Thursday, July 27, 2006


c. 2006 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: The following column contains elements that are not strictly true. Be advised that our editor recommends you read on carefully, with due caution.

A few months ago, I wrote a humorous column about ‘The Tube Farm.’ My bit of creative wordsmithing speculated on possible explanations for this unusual local oddity. While the piece was intended only as a parody of modern reporting, it resonated with citizens across Geauga. The result was a generous week of sales for The Maple Leaf. I felt happy to have struck a nerve with our readership.
Soon afterward, however, strange calls began to plague the ICE homestead. A series of voice-mail messages were left at my number, with the same inquisitorial tone. A rough voice asked directly: “How did you know?”
Stray e-mail messages started to appear at every account I used. “Who’s side are you on?” they asked. “Are you a patriot, or an instigator?” Eventually, I moved them to a folder in my account marked ‘Mr. X.’ Each blast of prose was basically the same. Someone had become convinced that I knew secret details about the field of tubes on Rock Creek Road!
I began to note the presence of covert surveillance whenever I left my peaceful Geauga neighborhood. There was a prevailing sense of being watched throughout the entire day! Unmarked cars followed each movement I made, skillfully. It brought a sense of weariness to my travels. I mumbled curses while navigating back roads to my destinations. “Who is stalking me? The government? The CIA? Or a foreign power??”
Predictably, the messages continued on my phone. “How did you know?” They sounded more than curious. Represented was a promise for further investigation. After awhile, I simply started deleting them without listening. Then, the patience of my clandestine observer seemed to evaporate. He left a different sort of audio note. It was chillingly direct. “Mr. Ice, this game is growing tiresome. We need to talk. Meet us at the raceway, in Thompson, tomorrow afternoon. Let’s settle this like gentlemen. Share your information, and we won’t bother you again!”
When I got the regular mail that day, a postcard was with my ration of bulk advertising. It was nearly blank, except for two words: “BE THERE!” I took the command as an ultimatum.
My plan for the meeting involved two cameras. One was the current digital unit I used for the paper. Its older, film-format cousin would be my decoy. Before leaving, I e-mailed a neighbor who would be home from work in a couple of hours. My instructions were cryptic, but clear: “Going for a ride by the drag strip. If I happen to break down, come look for me…” Then, I said a silent prayer.
Minutes later, I approached the strip cautiously. It was empty, but the gates were open. After circling the driveway, my courage began to build. Silence gripped the afternoon with relentless authority. I clicked off a series of photographs, and then hid the digital camera in an oily T-shirt used to clean my truck. I remained calm despite frayed nerves. With my bogus film unit in hand, I approached the track itself. The observation tower seemed ominous when framed against the blue sky. While taking pictures, I had thought there was a dark figure in the window. But… it turned out to be an illusion. Or was it? Suddenly, I couldn’t be certain of anything. The raceway held its secrets tightly. I walked alone for a moment, wondering if the news tip had been a distraction from something else.
My mood changed instantly, when a group of three men appeared. They were dressed in dark suits and tinted glasses. There was no time to react! In only a second, the trio had me surrounded. This was it – REAL CONTACT! The wind carried a scent of chemical residue. Briefly, I worried about being kidnapped.
The tallest man spoke in a monotone voice. “Mr. Ice? Pleased to meet you.”
I was scared, but rebellious. “Mr. X, I presume??”
He snorted. “Whatever you like. I’m glad you decided to cooperate.”
A second man snatched away the empty camera. “You won’t be needing this!”
I pretended to protest. “Hey, that’s my property!”
Mr. Y pulled out the roll of 35mm film and crushed it under his heel. Then, he handed the device back to me, with a grin. “Sure. Here you go!”
Mr. X whispered to his third companion. “Did you search the motorcycle?”
Mr. Z responded with disgust. “Yes. We just found beer, smokies from Trumbull Locker, and an oily, pink garment. He must have used it for a garage rag!”
I was impatient. “So, why did you want to talk, Herr X? What is so special about a guy like me, anyway?”
He chortled. “You are a very unique man, Mr. Ice. Your report about ‘The Tube Farm’ was incredibly insightful. That is why we wanted you here. I need some information… How did you know about The Tubes?”
“Know what??” I growled.
Mr. X returned to his monotone. “How did you know the Defense Department was in Ashtabula County?”
I cleared my throat. “Look Mr. X-Box, my article was fiction. Didn’t you get that? I’m a newspaper columnist. I made it all up as a joke.”
Y and Z nodded, with a wink. “Oh sure… of course you did!”
I felt perturbed. My stomach was tied in a knot. “It’s a gimmick I use as a writer, you know? People get a laugh out of such wild creations.”
Mr. X narrowed his eyes. “If you won’t be honest, we’re going to require stronger measures…How did you find out that The President had been in our area?”
My hands were shaking. “Hey, Mr. X-Files, I’m just a small-town newspaper guy, okay? Don’t you understand? It was all in good fun!”
A cell phone chirped in Mr. Y’s pocket. He turned away, buzzing with hurried conversation. Then, the mysterious fellow went pale. I watched him close ranks with the others. Muffled words filled the air. And suddenly, the tense atmosphere was gone.
Mr. X spoke for the group. “Uhm… I have to apologize, Rod. It seems that we’ve made a mistake…”
“There’s a revelation!” I shouted. “How did you figure it out?”
He looked truly embarrassed. “We thought you had inside information. But our search methods have confirmed your story…”
Mr. Y tried to diffuse the excitement. “Please, Rod! Forgive us!”
“We’re all on the same side here,” Mr. Z added, emphatically.
I was angry. “Did you ransack my house? Are you guys from the government?”
Mr. Z laughed out loud.
“You have us pegged wrong,” Mr. Y said with a smile. “We don’t work for ‘W’ and his Washington buddies. We are in YOUR line of employment.”
I had become completely baffled. “What??”
“We are journalists, just like you,” Mr. X replied.
“This is X-tremely stupid!!” I said, sarcastically. “Don’t tell me you are with CNN! Or The New York Times?”
Looking guilty, the trio held their silence.
Finally, Mr. X shrugged his shoulders. “We need the REAL story, just like you, Rod. Truth is our mission. We owe it to the public.”
“We are the guardians,” Mr. Y continued. “Don’t try to pretend that you feel differently about things. This is life during wartime. It is our duty to represent the people. There is no other way.”
My mouth had gone dry. “I understand your passion for journalism. And I respect that. But what happened to old-fashioned reporting? You are supposed to convey the news, not manufacture it! Don’t you realize that everything you print has an effect on the world? By rushing toward conclusions, you are doing a disservice to your readers.”
No one would answer my proposition.
“You can’t place yourselves above those you represent,” I said with emotion. “Reporting isn’t a crusade. It is a public service.”
Dust began to rise from Sidley Road. Someone was approaching, with a custom dragster on its flatbed trailer! I blinked as the three men vanished like a wisp of smoke. My belly went limp. The uneasy silence relented at last. I was glad to hear the clatter of a diesel motor!
Cheers echoed from the drag crew as they rolled in, next to my motorcycle. A blonde teenager giggled at my befuddlement. Her outfit was a matching NASCAR top and shorts. She looked colorful, and sassy. “Hey, you’re early, Mister. Did you come far to see the races?”
I fumbled for a reply. My head was still spinning. “Just here for the local
newspaper. Got to write a story.”
She didn’t look impressed. Her brothers pointed toward the staging area. With a blurt of diesel exhaust, they were gone.
I scanned the horizon for X, Y, and Z. But only azure blue met my eyes. It was time to turn the Hawg toward home. My close encounter with alien invaders was over. Now, it was time to make my deadline!

Friday, July 21, 2006

CARS: The Real Story

c. 2006 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows is a one-act play that takes place at a secluded boardroom in Detroit. Present are Henry Ford XVI, General Motors (Ret.) and Hans Chrysler. Chairman of the discussion is erstwhile Presidential Candidate H. Ross Perot. They are considering the re-introduction of Volkswagen’s ‘Rabbit’ model, skyrocketing fuel prices, and how to better compete with foreign automakers.

SETTING: A long, dark chamber, lined with paintings of industrial tycoons. Coffee cups and water bottles are strewn across the table. Half-empty trays of fine edibles are everywhere. Binders full of statistical data are piled in front of each participant. Yet their mood is rowdy. The group engages in petty squabbling and mischief before their conference begins.

H. ROSS PEROT: (Slams his fist on the table) “I’d like to call this-here meetin’ to order! Ya’ll listen up!”

HENRY FORD XVI – (To The General) “Your medals are blinding me. Did you have to come here in a full dress uniform?”

GENERAL MOTORS – “What, are you jealous, Private? I don’t see any gold on YOUR chest.”

HANS CHRYSLER - “Come on everyvone, vee must settle down!”

GENERAL M. - (Lights a cigar) “Hey Chrysler, since when do you talk with an accent? You sound like Sgt. Schultz from ‘Hogan’s Heroes.’”

FORD XVI – “Yeah, and where did you get the name ‘Hans?’ I thought it was Walter…”

H. CHRYSLER - (Miffed by their comments) “It vas part of zee merger mit ‘Daimler Auto.’ Shutten zee up!”

PEROT - “Okay, calm down. Let’s talk about the market. We’ve had a rough ride thanks to Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. Now Kia, Hyundai and Suzuki have made things worse. But this takes the cake - those dad-blamed Krauts in Wolfsburg have brought back THE RABBIT!”

H. CHRYSLER – “Achtung! Be nice to zee Krauts!”

GENERAL M. – “Holy Howitzers!! THE RABBIT?? It’s a dark day for all of us!!”

FORD XVI – “Guys! You’re worked up over nothing. The car is just a Golf with new design features.”

H. CHRYSLER – “Gas is at three dollars a gallon, und you zay ‘chust a Golf.’ Ach du lieber! THE RABBIT will multiply sales like crazy!”

PEROT - “The folks at VW reckon it will bring back memories of the fuel-efficient 70’s. That’ll sell in today’s market!”

GENERAL M. – “Yeah, nostalgia works in America. Customers are re-enlisting at my dealerships, every day. I’ve got Monte Carlos, Impalas, Malibus… people love them!”

FORD XVI – “Great, General. Why don’t you order the troops to build a new Vega or maybe a modern Corvair? THAT would satisfy your customers!”

H. CHRYSLER – “Himmel! You talk brave, Herr Ford. How about vee build a new PINTO? Ja, there’s a big vinner mit customers!! Ohh, jaaa!!”

FORD XVI – “Hey Hans… I mean Walter… that’s just sour grapes from you. Or should I say sour-braten??”


PEROT – “Boys, let’s settle down, okay? You’re wandering off the trail.”

GENERAL M. – “TEN-HUT!! He’s right. We’ve all got a big problem. THE RABBIT will nuke us! What can we do?”

PEROT – “I think VW is on to somethin’ here. We need cars that’ll sip gasoline instead of takin’ Texas-sized gulps. But to sell them to regular folks, we need some familiar style. Somethin’ that’ll make them feel comfy about drivin’ around in a little box on wheels. No red-blooded American really likes that.”

FORD XVI – “Okay… what’s the plan?”

PEROT – “Walter… uh, I mean, Hans… everything will start with YOU.”

H. CHRYSLER – “Ja? Mit me??”

PEROT – “Brother Ford here has done mighty well with the new Mustang. People love it. They’re standin’ in line to plunk down money on one of those.”

FORD XVI – (With a look of self-assurance) “What can I say? After sixteen generations, you really KNOW how to build cars people want!”

GENERAL M. – (Gestures with his cigar) “Sheesh! Wait till my new Camaro comes out. We’ll sell platoons of them!!”

PEROT – “Boys, your ideas are great. But we need to sell fuel economy, as well. That’s where Hansie Boy comes in. He can start the ball rollin’ for everybody!”

H. CHRYSLER – “Ja? How do vee do it??”

PEROT – “You boys bought out American Motors, a long time ago. Right?”

H. CHRYSLER – (nodding) “Ja! Dis is how vee got Jeep! Vot a moneymaker!!”

PEROT – “Then ya’ll still own the rights to the car that’ll bring back the glory days of good ol’ American know-how… THE AMC PACER!”

H. CHRYSLER – (Sputtering) “NEINNNNNNNN!!! You talk crazy!”

GENERAL M. – Spills his coffee; chokes on his cigar.

FORD XVI – (gasping) “Are you getting senile??”

PEROT – “Boys, I’m tellin’ you, it’d work, big time! Just think of the promotional possibilities. There’d be a tie-in with the re-release of ‘WAYNE’S WORLD’ and maybe we could give one to Jay Leno on ‘The Tonight Show’ as part of a skit! Yee-Haw!!”

GENERAL M. – “Okay, I get it, Ross. You’ve been requisitioning some corn liquor again, right?”

FORD XVI – “So, maybe I SHOULD bring back the Pinto?”

PEROT – “I’m just tryin’ to shed some light on the subject. Like I said, we don’t care for little cars. Never have! But with gas goin’ up every day, we need ‘em. So there’s got to be a way to make the bitter pill taste better!”

H. CHRYSLER – (Smiling) “Ja, I could have mein secretary call Mike Myers.”

GENERAL M. – (Bows his head) “Well, there’s a whole scrap-heap worth of models I could re-introduce. The Monza, The Chevy II, The Tempest, The Buick Opel, or even… The Chevette!”

PEROT – “That’s more like it! Think of the possibilities! Before you know it, we’ll be kicking Toyota all the way back to the Sea of Japan!!”

FORD XVI – “I still make the Falcon in Australia. I could just bring it here…”

PEROT – (Grinning with pleasure) “I always say there’s nothin’ that can beat America when our people work together.”


GENERAL M. – (With a new stogie) “Hansie, you’re alright! The three of us are gonna make a killing! Pacers, Falcons and Chevettes for everybody!!”

PEROT, CHRYSLER, FORD, AND THE GENERAL – (Singing together) “We killed The Rabbit, we killed The Rabbit!!”

EPILOGUE: (From the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

By Chris Morgan, Staff Writer - “Visitors to the 2007 Greater Cleveland Auto Show were stunned by a wealth of thrifty, stylish models from GM, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler. But the season’s biggest splash came from across the Atlantic Ocean. Central in the exhibition was Eastern Europe’s latest subcompact – the updated and redesigned NEWGO. At a price of $8995 (with A/C and an automatic transmission) this modern cousin to the late, lamented YUGO dominated the gathering, and promised to be a hit in showrooms across Ohio!”

Friday, July 14, 2006


David Bowie once sang: "Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes!"

In recent days, this old tune has taken on new meaning as I consider moving onward from my traditional retail home in Chardon. Local customers will remember that I have served the Geauga community (through various stores) since 1984. It has been a responsibility I accepted with both pride and pleasure over the past twenty-two years.

You will hear differing versions of my exit from GIANT EAGLE on June 30th. (I will respectfully avoid discussing that issue here.) Simply stated, there are two points on which all of us agree: First - I am no longer a member of the staff. Second - My services did not 'fit' the new direction that the store is taking. I wish everyone well as they move toward an expanded and redefined market in Chardon.

My personal thanks to EVERYONE who has patronized my stores over the past two decades. It has been an honor to serve you.

Special thanks to Frank Tainer and Bill Mikolsky for providing an exceptional level of service to this city. My gratitude also to Jim Grey, Bob Herron, Frank Monastra, Bob Jordan, Stan Pigon, Mike Cooper, and Nick Bucceri for the years we spent together. I learned a great deal while working for the people of Chardon. Thanks for the paychecks, and a free education!

I can't speculate here about my personal future in Geauga. But it would certainly be a pleasure to once again represent the citizens of our area. I would welcome discussion about future opportunities...

In the meantime, my work for THE GEAUGA COUNTY MAPLE LEAF will go on, as ever.

Thanks, and best wishes, to YOU!

Sincerely, Rod Ice

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

July 5, 2006 - After more than twelve years without a department store, Chardon welcomed the opening of a WAL-MART Supercenter on Wednesday, July 5th. The Capitol City of Geauga once boasted three retail outlets – Conley’s, Woolworth’s and Fisher’s Big Wheel. All three were out of business by early 1994.

Dignitaries from the city including Mayor John Park, Assistant City Manager Randy Sharpe, Fire Chief Larry Gaspar, and Police Chief Tim McKenna were in attendance. Also present to help celebrate the moment were The Chardon Hilltoppers Cheerleading Squad, and the Ledgemont Marching Band & Color Guard.

Mayor Park spoke openly about the work needed to bring a mainstream retailer to the city. “I lost some friends over this, but gained new ones. This is an example of private and public partnership,” he said. “And in spite of what the News-Herald reported, no public money was involved in this project.”

When Store Manager Justin Dew was introduced, the assembled crew broke into a traditional company greeting. In unison, they cheered “Hello, Justin!” This was followed by two handclaps, two foot-stomps, and a boisterous “Whoo!” Dew came from Arizona to oversee the new Supercenter. He cheerfully introduced Tina, his wife, and their daughters Hanna, Maddie, and Makenna. Dew promised the kind of community involvement and customer satisfaction that Chardon has typically demanded from its retailers. “If you’re not happy, we’re not happy!” he exclaimed.

Notably absent were protesters that have appeared at other Wal-Mart openings in the area. Those visiting expressed general optimism about having the Bentonville, Arkansas giant as a partner and neighbor in the city.