worked — it changed the way we all thought about writing reports.
I was the documentation manager for a company called Javelin Software in 1984. Working with a graphic designer, Michael, and a printer’s rep, Margot, we arranged to get the product printed and assembled. We all went down Kingsport, Tennessee, where the printing plant was. This is a pretty rural part of Tennessee — I remember the hotel we stayed had rooms arranged in a line on a railing, two levels, and the guy in the room next to mine had arranged a winch on the railing to haul the engine up out of his dirt track racer to fix something before a race he was going to. Anyway, the print run went days behind schedule, and Michael, Margot and I drove around looking for things to do in Kingsport, which there weren’t many. One Sunday morning in the midst of this wait we settled down to a breakfast of biscuits and gravy and got into a heated discussion about atheism and religion, which doubtless horrified the rest of the god-fearing folk in the restaurant. Eventually the print run came off and I took the first unit off the assembly line and FedExed it to the offices of InfoWorld. Our executives were meeting with their editors, who said that the product looked great but they couldn’t consider it unless it was shipping. The FedEx actually arrived while they were in the meeting with the editors. They ended up awarding Javelin Software Product of the Year.
Dell sent a party bus/limo to pick me up from the Dachis conference. That bus had six other delightful and fascinating people in it (see photo). Despite appearances, this is not a photo illustrating a story about venture capitalists, gender, and harassment.
My visit to Dell was full of great insights. Their social media monitoring center was a revelation.
An idyllic spring vacation in Stowe with my wife, sandwiched between two business trips. Sometimes the air is so clear you can taste it.
In my first month as an analyst in 1995, Forrester sent me to cover Bill Gates’ speech in the Seattle Auditorium. There were hundreds of journalists and analysts in the audience as Gates and his fellow Microsoft executives explained how the company was pivoting to embrace the Internet. After the presentations, I asked the first question: “Why are there no content providers in your announcement?” Gates glared down at me, wondering who this unknown pipsqueak was. But after the event, several reporters sought me out for quotes. A good start to an analyst’s career.
In 1978, in my second year of college, a bunch of my science fiction friends and I went to Moncon II, a science fiction convention at West Virginia University in Morgantown. (Moncon stood for “Middle of nowhere convention.”) It was my first convention. It took us four hours to drive down from State College, Pennsylvania crowded into a car of questionable dependability. The Guests of Honor were Stan Lee and author and provocateur Harlan Ellison. We ended up hanging out with Harlan a lot. He inspired me with his rebellion and made me question myself — and my relationship. So I broke up with my girlfriend right there at the Con. That was tense, especially when we were all riding back to State College. It got even more tense when the car broke down and, in another questionable decision, we accepted the kindness of a few rural types who led us off the road to their place deep in rural West Virginia. It took them about 3 hours to fix the car while we stood around in the midst of this rundown farm staring at each other. My breakup had made things a lot worse. I relented and told my girlfriend I had made a mistake, the hicks eventually fixed the car and took all the cash we had on us, and we limped back to State College. Thinking back on other breakups, I can see that I never really learned how to do that any better.
My favorite Wisconsin experience was a visit to the headquarters of Harley-Davidson, which is full of amazing metal sculptures. All the attendees wore jeans and Harley-branded gear, which was a change from my usual corporate clientele. I have a line in my speeches where I say “nobody wants to talk about your brand” and they don’t — unless you’re Harley or Apple. One of the great American brands.
District of Columbia
I had just published a report on how HDTV was a costly mess for everyone in the television industry. The Consumer Electronics Association was holding its “HDTV Summit” in Washington. There was no way the CEA, big backers of HDTV because it was a boon for the electronics industry, would allow my report to get any play at the event. But I knew Jon Healey, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury, was moderating a panel including the heads of the CEA, MPAA, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. So I got Jon a copy of the report ahead of the event. Sure enough, Jon quoted from the report in front of an audience of journalists and TV industry players and then challenged the panel to respond. CEA head Gary Shapiro was livid and started berating me from on stage. I stood up in the audience and shouted back. Now everybody in the audience knew who I was and what my research was about.
Alaska, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina
I haven’t been to these states, so these amazing memories are still in my future.
Having dinner tonight with your Mother and Father !
Wisconsin, please! (Please don’t say eating cheese, drinking beer, or watching sausage races!)
An oversight. I once had a great visit to the HQ of Harley Davidson, so I added that.
You were such a sweet, well behaved baby and now you are the “Chief Troublemaker” at WOBS.
We are proud of your work and your ethics.
I’ve added North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia, which I’d left out by mistake.
I do believe your recollection of 9/11 was wrong. I am pretty sure it was a Tuesday not a Monday
You’re right. I flew Martha’s Vineyard to Boston to San Jose on the Monday just before.