"Pull over, we're lost."
"No, I know where I am going. You've got the map, don't you see that Best Western? How about Larry Holmes Drive?"
Yes, diary, we are on a road trip, to Easton, home of heavyweight ex-champ Larry Holmes and Crayola. I'm driving and my wife, Karen, is supposed to be navigating. It's a rare day off, with the market closed, and we want to take Cece and Emma, our 5- and 2-year-olds, to the Crayola Factory at Two Rivers Landing.
"Look at those big crayons," says Cece, saving our day, and for that matter, our marriage, as she spots the telltale giant Crayolas jutting from the roof of the factory.
Inside is perhaps the best tour I've taken in years. Free Crayolas, in boxes of three, free Markers, and all you have to do is watch how they are made. Can't get Emma to stop pushing the button that gives us free Markers, however, and I am embarrassed when we walk out with three apiece.
I am a stock picker by profession, and I take so little time off that I find myself thinking about companies the way people think about the Red Sox or about the Knicks. If only someone had traded for this guy, or had built up the rebounding game, what a great team we'd have. It runs through my brain without thought, Muzak-like.
I realize that someone has taken this great brand name, Crayola and, after years of making only crayons, now makes everything a kid would want to draw or paint with. The most captivating is some newfangled putty that they give out on Floor 3. The stuff doesn't peel or flake. Emma calls it "magic dough," and I found myself taking fistfuls of it and making things right alongside my daughters.
I make a note to buy some Hasbro, if the rest of the company hums like this.
After a couple of hours of learning everything there is to know about Crayolas, including www.Crayola.com, we decide to grab some lunch.
The Crayola Factory is located smack on the town square in Easton, one of those passed-by Pennsylvania towns that look just like Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, or Allentown, for that matter. There is a McDonald's in the building, but my wife and I always want to go out of our way to throw business to local merchants, so we walk across the street to the Easton Treat Shoppe, a quaint-looking local place with fountain service.
It's a huge mistake. The no-smoking section is meaningless. Cece says, "It stinks in here. My eyes hurt." We tell her to shush, but I interject that she's right.
We sit down anyway. There is only one menu. My wife's eyes start tearing. "Why don't you grab that menu over there?" she says.
"I don't want to insult the waitress," I say. She laughs, "Give me a break."
Emma joins Cece's "it stinks in here" chorus.
My eyes are burning now, too. The waitress comes over. She has a giant vat of what looks to be bleach next to her. "Is it hurting your eyes?" she says. "Or is it the cigarette smoke?"
My wife and I are so nonconfrontational we say, Don't worry about it. We order some diet Cokes and chocolate milks.
Cece says she has to go to the bathroom.
We look at each other. Neither of us want to take her. The place is just too seedy.
We get the check and go across the street to McDonald's. Two Happy Meals and two No. 4s, supersized, and everybody's happy again.
After an hour of listening to Cece's tape and then Emma's tape--Peanuts sing the Beatles and the "No" song from Sesame Street, if anybody cares--we're back in Doylestown, where our weekend place is.
I pass the time concocting a piece in my head that I think would be pretty funny. It would be a spoof of disclosure boxes, and it would feature a one-line story but a 10-line disclosure box. Such as:
"Dow Jones should sell Telerate and charge whoever buys it a fee for the Dow Jones feed."
James J. Cramer, through Cramer, Berkowitz & Co., owns 1,110,000 shares of Dow Jones, which he bought in order to make money because he hopes the stock will go up, and he believes it will. He wrote for Smart Money, which is owned by Dow Jones, from 1991 until 1995. He wrote a letter to management urging a similar stance. He is friends with Jim Stewart, who still works at Smart Money, and he had lunch at the National Magazine Awards last year with Ken Burenga, the CEO of Dow Jones, who opposes Cramer's plan to offload Telerate. He lived in Eliot House at Harvard.
Something like that.
Back near Doylestown we've got no cable and bad reception. Our neighbor just got a dish. No matter that I have been telling my wife that the dishes are no longer eyesores for the past year, now that she has seen a neighbor get one and it doesn't ruin the décor, she consents.
She suggests we go shopping for a dish. I have been brainwashed by advertising to know that you go to RadioShack. There is one 10 minutes from our place.
"Are you sure you want to go to RadioShack? They are so bad," she says to me.
"I know, but they advertise themselves as the dish store, so I figure they will be OK," I say.
"I am warning you that we've never had a good experience there. I am waiting in the car with the kids. I am not going in."
The gauntlet is down.
I walk in. I am the easiest customer in the world. I know what I want, the expensive up-front, cheaper longer-term Direct Broadcasting System with full package including NFL. $500. Done.
The salesman sees me and comes over. He is friendly. I tell him what I want. He says no problem. I can't believe my wife was so worried.
He checks the inventory and brings out a box. We're in business, I figure.
Then the troubles begin.
The salesman asks me a dozen questions. He seems very tentative. He's calling me "Jimmy," ugh. He scrawls a few things down on an order blank. He asks me the same question several times. The clock is ticking. Through the window I spy my wife turning around and saying something to the kids. She's not smiling.
I politely answer each question. I ask to be sure to include the football package. He says he's not sure how to enter it, and that there is plenty of football with the regular package. I say I am a real Eagles fan and want the package. He says he can't do it. Period. I say, Fine, it's not football season anyway, but I can't believe the guy is willing to pass up the sale.
He then takes down the access code and the serial number from the box. But he is not sure which one is which. He asks the manager, who also is not sure. He runs the charge through and I sign.
Wait, his colleague says. The form is filled out wrong. You've got to use the computer form. My guy says the last one didn't have to do that. The new guy, the manager, says that is how it has to be.
The salesman asks me all of the same questions again, even though the answers are on the sheet and he copies down the numbers. I tell him that I have to show some good faith to my wife; let me take the box out to her and tell her it won't be much longer. About 12 minutes have gone by, and that's an eternity with the two kids after a long road trip.
He says, Sure.
I bound out with the box. "What's taking so long?" she says.
"I don't know, they keep getting it wrong," I say.
"Well, hurry," she says.
I go back in. The guy finishes the same questions. He presses the button on the computer. Nothing comes out. He turns to the manager for help.
The manager says maybe the access codes are wrong. The salesman types in different numbers. Still nothing happens.
I say to the manager, Look, I can't wait much longer. What can we do? The manager throws his hands up. He says he doesn't know what to do. The computer won't work and the codes are wrong. "Do you want a refund?"
I go back to the car and get the box out and take it back. The salesman asks me all of the same questions again and then gives me a refund. The receipt says, "Item did not suit needs." That's a lie. The item suited my needs perfectly. These two jokers just didn't know how to ring up the sale.
I go home without the dish. My wife suggests that I short Tandy to zero on Tuesday. "Can't wait," I say.