Category Archives: People are Crazy

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.

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Wells Fargo: Bankster Bandits Traveling by Stagecoach

Stagecoach in Boulder parade

Image by Jerry W. Lewis via Flickr

Disclosure: OK, so I have all but abandoned my previously self-imposed limit of 199 words per post.  Most of my posts will be shorter in the future, but I cannot avoid the occasional long post.  Hopefully you will find the extra time worth it.  Thanks for reading.

I interrupt my blogging hiatus for an incredible, yet true, tale of the Old West, in the spirit of the Wells Fargo stagecoach imagery that has been so carefully nurtured in order to make people think of them in a romantic, Louis L’Amour-like way, not like a corporate behemoth with over $1.2 trillion (with a “T”) in assets.  Yes, my tale was like a lost episode of Gunsmoke that got shelved for fear it wouldn’t make people feel good about the weekly ritual of depositing their funds at the trusty bank.

Like most people, I avoid face-to-face encounters at the bank like the plague, as I have long preferred dealing with ATM’s.  They just give me what I want, and fast.  If I wanted to chit-chat with strangers, I would find a donut shop somewhere.  Anyway, today’s unfortunate visit was required because my ATM card quit working (could have been that magnet I had in my pocket last week).

Before I arrived, I already had a bad attitude.  I pay this joint 25 bucks a year for overdraft protection so that I don’t need to keep lots of cash sitting there to prevent an overdraft.  Suddenly, in the rare event I use the protection, they started hitting me up for $10 PER DISBURSEMENT from the protection.  Now, that fee has gone up to $12.50.  WHAT do I get for the $25/year that I pay?!?  But I digress.

And so, I hitched my horse, patted the dust off my chaps, and walked through the swinging saloon doors to encountered banker #1 wandering around with a clipboard like those survey takers at the mall.  I wanted to avoid her, but I succumbed to the temptation that she might offer assistance.  Nope.  After standing in the line of patrons, I reached banker #2, who was some young kid who hadn’t been trained on my tricky request for a new ATM card.  He said I would have to sit down with banker #3.  But wait, banker #4 stepped in and said that banker #2 could do it from his terminal.  Just then, banker #2 asked me if I had heard the news about my previously FREE CHECKING account.  I knew this could not be good.  When I replied, “NO”, he proceeded to tell me it is now $7/month, unless BLAH BLAH BLAH (or something like that).  Banker #3 said she would be happy to sit down with me and discuss options that could keep my FREE CHECKING FREE.  Great.  Yes, I would prefer not to get bent over by Wells Fargo yet again.  So, I agreed.

Ten minutes into the ordeal with Banker #3, I took the bait when she asked about my kids (she rightly presumed that I have them):

“Yes, 3 of them.  A toddler boy and twin infant girls,” I said.

“Oh, TWINS!” she said.  Shit, I thought.  Why did I mention that?

“Are they identical?” she inquired.

“Yes, identical,” I replied, hoping that would be the end.

“Oh, how cute.  If you know the secret to having identical twins, please tell me,” she said.  WHAT?!?  OK, ten minutes ago I didn’t know her.  Now, she wants reproductive advice.  I smiled on the outside as I recoiled inside.

Then, of course, as she was taught in the Bankster School of Banditry, she proceeded to give me the hard sell on some kind of accounts for my 3 kids.  Honestly, it all sounded like BLAH BLAH BLAH, except the part that went something like, “…and this will help them to think about Wells Fargo as they grow up.”  Wonderful, you need to start them young, I thought.  How about giving them a pack of cigarettes and a shot of whiskey with each deposit, too?  I could have cut her off, but we courteous Midwesterners are all too often proper when it comes to listening.  Me especially.

After probably 15 minutes, she was done selling me and decided to punch the 3 keys required for me to get a new ATM card mailed to my home.  Upon doing so, she told me that banker #5 might be calling me at home to ask how banker #3 did in servicing my needs.  Good Lord!  All I wanted was a new ATM card.  Instead, I become the subject in a marketing experiment to see how much money can be wrung out of a non-revenue transaction.  If there is any solace I take in the ordeal, it is knowing that bankers #1-4 wasted their time on me today.  They only confirmed my previous thoughts of jumping ship to a credit union not obsessed with increasing quarterly profits in the face of a lending downturn, rising bankruptcies, and increased government regulation.

So, as I threw my leg over Sugar Foot and rode off into the sunset, all I could hope is that banker #5 would be identifiable on my caller ID.  If not, I might be faced with more reproductive questions.

The American Way: Ignorant, Complacent, & Incompetent

Dunce

Image by OmarC via Flickr

NOTE: A second consecutive flagrant violation of my own 199-word limit, this essay was written long before I started the Itty Bitty Witty blog.  Like the previous post on Social Security, this one is as apropos today as it was 2 years ago when I wrote it.  For regular readers, you have noticed my lack of writing over the past month.  I WILL BE BACK, but I am on a hiatus as I focus on other things in my life for a while.  I appreciate your emails inquiring about the blog.

If we Americans have learned anything over the past few years of economic turmoil, it is that lots of people made lots of mistakes that nobody would have thought was possible just a few years ago.  Whether these people were bankers, politicians, CEO’s, or just plain folk who bought homes that were beyond their means, there is enough blame to spread around.  However, a sad reality that has become quite evident is that everybody wants to pin the blame on somebody else.  It is human nature to look for fault in others, and pinning the blame on somebody seems to relieve the rest of us from having to share in the blame.  However, I propose that we consider a more grim reality.  Americans have become ignorant, complacent, and incompetent at virtually everything we do.

Before you throw out my theory as pessimistic rants, consider more deeply your workplace, the places you shop, and the things you see and hear everyday as you go through life.  Evidence of our ignorance, complacency, and incompetence is all around us.  We are so ignorant and complacent, in fact, that most of us do not even realize that we are wallowing in dysfunction.

Sure, the failings of borrowers and lenders are at the heart of the financial collapse that just took place, but a more insidious disease has enveloped society as a whole.  Most of us are too dumb to know what is going on around us, we are too lazy to do much of anything that does not bring instant gratification, and we stink at what we do for a living.  Fortunately, since these qualities are shared by our bosses, peers, friends, and family, we can all get along well enough and avoid feeling like a bunch of bumbling idiots.

This “grim reality,” as I call it, has become evident to me in the 16+ years since I graduated from college.  In that time, I have worked for one of the world’s largest public accounting firms, two of the world’s largest food companies, and one of the world’s largest manufacturers of office products.  In every case, I worked alongside people with college degrees–many from high-priced, reputable universities.  Still, I say without reservation that ignorance, complacency, and incompetence were pervasive in all of these companies.  In addition, I have begun to look for signs of dysfunction outside of the companies where I have worked, and it takes no time at all to find it.  Again, I implore you to open your eyes and look around you.  Ask yourself whether things make sense, and ask yourself whether things will get better or worse over the course of time, based on the trends you see.

Do I consider myself ignorant, complacent, and incompetent?  Surely I do, in certain respects, but I also have a sense of self-awareness about it, which gives me peace of mind and hope that I can overcome my own failings and help others to see theirs, as well.  Humans are imperfect by nature, but ignorance, complacency, and incompetence are not immutable traits.  We all must be accountable for ourselves, and we each must take responsibility for overcoming this scourge so that we and all Americans can once again be proud of ourselves and our ability to make meaningful contributions to the world.  For the time being, we have become basket cases waiting for the government to tell us what they will do next to save us from falling into the abyss.

How did we get here?  We got here by our own successes.  Democracy and free market capitalism gave us a leg up in a world where governments elsewhere were generally more controlling of business and personal freedoms.  These competitive strengths in the U.S. economy delivered a long stretch of growing prosperity that only now seems to have crumbled before us.  Like the only child who gets everything he wants, so did we seem to get whatever we wanted–new homes, new cars, flat screen TV’s, and iPhones.  None of these material possessions brought us happiness, but they did bring us a tremendous amount of debt and a new feeling of being shackled to our jobs for eternity.  We got overconfident in ourselves, we lost our motivation to work as hard as we once did (we were already living like fat cats), and we started to figure out that we could get by without having to truly understand the world around us.  We could just wing it like everybody else.

How do we get out of this mess, and what happens if we don’t get ourselves out of it?  These are simpler questions to answer than one might first think.  First, individuals need to demand more of themselves, voters need to take responsibility for what is happening in government, and businesses need to get back to the business of firing those workers who are not pulling their weight.  In short, each and every one of us needs to feel a greater sense of accountability for ourselves, our government, and our businesses.  We are a society that has gotten used to riding on the coat tails of others, counting on the government to solve our problems, and believing that our success in business would never come under threat from abroad.  Harsh as it may sound, we all need to take our knocks in order to have a wake-up call.  More individuals need to run out of unemployment benefits and go bankrupt.  Local, state, and federal governments need to make more stupid decisions that incite outrage and action by voters, and more businesses need to be allowed to fail.  Failure can be a great motivator for those individuals, politicians, and businesses that suffer the consequences of their own actions.  Unfortunately, we have become a pass-the-buck society that blames its problems on others and casts those who lose out as victims.

If we do not change our ways, then the downward spiral in America will continue.  It is no wonder that foreign competition is ravaging American industries.  People in developing countries around the world are working harder than Americans, both in school and at work, and they do not feel the sense of entitlement that we feel.  We can hide from this truth for only so long.  Government can pump money into the economy to goose the economic indicators and make it look like things are back on track, but such shenanigans miss the point.  Americans need to learn some lessons the hard way.  We don’t need a bankrupt government to reach out to us with more money it borrowed from delusional investors.

Proof That Watching Cartoons Can Be Harmful

Few things make me LOL.  Fewer still make me LMAO, and I am not quite sure what that would entail.  Working your AO makes sense, since there is work involved.  There is a show called “Dance Your AO” (http://dyao.oxygen.com/about-dyao), which also seems plausible (and the work of marketing genius, I might add, by combining dance and weight loss competition in one show).  But laughing to burn off calories?  I am skeptical.  BUT I DIGRESS!  Today’s post is about a story and video that truly made me LOL.  Most of us know The Flintstones cartoon well.

1979 Flintstones Fish Card Game

Image by andertoons via Flickr

Who could forget Fred’s car–the one he started and stopped with his feet?  Environmentally conscious as his solution might have been, he was ahead of his time by a few thousand years.  Moreover, the cartoon was FICTION.  That is, it was fiction until a guy in Michigan decided that faulty brakes were no reason to leave his truck parked.  He could stop it WITH HIS FEET!  Reportedly (http://n.pr/oceVzy), he traveled at speeds up to 40 MPH, a speed that would have made Fred Flintstone envious.  Best of all, police captured video of the guy trying to stop his truck unsuccessfully (see above).  Nobody was hurt, but several cars were damaged.  A small price to pay for LOL.

Art of the Absurd: The Future of Book Deals

Bristol Palin

Like Momma, Like Daughter. Bristol Palin Cashes in on Book Deal, Smiles at Every Idiot Who Buys a Copy (Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

Capitalism sometimes manifests itself in peculiar and absurd ways.  Book deals are one such example.  Somehow, in this age when bookstores are struggling to survive and sentence fragments are all the rage on Twitter, there is still a market for the inside scoop, in long form, from dimwits, convicts, derelicts, or public servants who aren’t content with simply a big taxpayer-funded salary and pension.  Examples of such gold diggers are plentiful–Sarah Palin, Bristol Palin (a rare mother/daughter combo!), Casey Anthony (in the works), Casey Anthony’s attorney (not making this up), Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, Reverend Al Sharpton, a 17-year-old girl who faked her pregnancy (Gaby Rodriguez), and the list goes on.  The problem with book deals, for publishers, is the random, unpredictable nature of good subject material and the need to harvest it from greedy people.  Enter my vision for the future of book deals–REALITY BOOK DEALS.  Think up a good story, hire low-budget dolts to act it out, and write a book about it!  Just like network TV has feasted on reality TV, publishers could feast on reality book deals.  Suddenly, a good book deal is limited only by the imagination!  What’s not to like?

Hats Off to the Pasta-Strainer-On-The-Head Guy!

Niko Alm, Pastafarian

Images from NPR.org

In case you missed it, a crazy story hit the wires on Wednesday regarding an Austrian man, Niko Alm, who went to extraordinary lengths to lampoon a law in Austria that permits the wearing of “confessional headgear” in official photographs.  Alm claimed to be a devout follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and he referred to followers of the faith as Pastafarians.  Pastafarians, it seems, wear pasta strainers on their heads as confessional headgear.  Alm’s fight for religious freedom, or the quest to make a mockery of the Austrian law, took 3 years, but he finally prevailed after a long battle that included a psychological review to determine that he was mentally fit to drive (he passed!).  Many of us mutter to ourselves when we hear of laws that make no sense to us.  Some of us stand up and let our voices be heard.  Very few are ambitious, determined, and creative enough to figure out other ways to make a point.  This guy’s actions are heroic, in my opinion, but he is not done.  He is now seeking to get Pastafarianism recognized as an official faith in Austria.  May Niko be an inspiration to us all.

How One Average Guy Became a Millionaire Overnight

Coat of Arms of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire ...

Coat of Arms of the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire (Image via Wikipedia)

Like a lot of Americans, I have worked hard to earn a living.  I paid attention in school, got a college degree, and earned my stripes in the business world.  No, I am not a big shot Director or Vice President, but I have made enough money to support my family so that my wife can stay home with our 3 young kids.  Suddenly, last night, everything changed.  Now, I am a millionaire.  Did I win the lottery?  No.  Did I inherit a huge sum?  No.  I simply received an email from Mrs. Vivian Dembele, a very nice lady from Cote d’Ivoire, a country sandwiched between Liberia and Ghana on the coast of Africa.  Her husband had political ambitions in Cote d’Ivoire before he was assassinated.  I am not sure what the guy did for a living, but he somehow amassed a bank account worth $12,500,000.  In a twist of fate, Vivian and her son stumbled upon my email address–in Africa, of all places!  The story is kind of complicated, but I guess they need me to help them get the money out of the bank, and they will give me 25% of the money–$3,125,000–for my help.  Wow.  I am truly blessed.