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Halftime: The Summer of 1999

The summer of 1999 is now 25 years in the rearview mirror. For me it was “halftime” in my business career and it was a wonderful summer for my family.

So much has changed in the world and in my life since 1999. We are a far more digital world now than in 1999. Technology continues to change our lives daily and it has been both a blessing and in some ways a curse (hopefully more of a blessing). In the summer of 1999, we were worried about Y2K and the computer chaos that supposedly was straight ahead at year’s end and obviously never happened.

More importantly, on a personal level the biggest personal change since 1999 was the passing of my late wife, Beth, in 2020 from ALS. That makes looking back both joyful and painful. But I’ve also been blessed to have met a wonderful woman, Marcie, and we married last year.

But in looking back, the summer of 1999 was a special one for our family.

Here’s the background:

In April 1999 I sold my interest in the Star Group, where I had been its CEO. The timing was ideal as I created a plan that our family would take a summer long cross-country trip when our children, Carolyn and Carl, got out of school in June. This was an excellent break from the ad business. In retrospect I am so thankful to have had the time and financial wherewithal to do so. I was 46 at the time, Beth was 44, and our children, Carolyn and Carl, were 10 and 5 years old respectively. They were still young enough to follow our lead on summer plans.

Having sold my interest in the Star Group, I had no specific short-term business plans. This was by design. I had lots of thoughts, but what I knew is that I no longer wished to own or run an ad agency any longer. My interest in the marketing and business at large remained strong, but I felt it was time to re-direct my life. It was “halftime” for me, and I knew the second half would begin post Labor Day 1999, but I was in no hurry to start the second half.

Those that know me understand I have a very strong internal compass and I am strongly independent. In Covey’s 7 Habits speak, I have Habits 1-3 nailed, but I am still working on Habits 4-7. Those are both my greatest strengths and admittedly weakness as well.  And while I humbly believe my strengths outweigh my weaknesses, I am evolved enough to clearly see the world (and myself) as it is. As a result, I am very well suited for my independent consulting life, now in its 25th year.

Here was the plan for the summer: We would leave in June in our new Olds Silhouette minivan equipped with a VCR (that was a big deal then) and drive and stay in 32 places throughout the U.S. arriving home in late August before Labor Day. I did not bring a laptop. I brought a cell phone, which I used a handful of times. We were totally disconnected from our NJ life for a period of weeks.

We mapped our trip well. We knew where we were going yet had no GPS. I am a planner, and I had a thick binder with tabs on where we would be going and where we would be staying. We did not plan the daytime activities at every stop, but we obviously focused on the top 2-3 attractions in each city, ones best for a family.

I had made CDs of my favorite tunes (thanks to Kel Smith) and had a selection of kids’ videos heavy on Disney, Space Jam, Land Before Time and Good Burger.

We packed the day before we left and organized ourselves to have roughly 2 weeks of “apparel” (largely t-shirts, shorts, and swimsuits). We figured we would do laundry in hotels along the way. And since we were driving through the land of Walmart, I figured we could buy anything we needed or had forgotten. Regarding hotels, I had made reservations in every stop, largely midscale hotels heavy on Holiday Inns, Fairfield Inns and AmeriSuites. I had faxed driving directions from each hotel which were in the binder. Instead of thinking about it as one big trip, it was a series of 2-3 days trips with 300 miles between stops. So, we drove roughly every 3rd day for 4 hours on average.

big shout out to AAA, which helped us tremendously. I got every relevant U.S. guidebook and things to do and a series of what were called Trip Tiks with directions to our 32 stops. Remember no Google Maps, Waze, GPS, Garmin or any digital means of driving directions, so it was good to know where we were going. (BTW, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, which is handy to know if you are generally going in the right direction). AAA saved my life that summer.

Where did we go, you ask? Here were the stops, in order, and some of the attractions in each.

1. Williamsburg—Colonial Williamsburg/Busch Gardens

2. Outer Banks

3. Charleston—Fort Sumter (PS: Interesting take on the Civil War “Our brave boys fought against the interlopers from the North”)

4. Savannah

5. Atlanta—CNN, Coca-Cola World

6. Nashville—Grand Ole Opry

7. Memphis—Graceland, Sun Studios (PS: Best food was in Memphis)

8. Dallas –The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (aka Book Depository), 6 Flags

9. San Antonio-Riverwalk, Alamo

10. El Paso (thought about going to Juarez for a millisecond, but did not)

11. Albuquerque

12. Sedona—Pink Jeep tour (called the “sore butt” tour by our kids) along with a side trip to the Grand Canyon

13. Phoenix–saw my friend Chuck Sabo

14. San Diego—Beach and Zoo

15. Anaheim—Disneyland

16. LA-Santa Monica–Beach

17. Carmel/Monterey—Dennis the Menace Park

18. San Francisco

19. Lower Oregon

20. Portland

21. Seattle—Space Needle, Yankees game vs. Mariners in “new” ballpark, then called Safeco Field

22. Spokane

23. Bozeman, MT

24. Yellowstone Park (it is really big)

25. Grand Teton National Park (canoeing)

26. Cody, Wyoming—Buffalo Bill Museum

27. Mount Rushmore & Crazy Horse

28. Pierre, South Dakota

29. Minneapolis—Mall of America (are 26 shoe stores necessary?)

30. Madison, Wisconsin—Dells

31. Chicago—Pier, Michigan Ave

32. Cleveland—Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

33. HOME

It’s the kind of summer that creates lifetime family memories, and the memories are not based on all the big sites. For example, the Grand Canyon is breathtaking but 5 minutes later it’s still the same. But our kids really remember bungee jumping in San Francisco, and The “Iron Horse”, a Seattle restaurant which brought the food via toy trains. And they remember listening to U.S. Blues by the Dead where they’d sing “I gotta go pee” throughout the song.

We returned home the last week in August and then Carolyn and Carl were back off to school, ET Hamilton Elementary School in Voorhees, NJ where Carl was in kindergarten and Carolyn was in 5th grade, the only year that their schools would overlap. Halftime was over for me, and the second half (a/k/a Strum Consulting) would soon begin.

I hope for my children and Strumings readers that you have opportunity to do a special trip and have a halftime break in your career. Though 25 years have now passed, the memories will last forever.




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2 Comments

  1. Kel Smith says:

    I remember that. It was the days before iPods and well before Spotify, so in a sense you and I were prototyping the future of music distribution. Our collective concerns about Y2K-damaged computers feel very quaint today. Thanks for the callout, Lonny, and hope you are doing well.

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