My Barber is high tech!

For years I have been going to Colonial Barber shop in Pekin for my bi-monthly trims.  During the last twenty years of using this local shop, I have become attached to a few of the guys and gals renting chairs in this monument to hometown values.

Recently, one of my favorites, Tim, took off and left an empty chair.  I found out later that he had moved over to a newer little shop in downtown Pekin called “Jakes Place”.  I was still loyal to the regulars down at Colonial till yesterday.  

Yesterday, one of my employees came back from a haircut at “Jake’s” and passed along a message from Tim that I should stop in.  (My hair must have been really bad on my last selfie).  Luckily enough, I did in fact need a haircut.  During the conversation with my tech… We decided to check out “Jake’s Place” on Facebook from my desk.  

I immediately noticed that a “Book Now” button was staring at me from the middle of the page.  What’s this?  I can schedule a haircut?  Being the mercy of the crowd is part of the routine at Colonial, an appointment would save me the grief of sitting and waiting, sometimes for 20 minutes.   I pushed on through the online scheduler.


I was able to select what kind of cut I wanted…  And knew exactly the price of the service I was getting.  I booked it for 4PM that same day.

That was cool enough, but it got better.  


Within seconds of confirming the appointment, I got a text message thanking me for scheduling and confirming the time.  Minutes later… A GMail alert came over with a calendar notification.  My appointment was now in my google calendar!  This is all excellent for a haircut.  Some might say its too much… But for me… I need these notifications and alerts especially if I am planning days out in advance.  

The coup de gra came when I got a text one hour in advance of the appointment.  Anyone who knows me and my schedule can attest that I can get wrapped up in something with a customer or car that leaves me wondering where the time went.  The text notification reminding me that I had to be in Tim’s chair at 4 was invaluable!

I made the appointment…  Tim and I geeked out a little about Instagram (He’s a pro at it) and talked about his appointment system.  (BTW, This is not a paid advertisement)  He said the program is run by “Square”.  The same people who do the credit card slider on our iPhone run this software.  The charge a monthly fee and they handle the appointments and card transactions.  

It’s pretty slick, and if this is a sign of things to come… I will never miss an appointment again.


I checked with my current vendor for our online scheduler… My store sends out emails in similar intervals to the texts that the barber shop is was doing.  But, we do not have the google calendar setup or the one hour alerts.  Both of these features make the system top notch in my opinion.  

I will be pursuing this!

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Sunrise on Deerfield Beach – 1.12.18

Not sure why I never appreciated this type of stuff when I lived there…  But if I had, I likely would not be here in Illinois!  Its a win-win I guess.

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Christmas 2017



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SCC 2017

Following Stork down Rubicon Ridge

The Fort’s Trail Team ended our 2017 “Season” with one of our favorite events in the TLCA lineup…  Southern Cruiser Crawl (SCC).  SCC has been a “must” event for our group since our first time venturing to Hot Springs Off Road Park in 2013.  It’s a mix of old and new trucks, great food, lots of friendly faces and most importantly… It’s a great off road park.

The event has been building year over year…  What started out as a small club event for Cottonland Cruisers has turned into a nationally recognized destination.  Forts Trail Team has been there to watch some of that growth.  Our first year at SCC was three years ago and we brought two trucks.  This year, we had a fleet of six trucks from Central Illinois caravan down the 8 hour drive south.  Our 2001 Tacoma dubbed “300” amazed us once again by showing its durability in trouble free operation on and off the trails, not to mention the drive to and from Hot Springs.  

Fall in Arkansas this year was hot.  Normally when we do SCC it’s a nice warmth in the sun, but when in the shadow of trees or in a valley… Its cool air.  Combine that with the first hints of fall in the tree colors…  And it’s nearly the best time of year to be there.  This year…  It was lot of dust and a heat everyday.  Highs during the days closed in on 90 degrees.  We are breaking a sweat…  Add to the dust from the truck in front of you and you suddenly feel like it’s Mojave Road all over again!  In all honesty, high 80’s while in the shade are not bad.   If you haven’t been there, Hot Springs Off-Road Park has lots of shade.  Every rolling hill is covered with trees and we are deep in these canopy all day.  Rarely do you find yourself in the wide open sun.

   The event is centered around this park…  And it would seem that three years of hitting these trails would make the event a casual drive.  But that’s not the case.  We brought some new people with us, so that is always a thrill.  We did manage to find some new trails, which I did not think was possible!  And, we did some “Night Wheeling” and managed to get backwards on one of the harder trails in the park.  It was a constant adventure!   

Night Wheeling requires a lot of light!

One notable highlight was when “300” got stuck.  It all happened when its over ambitious driver, Fort’s Maintenance Tech Hunter, decided to follow a line that the rock crawling buggies had just ripped through.  Watching the recovery was just fine for the rest of us…  We got to see a show from a world famous truck.   Marlin from Marlin Crawler pulled up and rescued the Tacoma with ease.  Lots of pictures were taken and lots of jabs have been thrown at Hunter since.  All that was missing was popcorn!

Rescued by Marlin


Well, the camping was a highlight as well… As this picture below will illustrate.  Camping with new guys is always an adventure when they have not prepared their gear!

Remember kids… Prep your gear!

This year, as In years past we have used the KOA for camping 5 minutes away from the event.  They have great shower facility and it’s a quiet atmosphere to retire too after running trails all day.  We found out on day two that their breakfast is a pretty good deal as well.  Bonus!  KOA’s have all levels of service.  They have small cabins, RV Hookups and tent space.  We all tent camped.  KOA’s have always been a great value for stops when travelling the country, and this one in Hot Springs is on our good list.  

Mother nature gave us our final wakeup call on Sunday.  The dryest of weekends always ends with rain.  (Because, what fun would packing your tent up be if everything was dry?)  At 6am Sunday morning… And big storm front moved through and made sure everything was soaked.  

Southern Cruiser Crawl happens every October…  It’s on the Fort’s Trail Team to-do list every year.  If you want a fun, end of the year, 4 wheeling romp, this is the one to do.  Let us know if you are interested in going as we always have room for more folks.  Its also worth noting that this event is made for every type of wheeler;  Buggies to stock trucks can have fun here.  Food is provided every night and it’s a big party afterward.  The KOA does book it’s cabins pretty far out in advance…  Otherwise, you can plan this trip around the event registration later in the summer.

Join us!

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Have you been a good person?

A youthful impression of the author.

This morning the news broke about Matt Lauer getting fired from NBC for sexual harassment.  Honestly… I didn’t care.  Lauer is a mega-media guy who has been paid a billion dollars for sitting down to drink coffee with any number of celebrities and politicians over the past 15 years on the “Today” show.  If he was doing crappy things behind the scenes…  Then so be it.  Fire this guy!

later in the day…  Word came over that Garrison Keillor had been fired from Minnesota Public radio for similar offenses.

If you dont know.. And since this blog is for posterity in case I lose my mind later…  Recently, Hollywood and Washington DC figured out that sexually harassing women, men and others is a bad thing. So much so that a guy named Weinsten, who owned a big studio in Hollywood was booted from his own company.  Since then, the allegations have been showering down from the skies over all kinds of folks.

So back to Garrison.  The Keillor thing hit me harder.  I liked the “news from lake Wobegon” on Prairie Home Companion.  I may not always agree with his slant on politics…  But as a radio guy who can appreciate a good yarn… The story telling on the “News” was exceptional.  Garrison had created a cast of characters and story-line that only existed in his head.  You never met any of these people.  You never walked down the streets of Lake Wobegon.  You only knew them from his description.  Brilliant.

Garrison obviously did something to someone…  The allegations have been held private to this point.  So, we are now left to believe that all his art is crap?  Who knows… and you have to wonder how many years you have to wait before people forgive.  The old adage, “Time heals all wounds” will help all of these guys who did “guy things” in their time. Unfortunately, for Garrison… Time is running out.

Now… Dont get me wrong.  “Guy things” is not a pass.   BUT… Big BUT here…   I think that anyone his age probably came about it naturally through learned behavior.  He was raised in an era when it was ok that Dad slapped Mom’s ass while she served dinner.  That was a norm.  Men were natural aggressors in all forms of media.  In my mind through the the 80’s at least.  That means movies, magazines and music portrayed women as the lesser sex.  Men were there to conquer.  If you had a Dad that raised you in the 70’s… They probably taught you a version of that.  Their teachers were their Dads, men of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Side-track… Watch music videos from the 80’s…  My God…  Women were playtoys for any horny dude that could reach far enough to get grip on them!

We have come a long way… So…   It begs the question…  What is the statute?  If a guy did something 30 years ago…  And when I say something… I mean something like lurid comments or groping…  Is that worth a life sentence?   Lauer is reported to have given sex toys as gifts and dropped his pants in-front of female staff members.  He never assaulted anyone (as far as I know as I write this).  While the climate is hot right now…  He is probably not getting a pass anytime soon, but I will bet he is back on a major network within 3 years.

Before today’s news…   The recent revelations about other sexual misconduct had me thinking introspectively.

A few weeks ago we talked about this at work.  Have I done anything unsavory?  Have I used my position of power as a manager of people over the years to demean women?  I had to think about my childhood and youth…  My first jobs and girlfriends.  Did I participate in any of this “obscene” behavior?  I mean, have I ever thought it was OK to grab a woman and say obnoxious things in order to let her know that I was available?  At first… I’m like “I would never do that”.  But, thats your current intelligence speaking for your hormone filled youth.  You cant trust that.  It may sound like I am trying to soften the blow of something I might have done eons ago that was horrible.  But really, I’m just trying to be objective.  Can I step back and look over life and remember every stupid thing I have done?

To end the suspense… No.  I haven’t done anything like that.  I always tried to be nice.  Not saying I haven’t been an asshole when dealing with matters of the heart.  But I was never forceful or aggressive.

Its kind of a relief when you are doing your mental inventory of guilt.

I can thank my Mom and Dad for most of my moral high ground.  Be raised by a single Mom for a good chunk of your childhood.  That will teach you a new respect for women.  My Grandparents… My immediate Aunts and Uncles…  My Step-Dad and all of my extended family.  They all treated EVERYONE with respect.  I dont remember any sexist or boorish behavior undercurrents in my youth.   Racism…  Well, that was there and as a kid it was part of the fabric of being locked in Central Illinois.  Thats a whole different post.

I have worked with some sexist weirdo’s…  The biggest one I can recall was my boss at the Holiday Inn City Centre in Peoria.  That guy was all over the front desk clerks and it was obvious that attention in his direction would reward you.  I think I am going to tag Becky K in this post on Facebook and see if I am correct in that allegation.

With over 20 years in the car business… I have heard more than my share of crass talk.  I am sure my “guy talk” with the techs would have reached inappropriate levels to members of the female sex.  Even though 99.9% of the time women are not present, I have no defense.  Talking to guys who are in their 20’s can pull you back down to conversations that years of experience have told you are wrong.  Its an easy pit to fall into.

Ultimately, at the end of the day… My actions and how I have shown respect to the women I work with should tell a fair story.


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Kokopelli Trail run with Fort’s Trail Team

Matt M’s 5th gen is lined up and ready to go on the Kokopelli Run

Wanted:  Cruise Moab registrants with an extra taste for adventure for this years Overnight run on the Kokopelli Trail.  Trucks must be lifted, modified and protected from the extreme trails that will be between you and Moab.  Additionally, be prepared to cook and camp for yourself as we will be on the trail for three days and two nights.  Also, if you can bring those pudding cups with the gummy worms for the camp potluck, that would be great.

While that might seem like a bit of a stretch for the official Kokopelli Overnight registration, it’s not too far removed from what Stan Wright was asking of the intrepid adventurers who signed up for his guided tour to Cruise Moab 20.

This overnight run is not a new thing for Cruise Moab.  For the past few years they have run a multi-night “overlanding” style trek from Grand Junction to Moab via the Kokopelli Trail.  The 142 mile trail has a little of everything including the route that sends you over Rose Garden Hill and and a sidetrack up the Top of the World trail.  That mileage may not seem like a long distance on paper, but believe it or not, it takes a constant pace to finish in under three days.  This outing is a draw for anyone not familiar with the area or wanting a taste of overlanding.  The registration filled up quick and they couldn’t take everyone who applied.  

Night 2 campsite on the trail.

I will admit to being a “noobie” on this type of overland trip.  I had read the trail notes on “MUD” from years past…. It sounded amazing and equally stressful.  I had even sold the trip to a few friends and co-workers after selling myself on it.  Registration goes fast.  Four trucks in my local group tried to get on the run…. Three of us made it.  Fortunately, I was one of those three.  A lesser man, and a true friend would have bailed when the fourth truck was left behind…. I am not that good of a friend.

We had months to prepare.  That was good and bad.  It gave me a lot of time to think about my truck equipment…. And then start over-thinking personal gear.  Fortunately, this run was being guided by Stan Wright (same one at the beginning of this magazine!) and Chris…  Any questions we had about what to expect would be laid to rest by the experienced guides.  We received an email from Stan with expectations of our trucks and a special area in “mud” to start sharing information about the planned trip.  Also, we were encouraged to add some background on the rest of the adventurers.  Of course, it turned into a drool session when we saw the modifications some of the guys/gals had done to their rigs in anticipation of this trip.  

Matt Wagner knocked one off his bucket list. Top of the World, Moab UT.

There were folks registered from New Hampshire, Illinois, Texas, Atlanta, Seattle and San Diego and all points in between.  We just about hit the four corners of the US of A with this crew.  Drivers and passengers were all ages and we even had a celebrity dog along for the trip!   It was a diverse vehicle lineup.   A newer GX body, Tacoma, FJ Cruiser, a diesel swapped 62, a few 80’s, four 4Runners and a couple 100 series.  You have to stay disciplined to stop watching all the cool trucks around you or you might do something dumb on the trail!  

The night before the event start, several of us decided to camp out at the trailhead in Rabbit Valley.  (Never saw a rabbit BTW). About 8 trucks had set up to get a bonus night of camping before we hit the trails at 10AM the next day.  It was a nice head start to meet a few of our merry band of adventurers.  April in the high desert is beautiful camping weather.  Cool and dry with clear skies.  

Stan showed up the next morning for the drivers meeting with a big pile of local burritos…. Now this could be a test…. Do you throw down burritos before an eight hour trip on a rough and tumble trail?  I risked it.  They were delicious.  Local flavors win again!  We had the group pow wow…. Rules, inspections and expectations were taken care of.  We would have a long drive to get to our first campsite.  Buckle up, let’s move now and prepare for some amazing views.

It was just that.  The first day’s drive was a long winding trip to the Mesa, that had us scrambling to beat bad weather.  Heavy clouds loomed overhead that morning and we were getting some drops on the windshield.  Stan explained over the CB that we would be in bad shape if a downpour arrived, leaving us on slick orange surface mud (I remember a similar feeling at Mardi Krawl…. No thanks!).  We moved along quickly for the first few hours.  After we reached the top of the Mesa we had our chance to take a breath and take a look.  Amazing views that you can only dream about from the interstate.  No doubt, you sucking it all in while driving, but a stop once and awhile lets you really admire the huge vistas that no camera can ever capture.  

potluck in the middle of nowhere!

Part of our preplanning had us pack a shareable meal for a potluck on night one.  We got the camp area with lots of time to set up and start cooking before dark.  This was my first chance to see all the possible overlanding combinations.  Rooftop tents of a few different varieties.  Awnings galore.  And a few folks setting up traditional tents.  Supper was anything but freeze dried camp food.  Brats, Chicken Tacos, homemade Soup (kept frozen for the trip in a portable freezer)..  So much food that we couldn’t kill it all!  Thank God there are not bears in this area…. We would have been surrounded!  We spend the night hearing some great yarns from TLCA President, Ross Woody.  Most of us had no clue that a minor celebrity had tagged along for our trip!  (I didn’t get his autograph!)

Day two on the trail had us running all day to get to top of the world.  We started off at 9AM…. And arrived at the trail entrance at about 5PM.  It was a tremendous day with winding trails that kept us seeing sights of the snow covered San Juan’s in the distance.  So far, nothing had held us up.  No cows, gastric distressed drivers or broke-down trucks.  According to Stan, this was unusual.  They normally were dealing with some sort of breakdown every time they start this adventure.  Could we beat the odds?

We headed up “Top of the World” trail for some great “light” at the end of the day.  The sky was blue and the clouds were minimal.  Remember what I said about breakdowns?  It happened.  It sounds like it’s bound to happen on a trip like this.  And in reality…. You should be mentally prepared for your personal truck being the problem that holds everyone up.  Recovery gear is highly recommended from the start for this reason.  Our group had some old trucks, and we ran at a reasonable pace to make sure everyone was safe.  Surprisingly, it was the newest truck in our group that had the first failure.  The Tacoma had succumbed to poorly modified front diff carrier that had given way at the body mount.  There was a scramble to assist, but it didn’t appear that we could solve this halfway up “Top”.  It was decided that the taco was drivable enough to head back down to our second night’s campsite in the valley.  The rest of the crew were able to get to the most scenic photo shoot in Moab.  Really, the best photo spot in the United States until somebody proves otherwise.

Heading down Rose Garden Hill.

The trail damage had held us back about an hour…. We were coming down from “Top” in nearly full darkness.  It was a scramble with lots of auxiliary LED’s in all directions and a huge dust cloud.  When we got back, we still had to time to cook some dinner at the campsite and set up a campfire with all our remaining firewood.  It was a big BS session with lots of laughs and stories that any Toyota lover would appreciate.  That night, our youngest trail runner declared that she had adopted 10 new Dad’s on this trip.

The next morning was rough.  We found out that the damaged Tacoma was out of the run.  They would have to head back to Moab after finding the differential mount had been completely sheared off.  Adding to this…. Our 4Runner from New Hampshire was now getting a very loud whine from the rear carrier.  They did not feel safe enough to make the journey to Rose Garden Hill.  The two injured trucks limped back to Moab.  (What happened in Moab is a great story of folks helping each other out if you want to hear about it sometime.  The kind of stuff that restores your faith in humanity.)

I personally have a history with Rose Garden Hill and it didn’t end pretty last time I was there.  Google:  UCA repair with ratchet straps for an idea.  To be honest… I was happy to sign up for this tour and have guides at the ready to lead us down.  I had met the criteria to make this trip, but Stan and everyone else in the group were weary that I would have some extreme trail damage with my light setup.  I had my heart racing as we approached the obstacle laden hill.  It is no understatement to say that our spotters, Stan, Ross and Chris were brilliant.  I did end up with a scratch on the side of my truck…. But nothing that I could not have done at the local off-road park.  We were feeling the advantage of having experienced wheelers with us.  This kind of leadership can make all the difference between a great day of off-roading and the worst day of your life.  There is a giant fence that separates the two, and you can fall onto either side very easily.  

A completed Rose Garden Hill is nearly the end of the trip… And that is a heavy feeling.  We did wander for an hour through a canyon on the way to our finish in Moab.  It was as chance to rip through 20+ water crossings… It was a serious refresher after days on a dusty trail.  I made it my goal to cover the 4Runner every chance I got.  We had some chatter on the CB’s and spent a seriously long time glad handing and wishing well to all of our fellow travelers.  We had survived, for the most part, and were enjoying each other’s company.   We were all slow to break up the party at the beginning of the pavement.  If given the chance, we probably could have gotten half the group to head back to the start and do it again!  

Our intrepid tour guide… Stan Wright.

Stan and Chris have been leading this trail run for a few years…. And have been threatening to hand it off to other volunteers.  Any of you folks who go to these events know that it takes a lot of manpower and personal commitments to make anything like this happen.  Please.  Help out when you can, and be sure to thank those that do.  Thanks to our trail leaders, Cruise Moab and TLCA for putting on a great event!  

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Summer in Norway?

Today I got a flurry of text messages from my Daughter expressing interest in a 4H exchange program for the summer of 2018… 1 month in Norway.  Above is one of the text images.

OK… I listen to the pitch… It all sounds fine until I see the price. 2200.00 plus airfare!?!?!

First off… We are going on a family vaca to Europe next year. I am not sure there is a need for her to spend another 4 weeks in Northern Europe, especially when its going to cost as much as or whole family trip!

Secondly… I thought these exchange programs were cheaper. Do the host families get paid now? I thought it was a labor or love to take a kid in from another country. I think I will take in a couple after the kids move out to make extra cash in a few years!!!

Thirdly… I just bought our spring break… I’m broke!

Fourthly… (Is that a word?) Where are my Facebook friends? Cant I just call Andrew down in Australia or Jim in New Zealand? Mike in Germany? Can I give you guys my Daughter for a month with half that money???

No, we cant front the bill for this. Summer is ready to shed or sell items of value. Not that she has much. She does work, but she cant make enough at her job.

I told Summer to start a Go-Fund-Me or something like that. She wanted me to whip it up, but I told her its going to need some production value to get the money she is looking for.

Admission fee of 2200.00: (Airfare on top of that, I can bargain shop that.)
44 people to give 50 bucks?
88 people to give 25 bucks?
Rewards: Postcards from Norway, exclusive donor Facebook channel with video diaries? Who knows.

I told her to make a list of possible donors.

So, if she hits you up… You know where this is coming from! 

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Pekin Paintball

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The 5th of November… Guy Fawkes Day 2017

Remember remember… The 5th of November.

In the spirit of the day… I share this video.

In this YouTube video, the character “V” wears a Guy Fawkes mask in a homage to the British revolutionary. Fawkes was part of group that planned the failed Gunpowder Plot in the year 1605. The plot of the movie is similar to Fawkes origninal mission… Blow up the houses of parliment.

This clip from “V for Vendetta” is generated from a movie adaptation of a comic that I would say was on the “subversive side” in the 80’s. It was made in a time when nationalism was in an uptick and fear of the Russians and nuclear war loomed heavily in the media. (We could talk about Sting singing “Russians” or Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” puppetry as examples of the fervor that existed in those days) Isn’t it funny how these things are cyclical?

My immediate circle in HS knew of the book when I was collecting the series… But as I recall… we weren’t the most popular bunch, so i would say the other 99% of kids running around Fairbury had never heard of V for Vendetta, Guy Fawkes or any of the history behind this mask.

Imagine my surprise a few months ago when I see my daughter has the trade paperback in her hands… Not only that, It’s a library book. Even more shocking, it’s from the school library. Wow! I was thrilled. We have come a long way in some ways! (Then again, Aiden told me a story of a kid he met who was a glacier denier yesterday that makes me wonder WTF are some people teaching their kids)

While flipping through the pages in my kitchen, my daughter asked me if I had ever heard of this book? At that moment… I really felt as if I had blown it as a parent by not sharing this with her previously. Then again, I must have done something right… She found it by herself and had been enlightened and educated by it.

Added bonus… Summer saw the movie after reading the book! She didnt even know it existed. How often does a kid watch a movie after reading the book? She was merciless in her review after watching the movie! lol.

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Review me

So… Our industry changes constantly… As do the places that we care about for reviews! I forgot about this site and have not been using it. Apparently we now DO care about Dealerrater!!!

I have one review in the last year… It was some folks that I tried really hard to work with, and ultimately refunded their money… But they still ditched on me as the most untrustworthy guy in the universe. I tried. Thats all I can do.

Anyway… Loving and kind words about your experiences with me or Fort’s would be appreciated. If you have a similar field that uses reputation management… Let me know… I’ll send some cyber-love back to you.

Also… Google reviews are always welcome!!!

Eric Stahl

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