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BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis. We are playing this week with Helen Hong, Josh Gondelman and Negin Farsad. And here again is your host, who just finished typing the complete works of Shakespeare with a room full of monkeys, Peter Sagal.
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PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Thank you, Bill. Right now, it's time for the WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to play our game on the air.
Hi, you are on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
LAUREN DARNELL: Hi. My name's Lauren (ph). I'm from Ann Arbor, Mich.
SAGAL: Oh, I love Ann Arbor. Are you a student at the U?
DARNELL: I am a dropout PhD student of colonial Latin America.
SAGAL: Oh, really?
SAGAL: So did you just - you just decided you weren't interested in colonial Latin America anymore.
DARNELL: No, no - not that. It was - me and grad school had a - we had a fight, sort of.
SAGAL: You and grad school had a disagreement.
DARNELL: Yeah. I might have lost or won. I haven't decided yet.
SAGAL: Was it not them - it was you? Or was it you, not them?
DARNELL: No, it was - I mean, I don't like to blame. It's never a dichotomy.
SAGAL: Yeah. It was a conscious uncoupling, you and grad school.
DARNELL: It's more of a dialectical relationship.
JOSH GONDELMAN: Very grad school way to say that.
SAGAL: Yeah, very good. Lauren, it's great to have you with us. You're going to play the game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Bill, what is Lauren's topic?
KURTIS: Nonessential? Me?
SAGAL: In the last few months, we've been hearing a lot about who's essential, who's nonessential and who's just annoying. Our panelists are going to tell you about a person who is classified as nonessential in the news, perhaps unwisely. Pick the one who's telling the truth - you'll win the WAIT WAITer of your choice on your voicemail. You ready to play?
SAGAL: Well, then let's do it. Let's hear first from Negin Farsad.
NEGIN FARSAD: The town of Woodley (ph), Idaho, is picturesque with its giant cedar trees, its one cafe, one gas station and one ice cream shop. And when the pandemic hit, Woodley's three-person city council deemed the cafe and gas station essential businesses but not the ice cream shop. Owner-operator Gene Kneedler (ph) was gutted that he had to furlough himself, but he left to go out of town and visit family.
As summer temperatures began to rise, townspeople started to get real unreasonable about their access to small-batch ice cream. The gas station owner, Brot Fiddler (ph), said, once you're exposed to Gene's real hand-packed ice cream, you just can't go back to the store-bought stuff. I mean, we're not animals.
Complaints grew until at one point, local resident and mother of three Shailene Hancock (ph) took matters into her own hands when she broke into the ice cream shop - by which I mean there was a key under the mat, and she just used the key to simply walk in. Shailene began operating a Prohibition-style illegal ice cream operation. News quickly made it around town. And if you knew the code word - which you'll never guess was actually ice cream - she would let you in.
At first, people were happy. It was exciting to see ice cream in town again. But some complained that Shailene was too experimental. Gene never made us eat avocado and saffron ice cream, said one resident. Why would anyone put pickled mango with blue cheese? Things got out of control when her three kids, all under the age of 10, thought it would be funny to sneak in random flavors like sriracha and sardines. Things came to a head when they threw Tide Pods into a batch of rainbow ice cream.
Luckily, it was a local adult who tasted a Tide-tainted rainbow scoop. He quickly spit it out but reported Shailene to the police. She was detained at the local jail for two hours - long enough to earn the name Shailene Two Scoops (ph). Authorities wanted to charge her with ice cream racketeering but, after realizing that's not on the books as a real crime, fined her $75 and sent Two Scoops on her way.
SAGAL: An ice cream shop owner in Idaho gets furloughed, and chaos ensues. Your next story of a nonessential worker comes from Josh Gondelman.
GONDELMAN: During this year's pandemic and economic downturn, Ray Donovan (ph) - no relation - owner of Donovan's Roast Beef and Seafood in Wellfleet, Mass., needed to find ways to make ends meet. And when his world record collection of hand-burnt Bill Buckner jerseys failed to find a buyer on eBay, Donovan was forced to lay off an employee. Specifically, he fired Martin "Marty" Lawrence (ph) - also no relation - better known as Clawby Orr (ph), the Donovan's parking lot's ever-present dancing lobster mascot.
(Imitating Boston accent) It was a hard choice. And trust me, letting go of a valued employee is not my idea of a good time, Donovan said.
But the decision had an unintended consequence. The building that houses Donovan's, constructed in the humble style of mid-century (imitating Boston accent) you think you're better than me, guy...
GONDELMAN: ...Is barely visible from the road. And without a mascot in the parking lot, many would-be patrons have been driving right past the establishment. And with no U-turn available to them for several miles along Route 6, several have simply found another restaurant to eat at.
But by the time he realized his mistake, it was too late. Lawrence had already been hired by Donahue's (ph) Seafood and Roast Beef just a mile up the road from Donovan's Roast Beef and Seafood. In fact, many patrons, seeing the signature lobster costume, have pulled over at Donahue's entirely unaware that they're at a different restaurant than the one they intended to visit. As for Lawrence, he says he's just happy to be back to work.
(Imitating Boston accent) Seriously, kid, it's as hot as Satan's armpit in that suit. But when I see the smiling customers dunking their steamers in butter, it's all worth it. On the other hand, if Mr. Donovan sees this, I hope a bunch of Yankees fans burn down his lobster store.
SAGAL: (Laughter) A dancing lobster fired or let go in Maine only to find employment at another roast beef and seafood shack. Your last story of someone who did not seem needed comes from Helen Hong.
HELEN HONG: The bears of Mammoth Lake, Calif., may not know it yet, but they may have just lost their beary (ph) best friend. Steve Searles, known to locals as the bear whisperer and star of the Animal Planet series of the same name, is out of a job as pandemic-related budget cuts have forced his town to cut their bear whispering budget.
The town is home to about a dozen black bears who will occasionally break into a home or car looking for food. When that happens, everyone knows to call Mr. Searles, who has worked as the town's wildlife specialist for decades. The ponytailed former surfer will show up and usually just yell at the bear. Hey, bad bear - you get out of here, he'll growl in his gravelly voice. For particularly stubborn bears, he'll just yell louder.
His nonlethal tactics have been so successful that he's inspired other bear-infested towns to try similar approaches. But the pandemic has been beary bad for business, and Mammoth Lakes can bearly (ph) pay any of their bills.
HONG: Mr. Searles is heartbroken to have lost the job he loves but not as heartbroken as the bears, who I'm sure took pride in getting called a bad bear.
SAGAL: All right. Here are your choices. One of these persons was let go in the pandemic, and good things did not ensue. Was it, from Negin, an ice cream shop owner in Idaho who was replaced by someone who had, shall we say, less traditional tastes? From Josh Gondelman, a dancing lobster who was let go by a seafood shack, much to that seafood shack's dismay? Or from Helen Hong, the bear whisperer of Mammoth Lakes, Calif.? Which of these people was let go?
DARNELL: So I'm going to have to go with the bear story.
SAGAL: You're going to go with the bear story - Helen's story of the bear whisperer of Mammoth Lakes. Well, we actually spoke to the person who sadly lost their position.
STEVE SEARLES: People are fascinated with my conversation with bears, so being called the bear whisperer is - you know, I'm more of a bear yeller.
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SAGAL: That was Steve Searles, the bear whisperer himself and former wildlife officer from Mammoth Lakes, Calif. He's lost his job, but I want him to know that he is now the official bear whisperer of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: Congratulations, Lauren. You got it right. You earned a point for Helen just for being truthful. But you, of course, won our...
SAGAL: ...Prize - the voice of your choice on your voicemail. Congratulations.
DARNELL: Woo. Thanks, Helen.
HONG: Thanks, Lauren.
SAGAL: Take care.
DARNELL: Thank you.
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MARVA WHITNEY: (Singing) My daddy don't know about sugar bear. And my daddy don't know I'm lovin' sugar bear. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.