Cloudy day, and somewhat cool; retreat is in the air. Sometimes spring just feels as though it’s hungover, and regrets saying all those things last night.

Here’s a test: stare at this, and tell me what it’s advertising. The answer will be provided later.


At noon I was sitting in the oil change waiting room, a space no one ever really cares to improve. It resists all attempts to make it something other than it is. A few creaky chairs, a few old magazines – “Shooting & Gutting,” or one of those car magazines that are always testing vehicles I will never see, let alone drive. I read Mark Steyn’s “America Alone,” which really defines the phrase “I laughed, I cried,” and I waited for the inevitable. The first guy came in to tell me all the things they offered. I thanked him and asked him to change my oil. He went back into the bay, where the crew – about sixteen guys, it seems – performed this strange quasi-military exercize, shouting out every step of the process. I imagine they do that so the other members of the team are up to speed, and no one gets a trunk lid slammed on his hand, but it sounds ridiculous. HOOD COMING DOWN!

The crew chief came in next, asking for my contact information. Sigh. It’s not enough to get your oil changed; you have to enter into this long, detailed relationship wherein they track your needs, and the next time I come in they’ll be able to tell if I need a new filter. Because visual inspection and an odometer check are useless, when compared to the power of the Contact Information Database. He asked for my phone number. I hate to be a diq about these things, but I am so fargin’ tired of everyone asking for my phone number. “Why?” I asked.

“Well, we won’t call you.”

“Okay.”

“It’s for our records.”

I wanted to say that’s not as compelling a reason as you might expect, but I asked why they wanted it.

“We won’t sell the information to anyone,” he said. “Well, maybe one in a million times, but only to provide you with a service.”

“I’ll skip it,” I said.

He nodded. I did give him my name and address and zip code, though. Didn’t want to be a complete killjoy.

When it was done I was handed a sheet to sign. Everyone, I should note, was inordinately polite and crisp; it really was that old-style gas-station service you see on the old ads, with twenty men in uniform bounding out of a shining white station to polish your cigarette lighter and pick the gravel from your tire treads. The crew chief asked if I’d heard about their $500 free gas promotion, and I said that I hadn’t, and thanks, guys –

“Here’s the number to call,” he said. Because he wasn’t done. I was going to hear about the $500 free gas promotion, dammit. “If you could take this survey, it’ll take about five minutes. And if you could give us a 5 on the responses –“ he circled the number 5, printed on the back of the entry sheet – “We’d appreciate it.”

Nothing makes me want to give them a four more than being told they’d like a five, but I can’t blame them. It’s the stupid top-down company survey mania. Companies decide they will survey the hell out of everyone to find out the truth about the customer experience; managers down the chain push the “5” response to ensure everyone looks good when the numbers are finally arrayed in heavy, glossy, unread booklet form. In the end I find a different place to get my oil changed, because I just want my oil changed. That’s all.

In the old days (oh, jeez, here he goes) a man could just drive the car into the bay, ask for an oil change, and he would get an oil change. They would change his oil. Oil; changed. That’s it. You’d spend a few minutes in the smelly tiled gas station lobby, looking at the items for sale – Zagnut bars and Chuckles candy, a rack of indestructible combs whose teeth would never snap, a card of evergreen air-fresheners with that cheap hussy giving you the cheesecake face. (A google search for Evergreen Fresheners is rather peculiar. Someone must have googlebombed the top entry. I’m number seven, which indicates I’m repeating myself again. Dave Barry is number nine. First time I’ve ever beaten him in a list. Hah! In! Your! Face!) When it was done they put a sticker on your door frame signifying you had received Marfak Lubrication, and off you went. You didn’t feel as though you had to divorce them legally to use another station.

Went to the office. Annoyed coworkers by giving them story ideas about things I can’t be arsed to write. Well, in one instance, I suppose I could; it has to do with the reasons fans turn against shows. I’m one of 17 people who still enjoy “Lost,” simply because it still fills my need for entertainment on Wednesday at 11:35 PM, or whenever I finish this thing. I could be persuaded to dislike it, but not because someone says something on the internets. Talk to me in three years when Windom Earle uses bees to spread the black oil. As for “24” – well, turning Jack Bauer into a rogue agent who plans a suicide bombing is not exactly what we tune in to see. It’s just been a mess -  forced, joyless, cynically sadistic and empty of the virtues it once suggested, if only by implication. It’s like learning that Indiana Jones will renounce archeology in the fourth movie, and insist the Elgin Marbles be returned.

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Oak Island Water Feature update: two days of steady use, and it’s not gurgling out. The fountain works fine, but it always did; the problem was the waterfall, which went dry after two hours. I’ve been running it eight hours a day, at least, and it’s not running out. This morning I topped off the tank, and it only took five minutes to overflow. This is remarkable: the world’s first self-healing waterfall. I credit myself, of course; I made some modifications in the way the water rejoins the main waterfall from the side pond. Hard to believe it was that simple. If it was, then the contractor lost $5K because he couldn’t figure that one out.

Poor fellow.

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Now, the blurry old picture answer. Here’s the original.

 

It’s a picture of Minneapolis in the 40s. A larger version will be up in the forthcoming Minneapolis 07 section, which will be gorgeous – the Fargo site was just a warmup for this monster. Most of the structures in this picture are gone, which is hard to believe; the building on the left was really a piece of work, and looked like it couldn't be leveled by anything less than an atom bomb. The foreground building meant nothing to anyone, and even know you’d have a hard time advocating for its preservation. I’m not sure I would, if the replacement was big and shiny. (The big gray tower on the right is still around.) (Incidentally, those are links to very old sites, and you can see why I need to redo the section.)

I like the picture for the glimpses of the storefronts. Like this:

 

 The “Jack’s Lunch” awning has a definite 20s feel, with all the horsemeat-and-botulism associations that suggests. It seems Jack also had the cigar store next door, an establishment quite proud of its bargain prices: it reminds you that “Cut-rate” wasn’t always a perjorative description. (The Briar Pipes were fine, though.) Here’s the blurry shot of Jack’s front window again:

 

Can you make out Old Gold? Good. Below that? I took a guess: Apple Honey.

Googling proved me correct:

That was my Grandfather’s brand. Smoked them for about 68 years.

Did I ever tell you about him? Interesting man. He was a farmer:

A shot from the Fargo Forum, illustrating how happy farmers were with the crop yields. When I get around to updating some of the family sites, I’ll have more. I didn’t start looking like him, but the older I get, the more his presence announces itself.

But that’s another site. Thursday, as you must surely know by now, is Music day. I’ve decided to make the choices topical – plug in a word from the daily news into the iTunes search box, and see what pops up. I thought of honoring Rosie O’Donnell’s decision to seek other opportunities, but the only thing that came up was a Supertramp song from 1971 – it’s amusingly apt, in a way, but I fear the RIAA police. Instead we celebrate the French election with this tune from 1927: Sophie Tucker’s rendition of “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.” An interesting look at how France appeared to the Jazz Age audience.

Note: French voting population is about 44.5 million today.

 

 



 

 

Tomorrow: Startling Tales, Legos, geneology update, and my unforgivable descent into wingnuttery. How could I have been so wrong? (sob) New Quirk today, of course. See you tomorrow.