She's a Dandy

I'd like to say that in the several days that have passed since I last shared anything that we've been so busy with exciting summer adventures that I just haven't had the time to put my thoughts together.

But that's not the case.

Actually, the last several days have been filled with exactly what a good summer break should be filled with: absolutely nothing.

Not "nothing" in the sense that we've all been sitting around the house staring at the wall, but certainly not anything that holds a candle to a trip to San Francisco or telling the story of a marriage 25 years in the making that would warrant a post all its own!

So here you go ... a run down of the random thoughts and activities from a solid stretch of summer break...

. . .

We've had a Sam's Club in Champaign for as long as I can remember but this past year Costco came to town and I've not seen people lose their minds over a store since Portillo's opened up down the street a few years ago.

My thoughts on Portillo's will probably start a riot among my Chicago-area friends, but here they are in a nutshell: Italian beef? Good. The rest of the menu? Nothing special.

Anyway, we finally decided to hit up Costco and see what the hype was all about. Based on the excitement over a warehouse store that everyone we know seems to share, we crossed the parking lot somewhat expecting to see fireworks and rainbows in the sky while a red carpet was rolled out in our honor.

Instead, we entered the sliding doors to be greeted by a frowning woman who grunted the words "membership card" in our direction. Of course, we needed to get one so she nodded in the general direction of the customer service area.

Long story short, we were pretty underwhelmed with Costco. There was nothing wrong with the place but there wasn't anything we'd buy there that we couldn't get at Sam's with the membership we're already paying for. So after checking out -- a process that took four employees to sort out because the "computers were acting up" -- we loaded the car and agreed that Costco wasn't anything special. I remembered seeing on the wall in the customer service area that refunds for items and memberships would be issued for any level of dissatisfaction.

So I went back in and had our membership cancelled and cost refunded.

No sense in paying for a more expensive membership to a second warehouse store that doesn't give us anything we don't have access to already.

Sorry Costco folks. As much as I don't care for Wal-Mart in general, we'll stick with Sam's.

. . .

The girls have been binge watching Cobra Kai on Netflix and I don't know that I've ever been more proud as a parent.

No mercy, girls.

. . .

Speaking of the Karate Kid, this is fantastic...

. . .

The reselling "business" has been booming over the past few weeks. I've continued to pick up various items here and there and I've most definitely turned around enough to be significantly in the black. Several five dollar purchases turned around for $40-50 ... one brought in over $100. Not bad for a side hustle.

I'll let you know when I make my first million.

. . .

Have you seen the pandemic version of the Price is Right? It's nuts.

. . .

I've picked up a handful of Funko Pops over the past few years. I've got the Breakfast Club set in my office at work and here at home, the Secret Room (I'll explain the secret room sometime to those of you who might think that sounds weird) is home to the Karate Kid and Ferris Bueller Pops. Fred and Lamont Sanford, too.

Just when I get to the point where I think there couldn't possibly be any more that I'd consider buying, Funko hits me square in the face with something new much like they did when they released the Run DMC set not too long ago.

Oh, yeah, those are in the Secret Room, too. Along with Mr. T.

But this past winter, a pre-sale went live on Amazon for a new set to be released in June and I'm not sure I've ever pre-ordered anything faster.

Welcome to the Secret Room, Kid N Play.

And thanks to a well-placed Amazon "others-who-bought-this-item-also-bought" ad, Eazy E showed up, too.

. . .

So for those who don't get it, let me tell you about the Secret Room.

About two-thirds of our basement is living space -- an open area with a TV, foosball table, and video games. This is pretty much where Mason and Myles live. The other part of this area is taken up by two bedrooms.

Then in the remaining third of the basement, you'll find an unfinished area with laundry machines, the furnace, the water heater, and stacks of plastic totes for storage. But just at the back of this area is a small room with a pocket door.

The Secret Room.

My understanding is that the previous owner of this house used this room to store his tools but I've converted it into my own little work space. The kids decided early on that this would be called the "Secret Room."

The Secret Room is where I make the stuff I make -- artwork, buttons, stickers, shirts. As a matter of fact, it's where I'm sitting right now as I type these words. It's also where I store all of the junk that I've accumulated over many years of collecting stuff and having saved many of my own toys and such from my childhood. When we added the two bedrooms to the basement last summer, this is also where my Mister Rogers collection was relocated -- no longer on display but stored away for easy access.

I've always joked with the kids that they are absolutely never allowed to talk about "the toys in Dad's secret room in the basement" because it would probably lead to a visit from DCFS or the local police department.

Consider yourselves lucky, dear readers ... here's a rare glimpse of the Secret Room.

. . .

Myles took a break from video games and YouTube videos long enough one day for me to teach him how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. He's a pro now.

For what it's worth, that's an ice cream cone in my mouth. I don't have a beak.

. . .

Trisha took the girls to a macrame class one Sunday afternoon. They are now all experts on making hangy things that look like they belong hovering over the TV in the late-70s living room of my childhood home.

I'm kidding, of course. The girls loved it and as macrame is making some level of a comeback, they're all set up now to make their own.


. . .

With Trisha working for State Farm, we have access to State Farm Park which is somewhere between a country club and a vacation resort. It wasn't until about a month ago that I realized that I could go there with the kids any time -- even during summer days when Trisha is working. I guess I always assumed she'd have to be with us to go.

So that's all I needed. I packed up all five kids last week and spent the morning people-watching and reading while the kids swam the pool, dove the boards, slid the slides, and lazied the river.

It was only a few minutes into our first visit when I texted Trisha who was working from home.

. . .

Finally, Fathe's Day was absolutely perfect -- terrific weather, a day relaxing after church, and some amazing gifts from the kiddos. Savannah and Myles hooked me up with a perfect card and some coffee.

Mason made me a custom Lego mini-fig and Charlotte painted me an awesome picture based on an old photo from a day she and I went in search of the latest version of Halloween Cap'n Crunch.


But Anna stole the moment in a way that only Anna could. While I absolutely loved everything that all of the kids did for me on Father's Day, Anna's gift made me laugh harder than I've laughed in a long, long time!


As Trisha's dad said the first time he met Anna ... she's a dandy. :)

I Left My Keys in San Francisco

When I was a kid, there was very little that could keep you awake at night more than the intro music from Unsolved Mysteries. Who knew when one of those fleeing murderers and kidnappers might show up at your front door? These stories were, well, unsolved. That meant that every one of the bad guys was probably going to meet up at my house in the middle of the night.

And Robert Stack's creepy voice didn't help matters much either.

But in February of 1989, an episode of Unsolved Mysteries aired that captivated me like no other. The special 90-minute episode dedicated to the three men who escaped from Alcatraz in 1962 fascinated me -- from the elaborate plan to the question of their survival.

So let there be no doubt that I was on board when Trisha suggested a trip to visit some friends in San Francisco. She had some pre-COVID flight credits to use and the timing was right other than the fact that Charlotte, Anna, and Mason were scheduled to be with their mom during that time. We'd hoped to find a time when we could take up half the plane with our entire family but a few scheduling conflicts kept this from happening.

I have to say that one of the worst parts of divorce is experiencing and doing fun things without my kids. But that's the reality of it, I suppose.

I digress.

So we packed up. We masked up. And we headed to sunny California.

We ate.


We drove down Lombard Street which claims to be the "crookedest street in the world."

I swiped this picture off the internet since taking decent pictures on the way down this street proved to be easier said than done.

I saw a boat that reminded me of my cousin, Mike -- a huge Slayer fan.

I'm still trying to figure out this contraption.

The bay area certainly did not disappoint when it came to my favorite kind of artwork.

There were sea lions -- both painted and unpainted.

We walked through the massive trees of Muir Woods.

Somehow my iPhone caputred this pretty cool shot.

Here's an idea of just how massive these trees are.

We got to see a bridge.

All kidding aside, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and driving across it was a pretty surreal experience for me. The Golden Gate Bridge has always been one of those things you read about in books or see in photos, but having never been to San Francisco before, I'd never recognized the true beauty and sheer enormity of this structure.

But c'mon now. Let's be real. My first visit to San Francisco was only going to be complete if we were able to visit Alcatraz.

Unfortunately, as we quickly learned, tickets for tours of The Rock go quickly -- a fact combined with reduced services due to COVID that left us out of luck as we flew to San Francisco. I knew going in that we'd have to come back to the Bay area sometime in the future if I was ever going to see Alcatraz up close ... and I was fine with that. This was a somewhat last-minute trip and there were plenty of other amazing things to experience.

Was it disappointing? Sure. But not anything that would ruin the trip or make anything else less enjoyable.

As we spent one afternoon walking the streets of Sausalito, we'd stopped for a break at an ice cream shop and I suppose Trisha's friend Jennifer thought she'd take one last shot in the dark.

And there they were.

Tickets for Alcatraz. The next day.

After a few frantic moments of swiping around on their phones, they had tickets confirmed and purchased.

We were going to Alcatraz. Over thirty years after first learning about the island prison from an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, I was going to see it first hand.

And it was just as fascinating as I'd hoped.

While driving the Golden Gate Bridge was one kind of surreal, walking through Alcatraz was another. This was the home to Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. This was the spot where people died trying to escape and others died trying to prevent escapes. This was the actual cell where months were spent chipping away at concrete -- part of the escape that first grabbed my attention as a twelve-year-old.

Man. What an amazing experience.

. . .

I'd like to say that this trip was completely fun and stress-free ... but that wasn't entirely the case.

We had parked outside the city and taken public transportation through Oakland and into San Francisco on the day we visited Alcatraz. As we were waiting to board the tour boat that would take us to the island, I realized that I didn't have the keys to our rental car.

I checked every pocket in my shorts and in my jacket. I checked them multiple times, actually.


After a few minutes of semi-panic and troubleshooting, we decided that they had to be inside the car itself. The car had a keyless start -- something I don't have in the car I usually drive -- so surely I had parked the car and left the fob in the console. At least this is what I told myself.

We went ahead with our tour of Alcatraz and spent some time doing some other touristy stuff along the water before heading back to the train. Arriving at the stop where we'd parked, I couldn't get to the car fast enough to check for the keys. My stomach dropped when I pulled on the handle to find the car locked up tight with no keys inside.

Now what?

These keys could be anywhere. On the ground. On a train. Somebody could have tossed them in the trash. Maybe they were sitting on a ledge somewhere.

The fact of the matter was simple though. Somewhere between the spot where I stood and downtown San Francisco were the keys to our car. Among a Bay area population of nearly eight million people, our car keys were lost.

I mean we weren't stuck. We knew we could get replacement keys from the rental company -- at a steep cost, of course. Surely we could have it all sorted out before we were to head home in a little over 24 hours. But it was more the frustration and hassle of the completely avoidable situation that was overwhelming.

As Jennifer's husband Chris and I stood next to a locked car and discussed our options, the ladies headed back into Lafayette BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. We had two options -- go to the airport and pay for replacement keys or wait it out and see if the keys were recovered somehow. It was Sunday and apparently, if the keys had been lost on the train, the BART lost and found was not open until the next day.

And then we saw them. Two women -- our wives -- emerging from the station with smiles on their faces and arms raised in celebration!

Jennifer had asked the station attendant if there was any way to check with other stations along our route in hopes that the keys had turned up. A shot in the dark but a shot nonetheless.

Would you believe that two stops into the city after ours, the keys had been found on board the train and turned in?! They were waiting for us there and we had just enough time to hop back aboard the BART, get to the station where our keys were waiting, and reboard one of the final trains home for the day.


Think about that.

We had traveled through both Oakland and San Francisco. We had walked a few miles in the city. The keys could have been anywhere. But in a matter of just a few hours, I had lost the keys -- a needle in the proverbial hay stack -- and had them back in hand as though nothing had happened.

That's insane.

God bless that random person who turned in our keys. There are good people out there and these are the people who inspire me to make myself a better person every day.

Those people ... and this person ...

Channeling My Inner Fred Sanford

I got a new mouse pad.

So there's that.

. . .

The Knicks lost their series in five games.

My only hope for the remainder of the NBA playoffs is that someone will punch Trae Young in the nose.

. . .

The girls had some ice cream at youth group last night.


. . .

Myles hit a homerun in his baseball game earlier this week.

Technically, it was a single followed by an overthrow to first. And then an overthrow to second. And another to third.

But he hit the ball in fair territory and then ran around all four bases without stopping. That's a homerun in my book.

. . .

So what's been going on this week?

For three straight days following the holiday weekend, I've been back in my sweet spot, starting off the summer with a stretch of junk shopping to set the bar high for the coming weeks. Only things are a little different now. There's been a shift in my junk shopping focus since the last time I've shared my thrift store adventures.

A buyer no more. I'm out scouring the shelves for items to resell these days.

If you're not a junk shopper at heart, these purchases that bring in a ten dollar profit here and a twenty dollar profit there may seem like more trouble than they're worth. But with some time and dedication, there's a market out there for just about everything.

Case in point ... I picked up an 8-track player on Tuesday for seven bucks. I didn't know if it worked or not but it was clean and worth a shot. I got it home, tested it out (yes, I have some 8-track tapes at home), and it worked just fine. 

Well, as fine as you'd expect a forty-five year old 8-track player to work.

I listed it on eBay and within two hours had it sold for seventy-five bucks.

This is what I'm talking about. I'm not out to turn around a five dollar action figure for a two dollar profit. I'm quickly developing an eye for what's worth picking up to resell and what's best left on the shelves.

Like this gem in the sports section. It stayed put.


So long story short ... I've dropped about sixty bucks at junk stores this week and should have no problem turning those purchases around for a profit somewhere in the neighborhood of $400-500. That's based on recent sales comps ... not crazy prices people currently have items listed for online.

And the summer is so, so young.

Stay tuned for more.

Fred G. Sanford, out.