Category Archives: Off the Wall

A Day I’ll Never Forget

Gilliam Gas Station, Edgewood, Texas

Rural Gas Station (Photo credit: fables98)

After 7 months of no blog posts, I break the silence with a true story from before 6 AM this morning.

So there I was, standing at the cash register of a little mom and pop gas station in the middle of nowhere.  I had just pumped my gas, and I had gone inside to pay before getting back on the road.  The gray-haired guy behind the register said kindly, “What pump?”  Heck if I remembered.  Usually I pay attention, but I must have been tired or something.  My mind was just blank.  Finally, he said, “Oh, you must be up on #7.  That’ll be $5.”  That should’ve been the first clue to me that something was not right.  Who the heck buys $5 worth of gas these days?  But again, mind checked out, I simply reached into my pocket and pulled out a $20 bill.  Never mind that I usually pay with credit.  We can get hung up on details, or I can tell a story here.  So let’s get on with it.

Without any hesitation, pops took the $20 bill and grabbed 3 personal checks from the register tray, each written out for $5 to the gas station.  He handed them to me for my $15 change and, KA-CHING, closed the register.  Perplexed, I stood there looking into my hand, completely incredulous, wondering what had just happened.  Who on earth would give personal checks as change from a cash register?  Cripes.  He hadn’t even endorsed them over to me,  and why would I want a fist full of third-party checks anyway?  Surely, the old guy must have been losing his marbles.

“Sorry, but I want cash, not personal checks,” I said.  He looked at me just as bewildered as I was feeling, as if to say, “In my day, we trusted one another and took personal checks as change.”  After a moment of silence, it was clear that he really didn’t know what to do about this situation.  He might have been 80 years old, but these were uncharted waters, it seemed.

“Well, I am just going to have to tear up the checks, then,” he said.  This made absolutely no sense to me, but I had given up hope of making sense of this debacle.  However, just before he tore them up, he stopped.

“I’ll have to call the manager to resolve this,” he said.  I first wondered how a store of this size could have a management structure.  So, this guy was not the owner himself?  Well, okay, I thought.  I wasn’t leaving without $15 in cash.  I waited, and waited, and waited.  Finally, an impatient lug walked in to pay for his gas and grew frustrated by the hold up.  He started muttering something, and I hoped it wasn’t about me, because I wasn’t going to take any flack from somebody who had no idea what I was dealing with at the moment.

The longer I stood there, the more I started thinking.  I really didn’t think that I was on pump #7.  As long as things were taking so long, I decided to go out there and see for myself.  I wandered around, as if lost in a parking lot wondering where I had parked my car.  It was a gas station, for crying out loud, and I could not find my car.

It was just then that I remembered this gas station was an odd one.  There were two pumping areas, and I was in the distant one, not the one next to the building.  I wandered to the more distant one, and I still could not find my car.  You mean now somebody has stolen my car?!?  BUT WAIT!  How had I forgotten that I was driving a rental car, not my silver Lexus?  No wonder I was having trouble finding it.  Good heavens!  Somebody get me out of this place, I thought.  But, finally, I spotted it–a white nondescript car, but unmistakably the rental car I had been driving.  And, as I had thought, I was NOT on pump #7.

Back into the station I went, determined to get this mess cleared up so that I could get back on the road.  I found the old guy still spinning his wheels waiting for management to fix the first problem with the personal checks.  I told him that I wasn’t even on pump #7, but rather pump #6.  He gave me the deer-in-headlights look, and I somehow knew this mess was going to take forever to get fixed.  So I waited, and waited, and waited.  I think we were still waiting for the manager.  Like where could the manager be, exactly, in a place the size of a log cabin?

Just then, I had a strange feeling hit me.  Something told me that I needed to get out to the car.  I don’t know why, but I knew something bad was about to happen.  Call it Divine intervention or whatever, but I heeded the call and proceeded promptly to the nondescript white rental car.  When I got there, I only saw it in the distance speeding away.  It ran over a curb as it left the parking lot.  This day had just gone from bad to worse, and I hardly knew what to do.  Finally, I realized that I must call 911 immediately to report the theft.

“Your car has been stolen?” the 911 operator repeated to me.  “YES!” I confirmed.

“Where are you located?” the 911 operator inquired.  Conveniently, as I stood at the phone booth, I noticed that the address of the gas station was on the side of the building.  Further, the gas station had a name that was something like Red Roof Inn.  Yes, like the hotel.  Heck if I knew why the gas station was named after a cheap hotel.  I just gave the information to the operator and waiting for the next question.

After much back and forth, I suddenly realized I was talking on a pay phone.  A PAY PHONE?!?  THIS PLACE STILL HAD A PAY PHONE, and why hadn’t I thought to just use my cell phone?  It was then that I felt my left front pants pocket for my cell phone.  DOH!  I had left the phone in the rental car that just got stolen.  To make matters worse, I had also left my WALLET in the rental car.  I hated carrying my wallet and often left it behind.  My wife had warned me about that.  When she found out that the rental car had been stolen with my cell phone and wallet inside, I was going to be a dead man.

Just then, I heard somebody playing a harp.  A HARP?!?  Why would somebody be playing a harp at a gas station at this hour in the middle of nowhere?  Was I at the pearly gates?  Was this heaven, where rental cars get stolen with cell phones and wallets inside?  Seems to me there are always angels playing harps in heaven.

No.  It wasn’t heaven, but it was a harp–the harp sound that plays when my alarm goes off on my iPhone.  It was 5:45 AM.  Time to get up and work out before showering and heading to work.  This whole wacky story, while retold entirely as I remember it, was a dream.  It’s been years since I had a dream this vivid.

Wow was I glad that I hadn’t lost my iPhone.

Mindless Marketing Monikers: Limited & Unlimited

Jeep Wrangler Sahara UNLIMITED

Jeep Wrangler Sahara UNLIMITED (honest, but stupid)

Perhaps I am not your average consumer, having spent most of my career as a marketing professional, but certain product names elicit a wry smirk from me.  The words “Limited” and “Unlimited” are two such examples.  I was reminded of this recently when I parked my car, looked out the window, and saw a Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited parked beside me (see photo).  As an aside, I believe there is a point where the name of the product gets way too long.  Here, we have Make/Model/Version followed by the aforementioned senseless “Unlimited”.  While “Limited” and “Unlimited” are both hollow and meaningless names, “Unlimited” is clearly the dumber of the two.  If you buy something that is “Limited” and you are naive enough to believe that companies will not make as many as they can possibly sell, you might feel that you are one of the chosen few who get to experience the pleasure of owning one.  Exclusivity is coveted by many consumers.  However, if you buy something with “Unlimited” emblazoned on its visible brand signature, you are basically saying that your product is so commonplace and easy to attain that any dolt can get one.  Implicit, as well, is that you are one of those dolts.  Congratulations.

You Think YOUR Weather is Crazy…

Copan Ruinas. Macaw and Squirrel

Macaws Compete with Squirrels for Free Grub (Image by Adalberto.H.Vega via Flickr)

Usually mundane talk about weather has gotten more interesting this summer all across America, as sweltering temperatures, monsoon-like downpours, floods, droughts, and tornado outbreaks have become the new normal.  I am not here to make a statement on global warming, but even Minnesota has gotten downright tropical–not just hot, but incredibly humid.  As a result, all sorts of strange things have been happening.  My wife’s tomato plants look like shrubs.  Outside air condenses on the cool windows of our homes and cars.  Rain, thunder, and lightning seem to come and go daily, as in the rainforest.  Icy roads of winter are replaced by slippery, moss-covered roads of summer.  Tree canopies are beginning to cover entire neighborhoods.  Joggers are tripping over sprawling green vines that grow by the hour.  Beautiful macaws and toucans have replaced the usual robins, blue jays, and cardinals.  Reports of traditional roadkill like deer and skunks have been replaced by stories of squashed 20-foot boa constrictors and tree sloths.  Then there are the monkeys raiding vegetable gardens and the gorillas squatting in abandoned homes and scaring away house hunters.  And WHY does our new weather man wear a loin cloth, let out wild calls, and swing from vines?

Missing Hubcaps: A Badge of Dishonor

Missing Hubcap

Sorry for the explicit photo. Used to make a point.

Every so often, we all see one of those cars with a missing hubcap or two (or, in flagrant cases, all four).  This the car equivalent of walking around with your fly down, a booger hanging out of your nose, or your butt crack showing.  It’s not a pleasant sight, and we better people either look away or start thinking things about the transgressor’s family that are generally stereotypes, but nonetheless make us feel superior for having all four of OUR hubcaps.  Then there are those of us who don’t even need hubcaps.  We have shiny, oh-so-fancy, alloy wheels.  It’s hard to be humble with alloy wheels, but most of us can remember the days when we owned cars with hubcaps and ate ramen noodles.  We know it is difficult to find one replacement hubcap to match the rest, and replacing all four can be costly, especially when a person is unemployed, divorced, still living with his parents, or spending his government checks on lottery tickets, cigarettes, and pork rinds.  Finding a job is not easy when a person cannot shave, comb his hair, or brush his teeth.  And who would hire an ugly guy with three hubcaps anyway?


Watch Out for the Asian (Fill in the Blank)!

Ichiro Suzuki on June 10, 2009.

Ichiro--A Clear & Present Threat! (Image via Wikipedia)

I am perhaps a tad more environmentally conscious than your average guy.  So, when I hear stories about invasive species, I tend to read on.  Well, I have begun to connect the dots, and I see an alarming pattern developing.  For quite some time, there has been concern that ASIAN carp will reach the Great Lakes and kill the fishing industry there, not to mention the havoc the behemoths wreak when they get airborne and hit boaters.  Then, just days ago, I read about a nasty toothed fish called an ASIAN snakehead (specifically, a northern snakehead) found in a Maryland river–a frightening development for those who know this predatory fish referred to by National Geographic as “Fishzilla“.  Now, just today, I read about an ASIAN tiger mosquito that has invaded big cities in the U.S. with its aggressiveness, daytime biting, and ability to spread disease.  All of this has me wondering, what makes ASIAN breeds so much more dangerous than others?  I am not sure, but I am not taking any chances.  Nope.  Not with young ones at home.  No more Chinese food.  No more Japanese cars.  No more listening to Yo-Yo Ma or cheering for Ichiro Suzuki!  Done!

Powerball: Taking My Chances Elsewhere in 2012

Powerball States as of January 31, 2010

Powerball States in Red (Image via Wikipedia)

OK, I admit it.  I have been buying two Powerball lottery tickets per week for YEARS–one for the Wednesday draw and one for the Saturday draw.  One time, a few years ago, I won $100, but mostly I haven’t won anything worth mentioning–a buck here, two bucks there (oops, just mentioned it).  Anyway, for me, I have always considered $1 for a chance at mega riches to be a bargain.  The thrill of dreaming about what I would do with millions has somehow made shredding $1 bills enjoyable.  Over the years, Powerball has done all sorts of things to generate more revenues, such as adding more states (now in 42 states plus D.C.), decreasing the odds to increase the jackpots, and creating the “POWERPLAY” multiplier option.  None of these have generated more revenue from me.  I still pay my $2 per week ($104 per year) for the chance to hit the jackpot.  This week, I read that the cost of a Powerball ticket will increase from $1 to $2 on January 15, 2012.  Wow.  Surely, inflation cannot be the culprit with relatively fixed costs.  I see this move as a huge marketing blunder.  Twice the price for a purely discretionary expense?!?  The dream just got too expensive for me.

A Parable of Paradox

Need one of these staplers? DON'T LOOK AT STAPLES!

My 4th of July weekend included a memorable adventure in shopping for something fairly simple: a staple gun.  Most of us have used one of these at some point in our lives.  Basically, it functions much like other staplers, except the staple is stronger, comes out of the stapler with more force, and goes directly into the target with no bending of the staple ends, like a desktop stapler.  Since I had other stuff to buy, I started at Sam’s Club.  They have a small office products section, where I found only a traditional desktop stapler.  As I left Sam’s Club heading to Home Depot for the stapler, I noticed that one of those office products stores was just a stone’s throw from Sam’s Club.  Not just any office products store, it was STAPLES.  With a name like STAPLES, surely they must have every kind of stapler one could imagine.  Staples not being the KING of staplers would be akin to a grocery store not carrying groceries or a gas station being out of gas.  Well, as paradoxes go, I came up EMPTY HANDED at STAPLES, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!  The lesson?  Be wary of that which seems obvious.

[Incidentally, to prove I am not an idiot for looking at an office products store for this stapler, one of Staples online competitors,, does carry staple guns!]