Saturday, January 21, 2023

Practical ways to fend off robocalls...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/1-21-23

I got a call from Amy again today. I hear from her quite often, maybe you do too.


Amy sounds very friendly. “Hello, this is Amy from medical services,” she starts out. “You have been recommended by a medical professional to receive a free…”


Guess what? One of those devices the elderly wear around their necks in case they fall down and can’t get up. There’s also a TV commercial acting out the horrific scene where a white-haired older woman is lying on the floor, helpless. “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” she hollers.


Of course, if she had the life-saving necklace she’d get help right away from caravans of rescue personnel in siren-blaring fire department rigs seen exiting their garages en route to her home.


All well and good. They probably work and could help some people in danger of falling. I don’t know. I haven’t got one.


When Amy calls, I try to talk to her, but, of course, she is a pleasant-voiced recording. Her last name undoubtedly is Robo. Amy Robo who is singled out by my medical professionals to make me this stupendous “free” offer.


I wish Amy could hear my responses. I wish I could print them in the newspaper. The paper has standards that prevent that. I would also like to hear who these “medical professionals” are who somehow think I need such a devise. It might be consoling to know various medical professionals are watching over me without my knowledge.


Do I sound like a jerk? I hope not, but robo calls do get a little tiring, and I think they target people in my age group, which can only be described as “old as the hills.” Can’t help that.


But my favorite robo calls come from my “grandsons” and they are actually on the line and not recorded voices. “Grandpa,” they start out, and if you don’t hang up immediately, they tell you they are in jail with no money to bail them out and if good old Grandpa could send them some money…” Well, you know.


If you get that far, and you shouldn’t bother, you are making a mistake. There actually are reports that some grandpas or grandmas have been taken in by this scam.


A couple of times, just for the heck of it, I’ve tried to lead the alleged grandson on before they discreetly hang up. You don’t hear a hang-up click, but if they sense that you’re on to them they disappear into thin air.


Once or twice, though, I’ve been able to lead them on a bit. The secret is to respond to their “grandpa” greeting by saying a name. I prefer Kevin — I don’t know why. The caller figures he’s got you hooked:


“Grandpa?” he says when you answer. “Kevin?” you respond. “Yeah,” he comes back, figuring he’s got a comer. At that point he launches into his alarming story about being unjustly jailed somewhere and needs bail money right away.


So here we are: Kevin believes he has grandpa believing he’s actually a grandson in jail.


Here’s a suggestion for how to respond: “Kevin, I’m so glad you called. They’ve let me keep my cell phone here where I am in jail too and I need your help in getting me lined up with an attorney to defend me on a charge of very aggravated assault of a robo caller…’


At that point you sense that Kevin is no longer with us, in a telephone call sense.


Here’s another scenario you can use, free:


“Grandpa?” he opens. “Kevin?” Same old routine. Then off you go: “Boy, am I glad to hear from you at this time. I’m locked in an old warehouse where kidnappers have placed me after abducting me from my home.


“They want a $50,000 ransom to be delivered at midnight to a trash barrel on the corner of Main Street and Seventh Avenue. Place the money in a wrapped package and put it in the…”


Oops. Suddenly there is no one on the other end of the line. No responses, no clicks. Just silence followed by the dial tone.


These are just my suggestions for dealing with some robo calls. I’m sure you can come up with other stories, if you ever have a live person on the other end of the call. Or just hang up.


As for Amy Robo. She’ll likely call again today. And I hate to be ungrateful — she says she’s offering free goods, after all — but I want to shout, “Help, I’m getting another robo call, and I can’t hang up.”


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at 

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Too many bowls can spoil the soup...

Minnesota coach Murray Warmath with players L-R:  Dave Mulholland,
Bill Munsey, Sandy Stephens, & Roger Hagberg (1961)
www.the daily (2017)
Written By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/1-7-23

 So, the Minnesota Gophers football team won the Pinstripe Bowl. Wow. I forget the score; didn’t watch.


I always like to see the home team win, but, really, the Pinstripe Bowl? Whoever heard of that? (I’m not a sports fan so I haven’t heard of a lot of sports lore.)


So I looked it up. It’s called Pinstripe Bowl to pay homage to the New York Yankees’ famous pinstriped uniforms. And they play the game in Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth didn’t build. His Yankee Stadium is long gone.


Never mind that the Yankees are a baseball team. Does this make sense? To honor them with a football bowl? Confusion reigns.


Let’s face it, college football “bowl” games have gotten out of control. I’m old enough (boy, am I ever) to recall a day when there were only about three bowl games that mattered, and the Rose Bowl was the king of bowls. The Orange bowl was lurking out there somewhere, and the Sugar Bowl’s been around for awhile, but none of them compared to the Rose Bowl.


I went to the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, Calif., once, a long time ago. The Gophers played there after the1960 season and again the following year. I was there the first time when they lost to the Washington Huskies. I was going to the University of Minnesota Duluth “Branch” at the time. That’s what we were known as then.


And while we had the Bulldog football team here in Duluth, we were part of the U of M, meaning the Gophers going to the Rose Bowl was a pretty big deal. So two friends and I decided to drive to Pasadena to see the game.


It was quite an adventure. We almost got waylaid in Las Vegas on the way because it was so much fun there, and so cheap. But we pushed on to Pasadena in time to see the big Rose Bowl parade and game. (The entire Cartwright family from the old TV western “Bonanza” rode by on horseback. The ranks of people who remember “Bonanza” are thinning.)


The night before the big parade and game we decided to take a run into downtown Los Angeles from our Pasadena motel to see what was going on in the big city. It seemed kind of quiet on the streets, but for some reason we went to the big Biltmore Hotel looking for action.


Turns out It was the headquarters for the Washington Huskies, the team our Gophers would face the next day. The bar was filled with exuberant Washington fans (it doesn’t take long to get exuberant in a packed bar) and exuberance is kind of catchy, so we just joined right in toasting the Washington Huskies with their fans. Didn’t feel a bit of guilt but this is the first time I’ve publicly confessed it.


As we were exiting the Biltmore after celebrating our opposing team, in the lobby I ran into a Duluth kid I knew. He and a buddy were in navy uniforms and had hitchhiked up from their base San Diego for the game. What is the likelihood of meeting a Duluthian among the many millions surrounding us? The two sailors didn’t have a place to say so they wandered into the Biltmore hoping to catch a few winks of sleep on the lobby couches.


Didn’t happen. My acquaintance told me much later back in Duluth that the hotel’s night manager “caught” them, ordered them to follow him and gave them the presidential suite, at no charge. Now that’s patriotism.


On to the game the next day. We didn’t have tickets, but we went to the Rose Bowl stadium in hopes of securing some. Crowds were amassing outside the huge stadium (it could hold the entire population of Duluth) among kiosks decorated in the colors of the two teams — maroon and gold for Minnesota.


We walked up to a Minnesota window and asked if there were any tickets. Yes, there were, but you had to prove you were from Minnesota. We told them we were from Duluth so to prove that we had to answer a difficult question about the city. “What is the largest hotel in Duluth?” we were asked.


Well now, let’s see. Could it be the Spalding, Holland, Fifth Avenue, Lenox, or Hotel Duluth? We said Hotel Duluth, and they handed us tickets to the Rose Bowl for a few bucks. Pretty good seats, too. Ten yard line.


Of course Minnesota lost to our newfound friends from Washington. They did win over UCLA the next year, and that’s the last time the Gophers played in the Rose Bowl.


Now on to next season. Maybe they’ll get an invite to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl or the Guaranteed Rate Bowl or the Cheeze-It Bowl (I didn’t make those up). Is there a Toilet Bowl? I can hardly wait. If ya gotta go, ya gotta go.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at