May Day has meant many different things to me. As a child I lived in a town that had a tradition of May Day baskets. A boy leaves something for a girl, knocks on the door, and runs away. If the girl catches the boy, she kisses him. This is all a throw back to pagan European customs that Puritans in our colonies used to see as grounds for flogging. It is all connected to the May Pole, and festive celebrations about new life and the mating season of the farm animals and, well, you get the idea what the May Pole dance was really all about.
Anyway, I remember leaving a basket on the front step of a girl named Sonia. She came to the door almost immediately, and announced, "I'm not kissing you, Jon." We were each about six or seven years old. To her, boys had cooties. As for me, I was disappointed that there would be no chase. We both knew I would have let her catch me. Besides, I had given a girl a present with candy in it. Where was the action?
Later on as I became aware of the Cold War I learned that May Day was a time for the Evil Empire to goose-step its soldiers in front of its ICMBs as they passed before the Kremlin in Moscow's Red Square.
May Day of 2010 was neither for May Pole dances nor for Communist parades. On May 1, 2010, Warren Buffet and his number 2, Charlie Munger, convened the Berkshire Annual Meeting at QWest Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Those of you who care about such things will have already read Buffet's pronouncements in the business sections of newspapers. I don't read business sections. I read sports and comics and occasionally a front-page headline, especially if there is a new war getting started or a tornado or something. Sometimes I read one of the syndicated columnists; occasionally George Will, occasionally John Kass of the Chicago Tribune, occasionally some other Tribune regulars who do there takes on local politics and scenes. I almost never read the arts and theatre stuff. I enjoy live theatre and restaurants a lot more than I enjoy reading their critics.
Bill Gates was in the house, and he was introduced with the rest of the Board of Directors in alphabetical order. There were 30 thousand or so attendees with "share-holder" credentials. I was one of them. A true share-holder is allowed to request up to four credentials. I was the guest of a true share-holder, however there were no distinctions in the actual credentials issued, which amounted to a badge worn around the neck. Doors opened at 7 AM. We arrived at 7:20, and found four seats together at the top of the arena--for the share-holder and his three guests. One of his guests was a sixteen year-old exchange student from Germany, whose father works in the insurance business.
At 8:30 in the morning there was a video that went on for about an hour. It featured Buffet doing patently impossible things and making fun of his number two man, Charlie. Ultimately in my opinion Charlie came out ahead though, in terms of the cameo appearances of the cast of "Desperate House-wives." I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Another celebrity Nebraskan named Johnny Carson also had a wing-man, Ed McMahon. Charlie Munger is the foil for Warren Buffet; he is a straight man with thick glasses and few words. The two should take their act on the road. Really. There was laughter often in the QWest Arena that morning.
What I saw much less of, was security. I was amazed that an event that featured Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in the same room did not have Apache helicopters circling overhead and metal detectors in every restroom stall. Think of the Times Square Scare. What I was imagining is hardly beyond the realm of possibility. My host for the day, however, knew the head of one of the security arms working the event and happened to run across him. So I asked some questions. While I am not looking to betray any trade secrets, be assured that security was present and in force, just not in ways that were obnoxiously obvious.
Some things I learned from Buffet and Munger:
1. As it concerns Goldman Sachs, which Buffet staked but does not own: There is more to every story of a deal and an SEC investigation than the media cares to report, or even knows how to report. Buffet's description of what happened as he understood it, was satisfactory, and cannot fit into a five second sound-byte.
2. Inflation results when governments are spending from deficits. Buffet is not a speculator in currencies. He does think inflation will become a global economic factor.
3. India is an emerging economy. The main hurdles to investment in Indian businesses, which would be a way of infusing capital to lubricate their processes, is the Indian government. China is surging faster because its government is learning to get out of the way.
4. There is a time and a place for Dear Jon to spout off. The Berkshire Annual Meeting was neither the time nor the place. The most I did was applaud some lines.
Now one might suppose that Dear Jon would find a room with 30,000 people and open microphones to be a great venue to spout off at the richest people in the world. But Dear Jon is smarter than that. One fellow did grind his axe about a social cause that Buffet and the Gates Foundation should get behind. Buffet did a good job of listening patiently, and then shutting that down.
Fifteen minutes of fame is not worth a lifetime of ignonimy within my own circles. The last thing I want is to be remembered by my own family and friends as the guy who made a fool of himself at the Berkshire Annual Meeting in 2010. I have made a fool of myself enough times in other settings, it was time to do something different. Finally. Besides, I would like to preserve the opportunity that one day I may get to go back, perhaps even as a real share-holder. Until that possibility arises, I knew to treat the event as a special, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and to respect it as such.
Besides, I really had nothing to say to Warren Buffet that either he or his real share-holders would have found beneficial. I benefited just by listening closely.
If anyone asked him how to bet the Kentucky Derby, I wasn't in the room by then. When we got too hungry to concentrate the four of us beat the crowd to lunch and then headed down to the displays. I have a souvenir mouse pad. But speaking of the Kentucky Derby, I do have some new horse names in recollection of last year's race-horse naming tournament.
Goldman Sacks. Derivative. Bond Trader. Reserve Your Lunch. Deficit Spending. Inflationary Returns. Overheated. Equity Crash. Munger Speaks. Gates Foundation. Why Yen. Build Your Dream. Pampered Hoof. Beef Berky.