They call it flyover country, that central part of America people overlook on their way to another destination. The thought is that there is nothing to see down the backbone of America. But you would be wrong if thought that way. And the best way to see the heart of America is with a road trip.
Welcome everyone. If this is your first time here, my name is Keith Schroeder and I’ve been known to talk down on travel. The truth is I actually love traveling. . . as long as there is something interesting to me on the other side. That usually means clients.
Since 1982 I have run my own tax practice. In 1989 I went full-time and never looked back. With decades of experience I gathered a large number of clients around the U.S. Most of these clients I never met in person and I wanted to change that.
I give the introduction mentioning who I am because it will play an important role in this adventure. This road trip has turned out to be so much fun, even with all the issues that cropped up, that I plan on repeating this road trip annually, venturing in a different direction each year to meet more and more of my clients. I also plan on attending meetups I can reach in a day or so.
If you suffer travel anxiety, as I do, let me share my best vacation ever and it was tax-deductible while I got to meet the truly incredible people my clients are.
Road Trip with a Plan
The pandemic messed most vacation plans the last few years. Even with travel anxiety, I was ready to take time away from the office and regular duties and spend quality time with my wife, Sue.
Flying is something I try to avoid. I’m not scared of flying, it’s just that I seldom enjoy getting sealed in an aluminum can with my closest 300 friends.
Road trips excite me more because I can change plans as I go and leave early or stay late much easier than with other modes of transportation.
The plan was simple. I wanted to visit Ryan Holiday’s bookstore in Bastrop, Texas, located a bit southeast of Austin. Holiday is an author I admire. Visiting his bookstore opened the possibility of meeting the man personally. I have met many authors over the years and enjoy making their acquaintance. This would be a special encounter, if I got lucky. If not, I still got to visit his store and support his work by making a purchase.
Of course I live about 40 minutes south of Green Bay. Bastrop is a long drive from the Wisconsin Northwoods. About 20 hours to be exact. A reasonable three days for me if I’m in a hurry. But who is in a hurry? I wanted to see stuff (a technical term all professionals use).
As soon as the thought occurred I started thinking of the cost. (It’s hard to put an old accountant down.) At the same moment I realized I would be passing several clients along the way. Why not visit them.
One client in Dallas really could use a visit from his friendly accountant. So he was an obvious addition to the list. But there is a client in Mississippi that had me very worried. (Details below.)
Then I filled in the blanks. I wanted to see as many clients as possible along the way. Visiting people I shared a commonality with kept me distracted. Anxiety was zero because I was doing what I always do, only this time I was making house calls.
Meeting an Old Friend
Another author I hold in very high esteem is Jim Collins. He runs an excellent blog and is a bestselling author. Jim moved from New Hampshire to Wisconsin just to live closer to me. (This is where there is an awkward silence.)
Actually, Jim and his wife, Jane, moved to Wisconsin from New Hampshire, but I was not a part of the equation. There is beautiful country in Wisconsin and he and Jane wanted to live here. So we had a conclave to solidify the relationship.
This is also where the first snafu made an appearance. I emailed Jim that I could be at his place July 7th in the afternoon or 10 a.m. the following morning, his choice. He said morning.
Like a dummy, I thought he meant the first day, July 7th in the morning. Country accountants: do math like no tomorrow, but look out for their scheduling skills.
Sue and I showed up at 10 a.m. a day early. Jim and Jane were home, but Jane had to leave. They had a feed planned for the next morning and I screwed it up.
The good news is that I was able to spend a few hours talking with Jim. He only lives a bit more than an hour drive away so we will cross paths again. I like Jim; he is a helluva nice guy. Which leads to a confession.
Here is a bestselling author in my demographic an hour drive away willing to open his door to a wayward accountant and I make myself a stranger. But I have a good reason.
You see, Jim spearheads a gathering called Chautauqua. They gather in different locations around the world each year. I really did not want to go and was concerned if asked I would have a weak moment and say yes. (I’m getting better at saying no, but why chance it.) Chautauqua is structured in a way that would increase my travel anxiety. I would not be visiting clients and normal routine would be out. It’s hard to explain, just accept that I did not want to go.
I admitted to Jim I avoided him a bit over this. He said he had no idea and he would never pressure me into something I didn’t want to do.
So I felt really good sitting with Jim talking shop. When he gets back from Chautauqua this year I will give him a call and see if I can get it right this time.
(By the way, if you like having money you might want to pick up Jim’s books. They are must read. The link above is to Amazon and linked to the search of all Jim’s books. He has a new book coming out so it should show up on the list when the publisher has a release date.)
On the Road Trip
It was off to Iowa!
Iowa is my kind of people. They are upper Midwest and are everything familiar to me.
Iowa was so busy I could have spent the entire trip there. I think they like me as they invited me to their Facebook FIRE (financial independence/retirement early) page.
The FIRE community is very aware of who I am, spending some time with the group over the past several years. Some accepted my snub as just me being me. It wasn’t a snub; I just like lots of free time alone.
Stepping back from the FIRE community was the right thing to do as it allows me to blaze my own trail. There is one exception, I’ve avoided attending almost all local meetups. Meeting the people in Iowa has convinced me I need to just keep a toe in the community and attend more FIRE gatherings. They are good people with a common life goal.
I will keep an eye on local meetups and participate. Heck, some of these people are clients! And as every accountant should know, you need to know your client! When time permits, I will even travel back to my friends in Iowa. And the Colorado crowd keeps asking why I avoid their state. (It’s flyover country. I’M KIDDING! I even plan on visiting Colorado!)
A few notes on Iowa before we move on. First, as you may notice, I will not share names of anyone that is a client. Vague will have to do in places.
Second, Iowa is a very friendly state. And there are fun things to do there and wonderful people as well.
Third, Iowa is not all flat and cornfields! Sue and I enjoyed coffee while sitting in a client’s living room. There were some serious hills to get there! Iowa is not all flat! The eastern part of the state has some beautiful country and hills. Not Rocky Mountain sized, but hills that are an issue in the winter months.
Richard Proenneke and the Hoover Presidential Library
There were only two tourist stops originally planned for this road trip, both in Iowa.
Every since I read Kenneth Whyte’s Hoover biography I wanted to know more about the man behind The Great Depression and stock market crash. My prior opinion of Hoover was that he was the guy that screwed up bad, crashed the stock market and was ineffective in halting The Great Depression. Previous readings softened my opinion over the years, but the real change came when I got to really meet the man in Whyte’s biography. I hold President Herbert Hoover in very high regard. That is why, of all the presidential libraries out there, this is the one I really wanted to see, and now I have.
Rather than go into detail, it would be best if you read Whyte’s biography first. The Hoover Presidential Library will then all make sense.
Before we left we visited the gravesite of President Hoover and his wife, Lou. The gravesite is down a walkway from the library.
Richard Proenneke caught my eye decades ago when a documentary of his life in the Alaskan wilderness was used by public television to raise funds. I was instantly hooked.
I say I live in the backwoods or boondocks all the time, but it isn’t all that rural anymore. Proenneke lived in the backwoods. The real backwoods!
The lifestyle appeals to me. It is something I admire, yet I would never commit to that kind of life for 30 years as Proenneke did. I think many find appeal in what he did. We all want to be like that: rugged, independent, self-reliant. And even if we ourselves would never undertake such a life, we open ourselves to the education living off the grid provides. Deep down, we want to be like that.
Years after first experiencing Richard Proenneke on public television I found the video on Amazon. I watch the video at least once every year. It is so motivational. Here was a guy who could handle any situation, no matter how critical, with the calm of a saint.
When I discovered Proenneke grew up in Iowa there was no doubt in my mind I was going to visit his hometown. When I discovered the Donnellson Public Library had a Richard Proenneke Museum the die was cast. The only questions is: What took me so long?
The Donnellson Public Library also has Proenneke books and videos, all available for sale. You can also visit the online store (not an affiliate). The store is fun just to browse.
Now it was time for the wheels to fall off my remaining well laid plans.
Road Trip Detour
It was now time to visit a few long-time clients in St. Louis. As with the entirety of this trip, I contacted clients a day or so in advance. That is when I learned my St. Louis clients were sick after exposure to COVID.
Plans were changed to visit these clients in two and a half weeks on the return trip.
The Unplanned Parts Were the Most Fun
I was instantly ahead of schedule with a few extra days to kill. My clients also have a schedule to keep so an early arrival would not work. So I pulled up the map.
The drive to Laurel, Mississippi was a long one. I now had the opportunity to break this leg of the journey into pieces. Between southeast, Iowa and Mississippi were several interesting options.
Hannibal, Missouri sounded familiar. Yes! Mark Twain! Now that is an author I would have really have loved to meet. And I can in his great volume of work.
Hannibal was a short drive. We stayed at the Best Western near the Mississippi River. I learned more about Twain than I already knew. The town is a tourist trap, one worth visiting, but I took pictures of the bookshelves at the gift shop of the museum because $45 for a book seemed a bit steep to me. I later found them available on Amazon for under $20.
Speaking of the museum. There are several parts to the museum spread out along Main Street. I recommend the self-guided tour. It was better than I expected. Admission was reasonable with plenty to see.
Before we move on, I need to tell you about the General Store. They have free ice cream, coffee and pop corn at the back of the store. Sue nearly had to call the authorities to get me out of that place. Just wanted to say that.
The next stop was Memphis where we enjoyed the zoo. Everyone told us to check out the St. Louis Zoo because it was free. We did miss that to keep our next day’s drive shorter. But the Memphis Zoo made up for it. Highly recommended.
Now it was time for the important part of this trip. Two clients concerned me and I was on a mission to keep them honest.
Traveling the Backbone of Mississippi
This was my first time to Mississippi. Mississippi sometimes gets a bad reputation. It’s not what you think. Mississippi is an incredible state!
Here are four things I learned about Mississippi:
1.) You folks have some mighty beautiful country out here. I had no idea!
2.) Mississippi has a vibrant logging industry. The biggest in the nation after the Pacific northwest I was told. Now I know and so do you.
3.) Dollar General owns this state. Wow! There are as many Dollar General stores here as Wisconsin has taverns. Seriously!
4.) Y’all go to church more than back home. My church is never that full on Sunday and there are a lot of churches in Mississippi! And they are nice sized buildings and well kept. I take that to mean folks around here take Sunday morning services serious. (BTW, there are 3-5 times as many churches here as Dollar General stores.)
And Mississippi is a friendly state! I can’t say enough about the people. I felt welcome everywhere I went.
I can’t share anything personal about my client, of course. What I can say is he gave me a tour of Laurel. I was treated to the best catfish dinner ever! (Catfish don’t taste like that anywhere between here and home port.)
Mississippi is a state with a rich history. It is NOT run down or all poor. The economy is vibrant and growing. No wonder so many people are moving to this wonderful Southern state.
And my client was an excellent ambassador.
Surprise and Honor
It was at this time I got the surprise of my life. My client in Mississippi tried to convince me I was doing really good work with this blog and important people noticed. Since this is a low traffic blog I took the honor with dignity, but knew my following was not that great and the difference I am making is limited.
Here is the information he shared: His son is dating a girl that is in an accounting major at Ole Miss, you know, the college with the great football team. Well, they also have a high caliber accounting department.
So far, so good. Then he said they use my blog in the accounting department to train the students.
Not to get too excited, I tempered my response, knowing I was getting this third hand (or is that forth). I am well aware how stories can change as they get told. It is possible this blog may come up periodically in accounting classes here and there. Since I am not writing for a college student audience I was surprised it was anything more than a casual mention.
My chest slightly puffed, I mentioned this on the Facebook page of this blog. By the time I got to my next stop in Dallas I had an email from a professor at Texas A&M. She informed me that folks in Texas “appreciate” my work, too, as this blog is also used to help student with questions on personal finance.
This is first hand knowledge and I no longer could shrug off the honor. My work is really being used to train the next generation of accountants and tax professionals. I am also humbled by the honor.
It seems most accounting grads head for one of the Big 4 accounting firms. There, many burn out from the high pressure environment and seek to open their own practice. Accounting departments use this blog as a guide for starting, building and maintaining a private practice.
They also use this blog to teach students how to think in this field; looking for tax strategies and handling unique accounting issues. That makes sense to me. I always tell clients college is not to educate you; it is to teach you how to think. Your education begins the day you graduate.
If you know of any other college accounting departments using this blog, leave a note in the comments. If there is enough demand I will tailor a course/book/blog series on the topic. I flesh out many of these issues already, but a start to finish product might be more helpful.
Texas Bound, Y’all
When I started my trip I was most concerned about my Mississippi client. Then I arrived in Texas and realized my client there had his hands full.
In Laurel I got to see the town and socialize. In Dallas it was all serious.
My work was cut out for me with my Dallas client. There was another client in Dallas I was unable to see due to scheduling conflicts. I caught her on the way back home in Oklahoma City.
There are so many lessons I wish to share, but I can’t allow client information to be exposed. Perhaps I can share lessons at a different time when there is no risk of connecting the client to the situation.
What I can say is that Dallas has good food. There was no risk of me suffering anorexia.
I visited Dallas a good 20 times in my adult life. It is a really big city to my backwoods eyes and growing all the time. No special events were planned for Dallas so off we went to our final destination: the Painted Porch Bookshop in Bastrop, a small hop to the southeast of Austin.
I scheduled extra days for Mississippi and Dallas. The extra time was more than needed so I ended up in Bastrop a few days early.
First, let me express the level of hot it was. In northeast Wisconsin we get 90s, with any 100º temperature a record. Texas was 108º or hotter every day I was there. My northern hide struggled with that.
Remember, my original goal was to meet the author, Ryan Holiday. I sent a message to his bookshop in early July noting my arrival and hope to meet Ryan and shake his hand. His gatekeeper did an excellent job of keeping the riff raff away.
Sue and I took in Dinosaur Park, located between Austin and Bastrop. I like that kind of thing.
Later that day we showed up at the Painted Porch Bookshop, a day or two before the 22nd. Ryan was in, but booked with meetings. I could hear him talking in back.
I almost got a chance to be rude and meet him. But I learned far more from Ryan Holiday by not meeting him.
That is a story for the next blog post. Watch for it. It will be good with plenty of lessons to learn.
Homeward Bound: The End of a Road Trip
There is a fine line between admiration and stalking. If I loitered around the Painted Porch Bookshop for three days I might meet some friendly Texas law enforcement. I could not bear to see the not you again look in their eyes.
Home is a three day drive to keep the driving comfortable and under eight hours on any given day. The client in Dallas I missed was in Oklahoma City. And as luck would have it, that was a convenient first leg home.
Oklahoma is a friendly state, too. The population is low and Oklahoma City is nowhere near the size of Dallas.
Once again we return to food. I met the wife side of my client duo because the husband side had to return to Dallas. We still had an excellent conversation.
She recommended a restaurant in the Stockyards, a place called Cattlemen’s Steakhouse.
Remember how I said I had the best catfish ever in Mississippi? Well, the Cattlemen’s Steakhouse has the best steak I’ve ever had outside my own raised beef. That is saying a lot. It was really good steak.
One note. If they offer you sheep fries don’t ask where they come from. They are delicious! But, ah, let’s just say the sheep is singing an octave higher.
The final days of driving were on. The next day we lodged at a Best Western on the fringe of St. Louis. My COVID client didn’t answer his phone or return the call. (I did leave a message.)
That night sleep came hard so we got up early, about 3 a.m., and started toward home. We pulled in the driveway shortly after noon.
Traveling is a strange animal to me. I’m better at it now than when I was younger. This road trip was two and a half week, which is close, if not, the longest stint I’ve ever taken. It was good to be home.
It was also good to visit clients up and down the backbone of America. The people and food were nothing short of awesome.
I’m always glad I went on vacation, but I drag my feet bad prior to going. What made this trip different?
First, it was a road trip. That allowed me to go at my own pace and change plans as we went.
Second, I had preplanned things I really wanted to do. Read that as getting to see several clients in real life for the first time. That alone was worth the trip.
The next blog post will be on all the things I learned by not meeting Ryan Holiday. How is that for a mind twister?
Please leave a note in the comments if you know of a college using this blog in their program.