The Last Car I Will Ever Own

Pictured above is my new 2016 Nissan Versa, parked across a couple of handicap spaces because that’s just the kind of guy I am.

A few weeks ago, Liana and I spent one hellish Saturday afternoon, looking at cars and dealing with some of the sketchiest car dealership employees ever. We finally left with the Nissan and a new car payment that I don’t know how I’m going to afford, but it’s an awesome car and I love it. It’s very low-end and doesn’t even have power locks or windows, but it’s great to have a reliable car again. One that can go on extensive road trips, just like the good ole days, which I plan to do very soon. And, most importantly, it’s got an Aux In jack. So long to listening to Spotify through a cassette tape adapter.

My 2000 Ford Focus has been a great car for the past 13 years, but its numerous problems and break downs were starting to add up, and it had 211,000 miles on it. I listed it on Craigslist for weeks, one week for $400 and the second week for $300, and nobody ever bought it. But less than 24 hours after painting “FOR SALE” on the back window, it was gone, purchased by a guy who plans to fix it up and use it for work. I let him have it for $280 since the gas tank was empty.

I bought the Focus in 2003, for the sole purpose of taking a cross-country trip from Illinois to South Dakota to hang out with The Spessas, which I did within a month of buying the car. Since then my Focus has taken me all over the country, on road trips by myself and with the kids, with friends and girlfriends, it’s helped aid me in all kinds of wacky pranks and schemes, from Texas to New York to California and a bunch of other fun places, it’s been a great car and has been mostly reliable. I will miss you, 2000 Ford Focus. Since I have the address of the guy I sold it to, I’m tempted to occasionally drive by and look longingly at my old friend. But I totally won’t do that, because that would be creepy. Nope, not me.

Below is a video I made in 2014, demonstrating how easy it is to call oil change places and trick them into handing out my own personal information. Included in the video is every picture I could find of my Focus from my photo album. You’ll see pictures from when I made a laptop mount in my front seat because GPS barely existed yet, you’ll see how I turned the passenger seat into a desk for a few road trips, the Nova emblem that I drilled into the back of the car to confuse other drivers, the weird things we painted on my windows, the 1980’s-era radio I installed after the first time a crackhead stole my nice stereo, and other miscellaneous photos of my old car from the past 13 years.

Why is the Nissan Versa the last car I will ever own? Because the entire world is on the verge of a buttload of changes to transportation and pretty much everything else. Semi-autonomous cars are already here if you can afford them, and fully autonomous cars will be here easily by 2020. Once the cars are working and the government regulations are laid out, things are going to change insanely quick. Elon Musk recently said that full autonomy will be ready within 2 years and the government will be ready for them in 3. And Elon knows what he’s talking about since he plans to be selling 1,000,000 autonomous cars per year by 2020.

I’ve seriously hated being a slave to my car these past couple of decades. Sure I love owning a car, but only because that’s been the only option for me. In the medium sized cities I’ve lived in, public transportation generally sucks. In a few short years, I’m going to be able to call for an autonomous car to pick me up from a cell phone app, to take me wherever I want to go, quickly and cheaply. Owning a car will become pointless and expensive. Even if full autonomy doesn’t happen as fast as I’m sure it will, services like Uber and Lyft and all those car sharing companies are going to start showing up in medium sized towns. No matter how this all goes down, it’s going to end with nobody needing to own a car.

About 4 years ago I wrote about how it sucked that I would never live through another revolution. I got to see the internet happen and I got to see the entire world end up with tiny super computers in their pockets, but I felt like that was it for me. I thought in another 10 years, all we’re going to see is neater cell phones and faster internet. I had no idea this was coming and I’m incredibly excited for it.

Self-driving cars are going to change everything. I know most of you have heard it all by now, but they’re going to save 30,000 or so lives per year because they will rarely crash, they’re going to reduce air pollution, they’ll require less roads and parking spaces and they’ll let blind, disabled, and old people get around as easily as the rest of us. Insurance rates will plummet, cops won’t be able to give you speeding tickets anymore, and car ownership will become a thing of the past. When I finally get rid of my Nissan Versa 10 years from now, there probably won’t be a single incentive to trade it in for something new.

The world is going to be in a lot of trouble soon, and I’m excited for this. Besides self-driving cars stealing the jobs of taxi drivers and truck drivers, they will eventually cripple the auto industry. Imagine all the car dealerships in your town going out of business permanently. This is something I would love to see happen, after having to deal with those car dealership people a couple weeks ago. Sketchy car salesmen across the country will be out of jobs and will have to settle for mugging people in the park. All of the independent used car lots will disappear too. And then most of the service garages, oil change businesses, Auto Zones, and insurance companies. Cops won’t be able to ticket people for speeding anymore, but that’ll be good because everyone is going to lose their jobs.

And that’ll just be the fallout from self-driving cars. Automation is going to blow up in a huge way soon, stealing the jobs of fast food and factory employees, and I’m sure plenty of other people. No, seriously, this is all about to happen. In our lifetimes, within the next 10 to 20 years. They’ve already figured out how to fully automate a fast food restaurant, basically turning a McDonalds into a building-sized vending machine. Pretty much every non-skilled job will be gone permanently. I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to make all this work, but from the looks of where things are going, we’re either headed for the next great depression or we’re headed for an awesome utopia where machines do all the work and we just sit back and play on our fancy new cell phones all day.

These things are going to happen quickly and we’re probably all doomed, but I absolutely love things that upset the status quo. The economy as we know it is incredibly bad for the Earth and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. The only thing I know for sure is that driving won’t be necessary 10 years from now, and I’ll be happy to never touch a steering wheel again.

Explosive Toilet Drama

I’m pretty sure I experienced some horror movie stuff today. I was sitting on the toilet this morning, innocently taking my poo, and I could hear kind of a hissing sound AND THERE WAS A SNAKE and I figured it was the valve in the tank just needing to be jiggled or something. So I finish up with the pooing and the periodic hissing sound continues and I notice that the poo water in the bowl is kind of moving back and forth. Sloshing, if you will. Before I can reach to flush the toilet, it starts getting worse. Then it starts bubbling. A lot. I’m not sure if it’s an Earthquake or Judgement Day, but I really want to flush my poo before whatever is happening gets worse.

But I don’t, because by this point the water looks like it’s boiling. Imagine a pot of boiling water on the stove, but scale it up to toilet size and add poo. I figure if I hit the flush handle, it’s either going to overflow or spray poo at the ceiling. I’m pretty sure that I’ve fallen asleep and am in a Freddy Krueger dream. You’ll be happy to know, that my poo wasn’t too poo-ey. I mean, it was a healthy poo and not a liquid poo. So that was good at least.

I needed to leave the house to pick up the kids from school (no, that’s not a reverse poo euphemism) so I closed the toilet lid and left. I didn’t see much reason to be late for that since all I could do was helplessly stare at the toilet bowl of boiling water. As I left, I noticed that the pipe on the roof above the bathroom was really noisy. When I got back home, it had stopped. Things were about as I expected. I had a mess to clean up, but it wasn’t too horrifying. Mostly just toilet paper and water and little of it was on the floor.

But yeah, I’m pretty sure I have poltergeists now. Really, what causes that? I’ve lived in dozens of places all over the U.S. and I’ve never had a toilet being boiling before. There was some kind of road work happening about a block away, so I guess they could be responsible. I haven’t talked to my neighbors yet to find out if the same thing happened to them. I haven’t even seen them. Maybe they’re dead. Guess it’s a good thing I left when I did.

In other exciting news around here…Bonecage’s new album features ME leaving creepy voicemails for a girl. It’s the track called Charlie Loves You. Bonecage was also nice enough to record an entire song for PLA, which I’m currently in the process of creating a crowd-sourced music video for. I’m pretty happy about both of those things. Also, I just put a new PLA album out. It’s got all those car ding calls we did from a couple years ago. And I guess that’s it. When poltergeists aren’t trying to murder me, all my life news revolves around internet projects.

Answering Machine Hacking

As far as I know, answering machines in the homes of everyone you knew wasn’t really a thing until the late 80’s. I know they existed long before that, but normal people just didn’t have them. My brother and I would occasionally make prank calls in the early 80’s and I remember how weird it was to actually reach an answering machine. It seemed amazing at the time, being able to leave wacky messages for strangers that they would have to listen to when they came home. I brought an answering machine into my family’s home in the very late 80’s (or maybe it was even 1990), when I bought them one for Christmas, but I was so excited about the idea of it that I took it out of the box and played around with it for a few days before wrapping it.

I owned a few answering machines of my own when I was a teenager, for the phone line that I’d purchased for my room. Some of them I would return before the 30 day return policy expired, but I did keep a couple of them. The last one I owned before moving out of my parents house was a Panasonic KX-T1450 (the answering machine from the movie Sneakers), which had dual-cassettes and remote access so I could check messages while away from home. The remote access also let me monitor my room using the machine’s microphone and it let me change the outgoing message. I know all that seems pretty useless for a teenager, but coworkers and I sometimes passed the time by creating wacky new messages for my machine from work.

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered the fun of hacking other people’s answering machines, but it had to be at least a year before I moved out of my parents house because I know I was keeping lists of numbers I’d found that connected to machines and I began recognizing brands based on how they behaved and the tone they used. I also began opening up answering machine boxes at Wal-Mart so I could read the instruction books on how their remote access worked and write down default codes if there were any. The first one I hacked was the same model my parents had, which had a 1-digit access code. Yes, a 1-digit access code. After the beep I had to hold down the single-digit code button for at least 2 seconds and then I was in. The machine I hacked had the same code as we did so I probably ended up getting it on the first try.

Some machines didn’t have any options once you got into them. They’d just play the messages and then hang up on you. Others would let you skip messages or speed forward and backwards through them. Deleting a single message was rarely an option, because almost all machines used tapes and you couldn’t delete a message from the middle of a tape. The best machines, though, were the ones that let you change the outgoing message. I’m sure plenty of people were surprised to call a person and hear whatever weirdness I put on the machines of their friends/family. I really don’t remember a lot of what I did on them. The fun part was just figuring out how to get into them.

Most machines had 2 digit codes and they would only recognize the CORRECT tones and they would ignore the wrong ones, so if you could cycle through 0 to 9 fast enough you’d be in. Three-digit machines were a little harder, but not much because of the same reason. You always knew what the last digit of the code was because that was when the machine let you in, so the next time you called, you’d cycle 0 to 9 for the first digit and then press the 2nd digit of the code.

Zak & I probably hacked a record number of answering machines in the city of Roy, New Mexico in 1995. Our goal was to prank every resident in that town, which wasn’t too hard since there were only a few hundred people living there. A lot of people weren’t home, so we hacked a lot of machines and changed a lot of outgoing messages. We probably hacked more machines than talked to people, and then we had a list of all the numbers and the codes to their machines, so we’d call back and do it again a few days later.

What this is all leading up to is my latest weirdness involving my phone obsession. About a month ago I bought a used computer and set up Asterisk/FreePBX on it. This software allows me to run my own telephone PBX system, complete with full IVR capabilities and about any phone feature you can imagine. A few weeks later I bought a couple of Linksys PAP2T phone adapters from eBay, which allows me to connect 4 actual phones to this phone system. And you can probably guess what I’ve hooked into the system.

I’ve connected answering machines to all 4 lines and people from all over the world have been calling in to figure out how to hack them. The machines have been taking calls all day and night for about a week now. I had to open each one of the machines up and disconnect the speakers in them so they would stop waking me up in the middle of the night when people called in. People have been leaving messages of frustration because they can’t figure out how to get into them, but plenty of others are succeeding, erasing messages, changing greetings, and probably monitoring my room because I haven’t disconnected any of the microphones.

I searched a few thrift stores for old machines to plug into the system and I now own a total of 5 old machines. Only one of them uses tape and it’s probably the least-interesting one since there are no options on the remote features, but I’m hoping to add a couple of more tape machines to it. I might not have spend anymore money on machines, though, because a few people have promised to mail their old machines to me. (You can too! Brad Carter, P.O. Box 465, Albany, OR 97321)

Over the weekend a couple of people donated money to PLA, totaling $50 (Thanks, JagTV and Snorlax Security!), so I was able to buy a couple more of the phone adapters from eBay, meaning this weird thing I’ve created will soon have 8 answering machines hooked to it, sitting and waiting for people to break into them. My plan is to stop at 10 machines, but who knows how long that plan will last. If people keep helping out with the project, it could really get out of hand. But I love that people who never got to experience answering machine hacking, either because they never thought to try it out or because they weren’t born yet, are getting to do it now, and in a way that’s completely legal.

The other cool thing is that I have home phone service again, through this Asterisk computer. I’ve hooked one of the lines into our phones downstairs, so we can use the pay phone hanging in our living room, and the phone in our kitchen. We used to have MagicJack for home phone service, but it expired awhile ago and I never bothered renewing it since we all have cell phones and Skype and a few dozen other ways to communicate with people that make more sense than picking up a home phone. I’m tempted to just start wiring phone jacks into every room of the house, and on the porch, and in the bathroom, and the closets, but yeah, I sure won’t do that. Nope, not me.

I’m really excited about the whole project, though. I’ve played around with Asterisk a few times in the past, but I never got as far as actually hooking up physical telephones to it. Around 2009 I set up a system with an incoming number that did a few IVR things, but I gave up because it was constantly crashing, it turned out because of bad RAM in the machine. I’ve got all kinds of plans for this thing, though. Fun stuff, that people calling in will enjoy playing around with. And fun for me, just to play around with this amazing combination of old tech and new tech. So thanks, Asterisk and FreePBX, for creating this completely free software that lets people experience the fun of running their own phone system.

Middle of the night pranking at Circle K

When I worked the graveyard shift at one Circle K in Galveston, I passed the night by reading all of the magazines that were sold in the store. I rarely had more than a couple of customers per hour, so I did a ton of reading. I started reading the gruesome stories in the few detective magazines we sold and for some reason or another, I decided to start calling people in the stories in the middle of the night from Circle K’s pay phones. It was partially curiosity, to see if the stories were made up or if the magazines changed the names to protect the innocent. They didn’t.

I brought magazines outside to the pay phone and called directory assistance in the appropriate cities, using my red box to avoid the long distance charges. I took notes in the magazines, writing phone numbers of people related to the case next to their names in the magazine. I bet the people who purchased the magazines were surprised to find their home phone numbers written in there.

I can’t remember exactly what I said to people, but I’m sure I wasn’t entirely creepy about my calls. I mean, I wasn’t all “This is the ghost of ________ _______, and I’m going to haunt you with phone calls!” I’m sure it was still bizarre to get phone calls in the middle of the night about murder and fraud cases. I think I mostly just asked questions about the case to see if I really had the right people, probably posing as a reporter or something.

I still remember this one story about a teenager named Kenneth Glenn Milner, who attempted to murder a bunch of people in his small Texan town. The story was filled with tons of fail, because I don’t think he managed to actually kill anyone. I came across someone with the same last name as him today and suddenly remembered the whole thing, so I Googled his name and found this interview with him.

The end of my job at that particular Circle K ended my hobby of interviewing crime victims in the middle of the night. That is, until 2002 when I started interviewing random people in stories that I saw on Fark. I doubt any of those sound clips on that page still work.

I’m sure Richard Cardo will be noting this entry in his file on me. “Oh, so he has a FASCINATION and a HISTORY with murder!”

Service Merchandise

Does that store still exist? I don’t think I’ve seen one since the 90’s. As a kid, it was my favorite store to have my parents take me to because they had several computer terminals set up around the store for customer use. They were very 80’s-looking machines with green or amber lettering on a black screen. Just aimlessly playing around on them was fun enough. But the really cool thing I could do was order merchandise on them which would be shipped to the exit/pick-up area of the store. Anything in the store could be sent down a conveyor belt for us to pick up.

I started small, but quickly advanced to having huge things like couches and refrigerators and other huge appliances sent over. As my mom and I stood in line, waiting for our turn to check out, I was in silent hysterics as I surveyed all the items sitting behind the counter waiting for pick up that I was responsible for. Sometimes I would have so many huge items sent that walking space behind the counter would be scarce for the employees. If I ordered 5 couches, they would almost always sent out 5 couches.

The other awesome part of this was that they would eventually page the names I used over the store intercom. I started out using random character names from books that I liked. Hearing them say “Harriet Tubman, your order is ready in the pick up area.” was hilarious enough. But soon I started making up wacky names for them to say. I went through a phase of using names of illnesses so that they would end up paging Mrs. Amneisia or Mr. Cancer to the pick up area. Then I just started putting nonsense into the fields. I remember one I wrote was Mrs. Teetertotter, which caused a lady to announce over the store’s paging system that a child was playing with the computer terminals and that employees should be on the lookout for them.

I got to relive some childhood memories in 1992 when me and Sylvia lived in Los Angeles and were walking around and found a Service Merchandise. I was happy to see that they still had the computer terminal system in place, so we placed several orders for the largest items we could find. I remember a getting a complete living room set and some large kitchen appliances, such as a fridge and a stove. Their pick up area was much smaller than the old one in St. Louis, so the employees were pretty cramped back there, waiting for customers to come and get their giant items.

I saw my last Service Merchandise in 1994 in Austin, Texas. Their computer terminals there were slightly updated and had credit card readers on them. I taped some strips of cassette tape around my drivers license and tried sliding it through the reader, hoping that it would cause an error and let me enter one of my hundreds of stolen credit card numbers manually. I don’t know why I thought that would work, but at least I tried. Soon after that, I used a stolen money order at that same store to purchase a police scanner. It was in the days when you could buy unblocked 800/900MHz scanners, which I used for years afterwards for all kinds of phone fun, including the Dino incident that happened a year later.

Ahhh, good times with Service Merchandise…

Happy July 4th!

Here’s the craziest fireworks stories I can think of…

You know those pink tube things that just spin around on the ground making cool colors? Did you know if you light it in your hand, wait for the fuse to burn almost all the way out and then throw it up into the air, it flies around in the air really good? That’s what I’ve always loved doing with them and surprisingly I’ve never set one off in my hand that way.

As a teenager I decided to tie fishing line around one of these and dangle it out my 2nd story window by a broom handle to see which way it would fly. It immediately burned away the fishing line and quickly hovered up and then over – straight into my bedroom window as I jumped out of the way. I watched in shock as this glowing ball of fire hovered in the middle of my room for a few seconds. Then it went out and fell to the floor, not burning anything. It was awesome, but I decided not to try that experiment again.

The cool fireworks were illegal in Illinois, so we had to drive across the Mississippi into Missouri for the good stuff. I think my brother and his friends actually biked over there for fireworks before they had drivers licenses. Apparently fireworks stands didn’t care that kids were buying things. I think it was when he was 16 and I was 14 that we drove over there and got a ton of bottle rockets. And for days we drove around, shooting them at people from the car. We’d just hold them in our hands, light them and aim at people, houses, cars, etc.

Probably the funnest thing was driving up to the golf course in Wood River and shooting them down at golfers. It was great seeing them down there with tiny explosions of smoke happening all around them. They just stood there, looking up at our car, helpless to do anything about it as we laughed hysterically. This was the 80’s, so nobody had cell phones to report us with.

In high school I set off a pack of 100 saturn missles in a hallway during lunch, which is detailed on this page.

Dropping lady bugs (I think that’s what those tiny firecrackers are called) into a 20oz bottle of water is fun because it makes the bottle bounce up into the air and sprays water around. And dropping those colored smoke bombs into buckets of water creates the coolest effect ever.

Once I got a drivers license, Mike Tankersley and I had a lot of fun reliving the things my brother and I used to do with fireworks. Mostly driving up and down alleys, shooting bottle rockets at houses or throwing exploding things over fences. We had a few close calls with cops, like when I’d just shot a bottle rocket out of my hand into a yard and I looked up to see a cop driving by on the cross street. Luckily he wasn’t looking our way.

In Junior High I used to boobie trap everything in class with poppies – those white balls of paper that pop when you throw them at the ground. A few times I boobie trapped doors with those firecracker-type things with the strings on either side of it that are about as loud as a firecracker, so that when doors were opened they would explode. During lunch we’d tie these to classroom doors that were in session and we could hear them explode from anywhere in the school.

I know there’s more, but I can’t think of anything right now. I’ll have to come back and revise this with more of my stupidity later. Today the kids and I are driving up to Portland for the day and we’ll watch the fireworks display there tonight. I bought some sparklers, poppies and confetti poppers to do on the riverfront. I don’t think they allow anything stronger than that there.

7/5 EDIT: Kristine commenting reminded me of my Eastgate fireworks escapades! During the construction of the additional auditoriums I started bringing bottle rockets in and shooting them off inside. They would hit the ceiling and explode. I can’t remember what the ceiling was made of it but it never burst into flames and killed all the moviegoers in the other auditoriums.

After awhile I started sticking a few dozen bottlerockets into the launcher at once and using a lighter and an aerosol can as a flamethrower to ignite them all at once. The noise was fantastic! Eventually Debbie got sick of it and posted a list of rules on the bulletin board which included no fireworks, no skateboarding behind the concession stand and no radios. She wasn’t really into confrontation. The list was hilarious.


Back in 1993 I worked at a movie theater in Indianapolis and met a guy named Shane there who I became friends with. Then I left Indianapolis forever, in fear of the IRS comin’ to get me. But then I swung by Indianapolis again several months later to pick up Shane and fly him all over the country on stolen credit card numbers for Spring Break.

In just under a week, we visited San Diego, Galveston and Cincinnati. Cincinnati was the town we nearly got arrested in after a cop, suspecting us of vandalizing a pay phone, searched my bag and found a bank’s courtesy phone that I’d stolen earlier in the day. Later that night we were both sleeping in a friend’s basement and heard the cops upstairs, apparently taking our friend away. Luckily they didn’t come down for us too. Early the next morning we quietly slipped out a basement window and got the hell out of his neighborhood, hoping not to be spotted by cops on the way to a bus stop. It was fun and more details are at While we were eating somewhere in San Diego, Shane drew this comic of Jim Bayless, a man who is kind of a staple of PLA. It was a great vacation and it’s a miracle that we made it back to Indianapolis with no legal mishaps, considering I was scamming these airline tickets on the fly as we reached each new city.

Colleen and I visited Shane once again in 1994 when we took a vacation (free, of course) to Indianapolis to see him. After that, I never saw him again. UNTIL…15 years later (last night) I noticed his name on a ShmooCon site. A little more digging around found that this Shane was also in Indiana. And then even more Googling found a video of Shane and it was actually him! From reading various websites that him and his friends were on, I found that Shane and I have probably been passing each other at various hacker cons for years now. He’s been a ShmooCon, PhreakNic, Defcon and Notacon.

So I emailed him last night and we did some catching up today. He was equally surprised to hear from me. Both of us assumed that we’d never hear from each other again and it’s kind of a bizarre way to come across each other, especially since back in 1994 neither of us knew that the other was even into computers. Turned out he was manning a table in the very room we kept using to sneak into ShmooCon and his voice can even be heard in the video I made of us sneaking in. A friend of Shane’s showed me an email today from 2005 where he’d written me to ask permission to use PLA material on a broadcast they were doing at a con.

Just bizarre that we’ve been at all these same places together and never knew it. Kind of reminds me of how I was friends with my biological brother in high school, both pining for the same girl for a couple of years, then finding out we were brothers 10 years later. Shane’s going to be at Defcon this year so I’ve got to hunt him down.

Oh yeah, speaking of hunting down old friends, Kristine and I managed to find Brad Thompson last week, a guy we both worked with back in the 80’s. He’s part of the reason (indirectly) I ended up moving to Galveston when I left my parents house in 1991. When I got there he got me a job as a painter with him. Was kind of fun catching up with him too. The internet rules for tracking down random old friends. I need to do this more often.

Gamma Dose Rate Meter

The Gamma Dose Rate Meter was probably the coolest thing I saw at the Picc-A-Dilly flea market on Sunday. Me, Kate, Eric and a few other people drove there and spent a few hours. It’s been close to a year since I visited that place. I didn’t buy it, though. I did buy a couple books, some padlocks to pick and a 9-LED flashlight for just $3.00. Went on some hikes too, one on Saturday morning and another on Sunday evening.

Last night me and linear did epiosde #4 of The Phone Show. If anyone reading this wants to listen to the archives, visit I’m enjoying doing it. I thought it would be kind of a drag, having to come up with an hour’s worth of show every week, but we’re not even preparing for it. We just take phone calls for most of the hour and hope for the best. So thanks a lot for the show, Party 934!

Last month while looking through all my old envelopes to discover my old addresses, I also came across this handwritten chart, written on the back of my work schedule from Union Station Cine, showing how much money I could make doing quarter roll scams:

This is something I wrote about on my Travels page, but never went into too much detail on. But here’s how it went… In 1992 I discovered that I could pass off rolls of pennies as rolls of quarters to convenience store clerks and other businesses. I did this by taking a roll of pennies and removing 4 of the pennies, then wrapping a couple strips of construction paper around the roll. Stick the finished product into an ordinary paper quarter roll and you’ve got yourself a roll of quarters worth just 46 cents.

In 1992 I’d passed a few of these around Alton and it seemed to work perfectly every time. So Chris Tomkinson and I decide that we’ll spend an entire day, driving from Alton to Paducah, Kentucky, passing out quarter rolls to as many businesses as possible. And by we, I mean me. Chris wasn’t dumb enough to pass the quarters, but I still wanted to split the profits with him if he came along with me.

We had a great time during the trip and the fake quarter rolls paid for our gas and excessive amounts of food and drink all the way there. We also had fun exploring some of Paducah. I don’t know why Chris picked Paducah of all places, but it was a good destination and we got to visit Metropolis, Illinois, the home of Superman! (Or so they claim.)

What I would do is buy something for under $1.00 (usually) and then say, “Could you use any quarters? I happen to have this roll here.” and they would almost always accept it. Then I’d get my $9.00 in change and quickly leave. For the most part, passing the rolls of quarters went smoothly, but I did have occasional close calls. Like one lady who really needed the quarters for her register and started banging them on the edge of the counter to break them, only they wouldn’t break because of the extra layers of paper. I quickly made my way out the door and ran to the car.

Another time the guy opened the roll before giving me my change and saw that there were pennies inside. I had to pretend that I was the one who got scammed by some other store. “The clerk at 7-Eleven had to give me this yesterday because they were out of large bills!” I can’t remember if he seemed to believe me, but at least he didn’t jump over the counter and tackle me for it.

And then there’s the lady who discovered the fakes as I was talking to her and backing out the door. She sees the pennies and goes, “Hey!” I quickly exit and run to my car. Luckily she had to walk around the long counter before she could make it out the door. I was in my car and starting it when she burst out of the front doors and towards my car. I backed out of my place and just kept backing up out of the parking lot and down the street. This particular incident actually happened before Paducah, in East Alton right across the street from the police station.

In between hitting stores, Chris put together the fake rolls of quarters while I drove. I had a metal file box filled with all the necessary supplies for making fakes. I guess we weren’t too worried about fingerprints because I don’t remember us taking any precautions against that. Guess it’d be hard to lift prints from construction paper, though.

Our last close call was very late at night as we were making our way home. On some Illinois highway, cops were stopping all cars and checking for drunks. Before we got up to the checkpoint we were pretty sure that it was some kind of state-wide manhunt for quarter roll scammers. They check my drivers license and talked to us for a few seconds to make sure we weren’t drinking. They shined their light all over the inside of my car. The metal box full of counterfeiting supplies was on the floor in the back.

The problem came when I couldn’t find my insurance card. I looked everywhere for it and couldn’t find it. Not in the glovebox or the visor. Checked all over the floor. Nowhere. The cop kept leaving and coming back to see if I’d found it. And each time he kept shining his light around my car. He finally had us pull to the side of the road to get out of the way of traffic. Chris was freaking out, sure that they would eventually search the car and find our box. After what seemed like forever, I finally found my insurance card amongst all the trash on my floor and we were allowed to leave. It was a stressful search though.

Our final profits for the day were pretty pitiful. Nowhere near the possible $9,500 that I fantasied we could take in. We didn’t keep track of the money during the trip, but we just spent a lot of it on food, gas and other junk and didn’t have much left by the time we got home. But it was still a fun and completely free trip. After our scamming roadtrip, I gave up on the idea of quarter roll scamming being profitable and never tried it again, mostly because it seemed just too risky. Took me a few more years, though, to give up my dream of scamming for a living.

Our quarter roll scamming did make the police log in the Alton Telegraph. I remember they claimed we’d hit places that we didn’t actually hit, such as the Wood River Donut Shop. So either the police were trying to anger us into calling them and telling them how wrong they were, or there was a copycat criminal out there.

Altercation of the Day

I went to pick up my son from school today, and parked on my usual side street. As I’m leaving my car and walking towards the school, some guy trimming his hedges says to me, “Hey could you not park there in front of my mailbox? The mailman doesn’t like when you park there.”

“Oh, okay. Sorry about that, I won’t do it again.”

“Could you go ahead and move it back a few feet?”

I looked and I wasn’t even in front of his mailbox. It was about a foot in front of my car. “It doesn’t look like I’m in front of it anyway.”

“Just back up a few feet for me!”

“Not now. I won’t park there again though, I promise.” And I keep walking towards the school.

“YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE!” he yells.

This makes me smile. I pause for a minute and then go back to where he can hear me.

“Hey, I’ll probably park there tomorrow too. And every day from now on.”

“Go ahead! I’ll call the police! You’re an asshole!”

“Bye now!”

And I continued walking to pick up my son. I told him about it so that if the guy started yelling things at us again, he would be prepared. I was kind of hoping for more, but he wasn’t outside. He was probably on the phone with 911, frantically telling them all about me.

I usually can’t even park in that spot because some other mom is already there. And is it even illegal to park a foot away from a mailbox? I know it’d make it difficult for the mailman in his truck, but that can’t be illegal. Or maybe it is, who knows. In my 3 years here, I’ve never seen that guy in his yard but I can’t wait to give him a friendly hello every time I see him from now on.

How not to steal cable TV

In 1992 I moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and found a cheap apartment a couple blocks from the beach. I had 4 roommates and they were young guys, just like me, and always seemed to be getting into some kind of trouble and there was always crazy drama happening. Like when one guy got pulled over for speeding and ended up getting arrested for some reason, so we all pooled in our money to bail him out, only to find out that he actually had a different name than we knew and he’d been using some other guy’s drivers license to live under. Or the time one guy burst into my room in the middle of the night to show me that he’d stolen the fortune telling machine from Subway and needed me to help him get all the quarters out of it.

Somehow we ended up with a TV in our living room. I forget where it came from – probably from someone’s trash since it was one of those giant wooden console TVs. We were sitting around the living room and trying to tune in shows, but having very little luck. We briefly talked about splitting the cost of cable, but that didn’t do anything for our need of television right now. $5.00 each was probably out of our budget ranges anyway. So that conversation turned into ways that we could steal cable.

Our apartment didn’t even seem to have any cable wires running into our building. But the building across the street did. We found a few people who we guessed had active cable in their apartments, so we started making plans. My idea was to hook up a splitter to their cable line and run a new wire underground up to our building. We would have to go buy a splitter and a bunch of coax, which would cost maybe $20 or $30.

But my roommates weren’t as patient as me. They wanted to watch cable TV tonight. So instead of being stealthy about it, they walked over to this other building and started ripping down their coax cable from the wall. They yanked on it until the cable came loose and we had the end that plugged into the TV. Then they pulled it from the other direction and I believe they ripped some of it from the telephone pole. In the end, we had just barely enough cable to reach over to our building, into the window and hook it up to our TV.

We had to pull the TV right up to the window and there was no slack at all left on the cable. In fact, outside the cable was at a very tight angle from the ground to our 2nd story window, probably obstructing people from walking by on the sidewalk. I can just envision a guy on a bike not seeing it and getting clotheslined. There was no connection on the end of the cable since we’d apparently ripped it off while pulling the wire off the side of the building, so I used my wire cutters to lengthen the leads and get them hooked up to the TV.

So we turned it on and it worked great! After the 1 minute warmup period that giant wooden consoles take to turn on, we were sitting around and happily enjoying Doogie Howser, M.D. or whatever the hell people watched in 1992.

After a few hours, somebody begins knocking on our door. Guess who it was. Yeah, it’s the guy we stole cable from. Literally, stole cable from. Stealing in the sense that we actually deprived him of cable TV because we took it from him. Not only did we end up stealing his cable, but when they yanked his cable off the side of his apartment building and pulled on it until it came out of the wall, it actually pulled his TV off the shelf and it fell to the floor. There was no mention of his TV being broken, but he wasn’t a happy man. We apologized to him and handed his mangled cable TV wire back to him. I don’t remember much of the actual exchange between us and our angry neighbor that night, but I do remember that it ended with him giving us a very weak, “Well, uh, don’t do it again!”

I guess we got our fix of cable that we needed, because we didn’t buy or steal any more cable for the rest of the summer.

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