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Slender Lorises, Duct Tape, and Whataburger: A Fish on Dry Land

Discussion in 'United States' started by Coelacanth18, 1 Dec 2021.

  1. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Not even myself, really. The idea for this plan didn’t formulate in my brain until a few weeks ago, the actual details of the trip weren’t semi-solidified until a week prior to enacting it, and whether or not to enact this thread was only decided a couple of days ago. I'm an improviser; that'll become clear fairly soon into this thread.

    A bit of context: for multiple reasons, I have traveled across the country more times than I can count. Now I know what a lot of you (especially from outside North America) are thinking: “Whoa, you drive across the entire North American continent? A trip that takes days and can involve 35-40 total hours of driving? And you do it by yourself? That’s practically superhuman! You’re so cool, Coelacanth!” And is that the truth?

    Yeah, sure, why not? I can’t dictate to others whether or not I’m awesome. If you all believe it, it must be true.

    Anyway, I’m pretty used to the driving at this point – maybe too used to it. A combination of financial stinginess and fear of existential dread while driving across endless prairies has always pushed me to get across as quickly as possible – usually about four days from coast to coast, never more than four and a half. I usually make myself pull off to do one thing for myself every time; usually it involves trying to see some wild bison out on the prairie somewhere. I thought about visiting a zoo or two on my last trip, but exhibit closures were still prevalent and the risk of the virus seemed too high.

    But now I'm vaccinated. The zoos are open. I left early enough to have leeway in my travels, have enough money in my bank account, and the weather is just nice enough still in November for my southerly route to be decent for outdoor animal viewing. What was standing in my way, other than my own reticence?

    I decided to carpe diem the I-40 and started planning my itinerary.

    This won’t be a tale of a grand adventure on the scale of, say, @snowleopard or @CGSwans looping round and round the continent for over a month (though with the possibility of addendums in the weeks to follow I might be able to stretch it out if there’s ample demand). After poring over all the options, conferring with multiple ZooChatters, and writing up a priority list of what species I’d grumble for years about not seeing before they perish, I had a list of 7 initial zoos and a simple route to take me through all of them.

    I waffled about whether to do a trip thread or not. I’ve not historically been big on writing reviews – I’m more of a “I came, I saw, I photographed a bird and called it a day” kind of person. Of course I would do species lists, but was writing up an entire travel thread too out of my wheelhouse? After mulling it over, I decided: maybe, but who cares? There’s been a sad dearth of travel threads for the past year and a half, for reasons that take no explaining to anyone who hasn’t been in a coma or the jungles of New Guinea. Even if I’m not the hero you deserve, I’m the hero you've got... my condolences for that.

    But if you’re not inspired by my truly inspiring and impressive decision to write what is essentially a few blog posts, I’ll include tales of my traveling as well to sweeten the deal. Who doesn’t want to know the answers to such amazing questions as “How much Taco Bell do you have to eat before your stomach turns to iron?” or “How can you tell which of two seedy motels is the one you’re less likely to get robbed at?” Point is, I answer the important questions that nobody asked but that I conveniently imagined they did.

    In addition to the usual travel tidbits, the reviews themselves will come with "the works" - links to species lists and an updated media gallery, as well as useful stats like zoo size, rarities, and recommended visit times. I'll also throw in a Fast Food Review of the Day for extra entertainment. And of course, don't worry about interrupting; feel free to jump in with questions, comments, or praise at any time :p

    I may not know a lot of things, but I’d like to think there’s at least three things I do know: zoos, long car trips, and how to tell a good story. So whether it's too cold to hit up a zoo yourself or your family is annoying you over the winter holidays, pull up a chair and listen to me ramble about slender lorises, duct tape, and Whataburger for a bit. I can’t promise you’ll be entertained, but... you know what, screw it. Guaranteed or your Zoochat money back!
     
  2. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    Ooh, I'm exited for this. This might be my favorite ZooChat thread title. If you get started fast enough I just might have to give you a Thread of the Year nomination! ;):p
     
  3. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @birdsandbats The first review will be posted tomorrow if that's fast enough for you :p after that I'm hoping to keep up and post a review every day or couple of days, depending on how long it takes me to edit them and select photos for the gallery.
     
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  4. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    That's a great opening announcement for this road trip thread. You remind me of myself: driving endless hours across the American landscape to visit zoos, sampling the cuisine of Taco Bell, staying at "seedy motels" where the threat of either a gunshot or a rampaging cockroach is a consistently reliable presence. I already have an inkling of what to expect, but I don't know your entire itinerary and I can't wait to read the reviews. Bring 'em on, dead or alive! :p
     
  5. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I've been successful of avoiding roaches, largely through a combination of luck, only staying at chains like Motel 6, and skimming the reviews of particularly poorly-rated motels (I say "particularly" because none of them are well-rated) for frequent mentions of bugs or rodents. Every motel has at least one review like that, but if the majority are more like "the staff was so rude" or "the paint on the walls was peeling, disgusting", chances are it's a decent place!

    Which you and I both know has to be phrased this way because Taco Bell has so many weird and roughly similar things on their menu you end up sampling a lot of their cuisine by virtue of forgetting what everything is and what you've eaten before :p
     
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  6. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    And this would be why I'll never do a bigger road trip like you guys have :p
     
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  7. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    First review! This will be a shorter one - both because it was the first chronologically (as everyone knows, time travel can really derail a good narrative) and because it'll give people a taste of what my reviews are like, in case they find them appealing or... I don't know, I can't imagine an alternative viewpoint.

    Prologue (Day 0): What Everyone Comes to Vegas For – Urban Nighttime Flamingo Spotting


    For Americans and tourists alike, consumerism personified has a nickname: Las Vegas. A glittering oasis in the Mojave Desert, this metropolis looks and feels like it was made by someone with a city-sim game and way too much free time. Vegas is the future imagined by no science fiction writers from before the 1960’s and by every science fiction writer since. Vegas is a world of of utopian opulence to some and dystopian ideology to others. What a place to start a zoo trip, right?

    It's a weirder start than you might think, because there’s actually no “proper” zoo in Vegas. There used to be a zoo with a less-than-stellar reputation that closed in the early 2010’s. Now there’s a heavily-themed casino aquarium and a few mini-zoos and aquariums hidden within the courtyards and casinos off the Strip. It is in one of these mini-zoos that the story begins.

    Flamingo Wildlife Habitat
    Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
    Size: less than 1 acre
    Species Count: 12 (plus koi and unsigned turtles)
    Price: $0
    Recommended Time: 15-20 minutes

    I had no reason to believe the Flamingo Habitat would be open at night. Sure, there wasn’t an admission fee, but wouldn’t the flamingos be put inside at the end of the day? I decided to go anyway; I could see the enclosures and signage at least, it was nearby a few shops and restaurants I wanted to check out, and I didn’t have much free time during the day because of prior commitments. It would be dark, but did I really have anything else better to do? It’s true I’ve been vaxxed and was mostly outside, but the crowds were still thick on the Strip and surely nobody would be looking around for flamingos in the dark who wouldn’t be there.

    Only they *were* there: a small flock of Chilean flamingos, standing around in their pool like it was any regular flamingo pond in a zoo at morning’s open. But here it was a small zoo in the courtyard of a casino, and it was nighttime. It wasn’t only the flamingos either; several species of waterfowl and fish call the connected group of artificial ponds and streams home, and many were out and about in the night. Habituated to people – and not expecting to see many of them at night anyway – the birds didn’t seem to mind my presence and went about their sounding off and sticking their heads underwater, or whatever it is that ducks do in their spare time. The poorly-lit conditions made it easy to spot an albino channel catfish, and I was able to get within feet of a cinnamon teal couple preening themselves at the head of a stream. The dark jungle atmosphere made me feel even more like a wildlife photographer than when I would literally go birding in the desert the next morning. The Flamingo Habitat only has ten bird species, a few fish and some unsigned turtles, but that’s more than you expected to see in the middle of the Nevada desert anyway, right?

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    Should a bunch of flamingos and assorted waterfowl company be basking at night in the pink lights of a tall temple to capitalism? I can’t answer that; I can barely tell a nyala from a sitatunga or remember what time zone Arizona is in (more on that later). All I can say is that I saw some flamingos and ducks in the dark when I wasn’t expecting to, and it was pretty cool.
     
  8. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Fast Food Review of the Day: In ‘n Out Burger

    Ah, the infamous burger of the Best Coast. Of course there are haters; there are always haters. Some will say that the burger is decent, but nothing special. Some will say the fries are mediocre. Some will say that having a “secret menu” makes it less accessible and enjoyable to those unfamiliar with the chain. But that’s okay; everyone is allowed to have their own opinion – even ones that are wrong!

    The burgers at In ‘n Out are thin, but well-cooked in a crispy kind of way; they come with the works, but the restaurant always asks if you want onions or not – as someone who is not into onions, I appreciate this very much. They use a special sauce that is probably not that special, but it sure tastes like it. Their Animal-Style Fries are a staple and worth sampling – and this is coming from someone who, remember, doesn’t like onions all that much (I concede their regular fries are just okay). And if you’re gonna get a milkshake – which you absolutely should – go off-menu for a Neopolitan shake, where all three standard flavors are blended together in a sweet confectionary drink of ambrosia. Whatever you do, feel free to go off-script from the nostalgically small menu; the Secret Menu can be found online, and there's something for everybody.

    If you ever come out to California (or a few select Southwestern locations where they can also be found nowadays), you should give In ‘n Out a try. Even if you’re not an American and feel disgust towards our food generally, it’s a cultural icon for the state and the food is good by fast food standards, despite also being pretty cheap. The drive-thru lines are always insanely long at meal times – and often not at meal times! – so feel free to park, order it to-go inside, and then eat it at their outside tables. The service is also exceptional; there is a culture of friendly customer service at most In ‘n Outs, and I’ve witnessed a few times the cook staff chatting and laughing with each other as they churn out burgers and fries by the boatload.
     
  9. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    Did you have a chance to check out Shark Reef or the Vegas Springs Preserve while you were in Vegas? Those are the best zoological attractions in the city.
     
  10. drill

    drill Well-Known Member

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    What species?
     
  11. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I did not. The visit to Flamingo Wildlife Habitat was spontaneous, I had not originally planned on visiting any zoos in the area. I visited Shark Reef a few years ago and considered making it the first zoo stop of the trip, but decided against it given the crowds, pricing, and fact that nothing new has been added recently. It's a decent aquarium IMO; the only really noteworthy part I think is the big shipwreck-themed shark tank, which admittedly would have been cool to see again.

    As for Vegas Springs Preserve, it didn't come up on my radar while I was there; if I'd had more time during the day I may well have, but the only free time I really had during daylight hours was one morning I eked out for birding (which I chose based on eBird records of what I wanted to see).
     
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  12. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Species List for Flamingo Wildlife Habitat:

    Cinnamon Teal
    Brown Pelican
    Chilean Flamingo
    Black Swan
    Radjah Shelduck
    Ringed Teal
    Hooded Merganser
    Red-crested Pochard
    Wood Duck
    Mandarin Duck
    Channel Catfish (albino)
    White Sturgeon
    Koi and various unsigned turtles

    Thanks for reminding me. From now on there will be a species list thread linked to each review; I just didn't do it for this one because a) 12 species isn't worth making a standalone thread for, and b) I had just gotten back from more zoo visits yesterday evening so my brain was on standby mode by the time I uploaded the review.
     
  13. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    I'm interested to know about some of your birding during this trip, as well.
     
    Last edited: 2 Dec 2021
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  14. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Day 2 of Day 0: Capturing the Beauty of Desert Fauna, Wiley E. Coyote Style

    Although I was generally busy while in Vegas, I carved out one full morning for desert birding. Food poisoning had ruined my plans to pick up Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay and Pinyon Jay in another part of Nevada earlier, so I needed something to lift my birding spirits; also, despite having seen my two primary targets in past years (Burrowing Owl and Greater Roadrunner), both had been inopportune and I got no pictures of the latter. Upon researching I found a nesting site for Burrowing Owls and a nearby backup site for several other target species, planning to hit what I thought was a more productive site the morning I was to head out on the main portion of the trip. The Burrowing Owls were very easy to locate and I got some good photographs, but they were not doing anything particularly interesting. You know how in zoos they just sort of stand around and look at stuff? Yeah, same thing they do in the wild too - they're very consistent. I walked around to a few and watched them, snapping some photos before heading on to my second location.

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    Once there, I asked the person staffing the front gate if they see roadrunners often (which was my other top-ticket species). I was surprised when she said they see them all the time, as eBird had indicated they were more hit-and-miss. I decided to be cautiously optimistic about my chances, driving slowly past the entrance and to the first parking lot for the park... where I was immediately blocked from entering by a Greater Roadrunner standing in the middle of the road! Rather than deftly photographing a cool bird through bushes and scrub like I had originally envisioned, I instead used my vehicle to shepherd said bird out of my way so I could get to a parking space. Once parked and out of my car, the roadrunner wasted no time walking up and checking me out, then inspecting my vehicle. Eventually deciding it didn’t like the cut of my jib (or more likely, realized I wasn’t going to feed it crackers or some other bird junk food) the roadrunner got bored and decided to head back to the road for more traffic inspections.

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    After that encounter, I hardly even cared if I found my other target species - my top two had already been seen, *very* well-photographed and I had only just gotten there. However, as luck would have it I ended up seeing all of my target species in one day, most of them at the site which was my backup! Highlight was when I saw one target species - a Phainopepla off in the distance - and thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be my luck for a bunch of Gambel's Quail (another target species) to just pop out of the bushes right now, scare the Phainopepla off, and force me to chase after one or the other?" It was a bizarre thought to have... only made more bizarre by the fact that all of that played out exactly as I imagined literally seconds later! I ended up chasing the quail because the Phainopepla all but disappeared, and didn't get great photos of either one. C'est la vie. I could hardly complain.

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    P.S. The rest of the zoo reviews will be coming shortly! The reviews themselves are written, but I still have to choose what media to upload and then embed. I will also be on the road tomorrow and visiting yet another zoo; if I can't get it done tomorrow, look for it over the weekend.
     
  15. Great Argus

    Great Argus Well-Known Member

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    Yeah that's my experience with Burrowing Owls too, they just sit there and look at you. I think I've only seen them do something particularly interesting once, and that was a captive one. Regardless of their inactivity they're still one of my favorites.

    Phainopepla are pretty nifty, I always enjoy spotting one. They are probably the most variable in occurrence of any bird in my area too, they turn up in great numbers some years, absent the next. Time of year doesn't seem to influence them at all, and they'll pop up anywhere in the lowlands so long as there's trees. I suspect the strange flexibility might be due to the fact I'm at the very northern tip of their range, influencing movements more.

    Already quite enjoying the read, looking forward to more. Keep up the good work! :)
     
  16. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    =>
    So much for the culinary recommendations...;)
     
  17. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    FTR, I did not get food poisoning from In 'n Out and have never gotten food poisoning from a fast food restaurant (they prefer their food to kill you more slowly ;)). The food poisoning came prior to being in Nevada, from a standalone Mexican joint that somebody besides me picked. I maintain that I'm great at choosing food :p
     
  18. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I doubt I'll get to posting any reviews today - it'll be approaching late before I'll have the chance to start uploading photos for it and the site is usually very quiet on weekend nights. That's alright, though; I had a day of filler travel story that'll hopefully tide people over until I'm more prepared. (After this time, though, expect a review with *every* update :))

    Day 1: Why Arizona Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Decide What Time Zone It’s In Anymore

    Look, some of today was admittedly my fault. I knew going to sleep at 1:30 AM the night before I was trying to leave early for a full day of driving and a late-day zoo stop was a bad idea. Unusually for a human (I’ve been told), I’m obligately nocturnal; I only sleep at night through a combination of herbal supplements and sleep debt carried over from previous nights. So perhaps leaving an hour later than planned was inevitable... but ultimately that wasn’t the nail in the coffin for getting to a zoo today.

    You see, different U.S. states decide what time zone they want to be in. Some choose to put their whole state in one time zone; others decide to split the state into multiple time zones. U.S. states also get to decide whether or not to follow Daylight Savings Time – Hawaii doesn’t, for example.

    But neither does Arizona, and that’s a big problem. Arizona is technically in the Mountain Time Zone with its neighbor New Mexico, but when states change their clocks to DST everyone moves forward an hour – except Arizona, which means it ends up in the Pacific Time Zone with its other neighbor Nevada. In order to know what time zone Arizona is in, you have to remember whether people last moved their clocks forward or back, what time of year DST is and isn’t, and whether those two things put Arizona on Mountain Time or Pacific Time.

    Or you can Google it. Unless you forgot that Arizona is stupid and doesn’t do DST like every other state in the continental U.S., and then you don’t Google it and just find out the morning of when your GPS app says you’ll arrive at the zoo when it closes instead of an hour before.

    My road trip starts don't usually go as planned, so I’ve gotten good at improvising. I improvised fairly quick: move my planned hotel stay further west on the I-40, hit the missing zoo first thing in the morning, pop over to zoo #2 for the afternoon, and then drive as far as I can manage to zoo #3 in the evening before I start catnapping on the highway. It wasn’t ideal – it would probably mean missing out on another small zoo and a Texas barbecue dinner in Amarillo – but it was the best plan I had to go with at this point.

    Of course, I still had to get to my new end destination for day one. Could I do it?

    That question became less rhetorical and more exasperatingly genuine as the rattling on my front bumper gradually became louder two hours into my journey. I pulled off on a rural road and checked the bumper. The fresh duct tape I’d applied this morning to hold the thing together had failed miserably, its sticking power compromised by the duct tape residue left by the generations that preceded it. Baby Boomers, am I right?

    I didn’t have the tools or noxious chemicals available to get the residue off for the moment, so I’d just have to tape it better – and I did. And then it failed an hour later and I did it again. This time got me a passing grade and I was actually able to drive a few hours without stopping at that point, my car humming quietly as I chuckled along to podcasts about famous grifters and gazed out on the open sagebrush of northern Arizona.

    I got to interesting sites too late to add anything impromptu to my itinerary, so my day would ultimately just be kind of short and not terribly interesting. Wildlifing wasn’t too bad: I accidentally picked up a lifer while fixing my piece-of-junk jalopy on the first attempt, a Black-throated Sparrow. A nice gem to add to my list of cool desert birds seen back in Vegas. I also saw a roadkill Gray Fox, my first ever and a much less enjoyable sight than the live ones I saw earlier this year. When you drive the open highways of America as often as I do, you become jaded to roadkill; I’ve seen more roadkill armadillos between Missouri and Illinois in an hour than I’ll see wild and alive in my entire life.

    I did eventually make it to my destination across the Arizona-New Mexico border, settling firmly in a state that decided it was going to commit to one time zone year-round and which has my eternal gratitude for it. Just as I got my stuff unloaded in the motel room and hopped back in my car to grab a nighttime burrito from Taco Bell, a light flashed on my dashboard. OIL CHANGE NEEDED.

    I swear I’ve traveled before.
     
  19. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Fast Food Review of the Day: McDonald’s Breakfast

    While there’s countless ways to describe the role of McDonald’s in the American fast food landscape, I’ll go with an analogy that I think zoo nerds will be appreciate. McDonald’s is basically the meerkat of the fast food world: they’re ubiquitous, nobody’s favorite and increasingly a stand-in for what could be something more unique or interesting. Maybe you think I’m being too harsh – they do have famously addictive fries – or not harsh enough – their food almost killed Morgan Spurlock in the mid-2000’s – but if there’s anything McDonald’s is really about, it’s begrudging compromise. One person wants a burger, another wants fried chicken? McDonald’s. You want Taco Bell or Wendy’s but there’s a long line at both? McDonald’s. You’re leaving for a trip too early to make a proper breakfast for yourself but you don’t want to travel on an empty stomach? McDonald’s.

    That last reason is the main interaction I’ve had with the company since I left grade school. I like to just get going in the morning when I’m traveling – most days I’d rather get a little more sleep than spend half an hour eating at a diner – and sometimes the cold or room-temp snacks I buy for breakfasts don’t cut it for me. McDonald’s has a wide variety of breakfast sandwiches, the best of which – the Fried Chicken Biscuit – is only available at some stores primarily in the South. They also have giant yogurty sugar bombs they call parfaits, hash browns smaller than playing cards that are somehow more filling than the sandwich they come with, and coffee so hot that it must be bending some law of thermodynamics to not be physically boiling.

    Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of people in America who really like McDonald’s. I just think there are a lot of better options out there, for everything they have. But most mornings I drag my sad hungry carcass back to the drive-through, and why? Because when you land somewhere without Hamlyn’s monkeys, Javan green magpies or tuataras, you know there’s always a few meerkats around the corner you can begrudgingly watch for a couple minutes.

    P.S. You might have heard that McDonald’s is infamous for having ice cream on their menu, but never having a functional ice cream machine. It’s not some weird urban legend, it’s an actual thing that is now being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission. If you have some extra free time this weekend read these articles from Wired covering a whole story about it because it’s wild:
    https://www.wired.com/story/they-hacked-mcdonalds-ice-cream-makers-started-cold-war/
    https://www.wired.com/story/mcdonalds-ice-cream-machine-hacking-kytch-taylor-internal-emails/
     
  20. Newzooboy

    Newzooboy Well-Known Member

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    Thoroughly entertaining so far! Thanks for sharing.
     
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