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Surrounded by Jackasses in America

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Categories: Essays, Family, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The prairie dog’s bark echoed across the plain – a plaintive cry for me to break the rules and hand over some of my popcorn. I resisted, glancing over at the sign: “DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS!” Though my mother, stepfather, sister, and I were the only humans in sight, I could feel the park ranger’s phantom eyes upon me. I pictured Tonto on horseback, riding up to scold me – “Maize no good for prairie dog, Kemosabe.” – and snatching the errant kernel from my hand (or, perhaps, an unnamed Indian shedding a single tear over my proposed misdeed).

I crumpled the end of the bag closed and returned the popcorn to the back seat of the family car. A worn-out Pontiac, it had nevertheless ferried us from the gentle, green hills of northern Illinois, to the vast, scrabbly tableau of South Dakota, to this nameless drive-thru nature preserve in particular. Along the way, that car carried us over the Mississippi (which seemed less mighty with a giant concrete and steel bridge shrinking it to a five minute drive) and sailed sickening seas of soybeans in Iowa.

There we made a stop in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace, which is indeed made entirely of corn. (Curiously, there was no maze of maize in Mitchell, however.) There was heat, though; oh my goodness, the heat. I was amazed the Palace didn’t spontaneously pop. It smelled of cooked kernels. Not the left-too-long-in-the-microwave smell: this was the almost sweet scent of corn and oil in a pan on the stove from my childhood.

Outside there were hawkers of all kinds, with Corn Palace bumper stickers and Corn Palace T-shirts and Corn Palace corn cob stuffed animals and Corn Palace books and Corn Palace videocassettes (no Corn Palace DVDs, even though it was the mid-Nineties). I was glad to be rid of Mitchell and its thrice-damned Corn Palace. Nothing like rampant capitalism to shatter a perfectly good reminiscence.

The Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota was little better. Only the outline of the noble native was visible, with completion a decade or more away, yet still rocks blasted away from the face of the mountain were for sale. I shook my head and wondered what Crazy Horse would have thought about selling broken parts of the earth – never mind carving his image into his Mother’s body. Of course, we bought one.

The Crazy Horse rock sat in the back seat of our Pontiac, and I used it to hold down my half-empty popcorn bag. An arid breeze blew across the amber waves that day, and I was not about to explain how the animals came to be fed through my negligence and a gust. Tonto would not be scolding this Kemosabe today.

I started when what I assumed was the chief of the prairie dogs let out three sharp barks. “Son of a…” I said as I cracked my skull on the roof, but my mother’s peregrine ears caught me before I could complete my curse. “Language, son,” she said.

The prairie dog’s language became more insistent, as if he had understood and ignored my mom’s rebuke. His barks came faster, louder, commanding his tribe back to their holes not more than twenty feet from the road winding through the preserve. I pulled my now-aching head from the car to see what his bother was. Scanning the horizon, I saw no wolf or fox emerging from the wood for a snack, no buffalo stampede threatening the dog’s den or our dying Pontiac – in fact, I had not seen a buffalo at all in South Dakota, though I had eaten one the day before.

My mom (originally from Canton, S.D.) was advised by her cousin in Sioux Falls to try a local burger joint specializing in buffalo. Signs proclaimed buffalo an “All-American Meat.” Presumably, this was because the buffalo were, as another sign shouted, “Free Range,” not that I had any idea what that meant.

I understood after the first bite, however. That burger was the most exquisite mesquite-fire-cooked hunk of flesh I had ever experienced. No grease dripped down my chin, yet the patty was moist and tender; no preservatives taxed my liver, yet the meat tasted as fresh as new-fallen snow; no vegetables garnished my plate, yet every bite came with a whiff of grass and scrub.

The McDonald’s down the street had a sign indicating there had been “Millions and Millions Served” there. If this little burger joint had a similar sign, it likely would have proclaimed “Dozens and Dozens Served.” Still, I had no doubt even Crazy Horse would have called this burger a work of art.

Returning to my search of the source of the prairie dog’s stress, I turned my eyes to the painted sky. I scanned the expanse, so much bigger here than in Rockford, Illinois. The stratus and cumulonimbus seemed miles long, and their height threatened to scrape the Hubble. Still, even in the clouds of South Dakota, I saw no buffalo.

I saw the predator, though: the slow-circling falcon – or perhaps it was a hawk or an eagle (though not a bald eagle: those I had seen along the banks of the Mississippi as a child on my grandfather’s fishing boat). I pointed it out to my mother, who decided we should move on to a different part of the preserve. I was sure she wanted to give the raptor a sporting chance. I was also sure she wanted to avoid having to explain the “circle of life” to my younger sister if the bird’s hunt was successful.

We piled back into the Pontiac and continued our languid tour of the prairie. Wildflowers and brush surrounded us and concealed the vicious dance of the smaller animals of the plain. My mother and stepfather decided our time in the preserve, and in South Dakota, had come to an end. As we made our way toward the park exit, one last obstacle kept us in Sioux territory a bit longer.

A pack of burros wandered along the narrow road winding through the prairie. Content and confident, they were little concerned about the car casually cruising toward them. My stepfather blared the horn at them; their ears moved, but not their hooves. Soon they surrounded the car, poking their noses in, sniffing for a treat (which they’d no doubt received from other tourists, despite the signs admonishing such activities). My sister cried when one of the donkeys licked her face, and so desperate measures were called for.

I took up the popcorn bag from under Crazy Horse’s stone, pushed a donkey aside with the car door, and climbed out, despite my mother’s warning. I opened the bag and offered a few kernels in my outstretched palm to the donkey I’d shoved out of my way. It seemed the best way to make amends for treating him so rudely. Ears up, the donkey devoured the popcorn in an instant.

Soon, I was making amends for crimes I hadn’t committed. The rest of the pack caught the scent of maize, and moved in to get their share. Shortly, the burros pressed against me, their short hair bristling my legs and arms like brushes. I was surrounded by jackasses there on the plain, just as I had been amidst the soybeans in Iowa.

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Dear LubePro’s

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Categories: Rockford, Uncategorized, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The following is a copy of the letter I’m sending to LubePro’s President & CEO Ray Keating regarding an unfortunate customer service experience. My personal information has been redacted. Even if you don’t live in an area with a LubePro’s location, it’s worth a read in my opinion. Read it and weep (for the state of our civilization):

Ray Keating

President & CEO

LubePro’s International

1740 S Bell School Road

Cherry Valley, IL 61016

Dear Mr. Keating:

I write you today to inform you of the most appalling example of customer service and professionalism at your company’s location in Rockford, Illinois at 1701 E Riverside Blvd. Before I do, allow me to provide some background on my vehicle and me.

I purchased my 1999 Chevrolet Malibu used, with 35,000 miles on the odometer. In the years I’ve owned it, my oil change and minor maintenance needs have been met by various LubePro’s facilities in and around the Rockford area. With very few exceptions, LubePro’s have been my only provider of oil and lube services. I’m certain a quick scan of your records under my license plate number (redacted) will confirm this. Today, my vehicle has over 184,000 miles. In the near-decade I’ve owned my car, I’ve spent thousands of dollars with your company.

On Saturday, 28 August 2010 I was prepared to spend more money with your company. The serpentine belt on the aforementioned Malibu had slipped. Remembering serpentine belts are one of the items LubePro’s services, I called the location nearest my home to verify they could do the work. I was told only some vehicles could be serviced. Desperate to have my car working before my 70-mile commute on Monday, I gave the make, model and year for my car and was reassured that my vehicle could be serviced by LubePro’s. I then contacted my auto club to arrange to have my car towed.

Upon arrival at the LubePro’s on Riverside, one of the technicians climbed on the tow truck’s bed to look under the Malibu’s hood. After an examination that lasted less than thirty seconds, he returned to tell me that LubePro’s would not be able to replace the belt after all. I was irritated. I questioned the technician, telling him that I had called a half hour earlier to see if the work could be done. He gave the pre-packaged line “we can only service some vehicles.” I confronted the technician, now rather upset, with the fact that I had provided the year, make and model of my car and was told it wouldn’t be a problem to work on. His response was flippant and uninterested. I had, by this time, decided that LubePro’s obviously didn’t care to retain me as a customer, and I told the tech the company would lose my business. His response was a dismissive wave and the word “Peace.” The only person in a white shirt (the manager-on-duty, I presume) was well within earshot of our exchange.

While your employee’s callous disregard for me as a customer was frustrating and disappointing, it was routine lack of professionalism. What happened next, however, went beyond poor customer service by degrees I can’t even measure.

I was fortunate a general mechanic with a shop in the same strip mall as your LubePro’s facility happened to be working that Saturday. As I arranged to have the work done on my car by this other mechanic, my wife waited in her car nearby. I finalized the arrangements and my wife and I prepared to leave. It was then she informed me the technician from before had cast menacing glares at us from within the LubePro’s building while he worked. My wife told me she didn’t feel comfortable with my car so close to your company’s facility and the hostile employees therein. I reassured her that everything would be fine.

We left the strip mall and were stopped at the intersection of Alpine Road and Riverside Boulevard, heading northbound, a short distance away from the LubePro’s location. My wife glanced over and saw the same technician outside the building, still in uniform, apparently on a cigarette break. He noticed us too, and clearly raised his middle finger at us.

I was, and still am, shocked and appalled. This employee’s callous disregard for my wife and me, not only as customers, but as human beings, is astounding. Words fail to express how offended, stupefied and angry I am over this incident. Furthermore, this technician’s conduct calls into question the quality and safety of LubePro’s previous work on my vehicle. The lack of intercession by the manager-on-duty is an indictment of the organization as a whole. I would have returned to confront the employee and manager in question, except I truly felt doing so would have put my safety in jeopardy. The hateful look and behavior of the technician lead me to believe he was a person not above resorting to violence when confronted.

Not once was I offered a satisfactory explanation as to why I was given incorrect information over the phone, if indeed I was. I suspect, based on the behavior of the LubePro’s employees, that they simply did not wish to perform the requested service on my vehicle. Not once was I offered an apology by management for the rude and discourteous treatment I received from the technician who “examined” my car. I wish I could provide you with the names of the employees in question, but I cannot. I can tell you the incident occurred around 2:30 PM.

Your website says, “We are well known for our professional, well-trained, friendly staff, and our efficient operation. Customers appreciate our professionalism, which is why they keep coming back for our renowned 10-minute oil change and our thorough 21-point inspection.” I do appreciate professionalism and that is one of the reasons I have been a repeat customer of your company over the years. However, this incident has made me question if LubePro’s truly believes in professional, courteous service.

If I am mistaken, you are free to contact me via postal or electronic mail; I’ve included my addresses below. Thank you for your time. Sincerely,

Darius McCaskey

redacted 

CC: Better Business Bureau

CC: Insider Pages

CC: Yelp

CC: Facebook

CC: Twitter

CC: Blog

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Everybody Loves Raymond (Did It)

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Categories: Aegis Studios, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I know that times are tough for just about everyone right now, but my hetero life-mate needs your help! Travis Legge, my erstwhile business partner at Aegis Studios, is set to begin shooting his first feature-length film in less than two weeks. He’s still got a bit of money to be raised to meet his budget.
If you can spare $50, $10, or even a single dollar, you can help support indie film and the Rockford economy. More importantly, you can help a wonderfully talented storyteller make his own “big break.” I’ve read the script and I’ve seen the actors: this movie is going to be amazingly fun. Your help is needed to make it happen.
Please, head to IndieGoGo and contribute at the highest level you can. If that’s only a dollar, it will honestly help. For more info on the film and Travis’s other projects (including the work we did together on the Contagion RPG), head to the Aegis Studios homepage.
See you at the movies!