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Winter Olympic Dreams

Exactly two weeks ago, I decided I would become a winter Olympian.

Since the beginning of the 2018 Winter Olympics, I have been glued to my television. On slow or busy days, I may only manage to squeeze in an hour’s worth of events. Some days — many days — I’ve consumed two hours, three hours, maybe even more.

There’s not an event I don’t like. From quirky curling to soaring ski jumping and graceful ice skaters, I watch it all. I spent a couple of hours last week learning the lingo and rules of curling. In snowboarding, I know the difference between a melon grab and a stalefish grab. Prior to 2018 I had never watched an entire game of ice hockey from beginning to end. Over the past two weeks, I’ve watched at least six.

On Wednesday the women’s bobsled team from Germany took gold after beating the US team by 0.07 of a second. The scores consist of three timed runs, combined. That means the difference between Germany’s three runs and the US’s three runs was seven-one hundredth’s of a second. All the timed races fascinate me, but when the differences are so amazingly slim, I find it incredible. Seven-one hundredths of a second is roughly 1/20 of the time it takes a human being to blink.

As the Olympians continue to compete, I wonder which event I would have the best chance at competing in. Maybe I could be the goalie for our hockey team (those guys don’t need to know how to skate, right?). I was pretty good on a skateboard, thirty years ago — surely I could pick up a snowboard and figure things out. If all else fails, I feel like curling is always an option. One guy throws a rock, one guy sweeps, and people are always either yelling or being yelled at. I have experience with all of those things.

The day before last, a winter storm rolled into Oklahoma, adding a layer of sleet and ice to everything. I managed not to leave the house Tuesday, but by Wednesday everyone was getting stir crazy and so we agreed to go out for dinner.

Susan wanted Mexican food and so we went to San Marcos, but they had closed due to the weather. Our second stop was Chileno’s; they too had closed early. Our third pick, Qdoba, braved the winter storm and remained open.

As I shuffled my way across the icy parking lot like an old man, I felt my Olympic dreams disappearing. Forget gliding gracefully across the stuff — I could barely get out of my car.

On the way home from dinner, some fool came around the corner of Rockwell and NW Expressway sideways. I was going slow enough that I was able to slide over into the center lane and get back into my own lane before any more cars arrived. For a split second I had dreams of steering a toboggan in the luge, but that quickly subsided.

Any final drops of hope were drained last night when I took the trash out. My legs quivered like Jell-O as I inched my way across the driveway, sack of trash in hand, over to the trash dumpster. It took every muscle I had to keep my feet underneath me and remain upright. I hate to say it, but I think the odds of me becoming a winter Olympian resemble one of the five Olympic rings: O.

Except skeleton. I could totally do the skeleton. Back in my day, we called that “sledding head first…”

Reader’s Digest Mysteries: Strange Stories Amazing Facts, and More

Cheating death by freezing. The power of the Evil Eye. The giants of Easter Island. The legend of Spring-Heeled Jack. Oh, I was quite the interesting second grader to talk to. I couldn’t rattle off a single sports statistic, but I knew all about Bigfoot, fire walking, and how long we have until the sun destroys the earth.

(Don’t worry; we’re good for roughly a billion years.)

All of these facts I learned from Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, published by Reader’s Digest in 1976. My dad received a copy of this book from a co-worker and for many years I read stories from it almost every single night. The book contains hundreds of articles, ranging in length from just a few paragraphs to about two pages. I had a couple of kid books about UFOs and Bigfoot, but this was the real deal — a book for GROWN UPS about all kinds of mysteries!

Strange Stories, Amazing Facts must have sold well for Reader’s Digest, because they continued to crank out similar books for over a decade. Here are the four I’ve picked up throughout the years.

STRANGE STORIES, AMAZING FACTS
608 pages (1976)

For me, Strange Stories, Amazing Facts is the granddaddy of them all, the book that set the template for all the Reader’s Digest books that followed. The book is divided into five unnamed parts, with each part consisting of a few related sub-categories. For example, “Part 3” consists of “Strange customs and superstitions,” “Popular facts and fallacies,” “Intriguing and unsolved mysteries,” “Footsteps into the unknown,” and “Legendary lands and beasts.” Each sub-category runs 30-40 pages in length. Each story is roughly the length of a page, give or take, with lots of pull outs and illustrations to accompany them. Also, each story is presented as a unique article with its own headline, which makes it easy to flip open to a random page and begin reading.

Like the title suggests, the stories fall into one of two categories. Half of the articles contain strange and obscure facts. There’s nothing particularly mysterious about cryogenics or the Roman Colosseum; they’re just interesting to read about. The rest of the book focuses on unsolved mysteries: UFOs, Bigfoot, haunted houses, and so on.

The article pictured above is about the infamous Oak Island money pit. Who knew 40 years after this book was published people would still be digging up that island and have a reality television show dedicated to it!

The thing I like — and don’t like — about these books is that none of the mysteries are debunked. Some of the specific UFO cases and ghost stories included have long since been debunked, which dates the material. Even so, the stories are fun to read through.

INTO THE UNKNOWN
352 pages (1981)

The next book in my Reader’s Digest collection is Into the Unknown. This book does away with the five “parts” and simply uses chapters to group stories together. Many of the chapters, such as “Monsters,” “Ghosts and Spirits,” and “Enigma of UFO’s” are similar to the previous book. In between those we have new topics such as “Art of Magic” and an entire section dedicated to Atlantis.

Unlike Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, which is 10″ x 7.5″, Into the Unknown is a full-sized 8.5″ x 11″ book. The larger pages, combined with almost half as many pages as its predecessor, make the book feel considerably thinner. It feels like a typical hardback book, whereas Strange Stories looks and feels almost like a reference book.

Most of the articles in Into the unknown are longer that the ones in Strange Stories. Some of the articles run up to ten pages in length, although the text is still broken up by pull-outs, photographs, and illustrations. Many of the same pictures from Strange Stories have been recycled here. Even though the new material is good, it’s easy to get the feeling that you’re getting half a book of new material, combined with highlights from the previous edition.

I didn’t own this book as a kid, but our local library had a copy of it. My favorite part to read was about dreams — interpretations, astral projection, and lucid dreaming. I used to go to the library and read these stories to my girlfriend. Just kidding. No fifth grader who read books about lucid dreaming had a girlfriend.

MYSTERIES OF THE UNEXPLAINED
320 pages (1982)

Released only a year after Into the Unknown, this Reader’s Digest book consists of even more of the same. The chapter titles become increasing familiar: “Monsters and More,” “The Unquiet Sky,” and “In the Realm of Miracles” all contain topics recycled from the two previous books. The articles haven’t been reprinted word-for-word, but it’s still hard not to get deja vu while reading about, well, deja vu.

Where Strange Stories divided each article with a headline and subhead, Mysteries of the Unexplained uses a line break and a single bold line. This, combined again with an 8.5″ x 11″ page size, makes it feel less like a reference book and more like a long narrative that doesn’t lend itself to simply flipping the book open to a random article.

Once again, many of the same pictures from the previous titles have been re-used here. In fact, having just flipped through the first two, it’s tough to find a picture I haven’t just seen in one of the other two. Some of that is to be expected — there weren’t a lot of new photographs of the Loch Ness Monster taken between 1981 and 1982 — but even so, the repeated photographs adds to the feeling that you’ve seen this before.

Mysteries of the Unexplained is by no means a bad book. There are lots of fun and weird articles to be found inside. If you don’t own the previous two titles I mentioned and ran across this one, I’d definitely pick it up.

FACTS AND FALLACIES
448 pages (1988)

The final entry in my collection of Reader’s Digest books is Facts and Fallacies. While the title makes this one sound different than the others — almost like a Guiness-style book of facts and records — it’s very similar to the others. Like Strange Stories, this book is also divided up into five parts. Some of the titles, like “Footsteps into the Unknown,” are identical to Strange Stories, Amazing Facts.

The book’s size is a combination of the previous two; it’s 10″ x 8″, and 448 pages thick.

Like the others, Reader’s Digest did not attempt to reinvent the wheel that moved the pyramid stones here. There are articles about the Voynich manuscript, children who claim to recall previous lives, and documented cases of spontaneous combustion. Like all the others, the book concludes with predictions about the world of tomorrow. This one speculates about self-driving cars, the ability to circumvent the globe in 80 minutes, and the uncertain future of Antarctica.

I read this book in our school library, and actually purchased my copy from a library sale. The last 1/3 of the book’s pages have come loose from the binding — I like to imagine its from years of kids digging through these books, just like I used to, wondering if they would ever find D.B. Cooper or figure out who Jack the Ripper was.

I miss mysteries — not paperbacks or movies, but real-life mysteries. I loved wondering as a kid whether or not Bigfoot was real, or whether or not a UFO really crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. Strange Stories, Amazing Facts fed that part of my brain as a kid. Even as an adult, many of the stories contained within that book take me back to that place and time.

While looking up some facts for this article I discovered two additional Reader’s Digest books I don’t own: The World’s Last Mysteries and Exploring the Unknown.

No mystery there; Amazon says they’ll be here by next Tuesday.

Dinner and Memories

Last Tuesday Susan and I were able to have dinner with Susan Wood-Butorac, a person who directly changed the course of both of our lives.

In the winter of 1995 I was twenty-two years old. I had been working as a contractor at the FAA for eight months, and had only been married to Susan for four. Beginning that fall, I started travelling all over the country, performing hardware upgrades on workstations and servers. If you really want to date this story, the objective of those trips was to make sure every 386 computer met a “minimum baseline” of 8MB of RAM and a 540 MB hard drive. The RAM and hard drives were so expensive back then that we weren’t even allowed to travel with them; they were shipped directly to the sites we visited, and inventoried both before we arrived and after we left.

For several months, I flew around the country performing these upgrades. I’d be gone for a week and then home for a week or two before heading back out. In just a few months I visited Phoenix, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Boise, none of which I’d visited before. On each trip I stayed in a nice hotel, got a generous per diem, and had access to a rental car. I ate like a king, drank like a fish, and met many people that I am still friends today. Life was good.

Sometime that winter, I visited Spokane, Washington. It was freezing cold, and the roads were covered in ice. On normal trips we traveled in packs of two but on this trip they sent four of us. When we got there, I discovered why. The office had recently expanded, and several of the employees weren’t even connected to the network. That was the trip I learned how to make network cables by hand. I spent a lot of that week climbing ladders and standing on desks, running cable through a drop ceiling — a task made more difficult by the fact that the building was built in the 1920s. Brick and cinder block barriers turned what would have normally been 10′ cable runs into 80′ mazes.

I loved it. I loved the work, the old building (which sat on the edge of a runway), the people who worked in the office, and the town itself. Back then Spokane was only a satellite office, and not fully staffed. When we left, I said (in a typical twenty-two-year-old cocky manner), “whenever you’re ready to hire a computer specialist, give me a call.”

A few months later in the summer of 1996, they did.

It was Susan Wood-Butorac who convinced the manager of the office (Art Jones) to give that goofy kid from Oklahoma a chance. Of course there’s never a guarantee that you’ll get a government job when you apply for it — in fact, the odds are kind of against you — but I went ahead and applied, Susan Wood-Butorac put in a good word for me, and the rest is history.

In September 1996, I packed my Dodge Neon full of computers and CDs and drove the 1,800 miles from El Reno, Oklahoma to Spokane, Washington. I distinctly remember arriving in town the day Weird Al was performing live in Spokane, which according to his website was September 10, 1996. A few months later, my wife also landed a job working at the Spokane Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). The two of us worked there until the spring of 1998, when we decided we’d had enough of being away from friends and family in Oklahoma and returned home. The time we worked in Spokane gave us reinstatement rights, which helped us later get our foot back into the door, eventually leading to the careers we have today.

And so this past week Susan Wood-Butorac was in town, and one night, over Mexican food and drinks, we shared a bunch of fun stories and memories of working in Spokane. Good times, then and now.

Toys ‘Were’ Us

I was four-years-old when I met Darth Vader. My memory of the event is foggy, but I remember it was dark so it must have been either early or late. It was cold. We — my mom and I — stood outside in the Toys ‘R’ Us parking lot waiting for the advertised celebrities to greet us. First was Spider-man, followed by the Hulk, but the one I remember most vividly was Darth Vader. For all I know, whoever wore that black costume, helmet, and cape that day was just some teenager who worked at the store, but to me, I honestly thought I had met the real Dark Lord of the Sith — right there in the Toys ‘R’ Us parking lot.

Earlier this week, Toys ‘R’ Us announced their plan to close 180 stores, approximately one-fifth of their locations. The location where I met Darth Vader (1119 SE 66th St.) is on the list.

As a kid, everyone I knew referred to that location as the Crossroads Mall Toys ‘R’ Us, as it was located directly north of the mall. When Crossroads Mall originally opened in 1974, it was one of the ten largest malls in the country, and opening a toy store right next to it probably made great business sense. Between crime and the economy, Crossroads Mall began to decline in the mid-2000s, and officially closed its doors (the first time) in 2011. No doubt those factors contributed to the decline of that Toys ‘R’ Us location as well. In a blog post I wrote back in 2006 I referred to the location was “Toys Were Us” in reference to the lack of stock on the shelves. In that same article, I made the following prediction:

The whole store was completely picked over with lots of bare shelves and massive price slashing. The first wave of Toys R’ Us stores have already closed; I suspect ours is about to join them.

It wasn’t a Nostradamus-level prediction; the writing was definitely on the wall.

Essentially every memory of Toys ‘R’ Us I have, and every story I’ve ever told about something that took place at Toys ‘R’ Us, happened at this location. This was the store where my dad took me to buy Space Invaders for the Atari 2600 when it was released in 1980. It was the same location where I purchased many of my Dungeons and Dragons manuals. When Hasbro began releasing new Star Wars figures in the mid-1990s, this is one the few places that had every figure available. I have memories of browsing the aisles with my parents, looking at everything. I have memories of browsing the aisles with my children, letting them look at everything.

And I’m part of the reason it’s closing — people like me, who shop online. We exclusively did all of our Christmas shopping last year online; Amazon, mostly. Even if I were to go to Toys ‘R’ Us, it probably wouldn’t be that one. There’s another one closer to us now, up north — newer, in a nicer part of town.

We don’t go to that one either.

Cheater Spacer Shelves

During this week’s furlough, I decided to tackle a few projects around the house that I’ve been putting off for far too long. One of those projects involved creating a pair of “spacer shelves” for our upstairs entertainment center.

The built-in entertainment in our upstairs den is really nice, but the shelves are way too tall. Take a look at the shelves to the right of the television in the (terrible) picture above. Each shelf is almost 18″ apart; probably great for displaying photographs or trophies, but terrible for things like DVDs.

Here you can see some of my Blu-ray movies. Above them there’s almost 11″ of space, easily enough for an entire row of movies.

Fortunately, the home builder left a few leftover pieces of wood out in the garage. Some of them are an exact match for this entertainment center and the rest are pretty close, but all of them will work.

The first thing I did was measure the height of a DVD case. It’s about 7 1/2″ tall, so I figured with a shelf that’s 8″ tall, I could easily convert one of these cubbies into two.

Supplies required: tape measure, pencil, t-square, saw.

The inside of each cubbie is 26″ wide, and the pieces of wood left behind in the garage are 48″ long. With two 8″ blocks for support and one 26″ shelf, that left me 6″ to spare. Perfect!

This literally took less than five minutes, and that’s with getting all the cobwebs and spider eggs off the wood.

Back upstairs, I inserted one of the 8″ blocks on each side of the cubby hole, and placed the 26″ shelf on top of the blocks. I didn’t use any screws because there’s literally no place for any of the pieces to go. You could either push the blocks all the way to the back or pull them all the way forward. I thought everything looked better flush with the front, so that’s what I did.

After I was sure everything fit, I went back to the garage, cut a second pair, and placed them on the shelf above that.

With the additional spacer shelves in place, I was able to fit all our disc-based video games along with all my Blu-ray movies (I don’t have very many) on the shelves without having to stack them horizontally. Success!

Because it worked so well, I decided to do the same thing to the other side.

One unexpected benefit of these shelves is, because they don’t go all the way to the back, there’s a lot of space for things like cables and power supplies.

I have been meaning to build these cheater spacer shelves for several years now. From start to finish, including taking everything off the shelves and putting them back in place, it took less than an hour!

Furlough, Can You Go

For the second time in five years, Susan and I have been furloughed.

What that means is, until a budget is passed by congress, all non-essential federal employees — that’s us — are prohibited from working and will not get paid until the furlough is over. We can’t even volunteer to work for free.

The first question everybody asks is, “yeah, but don’t you get back pay?” The answer is, “probably.” It’s not guaranteed, but historically, I don’t think it’s never not happened. That being said, our back pay will arrive on the first full paycheck following the furlough. The 2013 furlough lasted 26 days, which meant that our family went without a paycheck for six weeks.

The second question everybody asks is, “why should federal employees get paid for not working?” That’s a tough question to answer, and maybe we shouldn’t. All I can tell you is, nobody who gets furloughed enjoys it, or has anything to do with it. All of us wish we were working.

The third question people frequently ask me is, “who is essential and who is non-essential?” It’s different, per agency. Within the FAA, Air Traffic Controllers are essential (the technical term is excepted). The people who fix their computers are non-excepted. Employees who inspect things and process things tend to be non-excepted, so expect anything involving paperwork to grind to a halt. Those who deal directly with safety tend to be excepted. Note that even though excepted employees have to report to work, they don’t get paid until after the furlough ends either — double bummer for them.

For my family, a furlough means instant stress and instability. Yes, we have enough money in the bank to eat tomorrow, and many tomorrows after that. Things start to get scary when the furlough lasts an entire pay period, and suddenly it’s time to make house, car, and insurance payments with no money coming in.

But if you’re not a federal employee, what does a furlough mean to you?

At the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, where I work, there are 7,500 employees. That’s 7,500 people who most likely just cut back on their spending drastically. Small local businesses may feel that squeeze as well as kids are pulled out of daycare and people stop eating at local restaurant.

In the past, furloughs have led to the closure of national parks, and interruptions in government services (programs like WIC, the EPA, and FDA were severely crippled during the last furlough). National museums and zoos will close.

One other way the furlough affects you is that the furlough costs taxpayers approximately six billion dollars a week. Some of that money comes out of the budget and some of that gets added to the country’s debt. Either way, it’s a terrible waste.

I don’t expect this furlough to last as long as the last one, but you never know. I suspect by Monday we’ll have a better idea of just how tight we’ll have to cinch our belts this time.

Sickness and Updates

I started feeling under the weather right after New Year’s. By Friday of that week — the fifth, right? — I felt so awful I ended up staying home from work. I felt a little better that weekend before it really hit me. I broke down and saw a doctor last Friday. The nurse I saw was sure I had the flu, but the doctor said my results were negative. Regardless, I ended up with three prescriptions (two pills and a nose spray) and have gone through three bottles of cough syrup over the past two weeks. The doctor told me to discontinue the nose spray after four days and one of my prescriptions has run out, so it’s down to the remaining one and a few remaining cough drops. I got out a couple of times this past weekend and the cold air felt like a knife to my chest. I’m definitely on the mend, but still not 100%. I’d say I’m at 70% right now.

A couple of days ago, WordPress notified me that the email subscription plugin I use was so out of date that it wouldn’t work with the latest round of security updates. I tested it, and they were right. I’ve replaced the old one with a new one. If you haven’t signed up and would like to be notified whenever new blogs are posted, you can sign up here. Each email contains a link to unsubscribe as well, in case you ever get sick of receiving them.

While installing that plugin I added another feature back to the site that’s been missing for years. At the bottom of the lower left hand menu column, you’ll now see a random quote each time the page reloads. Actually, you probably won’t. It’s tucked out of the way and very few people will ever notice it.

Back when I first started playing around with HTML, all the pages I created were static — that is to say, the code on my side represented what visitors saw. It wasn’t until the late 90s/early 00s that I began to discover scripting; asp first, followed by php. I became fascinated by the fact that the code on my side no longer resembled what was being served up to visiting clients. One of the first things I experimented with was a script that would pluck a random quote out of a text file and display it to visitors. I always enjoyed the idea that even if I hadn’t updated my website in a while, visitors would at least see a different quote each time they visited. The randomizing code I used back in 2000 is the same line of code I used today when re-adding that feature. The list of quotes its pulling from is pretty outdated, but it works. Maybe I’ll update them once I start to feeling better.

Star Wednesday: Chewbacca Bandolier Strap

Kenner was truly a marketing genius, realizing early on that kids buying action figures would also need things to hold, store, and transport action figures. In the late 70s and early 80s, Kenner made several different types and styles of carrying cases for kids. The earliest cases were essentially little vinyl briefcases that held two dozen action figures. Then there were those large plastic sculpted busts of Darth Vader and C-3P0 that opened up and held even more figures. Kenner made lots of different storage cases, some more successful than others. One of the oddest ones they produced was this one, based on the bandolier strap Chewbacca wore in Star Wars.

Some of the issues with this toy are immediately obvious. The biggest one is, it only held ten action figures. I suppose that’s enough if you only used the strap to carry a few figures over to a friend’s house for an afternoon of Star Wars-ing, but even then some hard decisions would have to be made as to which figures would make the trip. Keep in mind that every other Kenner carrying case held between 20 and 40 figures.

Another problem with the Chewbacca Bandolier Strap is that the figures are held in place by foam. It looks like it worked in the pictures well enough, but no kid worth his weight in Bantha poo doo would have trusted his most valuable figures to stay put in that strap. Imagine riding your bike with this bandolier strap fully populated, only to discover half the figures had fallen out by the time you reached your pal’s house!

And, about that foam — over time, it has disintegrated. Kenner used foam on several of their playsets (bits of foam were used to simulate trash in their Death Star toy and quicksand in the Dagobah playset) and it just didn’t last. In their defense, I doubt very much Kenner expected people to still have these toys 40 years later and never intended for the foam to last this long. On almost every one of these Chewbacca Bandolier Straps, the foam has either completely disappeared, or become so brittle that it turns into a black, gritty dust upon touch.

I didn’t own one of these in the 1980s. By the time the Chewbacca Bandolier Strap was released I already had one of the vinyl carrying cases (which held 24 figures), a Darth Vader case (which held 31 figures), and a Rebel Troop Transport (which held 24 figures). And while the kid on the box looks really happy standing around wearing that thing, in my world it would have screamed “here’s a nerd’s ass that could use some kicking.” No thanks.

Kenner marketed the Chewbacca Bandolier Strap as both a carrying case and a play toy for kids, and at only $4.91 it was probably a good deal, but it never really resonated with me. It held fewer figures than any other carrying case released and didn’t protect your figures at all. And as far as play toys go… no offense to Wookies, but I can’t imagine a lot of kids clamoring to be Chewbacca.

The Ghosts of Pizza Inn

There was a time not so many years ago when my work friends and I used to go lunch together almost every single day. Increased job duties, the introduction of teleworking, and conflicting meeting schedules have mostly put an end to those frequent outings. These days, getting three or four of us together for lunch involves blocking out time on calendars, coordinating schedules, and a lot of finger-crossing. I really miss those days when we could all just hop in a car and go somewhere for lunch.

One of our frequent lunch destinations was the Pizza Inn on the corner of SW 59th and May, about five miles away from our office. The food on the buffet was fresh and the price was right, but there was another reason I liked going to that particular Pizza Inn — because I used to work there. Although everyone I knew who had worked there was long gone, there were still plenty of memories to be had in that place. For example, inside the restaurant, a green stripe had been painted on the walls that went around the entire restaurant. I had helped paint that stripe, fifteen years prior.

Whenever I tell people I worked at Pizza Inn I always add “at four different locations.” I first started at the one off of SW 59th and May and was moved to three different stores before finally returning there. In the 2000s many of the old Pizza Inn restaurants closed their doors, and I was sad to see the one on SW 59th and May finally close in 2015. Yesterday, with help from Google Maps, I decided to look up all the Pizza Inn locations I worked at and see what they looked like today.

Location 1: Pizza Inn
SW 59th and May, Oklahoma City

The manager of this location (Glenn) had previously been my manager at Grandy’s; when he left the world of fried chicken for pizza, he offered me $5/hour to move with him. The years have started to run together, but I believe this was in the spring or summer of 1991. My mind tells me I worked there for years, In my memories it feels like I worked there for years, but I quit Grandy’s in the spring of 1991, and had worked for both Pizza Inn and Pizza Hut by the time I starting working for Oklahoma Graphics in the summer of 1993. It doesn’t seem possible that I made so many memories in such a short time frame.

Shortly after I started at this store I moved into a nearby apartment. I spent a lot of my time hanging out, playing pinball, talking on the telephone, and eating at Pizza Inn. Truth be told, if I hadn’t been working at a restaurant during that time, I probably would have starved.

See those parking spots on the right hand side of the building? That’s where my Ford Festiva was parked when someone broke in and stole all my stereo equipment and sixty cassette tapes. After losing all of my favorite cassettes, I began buying CDs. Here’s a copy of the police report from March, 1992. It’s cute that I thought I would get any of those things back.

In the evenings I had to prepare the “pizzerts,” or dessert pizzas for the next day. These consisted of pizza crusts covered in cake batter and one of three toppings: apples or cherries from a bucket of pie filling, or chocolate chips. I used to keep a spoon in the walk-in freezer at all times so that every time I walked past it I could swing in and eat a scoop of cake batter straight out of the five-gallon bucket. Apparently I was the only person shocked about how much weight I put on while working there.

This particular Pizza Inn was a family business. The manager, his wife, and both of their daughters (one of whom I was dating at the time) all worked there. And if there was a life lesson to be learned in all of this, it would be that breaking up with your manager’s daughter can make for a terribly awkward experience for everyone involved. You would be amazed how quiet a busy restaurant kitchen can get. That aside, Glenn certainly gave me an opportunity that no one else had at that point. Sometimes I wish I had handled things differently back then, and it’s easy for me to forget that I was only 18 years old.

By using the Google Maps timeline, I was able to go back to 2015 and find a picture of this Pizza Inn restaurant while it was still open.

Location 2: Pizza Inn
NW 23rd and Council, Oklahoma City

As part of my “shift manager” training, my boss suggested I spend time at some of the other local stores to get a feel for how they operated. Some did more delivery business and some had busier buffets, so seeing how each of them worked was a good way to get some well-rounded training. Or maybe he was just shuffling me around after I broke up with his daughter.

Of the four locations I worked at, I spent the least amount of time at this one. My biggest memory from this particular location was of an employee named Ash. By 1991/1992 I had pretty much boxed up my Commodore 64 and moved on to IBM computers. Ash was a few years older than I was and had moved to the US from another country (sadly, I don’t remember where). Wherever he had come from, 8-bit computers were still prevalent, and he was still programming on his C64. I wish I could reconnect with him today and find out if he still has his Commodore computer!

The only other thing I remember about this location was driving there. My apartment off of SW 59th and Agnew was only half a file from the Pizza Inn I started working at, and was about 8 miles away from this one. The shortest distance between the two locations was eight miles through city streets that took me though some questionable neighborhoods late at night.

After this location closed it turned into a Mexican restaurant named Mi Pueblo for a couple of years before finally becoming a liquor store. Again using Google Maps, I was able to scroll back to 2007 and find a picture of the building when it was still a Pizza Inn.

Location 3: Pizza Inn
NW 23rd and Villa, Oklahoma City

The Pizza Inn located at NW 23rd and Villa was the scariest location I worked at. In 1989, two years before I worked there, three guys robbed the store and all the customers inside. That same year, someone pried open the side door and stole $175 in change. The whole time I worked at this location there was a large bullet hole in the front window, a reminder of the surrounding neighborhood. Also, gangs routinely wrote graffiti and tagged the bathroom stalls. As annoying as it was, I always secretly found it humorous that the bathroom of a local pizza chain would be territory worth claiming.

Shift managers do a little bit of everything, and late one evening while short-staffed I found myself delivering a pizza. When I arrived at the house I was met at the front porch by a couple of shirtless guys who took the pizza from me and then insisted I come inside to get paid. With the hair on the back of my neck at full attention, I left without the pizza or the money. Occasionally I drive past that location and wonder what could have happened had I gone inside that house.

I can’t remember any of my co-workers from this location. Because most of these restaurants looked similar inside, sometimes the memories run together. I may not have worked at this location for very long. I just can’t remember.

I couldn’t find the exact date, but sometime in the 2000’s (long after I had moved on) the restaurant burned to the ground. As you can see, they built a car wash in its place.

Location 4: Pizza Inn
NW 48th and MacArthur, Warr Acres

The majority of my time at Pizza Inn was split between SW 59th and May and this location. The manager’s name was Dada (“daw-daw”), and I believe he was from the Congo. Two people I remember fondly from this location were Geoff, a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Amy, a free-spirited girl who was the coolest person I had ever met. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers played Saturday Night Live (February 22, 1992), the three of us went out in the dining room and watched the entire performance on the television out there.

One story I remember from that location was that a few months before I started working there, someone had left a bomb inside the restaurant. For some reason there were always weirdos visiting that location. One evening a guy came in and told us all that he regularly talked to the devil. Things got really weird when he began confessing to burning down several local apartment buildings. We eventually called 911 and the police came and took him away.

Other customers were more interesting. On the first Friday of every month, a local chess club would take over the entire dining room. I even got to play a couple of quick games of chess from time to time and always got beat quickly. On the third Friday of every month, a local group of magicians met at the restaurant. They constantly performed small tricks, keeping themselves, other customers, and the rest of us entertained.

One of my favorite stories from this location involves my friend Jeff. I wasn’t supposed to have friends in the store after hours, but I would always let Jeff come in and hang out while I was closing up. Late one night, I was just about to leave when Dada pulled up. I told Jeff to hide in the kitchen, and he did. When Dada entered the kitchen, Jeff moved back into the storage room. When Dada entered the storage room, Jeff moved back into the office, and there was nowhere to go from there. I tried to distract Dada, but it didn’t work. When he finally entered the office and turned on the light, Jeff jumped out and goes, “Hi!” Dada almost had a heart attack, and the next day I got a lecture about not having people inside the store after hours.

I don’t know when this location closed. Today it’s a Luigi’s Pizza. I’ve tried Luigi’s Pizza twice and neither time was great.

Although all the Pizza Inn locations I worked at have closed, the franchise is still around. In 2015, around the time the one on SW 59th and May closed, a new one opened right around I-40 and Rockwell, not too far from our home. We’ve gone there a couple of times. Every time we go it seems more expensive than it should be, and while nothing inside is particularly memorable, sometimes it’s nice just to go back and visit an old friend, even when both of you have changed.

Swimming in Unsolved Mysteries

Unsolved Mysteries Logo

In my 2017 media review I mentioned that I’ve been watching a lot of Unsolved Mysteries. I didn’t expect someone to ask me, “what’s that?”

Unsolved Mysteries was a television show that debuted in 1987 on NBC and ran there for ten years before moving to CBS for another two. Lifetime picked the show up from 2001-2002, and it was relaunched on Spike from 2008-2010. According to Wikipedia there were 580 episodes in all, although many of the Spike TV episodes simply recycled segments from earlier seasons.

While later seasons tweaked the formula slightly, the bulk of the show’s episodes were hosted by Robert Stack. Each episode consisted of four segments from different categories such as “Murder, Missing Persons, Wanted Fugitives, UFOs, Ghosts, The Unexplained (Paranormal), Missing Heirs, Amnesia, and Fraud.” Each episode pulled segments from different categories, ensuring that each show had something to offer everyone.

Believe it or not, Unsolved Mysteries had a fairly high success rate in solving mysteries. According to the producers, viewer tips were responsible for solving almost 25% of the mysteries presented. That number seems particularly high when you consider how many of the segments featured ghosts, UFOs, and old legends. Unsolved Mysteries was never resolved whether or not Bigfoot was real and was unable to locate Amelia Earhart, but thanks to calls from viewers, they managed to locate lots of people on the run from law enforcement.

Unsolved Mysteries was surprisingly popular, particularly with people my age and younger. Many of the episodes were legitimately scary, at least to younger viewers. Fellow blogger Dinosaur Dracula has conveniently compiled his top 15 spookiest Unsolved Mysteries episodes (part one, two, and three).

For a show that spanned three decades and put out more than 500 episodes, you would think finding and watching old episodes would be easy. Unfortunately, up until 2017, it wasn’t.

Instead of releasing the show one season at a time, First Look Studios decided to combine segments from different shows and seasons and release a series of themed DVDs. Six DVDs were released in all: UFOs, Ghosts, Miracles, Bizarre Murders, Psychics, and Strange Legends. This was followed by a Best Of DVD (with segments culled from the previously released six DVDs) and eventually one large Ultimate Collection. Some of the themed DVD collections sell for hundreds of dollars apiece today, and the 25-DVD Ultimate Collection is currently available on Amazon for $750.

The good news is, in 2017, Amazon Prime began airing original episodes of Unsolved Mysteries featuring Robert Stack. Amazon lists twelve seasons of the show and, if I counted correctly, 233 episodes. That’s nowhere near all 580 episodes, and based on the episode guides on Wikipedia I don’t think it’s every episode from the first twelve seasons, but it’s a lot, and it’s what we got.

Around the same time Amazon began airing the classic Robert Stack episodes, those same episodes disappeared from YouTube. They were replaced, however, by every episode from the Spike TV release. These are the episodes hosted by Law and Order’s Dennis Farina, who took over after Robert Stack passed away in 2003. If you don’t have access to Amazon Prime these versions are better than nothing, although Farina lacks Stack’s cool, deadpan, and occasionally creepy delivery.

In the Amazon releases, updates have been added to many of the mysteries. It takes away from some of the mystery, but it’s nice to learn about solved cases.

It’s tough to justify watching too many episodes of the show. While they’re not good for researching plotting or pacing, they’re good for putting on before bed and falling asleep to. Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to a creepy ghost segment!