Saturday, February 20, 2010

Still no closure for Z

Tammy Zywicki was a familiar name to many people in August of 1992.

Her name and photo and story were a constant for about 10 days nearly 18 years ago.

But unlike others who watched this story unfold, from her disappearance on a rural stretch of interstate in Illinois, to the finding of her body on a rural stretch of interstate in Missouri, I knew Tammy.

"Z" as many people called her at Grinnell College, was known by me and many of my friends at Grinnell. The school was small - 1,200 students or so at the time - and it was pretty difficult not to to know most everyone, in some way or another.

Tammy was such a strong and vibrant young woman. She was athletic, artistic, and knew how to mix working hard and playing hard. At just 5'2" tall, her personality made you think she was 6'1".

For most of the country in August 1992, Tammy Zywicki was a sad story.

For those of us from Grinnell College, she was a classmate, a teammate, a friend, a study partner, a drinking buddy...anything but just a headline.

And the reason it was her that lost her life to some monster who has never been found guilty or even charged? Because her car broke down.

In the year after Tammy's death, a group of current and former students started a non-profit group, Fearless, in her honor. I served for a short time on the board of directors, and one of the early goals was to do something to stop this from happening again.

An early plan was to fund putting emergency call boxes at certain distances across the entire US interstate system. This was in the days when cell phones were still a luxury, not commonplace.

As time went on, the technology of cell phones eliminated the need for the call boxes, and in fact made our streets and highways much safer. But it shouldn't be assumed that Tammy's story couldn't be repeated.

It could be your sister. Your girlfriend. Your neighbor. Your co-worker. It could be you.

One small thing you can do is join the group linked below on Facebook. With some strength in numbers, we might just be able to get Tammy's case back on the front page again.

Let's find out who killed Tammy Zywicki.

She deserves that, at the very least.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Bet? Love. The Stakes? Steaks.

As I listen to Jason Mraz playing on my mp3 shuffle...

I'm lucky I'm in love with my best friend, lucky to have been where I have been, lucky to be coming home again

...I begin to cringe.

It's the day after Valentine's Day. And the day before an anniversary of a bad break-up.

I try to remember if I have J. Geils Band's "Love Stinks" in my MP3 collection. Nope. Time to add that to my wishlist next time I'm downloading music.

I'm texting with an ex-girlfriend who to this day is such a great friend to have.

We're lamenting our situations, knowing each other very well, and knowing that we can pretty much finish off each other's sentences if we were talking in person.

We are also both keenly aware that we were not meant to be together, for whatever reason, as more than friends.

Which makes it great, because we can be blatantly honest with one another, and give the perspective of an ex-lover.

I assure her that she is going to find the right guy, and she tells me she doesn't think so.

I tell her she needs to stop going for the bad boys. She knows she needs to, but doesn't know why she can't stop.

Finally, I remind her to not settle...that I saw in her at one time someone who deserves so much more than a guy who will ultimately break her heart because with the bad boy image comes bad boy actions.

She feels better.

I then go on to tell her how I'm not sure that I'll ever be able to find "the one." Or really at this point, "any"one.

In the last year I've really built up some walls in terms of dating/relationships. And this mofo is huge. We're talking people should be taking tours of it, and taking snapshots like they do on that one in China.

But my friend reassures me that she saw me before the wall was there, and that maybe there's a woman out there who can knock it down to dust.

And she does know me well.

Thinking for it a little longer, I decide to test her on her prediction.

A wager: That I will remain single the rest of my life. The stakes: A box of steaks.

So at the very least, if I remain without a partner the rest of my life, I'll be eating me some steak with my gums in the nursing home some day. I know you're jealous.

Friday, February 12, 2010

We Are Living in a Retail World...

So I'm now a few months into this whole retail thing, between time in Chicago training at existing stores, and then opening my store 5 weeks ago.
I'm thoroughly enjoying the interaction with people who come into and out of the store, and am already finding some repeat customers coming back and remembering me and my staff by name.

And 99.9 percent of the customers are really pleasant and interesting to talk with.

It's that .1 percent you have to watch out for.

Take for example, Mr. Magic.

Mr. Magic called our store the first day we were expecting large crowds due to a marketing mailer that had gone out.

"Hello there [Prominent City in the Midwest] Steaks, I'm Mr. Magic, and I'm trying to find your store." Well if you're magic, buddy, shouldn't you be able to find it?

Mr. Magic came into the store wearing an orange t-shirt, blue jeans, and a black blazer with a multi-colored flower on the lapel. Eyeing the flower, I thought to myself that if he squirts water out of that thing at me, I may be the shortest tenured store manager in the history of retail.

He performed some lame card trick to a few scattered applause, and then approached the counter to pay for his purchases. I looked over at the sales rep ringing him up and noticed Mr. Magic laying out about 50 $2 bills across the entire countertop.

"Mr. Magic pays in $2 bills, because just like magic, they are rare to find and amusing all at once," he announced to everyone in earshot. It wasn't a magic trick, but he stopped for effect, as if he was waiting for the customers and staff around him to break out in applause.


My only thought was that I needed to remember to deposit those $2 bills in the bank so that I didn't have a bunch of useless bills in my cash register.

After about an hour of "entertaining" people in the store while we were busy trying to keep up with the crowd, Mr. Magic finally went on his way. But not after handing me a business card for Mr. and Mrs. Magic (yes, his wife was in on the act as well).

"Call me if you ever want me to come in and entertain for your customers on busy days." I told him I would, knowing I wouldn't.

And I thought he was now just a bad memory for me.

Until the next morning.

As part of my morning routine, I count the cash for the registers. As I went through one of the stacks of dollar bills, I came across a stack of approximately 50 $2 bills.


Monday, February 8, 2010

A Day That (ALMOST) Brought A Tear to My Eye

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was originally written, before the blog, "A Prisoner in the Tundra" was started. It was originally written as a Facebook note on 3/22/2009. Tonight, I ran into the dad mentioned in the story again, and it brought back my memory of the day written about below. For those who have already read it, thanks, and for those who haven't, enjoy. -Steve

So today was camp day for the Cub Scout den my youngest son belongs to. We had an awesome day of bonding...hiking and looking at wildlife, doing skits, learning how to use a compass in the woods, talking about deer poop.

At one point during a hike, the dads all congregated at the back of the line of the hikers, and the conversation turned to the economy. We all talked about some of the things that have been impacting us, and I was blatantly honest about my situation as a single dad who pays 50 percent of my kids' expenses despite the fact that I make far less (well nowadays even more so) than their mom does. The law would not set it up to be this way, but I agreed to it because I'm 50 percent of their parents.

Fast forward to the dinner time prep, and another dad, one I had not met before today, approached me. He asked if he could tell me something. I said sure, assuming it would be something like "your gas is really stinky, I smelled that bomb you dropped on the hike."

He looked me in the eyes and very genuinely said "I want you to know you are really great dad." Kind of threw me, since I wasn't expecting that. Not something I'm used to hearing often. He went on to say "I know I don't really know you, but I can tell you have sacrificed alot in your life for your sons. That is something that money can't buy."

We had about a 30 minute conversation after that, and he talked about his first marriage, and how because of difficulties with his ex, he was not active in the kid's life that he had with her. He essentially said in the fight or flight moment, he chose flight. And he told me I could have done the same, but I didn't. He told me he could see how much my son that was there admired me, and that I was doing an incredible job.

So it made me think, too many single dads are not praised out there. We always hear what a great job single moms do, and they deserve that praise. But single dads need a shout out now and again too. So I'm raising my glass to the single dads out there. Cheers!

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Proud Graduate of The University of Okoboji

Like the Native Americans who first lived around her, the beautiful waters of Lake Okoboji will always be sacred to me.

I now live in a land of 10,000 lakes, but there's only one lake for me, and it's in northwest Iowa.

Growing up, my family would spend two weeks straight every summer in a cabin on West Lake Okoboji that we rented for somewhere in the neighborhood of $7/night.

And not only was it my family there, but it was my extended family. And by extended family I don't mean uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, et al (of course they were there as well). My extended family in Okoboji was my friends of the same age, all of us finding our way through the world of childhood and adolescence, and all of us feeling freedom for the first time.

Whether it was a night of playing card games inside, or telling ghost stories on the docks at midnight, or a fun afternoon of swimming, boating, skiing, or an outing to Arnold's Park for the tilted house, the roller coaster, or the legendary fun house...Okoboji was always an adventure.

For the people who were there - many of them on Facebook -Jeff L., "Keeks", Tracy H., Lisa R., I challenge you to think of a more pure, more innocent, more exciting point in your life than then. No responsibilities, other than making sure we had enough money in our pockets for a few games of skee ball and taffy from the boardwalk.

Like summer itself, Okoboji represents to me the best of the best. The warmth of the hot July sun seemed to always beat down on us at Okoboji...and for the days it didn't, well there was always a good game of pictionary, or that book you wanted to get to, or if not that, a trip to the Emporium to buy crap you'd never have a use for again.

Hearing "Little Red Corvette" for the very first time. Watching the cars cruise the loop past the cabin every night. Cruising the loop past the cabin every night when we were old enough to drive. Tasting my first sip of purple passion, and then spitting it out. Falling for a girl, only to think that my world was over because she liked another boy.

If I could make a virtual time capsule of my life, it would be Okoboji in the 1980s.

I'm proud to say that I'm a graduate of the University of Okoboji. And I'm thinking it's about time for a class reunion.

Monday, February 1, 2010

How I Almost Met Judge Judy (And Ate An Awesome Breakfast)

About two years ago, I almost met Judge Judy.

And I ate an awesome breakfast.

See, my girlfriend at the time, we'll call her Macey, had this loser of a renter living in her basement who had skipped out after borrowing $1,000 to get his trucking company started.

So she filed a small claims court case against him in Hennepin County.

Apparently Judge Judy has an entourage, a team that just scours through every small claims court filing in the country every day and look for interesting ones.

And since when Macey filed the claim, she happened to include the fact that she knew the defendant from when they were in their early 20's and had dated, well, Judge Judy saw some possible drama for her esteemed courtroom/studio.

When she asked me to go with her, with the tab paid for by Judge Judy herself, I was excited for a few days away from the cold Minnesota winter in sunny LA.

Little did I know...there wasn't going to be much fun in the sun in LA.
Macey just started a new job before this trip, and only wanted to take one day to do it in, since it was unpaid. That was fine by me, as it was still a night and a day away from Minnesota in February.

We flew out after work the night before the big taping. The flight was pretty non-eventful, though we didn't get into LA until very late, and there was essentially no time to do much other than just head to bed. But first we ordered our room service breakfast for the morning, paid for by Judge Judy herself.

After a night of dreaming about getting called to the witness stand during tomorrow's big case, I woke up to a knock at the door. On the other side of the door was the best smelling/looking/tasting breakfast I've had in my life. And THAT was my single-most vivid memory of the trip.

After our breakfast, we planned to go sightseeing awhile before we had to be back to get ready for the show's car (a taxi cab) to pick us up from the hotel in the afternoon. As we were getting ready to figure out where we wanted to wander off to, the hotel phone rang. It was Judge Judy herself. Or one of her people. They were running ahead of schedule and wanted to send the car (taxi cab) early. They would pick us up in 20 minutes.

Arriving at the Judge Judy studio, it was like walking into a mullet and tattoo convention. Kind of like a real courthouse.

The studio itself was an odd experience. More like entering a jail then a TV studio. They take cell phones, cameras, all electronics, and after going through a metal detectors, men with walkie talkies guide you through the hallways making sure you don't run into your opposing party in the case.

In the green room, Judge Judy's people (because Judge Judy herself was holding court, duh) coached Macey through what to say, and what not to say, all presumably to prolong the length of the trial, with as much drama as possible.

Then as she got ready to go in for the taping of her case, Macey asked Judge Judy's people where I went to get into the studio audience. "Oh, he can't go in, we're sorry. We would have had to have done clearance ahead of time for that to happen. He can go to an individual green room and wait."

Arriving in the individual green room, I turned on the TV in the room assuming that I could watch the taping live. Another of Judge Judy's people came in to the room as I was switching channels trying to find the live feed.

"Can I help you find something to watch?" she asked. "Yeah, I'm looking for the live feed of the show."

"Oh we don't have that, sorry," She replied.

Damn it.

10 minutes later, Macey came back into the green room. "What are you doing back already?" I asked her. "The dumbass said something that made the case end after about 5 minutes." But she won her case.

Great, we got in earlier to the studio, and the taping was over, I thought. Now we can go do that sightseeing before we fly out tonight.

Apparently Judge Judy herself, or her people, at this point I don't know, decided that we had to get on a cab to the airport that they pre-paid for, and we were not allowed to stop anywhere once we left the studio.

So here I was, enjoying LA like a movie star - inside the entire time...

The second coolest part of the trip happened at LAX on our return. While waiting to go through security, the TSA found a foot-long knife in the carry-on of a scary looking guy. We could see the whole thing, including the x-rays of the huge knife in the bag, due to the way they have the security lines snake behind the x-ray scanners.

"You think he's a terrorist?" I asked Macey. "I don't know, but I bet he's not going anywhere on a plane tonight," she replied.

We decided to make the most of our time at LAX waiting for our flight, and eat our final meal paid for by Judge Judy herself. As we finished up dinner and walked to our departure gate, we passed the scary looking dude with the knife. "How did he get through? If he's on our flight I'm not getting on it," Macey said.

I selfishly hoped he would board our flight so we could see more of LA tomorrow.

Instead we landed in the wee hours of the next morning in Minneapolis, and after scraping the snow and ice off the car, made our way out of Macey's fifteen minutes of fame.