I'm Right Again Dot Com

A new commentary every Wednesday   -  January, 21, 2015   

The Ice Cream Man: Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and confessions of an ice cream freak

    I'm an ice cream addict. I am currently obsessed with chocolate-covered Dove bars on a stick. I cannot sleep if I know one still survives in my freezer.

    My mother caused it. Just about the time that early summer peaches began to ripen in southern Illinois, many families would make a trip "down" to the hilly Illinois Ozarks, just north of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

     We went there to visit the owners of peach orchards, who permitted us to pick bushels of a delicacy; many considerably larger than a softball, called the Elberta variety of peach. Many farmers offer them in heaping baskets, out in makeshift sheds, where their farm roads meet the state highway that leads south to Cairo, (natives call it "kay-row")  Illinois—an ancient river town—joined by bridges to both Kentucky and Missouri.  

    The quality and ripeness of an Elberta peach is governed by the amount of juice that will run off one's elbows when ripping one into two parts and discarding the huge seed.

    Before whole families were engaged in picking, peeling and "putting-up" peaches in Mason jars, Mom would be skimming the heavy cream from the tops of bottles of non-homogenized milk. She used this real "whipping" cream with real vanilla extract, peach slices, fresh eggs, more milk, a huge chunk of ice, large salt crystals and numerous worn carpet remnants wrapped around hand-cranked wooden freezers, to work magic. She would engage the strongest boy to turn the crank, while several others would help steady the freezer, crack the ice and pack salt around the metal tumbler inside, thereby producing the richest, coldest ice cream ever created. Only large athletes in their prime could remove the dasher and be allowed to be the first to sample this highly addictive substance. Stories abound of victims who, after consuming a spoonful or two, are forced to lie down for several minutes in order to permit sudden, piercing headaches to subside before continuing with the eating orgy.

    So, when I saw the sign for the Cold Stone Creamery (Hereafter: "CSC") appear on a store-front in a shopping center here in Tucson (the one that will be forever remembered as the place where six died and 13 were wounded in a gun rampage by an insane man four years ago), I was caused to recall those days when the inner metal container of my mother's "freezer" and the outer wooden shell—still packed with ice chunks and salt—with excess water poured out—rested in the shade underneath our back porch. It remained wrapped in layers of carpet insulation until after at least one mealtime. One needed a hammer and chisel to extract her ice cream from the tumbler.

    Memory promises so much. The name for the franchise: "Cold Stone Creamery," was extremely compelling. I was among the many initial customers of the store at North Oracle and Ina Road in Tucson. I first sampled vanilla, and I didn't bother with syrup, chocolate bits, nuts and sprinkles. I wanted to test the pure product. I wasn't disappointed, for I found that at 14% butterfat, this ice cream is super-premium, and nearly as good as mom's. All it lacks are some slices of ripe Elberta peaches from Anna-Jonesboro, (sutherun) Illinois (ellinoiz).

    All of the joy of the discovery was thoroughly dashed when my modest, two dip cup reached the cash register. I had to ask the clerk if I had heard the amount correctly. $5.75 plus tax? I was glad I hadn't ordered goodies, like a waffle cone for $2.00 more...or some of the many exotic add-ons, such as Oreo bits. Let's just say that I could walk a few doors down to Safeway and buy Ben and Jerry's best for less money. I never returned. Apparently, many others in northwest Pima County felt the same, for in a year of so the ice cream store was suddenly vacant. I have to admit that I felt somehow culpable and mourned its passing.

    In the waning weeks of the recent election, I heard the State Treasurer, then running as the Republican candidate for Governor, describe how as a successful business person, he would set Arizona on a course that would restore it to solvency. For some reason or other, recession spending had outpaced estimated income and Arizona was at least a billion dollars in the hole—this having culminated while Governor Ducey was Treasurer of the State of Arizona. 

    I listened with askance when I heard Ducey say he was going to put enough "guardsmen" on the border to stop illegal immigration and importation of illegal substances. He, like other politicians, is big on "WHAT" he intends to do, but lacking much detail on "HOW" he is going to accomplish this or an economic miracle: one that includes obeying a court order requiring the State to come up with $330-million already owed Arizona schools. The Governor is making sounds that indicate to me that he wants to slip and slide on the obligation and get we taxpayers bedazzled by a shell game.

    I must have been so bored and tired of the political fou-fah-rah, that I did not learn until a few hours before I voted that Mr. Ex-State Treasurer Ducey was the brain child behind the franchising of more than a thousand Cold Stone Cremeries, many of which have gone belly-up. According to the Wall Street Journal of September 10, 2014, something like 20% had failed. This was due, according to the WSJ to a purported "bad business plan." Apparently Ducey was better at selling franchises than selling ice cream.  I now know that alternative publications in the Phoenix area have been fulminating about this, because so many CSC franchise investors have filed for bankruptcy. 

    Some filing for the big BK under Chapter 13 in Federal Bankruptcy court accuse Ducey and company of being Stone Cold when they asked for aid and assistance. The Internet is replete with heart-rending testimonies of hard-working families who swear that the deal with CSC ruined their lives.

    And so to Google: The U.S. Small Business Administration indicated that "Doug Ducey's Cold Stone Creamery was among the worst franchise brands in term of SBA loan defaults" (Actually double that of other SBA borrowers who invested in a failed franchise). According to investors who have lost their life savings and homes and have used personal credit cards to accrue enormous debts. "The cost of running some CSCs was so high that many couldn't make a profit." Numerous postings on the World Wide Web assert that they were persuaded it would be otherwise, prior to their sinking their blood, sweat, tears and savings in a Cold Stone Creamery franchise.

    A contributing factor claimed by, among others, Ken Gornall of Glendale, Arizona, Neil Presad of Wall, New Jersey, Ed Ramsey of Bellingham, Washington, Cecil Rolle of Gainsville, Florida and Deborah Licteig of San Antonio, Texas, CSC packed too many franchises, too close together in certain markets, for them to survive. I counted 30 that are listed by DEX online phonebook in the Phoenix Area alone and seven in Tucson.

    It's no wonder that a state that suffered Douglas Ducey as chief financial officer (Treasurer and Head of Banking and Investments, 2011-2014) is so deeply in debt. I certainly wish I and others had come to this epiphany before he was elected Governor. I would like to blame it on the fact that media outlets in Phoenix and Tucson are so parochial. We could just as well be situated in Nevada and Salt Lake City.

   I can hardly wait until Ducey fulfills his promise of ordering all of those otherwise-employed civilians in the Arizona National Guard to close the border to illegal entrants and drug cartels. Few people realize how immense, open and lightly populated that often blazing-hot border is between Las Cruces, New Mexico and Yuma, Arizona—except the 200 or more illegal crossers who die there each year. It would take every division in both the 101st Airborne and 1st Cavalry to accomplish the task of "securing the border" at a monumental cost, and probably wouldn't do more than slow down the trafficking by drug cartels and "coyotes" smuggling humans into "El Norte" a tiny bit. The rising number of interdictions of tons of narcotics and arrests by several agencies under the umbrella of U.S. Homeland Security is testament to the ever-booming illegal commerce.

    In the meantime, the State of Arizona should come up with the financing it promised its schools. Asking the Universities to pare expenses by 10 percent is not going to permit Arizona to meet that obligation. One cannot claim to value education and at the same time, renege on funding. The meter continues to run on the court-ordered obligation.

    Ducey talks of somehow utilizing abandoned and vandalized public schools. Working out a plan to accommodate the complex mix of public, private and parochial schools in Arizona may not be legal or practical. The idea requires a massive amount of analysis and study before any of the parties can think about negotiation. Think decades, while valuable real estate lies fallow.

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-Phil Richardson, Observer and Storyteller

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