Jonnie, Unplugged

 

Hello shoppers…

 

I was doing a little adding the other day... 

Since January 1st, I’ve:

1. Sent 233 emails

2. Sent 281 texts

3. Checked for incoming emails and texts 12,392 times

4. Written 28,530 words in 18 blog posts

5. Played in zero oceans

 

To remedy this imbalance, I’m about to:

1. Turn off my cell phone

2. Shut off my laptop

3. Leave both at my apartment while I fly to San Diego

I’m totally jazzed about the part after “while,” but pretty freaked out about the five words before it.

The last time I roamed the Earth without the ability to contact anyone on it immediately, was six months ago, when my Blackberry fell out of my pocket and into the toilet. Verizon was on it like stink on etc, and I was happily reconnected with a new phone the same day.

Not being able to instantly check who friended me on Facebook was the longest 30 minutes of my life.

I’ve been far less dependant on my laptop; I can go without it for 2, 3, even 4 hours at a stretch.

Now, I’m chucking both for five days.

During that time, nearly 40 billion texts will be sent in just the U.S. Emails sent worldwide will total over a trillion. We’ll probably make a few cell phone calls, too.

But not moi.

No texting. No calling. No writing. I’m spending the next five days on the left coast, unplugged.

I wonder what’s out there.

 

 

  

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       

    

Ways to contact Jonnie:

    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog    

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190 

The Week I Spent In Jail

 

Hello shoppers…

The flashing lights of a State Trooper’s car appeared in my side mirror last week, as I drove down I-235, towards downtown.

I did what most of us do: I glanced down to make sure I was driving the speed limit (I was), checked to make sure I was wearing my seat belt (I wasn’t) and waited for him to drive around me (he did).

It hasn’t always gone down like that.

 

Dangerous behind the wheel at an early age



I’ve always enjoyed driving - from listening to the hypnotic sound of tires rolling over pavement, to watching the beautiful countryside fall by the wayside, to feeling the warm breeze blow against my face through an open window.

For me, driving has always represented freedom.

I lost the latter because of the former, in the Summer of 1991.

I began racking up traffic tickets three years before that, while working as a 24 year-old morning show radio host in Carroll. The offenses were mainly mechanical at the beginning: headlight out, tail light out, no rearview mirror. I was driving a beater: a POS 1980 Pontiac Sunbird. I was making $1,000 a month, so there wasn’t much money for repairs. It wouldn’t have mattered. I was also arrogant and irresponsible, and drove that way, which led to more tickets – from running stop signs, to speeding. 

FYI – I don’t drink, have never been drunk and have never driven drunk, let alone been arrested for it.

I didn’t need booze. I was as dumb about paying the tickets as I was about getting them.

Eventually a warrant was issued. The Carroll cops (who listened to my show every morning and knew where to find me) came to the radio station, put me in handcuffs and took me to the police station, where they fingerprinted me, then kept me for a few hours.

On my last day at KKRL, the Carroll cops gave me a framed copy of my warrant

That humiliation would have been enough to straighten most people out.

I had other ideas.

Speed ahead to 1991. By this time, my license had been suspended. I had no insurance. And I was driving my brand new Chrysler LeBaron convertible on a Sunday morning in Boone.

The guy in front of me stopped at the stop sign. I was reading the Des Moines Sunday Register, and kept moving. The collision deployed my airbag. The cops came. I was arrested, fingerprinted and placed in a cell. A friend bailed me out six hours later.

A month later, I stood in front of a judge.

I’d racked up 33 tickets in three years. I’d paid thousands of dollars in fines. I figured I’d be hit with a large one, and that would be it. I was still arrogant, still stupid.

I was about to get a little smarter.

“Mr Wright,” said the judge, looking over the top of his glasses at the two pages of offenses, and then at me. “It is clear to this court that you have not learned how to drive. I sentence you to ten days in jail.”

I wish I had a picture to show you now, the look on my face back then.

A few weeks later, I checked in to the Story County Jail, inside the Story County Courthouse in Nevada.

The booking personnel didn’t care that I was a radio personality. The jail staff didn’t laugh when I made a joke about the situation. Without expression, they printed me, checked in my personal items, explained the rules, told me to strip, did a cavity search, handed me an orange jumper and slip-on shoes, blanket and pillow and took me to my home for the next ten days.

It was also home for 18 other inmates, who looked up at me as I approached the commons area, accompanied by a jailer.

“There’s the toilet,” he pointed, opening the cell door. “There’s the shower. There’s your bed. Don’t cause me any problems.” He shut the cell door behind me, and disappeared.

My heart sunk.

I turned around.

Some inmates played games. Some read. Some laid in their beds. Some watched TV.

Each had committed a crime(s). All of them were strangers to me. I started shaking uncontrollably; I was trying to hold it together, and was failing.

The arrogance was leaving my body. It would get help from other parts of prison life.

There was no privacy; you used the toilet and shower in full view of everyone. Men would defecate, and the smell would waft throughout the cell. You slept in a sub-cell area with eight other men. Your “bed” was a thin pad on a slab of concrete, bolted to a wall. Lights went out at 10pm, back on at 5:30am, when breakfast was served. It was warm and bland, as was lunch and dinner, served at Noon and 5pm.

The worst part was passing the time.

I played mind games - imagining myself at a football game, or watching a movie, or taking a trip across the country by plane, train and automobile. I’d play the entire event out, moment by moment, scene by scene, then rewind it and play it again, and again and again - then look up at the clock…

Five minutes would have passed.

I read the first 10 pages of Catcher In The Rye, then gave up. I poured my loneliness out into letters I wrote to my girlfriend at the time. I slept as much as possible.

Another five minutes passed.

I eventually struck up conversations with a few inmates. Half of the men were in for DUI. One guy had 17 arrests for drunk driving and was serving a two-year sentence. One had committed armed robbery and was waiting to be transferred to Fort Madison. He was the biggest and baddest badass in the cell. When I told him why I was in, he laughed so hard, he choked.

If he was happy, I was happy.

The second night, an inmate kept making weird sounds in an adjacent cell where nine more inmates slept. Suddenly, there was a dull thud sound; an inmate had slammed the guy’s head into the wall.

Day five brought some more excitement: an outbreak of crabs.

We were instructed to strip off our orange jumpers, and toss them into the middle of the cell. We were then paraded single-file out of our cell and into a shower area, where we were sprayed with a powder that made your skin tingle. We were then given new jumpers, and led back into our cell.

God had my full attention.

I got sick on day seven. I followed procedure, filling out a written request for aspirin. I would get them on the morning of Day 10, the day I left.

By then I’d struck up a semi-friendship with several inmates. I promised to come back and see them, and meant it at the time. They wished me well, and meant it, too.

Several of the jail staff joked with me as they took me through exit processing. These men and women had difficult jobs, and did them with a great sense of professionalism. I’d been polite and respectful to them during my brief stay, and I could tell they appreciated it.

As the final security door was unlocked for me, a staff member yelled out, “I hope I don’t see you again.”

He wouldn’t.

I stepped outside. It seemed impossibly bright. I looked up into the sky, closed my eyes and felt the sun shine on my face. I took a huge breath of fresh air. I bent down and felt the grass, grabbed a handful and brought it up to my nose. I smiled, then laughed. It had been just ten days – but everything in that moment, seemed brand new to me.

The moment didn’t last, of course. 

My arrogance and stupidity would eventually return, in coming years. None of it ever landed me back in prison. It did plenty of damage without having to.

I’ve slowed down a bit since those reckless days. I drive the speed limit. I (sometimes) use my seatbelt. And I pull over – WAY over – when a police officer comes up behind me with his/her lights flashing and siren blaring.

And I have the dream.

I’m driving a convertible with the top down, down an empty highway. It’s nighttime. The car’s lights are off. The only illumination comes from the car’s dash, and the stars overhead. I set the cruise control, then move up in the seat until I’m sitting against the head rest. I put my feet on the steering wheel, then slowly move my hands off of it. The wind buffets my face. I lean back, close my eyes and hold my arms towards the heavens.

I’m free.

 

 

  

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       

    

Ways to contact Jonnie:

    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog    

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190

Why Dogs Matter

 

Hello shoppers…

"Dear Unsecret Shopper...why you not like cats?"

 

Many years ago I asked my mother if she would like me to get her a trailer cat, as a pet, companion and mouser. (She’d never have to feed it.)

Her unprintable response suggested she wasn’t quite ready.

So I brought my own cat (Puddie) over to her place.

Mom melted like butta.

Puddie - fat, immobile, soft as a feather pillow and producing a hypnotic purrrrrr - had mom eating out of the pads of her paws.

That lasted about 10 minutes.

I should have brought her a dog.

Nearly 40% of U.S. households own at least one dog, according to the Humane Society - that’s over 77 million Busters, Maggies, Smokies, Cocos, Obamas, and Hooches.

How much do we love our dogs?

Yesterday’s Des Moines Register featured a story (page 3A) about a recent AP/Petside.com poll of American pet owners which shows a sizeable chunk (14% of married, 25% of unmarried) would choose their dog over their significant other.

Dogs are not surprised by these findings.

The numbers make sense to most of us humans, too; we get married because we don’t want to be alone, because we want to be loved unconditionally and because we want someone to grow old with – sooo…

Exactly.

Yes you can marry a dog in India. Round trip airfare from Des Moines to Delhi is $1,261. I know some divorce attorneys, if it doesn’t work out.

It has always worked out with me and dogs.

I grew up in the western suburbs of Cambridge, on a hobby farm (one pig, one chicken, one horse, one pitchfork, one acre) with a lot of dogs.

Two “Toby”‘s died before I had enough brain folds to be able to recall riding them (I was told), although I distinctly remember riding overtop of their unmarked graves with a lawn mower, much later on. 

Mitzi joined our clan in 1974; the black and brown chihuahua barked a lot, pooped a lot, got pregnant a lot (by Prince, the neighbor’s slutty Pomeranian) and survived a lot of M and M’s, which we fed to her every Christmas (“Mitzi want a present, too?”)

My Aunt Candy, giving Mitzi her "gift"

I remember finding “some panty hose” underneath her one day, as she lay on the couch. I told my grandmother, who informed me, “That is Mitzi’s baby.” This was my first experience with the miracle of birth, that we all start out as a pair of Leggs.   

23 puppies and 12 years later, Mitzi had had enough. She walked to the end of the hallway, laid down and died. This was my first experience with how much it sucks to die.

She’d be the last one to go that easy.

Empress Moko Meling (her registered AKC name; we just called her Nikki) was accidentally run over by our next door neighbor on Christmas Day, 1975. I watched that next summer as another Nikki, this one a mutt, was lured into the back of a slowly passing pickup truck by a town drunk, who snapped her neck and tossed her lifeless body over the side, and into our yard. I can still remember dragging her by the back feet into the backyard, feeling ashamed that I could not bring myself to actually pick up her body. Later on I found Rex, another un-purebred, in a nearby ditch, a victim of a hit and run.   

We didn’t put much stock in training. Or invisible fencing. Or a chain.

I got to make my own doggie rules when I got my first radio job (KKRL in Carroll), in 1989. Barfy was nuthin but a pound dog, so named because she threw up on me as I took her home.

I lived in a dark, dinky efficiency, and was always at the radio station. When I did come was home, I was lonely, homesick and depressed, and had no idea how to take care of a dog, let alone myself.

I took it out on her.

I didn’t kennel train Barfy or even keep her in one, so she went all over the floor. I’d come home, find the mess, yell, pick her up, yell into her face, throw her back down, yell some more while I kicked the side of the bed. She’d cower underneath it until the storm subsided, then eventually come out, lick my hand and try to tell me she forgave me and that everything would be alright, in the way dogs do. One day I kicked her. I took her back to the shelter a week later, before it got worse. 

The years ahead would be full of much kicking.

Today my mind knows that Barfy found the warm arms of a loving owner, and forgot about our dark days together. My heart has a looong memory.

Stupid heart.

Things were “looking up” in 1990, when my mother died and left me $200,000 in inheritance money.

I decided to stop being an animal abuser, and start being a chick magnet – by buying a Chrysler Lebaron convertible, and two dachshunds.

Wally, Boz and car

Mission accomplished: women loved the car, and the wiener dogs.

They (Boz and Wally) decided they could tolerate me; they would be my nearly constant companions for the next 16 years.

They were the Odd Couple; Boz (short for Brian Bozworth, of NFL fame) was small (the runt of his litter) and smart (He’d fetch a stick). Wally (short for walrus) was fat (like his owner) and dumb (He’d watch a stick sail over his head).

The three of us lived at Washington Heights Apartments, a West Des Moines apartment complex that did allow pets, but would have preferred that I not allow mine to run free around the neighborhood while I watched TV, ran errands and came back, expecting them to be sitting by the front door, waiting to greet me.

One day someone knocked, holding Boz and Wally. “I found them walking down the 35th street entrance ramp onto I-235 (eastbound – probably a lunch date in the city).” That was a mile from home – not bad!

I still have no idea how the person knew that the dogs - who were wearing pink flea collars and nothing else – belonged to me.

Chained up. Briefly.

The three of us were unemployed, bored, rich and had time to kill.

We also killed it by driving everywhere, anywhere, all summer long, with the top down, until they smelled like boiled wienerschnitzel and I looked like I’d witnessed a hydrogen bomb blast.

We’d stay up till 3am watching HBO, and munching on pizza, then roll out of bed around Noon and finish it.

I wrote a script and shot a movie on VHS (now gone, alas) in which Boz and Wally played POW’s (Prisoners of Wright) while I portrayed an evil prison guard. In this thriller, Boz deftly throws a kitchen steak knife, (Germans are expert with weapons), striking me in the heart, then picks the jail cell lock, allowing he and his brother to escape.

Bozzie, the alpha dog, would constantly be trying to induce Wally into play-fighting, while Wal-ass was very content to lay by me, wherever me was. Occasionally Boz would get his bigger and younger brother to do battle, and Wally, 5 pounds heavier, would flatten him like a bowling ball taking out a pin, then jump back into my lap.

I’d had mixed results kennel training them but finally had a breakthrough; I sent them to live with my girlfriend’s mother in Texas while I traveled around the country, working at radio stations. After a year I brought them with me to WJHR in Flemmington, New Jersey, where I talked the owners into letting the three of us literally live at the radio station, which was situated on six acres of beautiful rolling prairie grass, bordered by timber, inside Hunterdon County, which has the highest deer population in the country.

Radio station transmitter on the left, comfy bed on the right

At the turn of the century, and now back in Iowa, we had our most memorable moment together.

It was just before midnight, December 31st, 1999 – Y2K. Boz and Wall and I sat on the back porch of a house I rented by Four Mile Creek, a few blocks off East Euclid.

It was cold outside but not unbearably so. The wind was calm; the air was still. Then in the distance, we began to hear firecrackers, and the occasional gun fire. The dogs ears twitched in all directions; they were on high alert. I brought them into my lap and ran my hands gently along their backs. We waited for the end of the world.

Bozzie’s would end, for real, four months later in a vet’s office, after a short bout with lymphatic cancer. He was 11. Wally would live another six years, until succumbing to kidney failure at the ripe old age of 16.

I dug a hole on an acreage in Fort Dodge where I lived at the time; I placed the box that held Wally’s body into the hole, filled it back in with dirt, scattered Doritos (His favorite) and roses on it, then knelt down and looked at the spot where he lay, for a long time.

I thought about the butcher lady who used to give him and his brother, hunks of bologna, and the way they’d growl but never bite if I reached for their supper while they were eating it. I remembered the way they’d howl if I howled first, and chasing them with the vacuum cleaner, and holding them like babies, and feeling like I had never loved two living things so much, or felt so loved in return.

They mattered.

Today, another dog does: Tater. I have written several stories about Tater. I wonder what he writes on his own dog blog, which he works on, at night, under the bed, I’m quite certain. I sometimes peek down and try to catch him, but he’s always too fast for me, and pretends to be asleep. 

There is a gentle peace that comes from looking into the eyes of a dog you love, and knowing that the dog loves you more than you could ever love yourself. In that way, dogs are like God.

Honestly? I think they really are.

  

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       

    

Ways to contact Jonnie:

    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog    

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190

A Promise To Brenda

 

Hello shoppers…

 

  

Right now, you are likely thinking about the picture above, and these words below it.

When you are finished, you will think about other things; emailing a friend, making a call, letting out the dog, organizing your desk, getting lunch, balancing your checkbook, picking up the kids after basketball practice.

You probably won’t think about dying.

Neither was Brenda.

On December 14th, eight days after her 47th birthday, Brenda Carpenter was thinking about the normal things a single mother of four, living in Des Moines, thinks about: kids, kids’ schedules, bills, work, life.

Until doctors told her she had stage 4 lung and liver cancer.

Stage 4 - the most advanced form of lung cancer. The worst of the worst. No cure.

Brenda was diagnosed with emphysema four years ago. This was different.

Doctors gave her four months to live.

No more summers spent grilling steaks, her favorite food. No more watching One Tree Hill, her favorite show. No more listening to Tesla on the radio, or REO Speedwagon. No more dreams of taking her kids to the Florida Keys for their first vacation.

It would soon be over. She was on the clock.

Her mind raced with thoughts; how would she tell the kids? Should she? Who would take her youngest, Dustin, 15, and Madison, 10? Both of her two oldest boys – Archie, 25, and James, 23 – have babies due in October. Would grandma be around long enough to hold them?

James, Madison, Dustin, Archie and Brenda

 

Brenda was no stranger to tough times. Her mother was a junkie. Her father had died of brain cancer. She’d also made some bad choices in her life; She’d married a man who later spent 16 years in prison, for drugs. She’d been with others who mistreated her, then abandoned her. She started smoking when she was 12 – and was now paying the price.

With her diagnosis came the most important choice of her life: she would choose to fight to stay alive. For her children.

She started chemotherapy – every three weeks, for 5-6 hours. A week after the initial diagnosis, tests revealed she also had four tumors on her brain and lymph-nodes. She began radiation treatments the next day - once a day, for 15 straight days.

It was brutal.

She vomited. Her hair fell out. Sores developed inside her mouth. Her bones literally hurt from the treatments. She became short of breath. She was constantly exhausted. She hardly slept.

All of this would buy her an extra four months.

Yet she stuck with it, hopeful she might live longer, that she might be the one in ten who beat the odds.

The odds of Brenda and I discovering each other were slim. Somehow, we did, through Dawn, her cousin, who I happen to know. She mentioned Brenda’s plight. A meeting was arranged.

I visited Brenda a week ago last Sunday, January 16th, at the beginning of a two-week break in her chemo and radiation treatments. The two of us sat beside each other, on Dawn’s couch.

Brenda immediately handed me two sheets of paper, with writing on three sides.

“It’s her story,” Dawn said. 

Brenda leaned towards me. “I worked all night to write it,” she told me in a whisper, her vocal chords compressed by the tumors that pressed against them. 

 

I read it, then looked up at her. Tears were streaming down her face. “I need every kind of help.” she said.

Brenda was working before she began cancer treatments. She was forced to quit because of her condition. “I was denied disability,” she said. Brenda didn’t work enough credits in her lifetime to qualify. “I have no way to hold down a job. It takes me twenty minutes to get ready for bed.” 

Somehow, Brenda managed a smile. “I had to borrow toilet paper the other day. I couldn’t afford to buy any.” She paused. “One of my sons gave me money towards a bill.” The tears came again. It seemed like she would break into a million pieces if touched. I wrapped my hand around hers. 

“I try to stay upbeat and positive,” she said, looking down. “I get up before the children do, and cry. Then I put on a happy face.”

She looked over at Dawn. “She’s my rock,” she said. The two were born six months apart. “We are more like sisters than cousins.”

 

Dawn will get custody of Madison and Dustin. It was crushing to hear the two of them speak about this. Dawn also struggles; she lost her job, lives in Section 8 housing, has children of her own and her own health issues. “I don’t know how I’m going to do this,” Dawn said.

Brenda didn’t want her to have to. “I fight every day,” Brenda said. “I don’t want to die.”

She understood the odds, and prepared as best she could.

“I’m writing letters to my kids. I saved a lock of my hair for my daughter, for her wedding day.”

It was time to go. I promised to do whatever I could to help her and her family. We both stood up, and hugged. “I’m holding you to that,” she said, looking me in the eye. “I’m holding you to that.

I left, thinking Brenda had months to live.

She had less than 24 hours.

The next day, Monday, January 17th, Dustin went in to Brenda’s bedroom to check on his mom.

She had died in her sleep.

Her suffering is over.

Now, it is those who loved her that suffer.

God allowed her to live just long enough to tell her story. Now you know it.

And the promise will be kept.

1963-2011

Brenda’s children have many needs. A fund has been established.

Donations can be made to the Brenda Carpenter Memorial Fund

at any of the eight Des Moines area Hamilton’s Funeral Homes.

A Celebration of Life Service will be held on January 30th

at The Eagles Lodge

6567 Bloomfield Road in Des Moines.

It is open to the public.

 

The Day Terry Branstad Fell For Me

 

Hello shoppers…

 

 

A Re-enactment

It’s nearly “go” time for Terry Branstad to officially become Iowa’s 42nd Governor.

Old Governor Culver said a sweaty goodbye to the Iowa Legislature on Tuesday. Last second preparations are being made at St. Ambrose Cathedral, Hy-Vee Hall and Terrace Hill for new Governor Branstad’s inauguration festivities. He’ll be sworn in on Friday, and it’ll be smooth sledding from there.

Speaking of sledding, that reminds me of the day back on January 17th, 1993, when the Governor had his terrible sledding accident - almost 18 years ago today.

Speaking of accidents, that also reminds me of the day three years later when the Governor wasn’t sledding, but running, when he wiped out while trying to break a Pleasant Hill indoor human speed record that didn’t really exist.

Nobody but the select few who were there, know about this incident. Until today.

It was my fault.

Governor Branstad wasn’t running for re-election. (He’d just smoked Bonnie Campbell in the ’94 general race, and wouldn’t run in ’98.) Nobody was listening to my morning radio show on Young Country 98.3. (I’d once referred to the country music group Sawyer Brown as “that guy.”)

I asked Branstad’s press secretary if Terry would appear on my radio show which, I assured him, was “one of the highest rated morning radio shows in Des Moines,” which was true when I took it over (7.8 rating) but not true when I made the request (2.3). He said yes – and forever changed the course of radio station sprinting history.

98.3′s broadcast studio (along with KJJY, and others) was in Pleasant Hill at the time. The Governor showed up that morning with his press secretary and his bodyguard – an Iowa State Patrolman who was somewhat shorter than the somewhat diminutive Gov, and that included the state trooper’s hat.

Governor Branstad was warm and engaging, and handled the questions of a politically illiterate show host, with aplomb.

I only had the Governor for 10 minutes. I began to wrap up our conversation…then stopped.

A really stupid idea (from a seemingly bottomless reservoir) suddenly hit me: I wonder if I can get the Governor to run a lap inside the building.

All of the radio stations’ staff and sales offices emptied into a square-shaped hallway. Nobody would confuse it with the mondo turf and gently banking turns of Drake Stadium’s track, but…

“Governor Branstad,” I began, “there’s a long-standing tradition on this radio show of having our in-studio guests run around inside the building as fast as they can while we time their run, and then write it on the wall behind you.”

He turned around, glanced at the blank white wall behind him, and turned back.

“Where are all the times?” he asked.

“Uh…no one has actually done well enough to warrant having their time posted,” I replied. Great save!

“Should I take my shoes off?”

OMGhe was actually going to do it.

I hooked up a wireless mic during a commercial break.

When we were back on the air, I handed it to the Governor. 

“Here,” I said. “This will give us a sense of being right alongside you as you run.”

He had a better idea. “My highway patrolman is always supposed to accompany me when I’m in public. Why don’t you give the mic to him, and he can run beside me, and do play-by-play?”

That’s when I fell for Terry Branstad.  

He would soon return the favor.

Governor Branstad removed his shoes. The patrolman kept his on. 

“Don’t slow me down,” the Governor warned him. 

Following international track and field standards, the men prepared to run through the building in a counter-clockwise direction. The Governor stood in the outside right “lane” (appropriately), the patrolman to his left. Both stood behind the imaginary “start” line created by the edge of the doorway entrance to 98.3′s studio.

Employees gathered in the doorways of their offices, along the race route. You could feel the electricity – and I’m not just writing and italicizing the words for comedic effect.

“On your mark!” I shouted, watching the second hand on the clock on the wall make its way around towards the “12.”

“Get set!…GO!”

Off they ran.

I was in the studio and couldn’t see anything. All I heard (along with 14 listeners) was the sound of the Governor’s rapid breathing, and the crowd exhorting him on. (The “play by play” man was apparently too lost in the moment to describe the action.)

4 seconds…5 seconds…it seemed like it was taking forever. I wondered if the Gov had signaled his patrolman to head out the front door, and into their waiting patrol car.

Then, the two men appeared, coming around the final turn like a slow-motion scene from Chariots Of Fire.

Except these two were hooking nut.

The “finish line” was the entrance to the 98.3 studio. Terry was running hard, and obviously serious about “breaking the tape” in “record time.” 

There was a slight wooden lip at the base of the studio’s doorway entrance frame, a lip that I’d stumbled over several times – and that was while walking, and wearing shoes.

At the end, the Governor tried to pull up, but sort of slipped and tripped at the same time, going down hard on his back, rear-end over tea-kettle.

I thought he’d broken something.

The patrolman immediately reached down to help up the Governor, but he would have none of it. Brandstad bounced up like he was on a spring, brushed off his backside and said the obvious.

“The socks worked great, until I tried to stop.”

He turned towards the patrolman. “You were slowing me down.”

Governor Branstad’s time was 9.4 seconds. He wrote it on the Wall of Times, along with his signature.

Every in-studio guest from that point forward – from rodeo cowboys to recording stars – would make the run, and record their time.

Nobody ever beat Governor Branstad. There, or anywhere else.

 

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       

    

Ways to contact Jonnie:

    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog    

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190

The Power Of A Handwritten Note

 

Hello shoppers…

In the amount of time it will take you to read this sentence, over 19.6 million emails and 300,000 texts will be sent, worldwide.

3 notes will also be written, by hand.

Computer makers, phone makers and service providers like these numbers. The dude who makes pens, pencils and paper must feel like Mel Gibson’s agent.

I hate writing notes; not because I hate writing them, but because my handwriting looks like Mel Gibson wrote it after a bender. (Sorry. I loved MG until the allegations of abuse surfaced.)

Emails and texts are a necessity. They make communicating easier and faster and more convenient. But handwritten notes (the positive ones) feel like a gift, precisely because they’re harder and slower and less convenient to write, and deliver. When we get an email, we read it. When we receive a message written by another’s hand, we feel it. A text is a trip through a McDonald’s drive-thru. A handwritten note is dinner at 801 Steak and Chop House.

Below are some examples of fine dining I’ve enjoyed (and not so much) over the years, along with a few meals I’ve made, er, written myself. You’ll also see some standard type-set correspondence that could have used a quick handwritten comment, and some ideas on what could have been written.

I received this letter, along with the very thoughtful note from Tracey, after co-hosting a fundraising event for a local Public TV Station on Long Island, in 1999. She didn’t have to write anything, which is exactly what made her note so special. I look at the VHS tape of that event now - me lumbering around the set with my 300 pound frame, clowning like a very poor man’s Jerry Lewis -  and I wonder why this wasn’t a complaint letter from WLIW’s attorney.

THERE’S a complaint letter!

Forgive the blurry image. I got this letter after I’d interviewed Dr. Lipshultz during a radio show I used to host in Des Moines. The Texas doctor was an expert on a very popular blue pill made by Pfizer. I was a 37-year-old washed-up DJ going through a midlife crisis, broadcasting live on an FM radio station at 10pm on a Saturday night, trying to engage Dr. Lipshultz coherently, while a tattoo of a grand piano in flames was drilled into my forearm, at The Skin Kitchen. Nobody confused the interview with Ted Koppel and Mikhail Gorbachev. The terse letter could have benefited from a quick note: Hope you enjoy the free enclosed sample!

 

25 years before the “interview,” in 1977, my 5th grade teacher, Marjorie Griffith, recognized that the chubby, curly-haired underachiever who sat in the back row of her Cambridge Elementary classroom, was nothing but trouble. Her handwritten note on the first page of my Report on France was a foreshadowing of a lifetime of re-do’s.

The news didn’t get better, the further you went into the thin Report. Note the horribly sarcastic tone of her note. How do you think that would fly today, parents?

Apparently the re-do, in ink and with a marginally more detailed map, did the trick. Vive le France.

Lori mailed this wonderful and unexpected thank you card to me about a month ago. It also dovetailed with a similar comment Lori made to me at the drive-thru. Yes, it’s business. Yes, it’s her job. But when someone is thoughtful enough to make such a nice comment and follow it up with a personal note, they are transcending the employee-customer relationship. I’ll never bank anywhere else. Thank you, Lori!

 

I had chest pains back in 2001, and only waited a year before I ended up in an emergency room, where the above EKG suggested I was suffering from Anteroseptal Infarction, which is a scary way to say that part of my heart is dead, which is actually scarier, so I’m glad they went with the other thing. They should have followed Lori’s lead (previous note), and added a nicely handwritten note: It was great to see you in the ER on Saturday. We just want to say thank you again for not dying on the exam table. We know you have many options for your heart attack needs, and we are happy you have chosen to be diagnosed by us. Thanks! :)

Nearly 20 years before the EKG, Greg Grove, a very dear man and the Ballard High School Choir teacher at the time was wrapping his soothing hands around my 18 year-old heart. Of all his kind words in this very special letter, it’s his final sentence that resonated the most. It was the first time that anyone had said those four words to me.

 

Okay, guilty as charged. But hey, how about a little positive feedback in a handwritten note on the side? Something like: You’re a great driver, kid.

The positive reinforcement this man was seeking with his stylish handwritten sign, outside Yankee Stadium in 1997, was through the smiling faces of dead presidents. That was also the only year between ’96 and 2000 that the dreaded Yankees didn’t win the World Series. I’d like to think my $5 contribution to the sign holder played some small part.

 

Money was also the likely purpose of this handwritten document (some numbers and last names have been erased) which, in 1987, was my mom’s record of every phone call she made. I wasn’t sure why she made the detailed list, since she lived alone in her trailer, in 1987. I grabbed a pen when she wasn’t home and wrote a pretend entry for the 17th, in her name, followed by what I still think are some amusing observations. Mom wasn’t.

I wrote a letter to President Nixon in 1974, suggesting some solutions to the growing energy crisis – which probably included shorter 4th grade school days. I freaked out when I received a response card in the mail. Okay, it wasn’t specifically from the Pres. But just knowing that he was giving my suggestions “careful consideration” was enough for me, although a quick Great idea, dude! Let me record that so I remember it! – R. Nixon would have been nice. The envelope the card came in is postmarked February 15th, 1974. Ironically enough, on that same day, seven states plus Washington D.C. adopted an “odd-even” gas rationing system: people whose license plate number ended with an odd number could only purchase gas on odd-numbered dates.

I think shorter school days would have been easier.

 

I have a beautifully illustrated hard-cover book called The Complete Cow. I don’t know why. Many of the 100′s of photos of photogenic cows are accompanied by funny captions written by friends, most of which I can’t show you. Here’s one that’s family blog-reading friendly.

This is the handwritten note I cherish most. My mom wrote it in the late 80′s, after we’d laughed uncontrollably at something silly. We had fewer of these moments together as I became more angry and distant, and her mental illness became more pronounced. Those we did share, stand out in my mind like blue ink on white paper.

 

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       

    

Ways to contact Jonnie:

    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog    

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190

Growing Up Trailer Trash

 

Hello shoppers…

 

There was a story in yesterday’s Sunday Des Moines Register about a mobile home fire in Arlington, in Northeast Iowa. Tragically, the fire killed three people. Ironically, just a week before, The Register published a multi-part series about the dangers of old mobile homes.

I grew up in an old mobile home. The recent rash of stories about them brought back memories.

From birth to four years old, I lived with my mom in an old trailer at Mel Ray Trailer Court in Ankeny. (The trailer park is now a retirement community, still with trailers, still southwest of the DMACC campus.) My grandma Dorothy also lived there, about 10 trailers down, in a slightly newer trailer, with two of her other kids, who I knew as Aunt Candy and Uncle David.

The adults decided to upgrade our dwellings in 1968; Grandma, Mom, Candy, David and I all moved to a pretty, tree-lined 3/4 acre spread on the west outskirts of Cambridge.

We lived in trailers.

Mom and I got Grandma’s run-down hand-me-down. Mom hired a guy to move it from Ankeny to Cambridge. I remember following behind it in our Rambler, watching pieces of the 8 year-old mobile home fall off, like we were the Ma and Pa Kettle’s, rolling north up highway 69.

Our trailer was moved to the “back” of the lot. Grandma and her kids lived in “front,” in a brand new $12,000 3-bedroom 2-bath double-wide.

Our dwelling was a dilapidated single-wide, with two dinky bedrooms and a broom closet-sized bathroom.

Metal skirting was placed along the bottom. Grandma Dorothy’s (second) husband, Grandpa Jack, built and attached a small six by eight addition, as well as an alcoholic could.

It became my bedroom - part of the home I would live in for the next 15 years.

Not always voluntarily.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother tying one end of a piece of clothes line around the base of the inside front door handle, and the other to the dining room table. She would secure it the night before, to ensure that I would be there when she woke up in the morning, and not over at Grandma’s new crib.

My 4 year-old fingers finally got the rope untied. And Mom had to apply layers of duct tape around the base of the door handle, inside and outside, because the stress of the rope had loosened the handle to the point where it would have fallen off, otherwise.

I can still hear the distinct sound of the gray tape pulling away from the door’s surface over the years, as the aging adhesive gave, every time you opened the door.

I can also smell the distinct smell of dead, dying and quite alive mice.

The underbelly of our trailer – with its sagging heat ducts and exposed wiring – was a jungle gym for rodents.

Sure, they’d spend the warm, lazy days of summer outside, stuffing their bellies with corn from our neighbor’s field. But by early October, they’d migrated back inside, in time for the ritual of the lighting of the furnace pilot light. Every time the furnace came on (which was a lot) it blew the stench of rotting mouse flesh throughout the house.

Mom put down traps. It was like hanging a Shell No-Pest Strip from a tree by the Skunk River.

One year we caught 18 varmints. A humidifier caught a dozen over the years. I found a few with my feet, still alive, but not feeling terribly spunky after munching on d-CON. I managed to kill one while I made toast – and immediately switched to cereal. Even today, I will turn a toaster upside down and shake it before tossing in an english muffin.

The rest of the mice watched and laughed at the bozos who didn’t make it “home.”

There were turds everywhere: on silverware in a drawer, on the tops of cans in kitchen cabinets; on clothes and towels tucked “safely” away; along base-boards, underneath sinks.

At night, lying in bed, I could hear mice scramble up and down the wall, beside my head. Right above me, there was a huge hole in the ceiling tile. Occasionally a few particles would drift down as I tried to read myself to sleep. I’d look up, and imagine I could see the whiskers of a curious mouse, peering over the edge. I’d read another three hours. I still can’t fall asleep without reading.

One night, after slipping into a light slumber, I woke up - and was eye to eye with a curious mouse, standing on the edge of the bed, the width of Curious George Goes To The Hospital away. He scurried over the side before I had a chance to ask him if he’d read If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. I fell asleep three days later.

I began turning on a fan at night, to block out the sound. I still sleep with one on. And I never sleep on my back.

We never had rats. Apparently, the living conditions were too cold and damp for them.

The ceiling in the living room would leak, 10 days after it had rained. The slightest winter’s wind would blow through the ancient window seals, making the curtains billow. Hornets found their way inside as easily as mice. A cross-dressing alcoholic once found his way into our home.

I’ll save that for another post.

Yet vermin, insects and people could get out, fast, if so motivated - by the sound of the town’s tornado siren. You didn’t want to be inside a trailer when “the big one” hit.

It made for exciting summers. And a lifelong interest in tornados.

I see now how bad our living conditions were. But at the time – particularly when I was younger -  I didn’t know any different. It was home.

The trailer was also where my mom and I shared our love, and laughter. 

She let me pick the food she’d use to bait the mouse traps: “Cheese or peanut butter?” she’d ask. “You pick it, I’ll set it.” She let me wear her Felix The Cat slippers when my feet got cold from the incessant drafts.  She glued gold paper stars and glitter to the ceiling in the living room to try to hide the rain water stains, and told me that I could look up and see the stars shine, without ever having to go outside.

There were good times. There were not so good times. I remember the best and worst of each.  

Eventually I escaped. After graduating from high school, I spent less time in the trailer and more in college dorm rooms and apartments. I didn’t stay another night in the trailer after 1985.

Five years later, Mom found her own way out.

She stepped out the front door on a cold, early January morning in 1990, walked behind the trailer she’d called home for over 20 years, and hung herself from a tree.

With a piece of clothes line.

 

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       

    

Ways to contact Jonnie:

    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog    

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190