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3 O'Clock High: Transcending Tahoe Tension


"I'll give you $1,000 to draw Daisy posed like the girl in this magazine."


Hopefully you've been wondering where your 3 O'Clock High has been since last Wednesday. The 'umble narrator of said column has been wondering some things as well over the last week. Specifically, my Droog Minyans, I've been pondering the below topics, listed in chronological order:


  • 9 AM: "I wonder how quickly we can get on the road home from Lake Tahoe this morning, now that I have the car loaded with Swiss Engineering precision."
  • 9:30 AM: "I wonder where my car key is?"
  • 10:30 AM: "Seriously. Where in the $%$%&))$#%%%^# are the keys to the car?"
  • Noon: "I wonder when the locksmith the roadside help people sent up will get here, now that I managed to send everyone else (all 20 in-law relations) home?"

For the balance of Sunday I focused on wondering who, exactly, at Dodge Chrysler decided that only keys from dealers could start the cars. Car dealers aren't open 24/7 which, it seems to me, makes them a bad "Last step" in the key-replacement process.

Everyone I spoke to told me that it was for my "protection." At no time during the 30 hours I waited for my key to be replaced did I feel "protected." I was stuck in a rental unit with no internet, no access to newspapers, no book (I'd finished and given away the one I brought for the trip) and very, very basic cable. Essentially, I was stuck in 1978 for over a day, waiting for a dealership to return our calls and give me a key to start my car.

A year ago I would have spent my unexpected day of sensory deprivation with steam shooting out of my ears. I would have gone out hiking in search of some Internet Cafe or a FedExKinkos (FDX). Had I found one I'd have spent the time dealing w/ balky systems and doing ineffectual work from my dying cell-phone.

In the name of responsibility to the LPs I then had, I would have tried to angrily pound the Square Peg of my Type-A self into the round hole lifestyle of a mountain town. From experience, I expect that I would have been Old-School Surly the entire time and, likely, through the remainder of this week.

Around 8 o'clock on Sunday night, when it became clear that leaving by noon Monday would be an optimistic goal (which would have been/was missed by two hours), I went back out to my unlocked but immovable car. Instead of reslicing my hands by jamming them into any available key-hiding nook or cranny I grabbed the crayons we'd brought for Thegirl's birthday. With my colors and pad of paper in hand, I scurried back into my abandoned house and set about drawing a picture for my little girl.

I worked on the card until the moment my car was started. The angriest thing about the work is the aggressive use of images which I don't own. If Mr. Iger objects he is welcomed to (attempt to) take it off my daughter's wall.

But not even the possibility of that ugly and bloody encounter can change my mind about the way I spent my time while stranded in Tahoe. I feel totally comfortable advising the following trade, the next time you get the gooey end of the stick thrust your way: Sell "Tantrums" and get long something "Peaceful," ideally something you enjoy but can never find the time to do.

It's a very good trade, from where I'm sitting.

Shopping Stories

While we're slinging In-Law Survival advice, I've got an old family chestnut to share. When properly employed, this tactic can score you some alone time, allow you to do something resembling work during a vacation and, perversely, could even make you into a hero.

Shortly after breakfast, while plans for the day are still being made, mention that you forgot something important but too personal to borrow (a toothbrush, underwear etc.). "I'm running to the store" you say in a voice you've practiced in the mirror for weeks, "is there anything I can get you guys while I'm out? Really, I don't mind and it'd be a shame for us to make more than one trip."

With any luck, you can do someone a favor by running their errand. Regardless, you've just gotten out of watching the slide-show from the last reunion and you're free... to do what you want... any old time (for the next 3 hours).

True to my word, and before I lost my car key, I took myself shopping in the greater Stateline Nevada area.

KMart (SHLD): After Minyan S "sssss" email last week I was expecting good things. I made the local Kmart my first stop. What I found was beyond my wildest expectations in terms of providing me with Snark ammunition. As a retailer, it was a hideous train-wreck of bad planning meeting horrible execution.

While this location would hardly be first in line for a revamp, it clearly hadn't been remodelled in years (looking back, this was my first grim foreshadowing of my being trapped in the 70's). The staff outnumbered the customers on a holiday Saturday in a Mtn. Town. That's not good but what was worse was that not one of those folks offered service during my visit.

By way of experiment, I went to the men's department in search of pants. I wasn't picky, just looking for anything in my size (34" inseam). I didn't even really care about finding the right waist size, I was looking for instock and checking how long it would take someone to help me.

I spent enough time looking to be comfortable asserting that Kmart had no (zero) pairs of men's pants with a 34" inseam. I looked at literally every pant on the floor and got through them all without being offered help from an employee. I actually had the store manager walk by me at one point, ignoring me as he complained to an employee about the night-help not cleaning the store well.

When I checked out at the photo stand (only one check stand was opened up front) Jean at the desk and I had a chat. She's been at the store for 8 years and seen it all.

"Gotta tell you, Jean, the store doesn't look so good outside your department (NB: bad stores aren't the associates' fault, don't yell at them). I thought you guys were coming back hard with the new management."

Jean looked at me as though I was a four-year-old coming into her section to mess up the frames. "Honey, if these guys are any different than all the other people we've had (messing) around these stores I'll eat your hat."

She laughed, smiled at me and my fly wooly cap and handed me my bag. "There you are, kiddo. Have a nice weekend." Jean was the only Kmart person who spoke to me during the 45 minutes I was there.

I've got no opinion on Kmart as a stock but will repeat my view that retail is very, very hard for financial guys to actually operate.

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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