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Buckin Backhoes

Unreal does the "Thriller" dance, sips Starbucks with a fellow ex-barista and ponders the logistics of a backhoe rodeo.

At last week's last minute, Unreal learned of an intriguing rodeo that would take place in Fenton on Friday, October 12. Staged by Luby Equipment Services, distributor of backhoes and such, it was to be an "extreme sports event" that pitted "the most talented heavy equipment operators in the area against one another."

No bulls, no lassos, no pretty little calves to torture? Naturally, we had to call owner Tim Luby to ask...

Unreal: WTF??!!

Tim Luby: I had no idea putting together an event like this would be so much effin' work. Do you even know what we're talking about here?

Well, bulls are pretty feisty, but riding a backhoe can probably be a real thrill, too.


Tell us about it!

Let me back it up. We sell a competing product of Caterpillars — Case Construction Equipment has a backhoe, a four-wheel-drive machine with a scoop in front and a backhoe in the back. Case invented the backhoe in 1957. They're celebrating their 50-year anniversary. They suggested we have a backhoe rodeo. The men will use the machines to pick up an egg, or a basketball, or a baseball, and drop it in a trash can. It's a very meticulous, slow action, kind of like a Price Is Right for tractors. There's a million ways to screw the thing up.

Are you reading from a script?

No. I'm in the back yard. We have people here practicing. We're going to have pretty girls, sandboxes, music — it's a rah-rah, we-love-you, you-love-us deal.

Will a girl get hoed?

No. [Laughs.]

Won't that be distracting then — the girls, that is?

It's customer appreciation. The guy drinks his beer, eats his hamburger, looks at the pretty girl. It's his work in life.

Sign us up!

Dark Roast
Who can resist the tale of a once-powerful man brought so low by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that he finds himself standing before a small crowd in Clayton one unseasonably warm October afternoon belting in an Irish brogue, "I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler, I'm a long way from home and if you don't like me, you can leave me alone"?

Certainly not Unreal, particularly if the man in question is Michael Gates Gill, who came to the Big Read festival on October 6 to promote his new book, How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else, the story of how, after years of working in the evil, soul-sucking world of advertising, he found redemption as a Starbucks barista. The subtitle made Unreal feel a bit like throwing up (especially after we learned Tom Hanks had bought the movie rights), but we slogged through the book anyway, hoping to feel a sense of kinship. Unreal, you see, did time behind the espresso bar our ownself, and the most important lesson we gleaned from that unhappy experience is that people can be real assholes when not properly caffeinated.

Gill — who was called "Gatesy" by his mother because she felt the name Michael was too common — learned more exalted things, like that African Americans are people too, and that, contrary to what he had always believed, not everybody respects the bearer of a Yale education, particularly if said bearer cannot perform a task as simple as operating a cash register. And that Starbucks fosters an atmosphere of kindness and acceptance. (Unlike Unreal, he apparently never got nicknamed "Eeyore" or had hot coffee thrown at him.)

Fortified with an iced venti latte he'd purchased at the Starbucks at Forsyth and Central, Gill confessed that until the age of 64, he never knew how to fill out a job application or understood the meaning of the phrase "work in retail." And sometimes, even after three years of latte-making, he still forgets to toss in the espresso shot.

The Q&A provided further revelations: Gill's new life has affected not only his family but also people he hadn't seen in 50 years! "This guy I had always been held up to as a role model came into my Starbucks and ordered a Frappuccino. He noticed who I was. It was a seismic shift in his life. This was his role model? Now he had to rearrange his whole life story. It made him pretty unhappy. But I'm freer and happier than I've ever been."

Whereupon Gill burst into song.

Thriller of a Lifetime
Filipino prisoners do it. (Become the 7.26 millionth person to view it at American bridal parties do it (see previous parenthetical). And let's not leave out Bollywood (Go to Google for that clip). "Thriller," baby: The world just can't get enough of Michael Jackson's chart-topping 1983 video-dance these days.

St. Louis is no exception, thanks to the happy feet and loose hips of Katie Millitzer, a 27-year-old fitness instructor at the Mid-County YMCA in Brentwood. Millitzer has taken it upon herself to teach the zombie moves as many St. Louisans as possible so this city can ably represent in the "Thrill the World" dance October 27. For all you "Thriller" neophytes out there, that's going to be a worldwide rendition performed simultaneously and in real time in an attempt to break the "Guinness World Record for the Largest Thriller Dance." (Canada currently claims the honor.)

Unreal visited a practice session last week to learn more about Millitzer's calling. She was so busy working the floor with some 50 zombies that we pumped her husband, Joe, for a few explanations.

Unreal: Really, there's just one question to ask, and that is, why?

Joe Millitzer: It's a neat thing to do for October, but the back story is this: We were out at Hooters after her sister's wedding, and one of her sister's bridesmaids busted out into the dance right in the middle of Hooters, and we were all like, "Wow!" Katie basically decided: I need to know how to do that.

And you were, like...?


So she wasn't predisposed.

She's really into zombies. Loves zombies. We get zombie movies on Netflix once a week. And we've checked out the Zombie Squad in St. Louis. I think she likes the concept of "the other." I personally checked out the Michael Jackson jacket selling on eBay, and they want like $200 to $400 for it! It's insane! I guess it's all about the zippers.

Aha. So is everybody going to dress up?

As Katie likes to say, you died when you became a zombie, so whether you're a sailor or a French maid, come as you are — just zombie it up a little bit.

I guess she'll have to go as Michael.

Yeah, I'm working on it. We'll get her a black wig. We want to make her look like Michael Jackson looks now — like a white lady. It shouldn't be hard.

Easier than the dance, anyway!

Want to join in? Be at the Mid-County Y (1900 Urban Dr., Brentwood; 314-962-9450) by 7:15 p.m. sharp on Monday, October 22.

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