Three Things I Learned While Eating Spaghetti in Memphis

Postcards from the florida republic: An independent and profitable state of mind.

I went through two metal detectors on Tuesday.

The first was at Fort Myers Airport security.

The second was to enter a bar in Memphis, a half-mile down the street from my hotel.

Only one of the officers was armed. It was the one who allowed me into a bar, where I promptly ordered spaghetti and New Jersey meatballs. This Memphis bar had a “2 am kitchen” and a lot of history to it. It’s also a hot spot for police officers to order food late night. Memphis isn’t a safe town late at night.

I sat down with a pile of loose notes on the market and pulled out my phone. At midnight, after I received my spaghetti, I outlined my plans this summer to write a book on the Florida Republic and investments. I had a water and a club soda.

Suddenly, to my left, a movement followed. It was subtle. But enough to cause a stir.

The bartender jumped back, “Whoah!” he yelped.

I couldn’t believe what followed…

Writing, Drinking, and Taking Notes

I used to write, alone, in bars in Chicago during my twenties. I liked to be around crowds so that I could listen to them talk. I could concentrate, heavily, with the chaos around me. That was until the final drink took the night away.

I thought I still had that concentration. While I ate meatballs and kept reading my notes from the plane, a noise jarred me.

A man’s arm slumped down off the bar. My peripheral vision became my primary as I turned my focus. He was handsome, bearded, well-groomed, and wearing a suit. In normal conditions, he might have been a Vice President of a bank or a model for male grooming products.

Instead, he fell forward in a stupor. His head clanked the bar. The bartender lifted his head and asked him to drink water and eat some fries. But any and all antidotes offered failed to improve his condition.

I thought about what his next morning might feel like.

I’m in Memphis for a conference. I’m leading a panel. I needed to be up at 7:15 am to have a FaceTime conversation with my daughter.

This man would clearly be in bad shape that next day. And that’s everything that I hate about alcohol, though don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things about it I like.

For me, it’s the painful hangover – the feeling that leads not into 24 hours but almost two or three days later.

But what bothers me – eats at me - is the loss of time. It’s sleeping late. It’s not paying attention to important things around me. It’s the general feeling of what I might have done instead of hanging out at a bar.

I appreciate those reminders.

Instead of having a drink, I ate my spaghetti… and I took out my phone. I decided to use that time, the very same time this man was losing, to proactively learn a few things that interested me.

To write them down and to ensure they were applicable to my life. They don’t have to all be about finance. They just must be about the very basic things that become valuable to my life.

Three Things I Learned Over Spaghetti

Revelation No. 1: StealthGas Is Really Cheap

I’ve been looking for stocks with steep upside reversion over the last month. Unfortunately, one of my picks, GasLog Partners (GLOP), sold itself to its owner Gas Log Ltd for $8.65 per share. The stock is worth somewhere around $12.00. What a steal for the parent company. I have to wonder what the shareholders were drinking to take that deal.

Then, I came across StealthGas Inc. (GASS), trading at a 25% discount to its tangible assets. The management just authorized a $15 million buyback program at a price that’s 25% higher than float. The F score is 8. The price-to-Graham is about 0.25x. The price target I’ve seen is $7.00.

Instead of a $45 bar tab, I could buy ten shares right now for $45 and throw it into my daughter’s long-term account. Speaking of my daughter…

No. 2: Those Are the Rules

For the last two weeks, my five-year-old daughter and I have been in an epic series of Uno, the card game. She hates to lose. That’s the first problem – so I find myself throwing very easily winnable games to prevent a meltdown.

Have you ever tried to lose a card game to a pouting five-year-old? I’d say I’m an expert at it now. And I think it’s harder to lose strategically than it is to win. You have to remember to NOT throw wild cards if you only have two cards left. Otherwise, you automatically discard and win.

For two weeks, we’ve fought over what happens if the first card in the discard pile is wild. She usually tries to pick it up. But I found this last night.

The Rules: If it is a wild card, Mattel has now stated that the first player to start (usually the one on the dealer’s left) can choose whatever color to begin play. If the first card is a wild draw four card, return it to the draw pile, shuffle the deck, and turn over a new card.

There it is. We now might have some peace in this house. Unless I win.

No. 3: Another Day, Another Dollar for the Elite

Finally, I would have missed this story if I wasn’t reading deep into the night. It appears that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staff has been prodding public institutions to buy her book whenever she makes a personal appearance. She’s made about $3.7 million since she joined the court in 2009.

Schools are buying hundreds, if not thousands, of books, over the years. It’s a pay-to-play operation. And if I remember correctly, the Mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, went to prison for running a scheme around books a few years ago.

Every time I leave Florida, I don’t have to go far to discover the institutional rot that runs all the way up to the Supreme Court. There are now massive conflict of interest investigations happening on at least two justices. How on Earth can this place be salvaged?

The Bad and the Ugly

Sotomayor’s story is enough to make one crawl into a bottle. But post-COVID, I severely cut back on alcohol intake. I’m not a fan of it any longer – even though it tries to pull me back. Post-COVID, a few friends have entered treatment. They’ve changed their lives. I’m proud of them.

Last night, I watched a man in his younger 30s, handsome, well-dressed but alone, drink himself into a stupor. The bartenders tried to wake him, calling him by name. He was a regular, apparently.

When the cops entered, two people slipped beside him and moved his arms around so that he looked coherent. So that the cops wouldn’t approach and possibly take him to the tank.

It felt like I was watching the film Weekend at Bernie’s.

They all laughed. I sure know that I’ve been the bartender and the patron in my lifetime. There’s no great story there…

But I felt something else last night. That reminder that knowledge is always at our fingertips. That the pursuit of information and truth and opportunity is a better use of time.

I listen to people complain about the fact that human beings are on their phones too much.

Sure, you shouldn’t be on your phone at dinner… or while driving a car… or while having a conversation with your friends. Yes, there are limits.

But if you’re intellectually curious… this is the height of information availability. If there’s something you want to learn about – pursue it. If there’s something that piques your interest in a random manner – those rabbit holes are accessible. And based on current events, I’m not sure those windows will exist forever. It could be grids shutting down due to extreme heat, or it could be an overzealous government that doesn’t want its corruption exposed.

I know that when it comes to knowledge, you can’t take it all to the grave with you.

But I sure as hell don’t mind pretending… and holding out hope that it’s possible.

 

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Garrett Baldwin

Florida Republic Capital

(Available on Substack)

About the Author

Garrett Baldwin is a globally recognized research economist, financial writer, consultant, and political risk analyst with decades of trading experience and degrees in economics, cybersecurity, and business from Johns Hopkins, Purdue, Indiana University, and Northwestern.

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