That Time We Learned About Salesmanship

Those heady days of the 1980s seem so long ago. Well, they were, more than 30 years past now. It was just another decade, I guess. We got married part of the way through the decade, 1983 to be exact. We’ve seen and done quite a bit since then. Two wonderful kids now, both married and happy and productive. One of them is about to become reproductive, in July, with our first grandchild. Life is good, and I am thankful for all that has come our way.

To celebrate our third anniversary, we took a trip out to the Black Hills of South Dakota, to see Mount Rushmore and get a little time away from home to see some of this great country. We loved that trip, and took a lot of pictures, as people do when they see awesome stuff for the first time. It surprised us how much wide-open space there was to South Dakota, before hitting the western part of the state where the Black Hills are home to so much beauty and scenery.

Yes, we did stop at Wall Drug – it feels like an obligation after you see a billboard or some kind of signage urging you to do so with nearly every blink of the eyes.

Our hotel was new, and it was comfortable. At the edge of the parking lot, you could even see the four fellas, Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, off in the distance, staring off into the distance, wondering when the rest of their bodies would show up. Across the highway from our hotel was a wax museum that housed all the Presidents, this time fully intact, but made of wax, thus the name. A sign beckoned me all week long, and I promised Rhonda that before we left, we would visit. I’m not sure why I promised her that, she would’ve been fine if we would’ve not gone in, but this is my story, and I get to add layers of intrigue and mystery if I want.

The sign out in front of the wax museum read, “Know Your Presidents, Win $10.” I am usually first in line for such a challenge. I was pretty certain that I knew my presidents, as I am a history guy, and I like knowing that kind of stuff. I still get fuzzy about that string starting with Martin Van Buren running through to Lincoln – William Henry Harrison (he of the 30-day presidency), John Tyler (the Tyler to WH Harrison’s Tippecanoe), James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan – all who kept the chair warm for one term or less and pretty much allowed the country to slide toward the Civil War… I can bore the socks off you with Presidential history, but let’s not, ok? If you want ample proof of why my family doesn’t allow me to play Trivial Pursuit, I have that in spades… but let’s head back to the Black Hills.

We would stop by the wax museum to visit all the chief executives before heading back to the land of cheese. We weren’t sure when, but I can’t let a challenge like that go by. Our week was winding down, and with a little over a day left of our South Dakota hiatus, we decided it was time to scratch my Presidential itch and see what we could see. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, so the list was five Presidents shorter than it is now. There was no internet yet, so I had to just know them, I guess. I don’t remember if there was any prep involved or not. We went in and bought our passes. Two things surprised us – one, the wax museum of presidents was pretty cool, well done, and worth the price of admission.

The second thing that surprised us was that they didn’t need for you to know the presidents upon entering, but before you left. Well heck, I got a free study session. I got to shine up that other batch of less than memorable presidents from U. S. Grant through McKinley, without showing off, there is a possible tripping point because Grover Cleveland served two terms, but not consecutively. He was 22nd and 24th, his run interrupted by a single term by Benjamin Harrison. We get through all the displays, and we are favorably inclined to say nice things. I recite all the Presidents without much hesitation, and congratulations, sir, you have successfully named them all, here is your $10. Cold hard cash. Nice, that wasn’t too hard.

One unsurprising thing about the wax museum: after touring the museum, you will find the gift shop. I’m the kind of guy who is not averse to picking up a shot glass or some appropriate keepsake of a visit to a place like that, and after all, I had house money to play with too, right? As we wandered about, seeing some ok stuff, but nothing that lit our hearts on fire… we found ourselves being escorted by two well-meaning, yet a bit overly aggressive employees of the wax museum. “How about this?” or “How about a nice set of postcards to remember your visit?” They were persistent. It started to get a bit irritating, and my urge to part with my hard-won ten bucks was waning. They wanted me to spend it there too much, they thought that I owed it to them. I’m pretty sure that I had something to do with the development of “good for in-store credit only” type promotions.

We left without buying anything. I can be fairly confident that without their urging, I probably would’ve spent at least some money there.

Once I felt like I owed it to them to give it back in the form of a purchase, I wasn’t interested. We didn’t see their noses pressed up against the glass as we drove away, but it’s safe to say that we probably brought down curses upon the whole of the state of Wisconsin as our Pontiac Grand Am wheeled out of the parking lot. Nice wax museum though. I’d check it out again if I ever go back.

The next day, the Grand Am all packed and our maps all studied for the trip back to the land of milk and homies, we left the Black Hills. Behind us was a sign on the wax museum: “Know Your Presidents, Win $5.”


Tom Dietzler
Tom Dietzler
Lifelong, proud somewhat strident Wisconsinite, I love my state and love to sing its praises. A bon vivant and raconteur, lover of history, literature and good conversations. Laughter and music are salves that I frequently am applying to my soul. I have spent time (too much) in manufacturing and printing and have found great joy in my current position as director of operations at a large church in the same area where I grew up. Husband to Rhonda and father of two adult children Melanie and Zack, I’m the constant companion of my five-year-old Lab, Oliver, who is my muse to a lot of my stories. I’m a fan of deep conversation and my interests are in learning and gaining wisdom, so in the last few years I have become and less politically vocal, and hopefully more respectful and open-minded. Rhonda and I sold our home in 2018, bought a condo and have traveled a bit more, golfed a bit more and are enjoying life a bit more. If you take the time to get to know me, prepare yourself for an invite to the 30th state to join the union, a gem located in the upper Midwest, full of beautiful scenery formed by the glaciers, with lots of lakes and trees and gorgeous scenery, and the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet.

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  1. Starting my morning reading Tom Dietzler pretty much guarantees a fabulous day. I so love your writing! We went to Rushmore three years ago. We raced up from Denver to catch the Badlands at golden hour and then made it over to Rushmore at 9:00 pm. Strangely, the park was still open. Nobody was at the gate, it was completely empty, and we had Rushmore, all lit up, completely to ourselves. It was other-worldly! It’s beautiful country over there! We may very well become life-long friends, but I promise you, I will never challenge you to Trivial Pursuit!

    • Kimberly, any time that you stop by to interact to some of my stuff, makes it a very good day. Mt. Rushmore is kind of a “must see” for anyone, especially if they want a true picture of this country. I love Mt. Rushmore, we took our kids back in 2006 on our way to Colorado, so we did your trip in reverse. I’m not sure why I love it so much, probably the part about that is really compelling is that the sculptor, Borglum, spent so much time making something happen, and hardly anyone thought that he’d ever finish it. Next time we get there, definitely have to check out the wax museum, we missed it last time. It is beautiful country, absolutely. The life long friendship is something that I will always treasure, and playing Trivial Pursuit is never mandatory. Thank you for great comments, and for that friendship 🙂

  2. What a great story, Tom! I especially love the ending. I’ve never been to the Black Hills, but I know we’d probably enjoy it. As for the gift shop, yeah, they can be a tourist trap. I particularly love the places where the exit is through the gift shop. No chance to avoid it, but race through it as best as you can. Although, I do tend to like to browse the gift shops and occasionally will purchase something. Thankfully, I’ve not run into too many pushy salespeople in them. But when I do, I usually leave sans purchase!

    • I had never encountered people like those two, and can’t recall ever seeing any others like them. Gift shops usually have books, and those always cause me to linger. The Black Hills are so worth a visit – just to see the four guys up there, just so impressive and awe-inspiring. A real slice of Americana, definitely. It’s always great to have you chime in, Laura, and I’m so glad that you liked this one.

  3. Tom — I taught HS U.S. History and American Government a few decades back, and you put me to shame. Of course I skimmed over most political history to get to the topics I loved and wanted my students to love: the movement west; the Gold Rush; the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, World War I and World War II. Vietnam if I could squeeze it in. I could have spent the entire year on the last three.

    As I was reading your fine piece, the voice of Tom Bodett of “We” leave the lights on for you” Motel 6 fame popped into my brain. Folksy. Welcoming. Honest. You’re a skilled story teller, Tom. And I’d sure know when to back away from the kitchen table if you pulled out Trivial Pursuit.

    • The stories we tell and share are so important at so many levels, and it’s such a great gift to be able to share them here, and ever a bigger bonus when such great friends as you chime in with such kindness and warmth. I love that you are such an ardent supporter of mine and this platform, I so appreciate your comments and input.

  4. You are a keepsake postcard in human form! Thanks for letting me ride in the back seat of the car to come along for the ride! One of my favorite things to do as a writer and something you do so well is adding the conversational element as if the reader is questioning the details, “I get to add layers of intrigue and mystery if I want.” Yes you sure do Tom!

    • A keepsake, now that is a thing to be treasured, right? Your ride in the backseat would’ve been a bit tight, as I think the Grand Am was not the biggest of vehicles, but we probably would’ve made room for you. I love that you deconstruct the writing process, and always offer some insight to what resonates with you. You are so good to me, and I so appreciate your support!

  5. Lol. Oh wow. That was a great story Tom! I chuckled good at the ending.
    $10 in 1984 ..according to the rate of inflation I looked up compares to about $24.84 today.

    I see the marketing approach in awarding a customer an incentive with only to provide a quick introduction on where to spend it. And if my guess is on queue .. prices deemed an addition to the awarded $10 so they are making you spend.

    Didn’t work in your case. Too many get suckered into this today. Casinos do it all the time.
    Love this article!

    A valuable lesson to being aware! Knowing the value of the lesson is always free!

    Thanks Tom!

    • You are so kind, Paula, and you responded on LI and here, how very generous! It’s fun to go back into the memory banks and find some treasures there… and we all have so much to learn from things in the past and how we dealt with them. It’s fun to go back, sometimes, even if there is no great lesson to be learned, but just to value our path and our journey. I deeply appreciate your comments and your support, thank you again.