Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ground to Okoboji

  I went to Okoboji, Iowa for the seventh year in a row last weekend to direct the super strong Okoboji Open chess tournament for my friend Jodene Kruse. Okoboji weekend is by far the most challenging chess weekend of the year for me. In my youth tournaments the players are battling over what color ribbon they are going to get and the most complicated question I get is whether the position on the board is a checkmate or a stalemate (or neither). At Okoboji there’s $2000 in prize money at stake with some of the best players in the region playing. I have to be concerned with which players are paired against each other with what colors and I may have to make decisions at a moment’s notice on any number of arcane topics like how to handle a spectator with a ticking clock in their bag or whether to uphold a claim that a position had occurred on the board three times or what to do when the players are running so low on time that they aren’t writing down the moves but someone has a claim about a ’50 move rule’ or a ‘repetition of position’.

My first stop on my trip to Okoboji took me to this Burger King in West Des Moines Iowa.
The coffee is a bit pricey but the wireless internet is free.

  One thing I expect at the Okoboji Open is the unexpected and if nothing unexpected happens – well that is not something I expect either. Other things I expect about the Okoboji weekend is I will meet friends I see once or twice a year, make new friends, and have a great time. I never went to a family reunion but I imagine if I did it would be a lot like the Okoboji Open tournament. It’s a place I feel like I belong and fit in and that is a feeling I appreciate.

  I arranged to take Friday and Monday off from work and in a perfect world would have left my house at ten to take the leisurely 230 mile trip northwest to Okoboji. Since the world isn’t perfect I got up at four as usual, took Daisy and Baxter for their morning walk at 4:30, packed my car with all my chess directing stuff and a few days’ worth of food (including AMP Focus Energy drinks) and clothes and at 5:30 made a 63 mile trip southwest to St. Francis in West Des Moines for the chess club. I suppose I could have taken the easy way out and left the club in the hands of my capable co-coaches the same way I did when I went to California but that wouldn’t have been the easy way for me. Working with the St. Francis kids is a highlight of my week and if these kids can get up an hour early on a Friday to go to chess club I can drive an hour to run it for them.

  As usual I had a great chess club as long as I discount the child that tripped over a chair and hit his head on another chair and had a knot on his forehead the size of a grapefruit which the school nurse didn’t think needed any attention except a little ice and at 8:30 I was headed to Okoboji. Before I started on the 240 mile trip from West Des Moines to Okoboji I stopped at the closest Kum & Go to fill up my Chevy Spark with gasoline. While I was filling up I checked my iPod to see if there was a wireless internet connection I could use to check my email. The Kum & Go didn’t offer internet access but the Burger King next door did so as soon as I had filled up I drove next door to the Burger King parking lot and went inside.

The hash browns were tasty but there were guests in the coffee...

  I checked my work and home emails and thought it was only right that I buy something from the Burger King since I used their wireless internet. I went to the counter and ordered a medium coffee and a small bag of hash brown bites. The hash browns were great but I was stunned to find out the coffee was $1.69 and my bill was $2.85. I started popping the hash brown bites into my mouth while I looked for some creamers to put into my $1.69 medium coffee. I went to the Burger King counter person and asked for some creamers. She let out a big sigh, disappeared for a second, reappeared with a container of creamers and gave me one single creamer for my coffee. I was going to ask for a second creamer to put in my $1.69 medium cup of coffee but thought the better of it and took the lid off my coffee to put my lone creamer in. As I was pouring the creamer into my coffee I noticed some floating objects in the coffee and stuck on the sides of the cup. My $1.69 coffee was loaded with coffee grounds!

  I would normally be pretty upset at having bought a $1.69 cup of medium sized coffee that was full of grounds but on Okoboji weekend I was almost deliriously happy. Every year I write about my travels to Okoboji and let’s face it – there just isn’t a lot that happens between here and there. It was awesome to have a fascinating topic to write about before I even left West Des Moines and I still had 240 miles of adventure left! I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures of the coffee and hash browns and the receipt for 2.85. The clerk came over, looked at my cup, and said "Oh...there are grounds in the coffee again". I kept on taking pictures. The coffee was steaming hot and clouding my camera lens whenever I tried for a close-up. I was experimenting with distance and exposure when the manager came over.

  The manager asked what I was taking pictures of. I'd seen her coming and had decided to take a self-absorbed artistic stance. I didn’t look up from my photographic experiments and considered asking the manager if she had a spare beret but instead casually mentioned my coffee was full of grounds. The manager offered to make me a new cup and I said not to bother because I’ve had grounds in my coffee plenty of times at the Jiffy in Marshalltown so it was no big deal to me. I did mention that the Burger King coffee had more grounds, less coffee, and cost more than Jiffy coffee.

If you want extra customer attention at the West Des Moines Burger King I recommend you buy a cup of coffee with grounds in it, then wheel out a camera and start taking pictures. I was offered more creamers and a new cup from a freshly made industrial size pot!

  The manager asked again why I was taking pictures and I mentioned that I was the author of an award winning blog (leaving out the part about the self-nominated chess blog award that is four years old) and my $1.69 cup of coffee with grounds was going to be prominently featured. The manager poured herself a cup of coffee, swirled the cup around, took a look, and decided to let the entire contents of this huge coffee dispenser drain out into a garbage can.

  Meanwhile I kept on taking pictures and the manager said she was making more coffee, that it would be done in just a few minutes, and asked me if I wanted a different cup of coffee. I said no thanks but did ask for another creamer which I got in record time and even got to pick my own creamer out of the container. I thanked the manager, put my second creamer in the coffee, and took a sip of my $1.69 coffee with grounds and two creamers, which caused the manager to involuntarily wince and almost gag. I checked my email one last time and headed out of the Burger King towards my car and the road to Okoboji.

I wanted coffee from this truck but eventually settled on a cup from the Garner, Iowa Casey's!

  I really wasn't very thirsty and the $1.69 medium size Burger King coffee with grounds lasted well over 100 miles past my Mason City exit on Route 35. The hash browns didn't see Interstate Route 35 - they were gone in the 20 miles from the Burger King to my exit on Interstate Route 80. I saw a truck that was carrying the best coffee on the interstate (I know because the truck said so!) and followed it until I had to turn off Route 35 at the Mason City exit onto Iowa Highway 18. A little past Mason City I took a sip of my $1.69 medium size Burger King coffee with grounds and finally got more grounds than coffee. I wanted more coffee and less grounds so I stopped at the next convenience store I came to which was the Casey's General Store in Garner, Iowa. I got a 20 ounce refill cup for 74 cents and can report it was ground free as I continued my travels to Okoboji....

This clerk at Casey's was making fresh coffee from the moment I walked in until the moment I left. The price of 74 cents was less than half of the Burger King coffee and didn't have any grounds, either.
I didn't ask if grounds are extra...