“What Are The Odds?”

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The next three weeks passed by very quickly.  I moved into Campbell-Ewald’s Kansas City office.  It wasn’t so much an office as it was a cubby hole.  It was in the basement of the Mid-Continent Bank Building on Main St. and 49th.  The office had a small waiting room, and a door that led to my office.  Being in a basement, there were no windows. But I was pretty sure we’d be able to withstand any nuclear attack. After ten days of room service, we moved into an apartment on Wornall and 104th. The Missouri state line was about a quarter-mile away, and our balcony looked out into Kansas and the Milgram’s Supermarket where they sold Coors…at that time something that was unavailable to Michiganders.  I had a nice little side business going sending Coors to Michigan in exchange for Strohs, which was unavailable in Missouri.  My wife found a job at a newly opened dinner theater called Tiffany’s Attic.  It was almost directly across the street from my office.  We would ride to work together every day.  Very newlyweddy.

I found Kansas City enchanting. The only city with more fountains was Rome.  The Country Club Plaza was modeled after Seville, Spain. My office was adjacent to it. The people were very friendly.  In addition to Kansas City, I called on St. Louis, Des Moines, Omaha, Wichita, and Denver.  I was awash in Midwesterness.

I inherited another Chevy Impala from the previous Regional Account Executive.  At least I didn’t have to park this one in a building erected in 1927. On my very first day in the office, I met Marsha, my secretary.  As I was unpacking my briefcase, she came into my office, sat down, and gave me “the speech.”  “I’ve been here for 12 years,” she began, “and inwonder-woman that time I’ve seen seven of you guys come and go. I’m the only constant in this office and the Chevrolet people know that.  I know where all the bodies are buried, who the good guys and bad guys are, and what you need to do to get transferred out of here in two years.  I have my own systems and way of doing things.  They ain’t broke, so  you don’t need to fix them.  I’m here to make you a star, so don’t do anything without letting me know first.  In fact, some of your predecessors rarely came into the office. I’ve already enrolled you  in the Kansas City Ad Club, and the Kansas City Ad Wheels.  The Ad Wheels, by the way, are having their Spring Meeting on the 14th.  You need to RSVP to this number.  It’s going to be a great way to meet the other “car guys” in town.”  With that she got up, and returned to her desk.

“Ummmm, OK,” I thought.  “This is going to be interesting.”  I called the number on the slip of paper Marsha had given me.  “Tom Dickey here,” said the voice answering the phone.  It turned out that Tom was the local BBDO rep handling Dodge.  He told me about the Ad Wheels, and that it was a group of field guys who represented the national car companies in Kansas City.  Ford, Dodge, VW, Toyota, Chrysler, Lincoln-Mercury, Pontiac, and now, Chevy would be represented. The meeting was to begin at 11:00 AM, followed by lunch.  “Oh, and remember to bring your bathing suit,” he added.  ??????  Tom explained that his office had a swimming pool and that the meetings were held around the pool while sipping  Jack Daniels and smoking cigars.  The meeting was scheduled for the 14th, which was the next day.  Sign me up!

On the morning of the 14th, my wife had to be at an early meeting and rode to work with a co-worker.  I would take her home that evening.  Shortly after I got to the office, Marsha walked in wearing a sundress and carrying a large beach tote over her shoulder. My Spidey sense began to tingle.  “Uhhh, Marsha, what’s up?”  “Didn’t Tom Dickey tell you?” she Pool Partyasked.  “All of the secretaries are invited too!”  Oh well, this was my chance to make some valuable industry contacts.  The BBDO Kansas City office wasn’t an office.  It was a two bedroom apartment in a swanky area near downtown KC.  Tom greeted us and took us to the pool where a sumptuous spread was laid out.  There was a bartender behind a bar. Cigars were being passed out.  Jack Daniels was flowing like the Missouri River during a thunderstorm. The sun was blazing. The water refreshing. The afternoon passing.  The afternoon passing?!?!?!?  I found my watch.  It was 4:45.  I had 30 minutes to dry off, dress, and get to my office in rush hour traffic.  I gave Marsha cab fare…very classy.  I called my wife to tell her I might be a “tad” late picking her up.  “Where are you?” she asked.  Like a cornered rat I blurted out, “In my office.”  “Prove it,” she said.  Uh-oh.  “Just a plain old office,” I replied.  I sped back, stopping at my office to see why she was dubious as to my location. There on the floor of the office was a card she had passed through the mail slot.  “Happy One Month Anniversary!” Oh no, tomorrow was May 15th, our one month wedding anniversary. I raced to pick her up across the street, joking that I had seen the card when I got back from lunch.  I suggested that we go to dinner and a movie the next day to celebrate.

On the evening of the 15th we debated: dinner/movie; movie/dinner. We chose dinner/movie.  Bad choice. As we stood facing each other in line for the movie, my blood ran cold as I recognized the voice of the lady in front of us. It was Tom Dickey’s secretary!!  Maybe if I didn’t move, or say anything, she wouldn’t notice the quivering hulk standing behind her.  “Hey you!  Tom, it’s me, Tammie Sue, Tom Dickey’s secretary from the pool party yesterday. Wow!  How many cannonballs did you do into the pool.  Are you hung over?  Hey it was great seeing Marsha there with you.  Oh, is this your wife? Hey there, your husband’s quite the party guy.  Sorry he was late picking you up.  Hey!  The line’s moving.  See you all later.” I slowly turned to my wife.  The blank stare I got was terrifying.  “Move, she said, “the line’s moving.”

The movie was that light-hearted family laugh fest, Deliverance. Appropriate.  We sat in stony silence for the first half hour of the movie.  Then, she began to laugh. Taking her cue, Hidingso did I.  She then turned in her seat and punched me in the right shoulder with all her might.  “You big dummy.  What, there are maybe 300,000 people in Kansas City?  You know maybe twenty of them?  And you run into one of them in line at the movie?  What are the odds?  I hope you learned something.”  “I did,” I said as we began our make-up smooching. No matter where I go, I’d better behave myself because I was bound to run into someone I knew. 

Next:  Are We Going To Crash?



”I’m Going To Kansas City, Kansas City Here I Come…”


Wagon Train

Kansas City?  All I knew about Kansas City was that it was the gateway to the Great Plains.  I expected my drive westward on I-70 would carry me through barren plains, when suddenly, off in the distance, I would be able to see the rising skyline of a cowtown.  I was very wrong.

On Thursday, April 13, 1972, my boss came back to me with a “deal.”  I didn’t have to be in Kansas City on Monday, April 17.  I could arrive in the morning on Tuesday April 18, as the important meeting wasn’t until 2:00 PM.  This still wasn’t going to fly. As I was not going to be in the office on the next day, Friday, things needed to be wrapped up quickly.  My boss asked for two more hours.  Around 3:00 PM, he came back into my office with a big smile.  “Tom, I think we may have a deal.”  The “normal” relocation allowance permitted a spouse to travel to the new location and stay for two nights and three days to look for permanent housing.  The agency was going to let my bride travel with me to Kansas City on Monday, April 17. Additionally, they were going to put us both up at the Plaza Inn (a very nice hotel) for ten days as compensation for the lost honeymoon.  They never asked, and ISnowbound didn’t tell, but my original honeymoon was going to be a road trip to Charlevoix and Petoskey.  I got great rates on the rooms as both cities are still snowbound in April.  They were also going to throw in a salary bump to $14,700! What a deal!  I called my bride-to-be. Her only problem with it was leaving Michigan. I told her not to worry.  Kansas City was only a four-hour drive from Muskegon.  Any of you who know anything about geography will know that I was lying.  I needed to close the deal. She said yes.  I said yes.  I spent the rest of my day cleaning out my desk.  A friend drove me home (an apartment I had leased in Rochester) so I could leave the USS Enterprise in its docking bay.  The next five days were going to be interesting.

On Friday morning I drove up to Lansing to see my parents.  There was a letter waiting for me from the Selective Service!  Viet Nam was still a hanging sword of Damocles for me. With trembling hands I opened the letter.  It was a ‘Notice of Reclassification.’ For the last three years I had a 1-Y deferment, due to the knee I had blown out and had repaired.  Was my time up?  I read on… I was being reclassified to 4-F, “Physically Unfit for Duty.”  I found out that this was a “wedding present” from the clerk at my local draft board.  It’s a great story that I’ll save for another blog. My parents and I drove up to Muskegon that afternoon. The rehearsal dinner was that evening.  The next morning dawned cold, but clear.  I had asked two old seminary friends who had made it through to become priests to officiate.  About an hour before the service one of my friends showed up.  He handed me a telegram. The second friend had decided to leave the priesthood and wouldn’t be there.  Oh well, one was better than none.  It was about an hour before the ceremony that it occurred to me that I hadn’t memorized my part of the vows my fiancée and I had written.  I had been too busy calling on Chevrolet dealers in Buffalo.  No problem, I would wing it.

That proved to be a terrible plan.  During the ceremony, I froze.  This was different than presenting to car dealers.  I immediately fell into every clichéd wedding vow I could remember.  I even threw in some lines from the Pledge of Allegiance, and “The Charge of the Light Brigade” for good measure.  Not my finest hour, but we got through it.  The reception went down in the annals of Cavanagh lore as a “bar setter.” Sunday morning, we awoke and made our way to my bride’s parents’ house to open wedding gifts.  We were going to leave them all there and have them shipped to Kansas City once we found a place.  Monday morning we drove to Rochester to meet the movers.  We never were able to spend a night in the Rochester apartment.  After staying at a hotel near the airport, we left for Kansas City.  I, with an eye toward the future.  My wife, with the heavy thought, “Good Lord, what have I gotten myself into?”

The flight to Kansas City was uneventful except for the tremendous thunderstorm we spent an hour flying in on approach to the Kansas City airport.  We were tossed around like Stormping-pong balls in a Bingo drum.  The old Kansas City airport used to be downtown, nestled between a crook in the Missouri River and the downtown skyscrapers.  The terrible thunderstorm and buffeting notwithstanding, it’s a little disconcerting to be on final approach to a runway and look out the window to see skyscrapers on both sides of you that are taller than your current altitude.  I waved at the office workers watching the terrible storm. They waved back.  Another fun thing about landing at the old airport was the fact that you would start descending over the Missouri River. As the plane went lower and lower, the river got bigger and bigger.  One would think that we were only inches from ditching. Then, at the last possible second, the runway would appear under the wing.  Air travel as a Six Flags thrill ride!

We finally landed.  My wife informed me that she had gotten air sick and now had a migraine.  The old airport didn’t have jet ways that extended from the terminal. They would roll ramps up to the plane, and you had to walk down to the ground. We did, and were met in the pouring rain by my boss and two local Chevy heavy-breathers.  “Welcome to Kansas City!”, they said.  My wife got sick on the tarmac.  

Let the games begin.

Next:  What Are The Odds?

“….Ummmmmm. Do You Mind If I Get Married First?”

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Now that I was one of Campbell-Ewald’s “Young Account Men,” things began to move swiftly.  My fiancée and I set April 15, 1972 as our wedding date.  I figured that if I got married on Income Tax Day, I’d never forget my wedding anniversary.  Now that I was able to remove my training program beanie, I was able to “mainstream.” I was being invited to important meetings, I was meeting clients, I was going to these wonderful things called media parties, and I was walking with the swagger of someone who thought he was set for life.  One of my responsibilities as the Assistant to the Director of Field Operations was to help determine the economic course of Chevrolet’s future. Each Campbell-Ewald field office had to submit a weekly report as to how things were going in their particular region; sales trends, competitive media buys, dealer comments, newspaper stories.  They were submitted to me each Monday. My job was to “edit out” anything that might reflect badly on the client’s success as these reports were then sent on to Chevrolet.  The New York Times wrote a nice story on the Datsun B-210?  Can’t have that.  The aluminum block engines in the Vega were blowing up all over California because they couldn’t handle the stricter pollution controls required out there?  OK, nobody needs to hear bad news like that. The “Drive A Winner Derby” promotion in the Midwest Region was a flop? Nope, nope, nope.  Definitely can’t have that!  Every day the field guys would call in to schmooze, anxious to find out what was going on in the Mother Ship.  We were a “Band of Brothers.”

After about six weeks of putting my imprimatur on weekly reports, I was called into the office of the Regional Account Executive for the North Central Region. Because the Chevy regional office for North Central was in Detroit, the Campbell-Ewald rep, Jim Muir, was stationed in Detroit.  In fact, his office was right next to mine.  Jim had been a great tutor on the ins and outs of the job.  Jim asked me to sit down as he closed the door.  “Tom, I’m going retail.”  This was not the same as “going ballistic” or “going commando.”  This meant that he was going to go to work for a dealership. It happened a lot to the field guys.  He continued, “I start in two weeks with Buff Whelan Chevrolet in Sterling Heights, and I’m recommending to management here that you take my place.”  I was shocked!  I was finally going to be a Field Guy! But….I really wasn’t going to be my own boss as I was still in the GM Building, I was going to be calling on exotic locations like Flint, Cleveland, and Buffalo, and it was snowing outside.  Wait, wait!  I was to inherit Jim’s Chevy Impala company car.  I had arrived!!!  I was now getting free cars.

I was now Regional Account Executive/North Central.  I had a friend drive me in to work that day.  I would be driving home in my free car.  The 1972 Impala was parked with the rest of the agency free cars in the parking garage of the Fisher Building.  The Fisher Building, designed by the same fellow who did the GM Bldg, went up in 1927.  It featured an 11 story garage.  My spot was on 11.  Cars keys in hand, I arrived at my free car.  It was beautiful, with a hood large enough for Tom Turner to land one of his Tomcat fighters without a tail hook.  I placed myself into the captain’s chair and gave the order to the Impala’s engine room to “Engage.”  We slowly left the docking bay and approached the first downScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 10.38.57 AM ramp.  This is when two startling realities enveloped me: this garage was built in 1927, my “USS Enterprise Impala” in 1972; and, it was Winter and the car had studded snow tires on it.  The garage floor was concrete with that waxy coating that prevents oil stains.  My 4200 lb aircraft carrier was on ice skates!! Also, my Impala had almost 2 feet more wheelbase than a 1927 Chevy,  I was about to find out just what that meant as I came to the first down ramp.  My effort at a hard right left me wedged in the ramp.  I put the car in reverse to try again.  The whir of the metal spikes that prohibited the rubber tire tread from touching the ground was deafening.  I put the car into “Park” while I tried to turn the wheel harder to the left, hoping to free myself.  My terror was tempered by a loud honk.  Cars were beginning to stack up behind me!  I put the car in “Drive” and touched the gas, all the while struggling with the steering wheel.  I began to slide down the ramp…sideways.  At least I was facing the right direction when I got to the 10th floor.  And now, on the next attempt I knew to start with a wider arc.  I nailed it! I was pointing straight down toward the 9th floor.  I tapped the gas, smug in my knowledge that I had shown those idiots backed up behind me that I wasn’t some rookie to free cars.  I suddenly realized that I was sliding again, and gaining speed. I hit the brakes.  No luck.  Twelve feet flyfrom the bottom of the ramp was a wall.  This wall was the outside wall to the garage.  There was a window in it.  I was rocketing toward it.  Suddenly, I could see Mom and Dad, and old Muzza, my dog. There were Lynn and Chris from 5th grade. I was going home!!!  I could see the headline in that evening’s Detroit News: “Ad Guy on Chevy Hurtles To Death Out Of Fisher Building.”  It took me about three hours to get my free car out of the Fisher Garage.

On Wednesday, April 12, 1972, I was called to the Field Director’s office.  Gene Owens had left the agency to make some big bucks with a promotions company.  My new boss was Bob Milford, who had moved over from the Truck Account.  “Tom,” he began, “We have some great news.  You’re being promoted to the Midwest Region in Kansas City”  Hmmm, I thought, was there a hierarchy to the regions?  I was ecstatic. I had never been to Kansas City and I heard that they had some great BBQ.  “I accept!” I shouted.  “That’s great,” Bob said.  “Here’s the deal.  Ron Bleckmann (the current occupant of the seat) has just informed us that he’s leaving to join J. Walter Thompson on the Ford Account in Kansas City.  We had to terminate him immediately.” NOTE: this is pretty much standard in the ad biz.  If you go to another car account, they don’t want the client knowing they kept someone around.  “So,” Bob continued, ” Ron is gone as of today.  There’s an important Midwest Regional meeting out therestockyards_cattle_metapth19896_l_bus31_10 on Tuesday, so we’ll need you in Kansas City on Monday to get ready for it.”  There was one problem.  “Bob,” I said, “….Ummmmm. Do you mind if I get married first? Remember those vacation papers you signed letting me go on vacation from 4/14 to 4/24?  I’m getting married in Muskegon in three days, then we’re going on our honeymoon.” Bob’s wide-eyed stare told me that he’d forgotten.  “Tom, we really need you there.” “Bob, I’m a dead man if I take off the morning following the wedding.”  “Tom, let me talk to some people and see if we can’t reach a compromise.”  I wasn’t going to call my bride-to-be and worry her…yet.  Let’s see what they come up with.

Next:  “I’m Going To Kansas City, Kansas City Here I Come…”

….Breaking News!….

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We at “Cars for sale.  Cheap!’ find ourselves in a dilemma.  Half of our lovely readers want us to slow down the magical story generator.  Half have developed an addiction to daily doses of silliness and myopic history.  Both sides have weighed in on the issue.  We think our Editorial Board has come up with a solution.  Starting tomorrow, we will resume dishing out daily doses of verbal alprazolam for those who need a lift.  For those who are pressed for time and want to (as one reader puts it) “savor” each post, they are being stored.  On the right hand side of the page, there is a header titled “Our Story So Far.” Every lunatic rant is stored there.


Thank you.

….And Now For A Word From Our Sponsor.



Dear Readers:

A number of you have requested that the output on this blog be slowed a little, as there’s a lot to read.  New readers have a lot of homework to do to get caught up. Good points.

So today, there won’t be a posting.  I may slow them down to 2 – 3 a week. I’ve been sitting on these demonic memories for 40 years, they’ll keep for a few more days.

Thank you for tuning in.


You Want Us To Do What??

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Do What?

It was now December, 1971.  The top television shows were All in the Family and Marcus Welby, MD.  I managed to do my time in Traffic, Print Production, and Art Buying without pissing anyone off.  I was finding that this training program was an invaluable way to learn the business.  That’s why so many other Detroit agencies didn’t have management training programs.  They’d let Campbell-Ewald go to the time and expense of training us, then, when we were done, they’d pick us off the vine.  Still, I got the feeling that when there was a dirty job to do, the first thought was “have the trainees do it.”

I was called to report to the VP of  Personnel’s office right away.  Oh no!  What now? On the way there, I ran into Chuck Seibert, another of the trainees.  He was on his way to the same meeting.  He was as clueless as I was. We entered the Director’s office and were asked to be seated across from his desk.  Standing behind him was a woman who, as far as any of us knew, was the Assistant Director of Personnel for Female Stuff.  This was not a good sign.  The Director began, “Gentlemen, as you know, tomorrow night is the Campbell-Ewald Christmas Party.  The entire agency will be there…including the secretaries.  There will be open bars, and probably a lot of drinking going on.”  Where was he going with this?  “Tom and Chuck, you are both single account men (back then were there any account women?) and we are asking you to, um, err, uh….  Marge, why don’t you take over here?”  The ADOPFFS stepped from behind her desk, uncrossed her arms, and began.  “Gentlemen, the women at this agency are not used to nice things.  Even now they are discussing with each other what they are going to wear.  As soon as it’s 5:00 tomorrow, they will all race to Femen prostitutes protest Kievthe ladies’ rooms to change and spend an hour or so doing their hair and applying make-up.”  Now I was completely bewildered.  “These women,” she continued, “are not used to nice parties and this may be the only open bar they will experience all year.  Many of them will get extremely drunk…and amourous. Many of them are only in advertising to find a rich husband (who also gets free cars!) and live off of him.  We cannot have them ruining any of our married men’s lives because the man was seduced in a moment of weakness. That’s where you two come in.  If you any see behaviours that appear to be headed for sex, we want one of you to step in.”  

“And do what?” I asked.  I wasn’t going to carry a bucket of cold water around all night.  “You are to remind the gentleman that he is married, and escort the lady away.”  “What if she’s still hot to trot?” Chuck asked delicately.  Marge flinched for a second, then dropped the bomb.  You two aren’t married.  We don’t care what you do with the secretaries.”  My open mouth was rapidly filling with dust and cigarette smoke.  “You want us to do what?” I asked.  The Director jumped back in.  “Tom, you’ll be doing everyone a great favor by defusing any volatile sexual situations.  We can’t afford to have any of our men hurt by a slight indiscretion with someone from the office.”  Ahh, I thought.  I get it. It’s OK for these guys to have off-campus affairs, just not one with a co-worker.  Hmmm, I think someone’s been sued before.  We were dismissed.  On the way back to our offices, Chuck turned to me with a huge grin and said, “Man, do you know what this means?  Personnel has just given us Get Out Of Jail cards for the Christmas Party.  We have company issued licenses to shag the secretaries!”  He really didn’t say shag.  I just used it because it was nicer than the word he actually used.

The next day dawned crisp and cold.  I was hoping that the cold air would quell any misplaced ardor that evening.  Just to be on the safe side, I wore my best underwear. The clock ticked inexorably toward 5:00 PM.  And, as Marge had predicted, at 5:01 there was a small stampede toward the ladies rooms.  The party was scheduled to begin at 6:30 PM across the street in the Grand Ballroom of the St. Regis Hotel.  By 6:31 it was standing room only at each of the five bar stations.  By 7:15, romansthe first person has passed out after getting sick on a statue of Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac.  By 8:05, I saw my first challenge.  Tom Turner, another trainee, was pinned against the wall by a secretary in his group. She was leaning into him so hard that her drink was spilling on the front of his suit.  Tom and his wife, Carol, were from North Carolina and as nice, and charming as could be.  The terrified look on Tom’s face told me that he was trapped. The young lady was wearing a fetching crushed velour, forest green mini dress.  I knew she was wearing underpants because the dress didn’t go down far enough to cover them.  Tom had been a Navy pilot in Vietnam.  And, as military people are want to do, Tom quickly fell into the argot of acronyms and euphemisms for what he did.  “What did you do in Vietnam, Mr. Turner?” she cooed.  “Well, Lindy Lou, I was a tail hooker (a pilot who lands jet planes on carrier decks) in the Navy.”  “Ooooooh,”she squealed, “would you hook my tail tonight?”  True to his gentlemanly constitution, Tom said, “Oh no, a tail hooker is a guy who drops the hook down on the back of his jet fighter, hoping it grabs one of the cables on the carrierSafety deck in order to keep his 31 ton aircraft, that’s moving at about 250 MPH, from plummeting off the end of the deck.”  Her face went blank, but she was relentless.  “Do you want to get out of here and go see my apartment?”  “Hey Tom,” I called out.  “There’s someone over here I want you to meet.” I explained to him what I was doing, then went back to find Lindy Lou.  She had already been picked up by a guy from Research, who had heard the entire tail hooker story.  The two of them were making tracks for the door and a sweaty assignation somewhere in a small apartment in Troy.  Oh well, the research guy was single, so it was OK.

The party rolled downhill from here.  When one secretary from media decided it was time for a Southern Comfort fueled striptease, she climbed up on a table and started her routine, ironically, to the stirring lyrics of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again, Naturally.  There was no way, literally or figuratively, I was going to touch this one.  “Marge, we’ve got a problem over at Table 8.”  There were no more major problems.  Probably because our married “account men” knew that they were being watched.  Not by me, but by executive management.  I had been put in charge of keeping the expendable ones at bay.  As this party was winding down, another one was taking on a life of its own.  One of the Associate Media Directors was a part-owner in a seedy bar on the Detroit Riverfront called The Sewer.  The party was moving there!  If The Sewer sounds familiar, it should, as the original venue for singer/writer Rodriguez, the subject of the award-winning movie Searching for Sugar Man.

At The Sewer, the party got weirder, the pheromones were flying, the drinks were flowing, reverse peristalsis was sent outside, the bar regulars were upset, one of the secretaries had passed out on the pool table, so we just played eight ball around her. I was OFF DUTY!

Next: I Am Plucked From The Slough Of Despond  


“Get out! Get out, now!”

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Torch DriveHaving survived the ” Attack of Smokey the Bear,” I was more than happy to return to normalcy.  My 10-week media tour of duty was ending when the Media Director asked if I’d like to stay in media.  “Everyone up here likes you, and we’d like to bring you out of the training program and on the staff here.”  I told him that I was honored, but my dream had always been to be in account management. In hindsight, maybe I should have taken him up on the offer. In any case, account management was where they gave you the free cars.

My next assignment was something called broadcast administration. I had no idea what that was.  My friend Ed Pietila had just finished his term there.  He told me that the department head sat him down and told him everything there was to know in a three-hour chat.  There had to be more to it than that!  On my first morning in my new assignment I was called into the manager’s office.  “Have a seat,” he said, as he closed the office door. “Tom, I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years. I still have trouble staying on top of it.  I’m going to talk to you for three hours and tell you everything that you’ll EVER need to know about this.”  He did, and it was. “Bring in a magazine or book tomorrow, you’ll need something to do.”

Nuts!  This was going to be boring.  On the third day of doing nothing, I got a call to come down to the CEO’s office!!!  Tom Adams was an imposing, charismatic guy. Football star, War hero, hair slicked back.  I had only met him on my first day when, as a member of The Little Princes, we were presented to him.  Why did he want to see me?  On the way to his office I ran into Ed, who had been similarly summoned. What was up?

“Gentlemen,” Tom began, “I am going to ask you both to help Campbell-Ewald.  I can think of nobody better to represent the future of our agency than you two.” Hmmmm.  “For the next two weeks you will both be on loan to the Torch Drive, helping them provide the needy with a better tomorrow.  We’ve already talked to your managers and told them not to expect you in for two weeks.  The Torch Drive will use you in their business-to-business fund-raising efforts. You’ll be calling on some of the most important corporations on the city.”  With that, he got up, shook our hands and gave each of us little Torch Drive lapel pins.  “There is an organizing meeting tomorrow at 10:00 AM at the Sheraton-Cadillac.  Good luck, and thank you.” Fired with company pride, we promised to not let him down.

Ed and I were both 20 minutes late for the meeting.  When we got into the room, we saw gaggles of suits going over information packets and high-fiving each other.  The moderator approached us.  “Are you the Campbell-Ewald gentlemen?”  We put on our best obsequious masks.  “Yes, we are.  We are soooo sorry for being late.” “No problem,” he said, “everything you need to know is in the packets, including the names of the businesses, the owner, and how much they contributed in the past. Your team goal is also in there.  Yours was the last packet chosen.”  We soon found out why.

The United Foundation’s Torch Drive was started in Detroit in 1949.  It grew into the United Way.  “Give once for all,” was their motto.  Ed and I were ready to give it our all.  We knew that our collection area was bounded by E. Warren on the north, Mack Ave. on the south, John R on the west, and Beaubien on the east.  What we didn’t know was that most of it had been leveled almost a year earlier to make way for the new Wayne State University Medical Complex.  We hopped into my brand new 1972 Camaro RS ($2225!) and went to check it out.  I had come to the conclusion that it might be a few months before I started getting free cars, and I couldn’t keep showing up for work in The Flying Coffin.  So I bought one.

We were shocked and dismayed as we drove into the neighborhood.  Over 90% of it was gone or boarded up, waiting for demolition!  How were we going to collect any Storesmoney for the needy? We couldn’t let Tom Adams and Campbell-Ewald down.  We devised a plan.  We couldn’t admit failure.  Perhaps this was a test of our ingenuity. On the first day we’d call on the four or five buildings still standing. For the next thirteen days we would each contribute $5 in the name of a non-existent business.  This was cheaper than paying for parking at the GM building.  We couldn’t show up for work.  That would be admitting failure.  What would we do with our days?

We were definitely ingenious, and 25 years old. We spent our days discussing Nietzsche and Kierkegaard at local fine dining establishments such as Edjo’s, The Tender Trap, the 52nd Street Show Bar, La Chambre, The Landing Strip Lounge (near the airport), Cricket’s, and BT’s.  We heard that the Canadian National Ballet was appearing in Windsor. We went over and saw them.  Each day we put $10 into our collection envelope. Toward the end of the second week, we decided to make a run through the area again.  We found two businesses that had not been as yet abandoned.  One was a small tailor shop run by an elderly Jewish man.  “I’ve been here for over 40 years.  They start demolition next week,  I’m too old to start over.”  He opened the cash register and handed me a crisp $20 bill.  “I hope this helps,” he said.  Wow!

The last building was about four hundred yards away.  As I drove up, I saw the sign: Chez Antwan’s.  It was a bar!  We could collect from the owner, and any patrons who might be there.  I parked my Camaro by the front door, and Ed and I strode in.  Big mistake!!!  Not only were we the only white guys in there, I realized that in our cheesy suits we looked like narcs.  The “fight or flee” portion of my brainstem kicked in.  In a millisecond I realized that if I turned and ran, we’d be confirming everyone’s worst suspicions about us.  And we’d never make it to the car.  I walked up to the bartender, and in a loud voice, said, “Good afternoon my good man.  My friend and I work for the United Foundation and today we’re in the neighborhood seeing if any of the local businessmen would like to make a contribution for the needy.”  My brain told me to shut up.  Even though it was very smoky in the bar, I could see that every face was looking at us.  “Well, if not, we’ll just be on our way.” The bartender motioned me closer.  “You two are too dumb to be narcs.  I believe your United Foundation story.  I’m not going to give you any money, but I will give you some advice.  Get out! Get out now!”  Ed and I did a sideways crab shuffle toward the door, and got into my car.  We rode back in silence.  At least we hadn’t let the agency down. We had collected $120 for the Torch Drive during these tough economic times.  So this was advertising.

Next:  They Want Us To Do What?  


Into The Belly Of The Beast



June 26, 1971, started as any other day except for one thing.  I was now an Ad Guy!!  I had relocated from Lansing to my grandmother’s house in Detroit several days earlier to be close to work.  I was to report to Personnel at 9:oo AM.  As I entered the lobby of the GM Building and made my way to the elevators, I noticed that I was now part of a sea of suits that was about to infest every corner of the building, making heavy decisions, determining the course of the U.S. economy, and just generally being brilliant.  After dropping my paperwork off, I was escorted to the main conference room.  Soon, the other four chosen ones came in.  My MSU college buddy, Ed Pietila, had made the cut. Tom Turner and Greg Stein, Vietnam vets, and Chuck Seibert, who had been a caddy at Oakland Hills C. C..

We had all been assigned to different departments to begin our instruction into the art, craft, science, and lifestyle choice that was advertising.  I grabbed my briefcase, that had nothing in it, and was taken to the Media Department.  The Media Department was not in the GM Building.  It was behind it on the 11th floor of the Argonaut Building.  To get there, you had to take a GM Bldg elevator to the 10th floor where a hallway led you to a skyway concourse that took you directly into the Media Department.  To this day I haven’t been able to figure out how one gained a floor by crossing Milwaukee Avenue a hundred feet in the air.

Bill Kennedy, VP – Media Director, greeted me and took me around to meet the group.  I’m sure that they had all been told to be nice to the “bag smasher” they were getting stuck with.  I was to be assigned to the Broadcast Group.  They were the ones who planned and bought the time for TV and radio commercials.  I instantly learned about “glom.”  Glom was the free tchotchkes you got from networks, stations, and reps.  I was immediately given a Mutual Broadcasting coffee mug, a CBS Spot Radio Sales notepad, and an NBC Sports ballpoint pen.  I was ready to start making a difference.

I was turned over to Mary George. Mary was the head of the Spot Buying Unit.  A very petite lady, she gave meaning to the adage “Hell hath no fury like a spot buyer scorned.”  On many occasions, I would hear Mary’s voice rise when a rep would tell her that he couldn’t deliver the ratings he had promised.  The walls would shake as she told the rep was about to happen to his career.  It was the only time in my career that I would see men run out of an office.  I crunched rating numbers for her.  One day I was standing behind her at her desk, going over a buy.  I noticed that she had a milk crate under her desk, upon which she had placed her feet.  I asked about it. Mary smiled.  “Tom, I’m so short that my feet don’t touch the ground when I sit in my desk chair.  If I didn’t have something to anchor my feet when I went to throw something at a rep, I would just spin in my chair.  That’s not a good image for engendering fear.”  That advice went into Tom’s Book of Advice to Never Forget.

A few weeks after I’d started, the FCC did something that almost caused me to reconsider my chosen vocation.  They came out with PTAR…the Prime Time Access Rule. It wasn’t so much the rule that almost sank me, it was what the rule brought about.  TV stations now were able to run their own local programming.  The hour from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM would no longer carry network programming.  The race was on!!!  Syndicators and advertisers went crazy coming up with shows to fill this vast wasteland…of time.  Chevy was no different.  The General Manager of Chevy was John Delorean.  John Z. had many Hollywood connections.  The agency was told that Chevy had purchased three barter syndication shows. Barter meant that Chevy would slug two commercials into the show, the station could run the program at no charge and sell the other two spots for their own profit.  They were:

  1. The Tom Brookshier Sports Illustrated Show – Ahead of it’s time.  Think of a kinder, gentler Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports 
  2. Johnny Mann’s Stand Up and Cheer – Wholesome, clean-cut, mostly young, singers and dancers who always seemed to be wearing red, white, and blue spandex. Notable about the show were two of the singers.  Thurl Ravenscroft, who was 57 at the time.  He gave voice to many of the animatronics at Disneyland, but was most famous as the voice of Tony the Tiger.  The other was Ken Prymus. One of two African Americans in the group, Kennie is probably most famous for his role as PFC. Seidman in the movie version of MASH.  During the “Last Supper” scene, he sings the now iconic theme “Suicide is Painless.”  These were cool people to be around.
  3. Chevrolet Presents the Golddiggers – This was a dog’s breakfast of skits, unintentional bloopers, and going through the motions dance numbers.  For those of you who weren’t around, the Golddiggers were a group of lovely young women who were featured on the Dean Martin Show in the 70’s.  They would lounge around on couches, supporting Dean’s naughty boy image, while he delivered the opening monologue.  Someone had the brilliant idea to package the routines that weren’t good enough to air on NBC, and sell them to Chevy as a syndicated show.

Either because everyone else was too busy, or nobody wanted to be connected with this deal and get career-ending schmutz on them,  I was given the project.  My instructions were simple:

  • Clear the top 25 markets at all costs!
  • There are no demo tapes, “so they’ll just have to trust you that these are great shows.”
  • The MOST important thing was to clear a Detroit station.  There would be a lot of televisions in Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, and Grosse Pointe looking for them.
  • All of this had to be done in two weeks.

Armed with a station directory and my NBC Sports pen, I started cold calling station managers.  There were a few hurdles.  They had never heard of the shows (except they could name all of the Goldiggers), they wanted to see a demo before they committed to a program, and, of course, they had no idea who I was.  Within two weeks I had cleared 24 markets with at least one of the shows.  I couldn’t crack Detroit.  The folks in media told me to remind the local station managers that there was a huge Chevy Spot TV buy coming up.  Wink, Wink.  WWJ-TV, the Detroit NBC outlet relented.  They signed up for The Golddiggers.  The first show was to air the following Monday at 7:00 PM!  I told my co-workers, I told the client. I also told my friends and my family.  I wanted them all to see that I was now a powerful ad guy.

Monday arrived.  It was 4:30 PM.  My phone rang.  It was the Channel 4 station manager.  I couldn’t really tell what he was saying because of all the cursing and gagging. I finally got the gist of his call.  They had just received the tape for that evening’s show.  Not only was it a terribly edited piece of crap, the program, INCLUDING commercial slugs, was only seventeen minutes long.  Oooops!  I naively suggested that he pull the show and run a George Pierrott Travel Show repeat. Silence.  Then he said, “Don’t worry , Tom.  I’ll get even.”  Hmmmmmm. Something was going to happen tonight that might delay my getting my free car.

7:00 PM.  Judgement half-hour. The program came on.  Everything seemed to be OK. Sure, the production values were crappy, the lip synch was off, and the lighting was bad.  Big deal.  The PTAR was bound to cause a few hiccups.  Then, about ten minutes into the program, while the Golddiggers were singing “Let Me entertain You,” it happened.  The tape slowly ground to a halt.  …”let me make you smmmmm… The station then ran twelve minutes of the same Smokey the Bear commercial.  No big deal for WWJ.  They completed their monthly FCC mandated public service advertising duty in one night.  As Smokey faded out, they started the tape back up. “…smmmmmile. Let me do a few tricks, some old and some new tricks…”  My phone rang.  It was the Media Director.  “Tom, what happened?  Three clients have already called me at home!”  I told him what had happened.  How the syndicator had sent a bad show.  How sorry I was.  He simply and calmly said, “See me first thing tomorrow morning.”  I immediately showered and shaved. Put on my best suit, and sat in my car until the sun came up.

I walked into his office that morning looking like a whipped dog.  I was surprised to see him smiling.  “Thanks, Tom.  You did us all a great favor.  You’re going to go far in this business.”  Huh?  What was going on?  He explained to me that the agency had fought tooth and nail to distance themselves from the Golddiggers.  Since John Delorean had blessed the project, nobody could say No.”  Only by broadcasting one of the shows on a Detroit station could the voices of reason be heard.

I guess I took one for the team.  I learned that most good deeds never go unpunished.

Next:  “Get Out!  Get Out Now!

A Manchild In The Promised Land



GM Bldg

The “call” came four days later.  I was being summoned to “meet some people” at the Campbell-Ewald offices in the General Motors Building in Detroit.  The building, designed by Alfred Kahn, and opened in 1923, was at that time the largest office building in the world. I had been to the GM building before as a child. Where children in New York City might go with their parents to see the Statue of Liberty, we would go to the GM Building’s incredible lobby to see the new models, and visit the “Technology of Tomorrow” exhibit.  Two of the displays would entrance me for hours.  One was a rapidly spinning machine that looked something like a camshaft.  You could flick a switch and a strobe light would go on, seemingly freezing the spinning device.  You could see how high rpm’s took its toll on metal parts.  That sure made me want to drive fast.  My other favorite display was very simple.  There were two holes in a wall about twenty-four inchesGM Interior from each other.  A ball bearing would roll out of the hole on the left, drop about eighteen inches to where it hit a beveled block of metal that bounced the ball into a 45 degree arc back toward a spinning hoop.  The ball would arc toward the hoop, timed to pass through it perfectly, arc back down to another beveled block of metal that would bounce the ball straight back up, where it would disappear into the second hole.At any given time, there were four balls in the air.  I would stand there watching in dumbstruck amazement until I would realized that my drool was starting to pool on the floor!

But today, I was to put away the things of a child. The Flying Coffin flew me to Detroit, I found a nearby parking lot, and was entering the building when I realized that I had locked my keys in the car!  I ran back to the attendant who assured me that I had nothing to worry about.  I returned to the Cathedral of Capitalism.

Campbell-Ewald, most of it, was located on the fourth floor. When I got off of the elevator, my senses were immediately struck by three things: my nose sensed the mustiness of gravitas, my eyes saw a lot of marble, my ears could detect no noise. Were they closed today? I followed the signs that led to the Personnel Department. Dear reader, you’ll have to remember that this was 1971 BHR…Before Human Resources. I entered, introduced myself, and was asked to have a seat. Several minutes later the receptionist’s intercom buzzed, instructing me to enter the Sanctum Sanctorum. It would be almost another thirteen years before John Williams would introduce his Olympic fanfare, but I could already hear the kettle drums and heraldic trumpets playing in my head.  The office, the size of a racquetball court, was panelled in dark wood.  Harry Parker, Vice President of Personnel rose from his desk to greet me.  “Good morning, Tom, would you like some coffee?”  He could have been asking me if I wanted some heroin, or vodka, or a sharp stick rammed up my nose. I didn’t care.  I gushed, “Yes, thank you!”

We started the Dance of Ennui. I had a hunch this guy’s dad didn’t own a bar.  Harry explained to me how the the training program would work.  The five pauci electi would be cycled through the different departments of the agency, spending a month or two in each.  If, after a year, no department expressed an interest in retaining one of the trainees, that person would be bound and gagged and drop kicked into the Detroit River.  Harry explained that the salaries for all of the trainees were coming out of his budget.  After this pep talk, the recruiter was called in to give me a tour of the agency.  I said “Hello” to approximately 287 people.  After the tour I was dropped back at Personnel reception and asked to wait.  About ten minutes later I was summoned back into Harry Parker’s office.  Mr. Pink Pony was also there.

“Tom, ” Harry began, “we’d like to thank you for taking the time to see us today.”  Nooooooooooooo! They don’t like me.  “As you know, there are 25 men trying to get only five jobs.”  Nooooooooo!  Maybe I can my Sears repo job back.  “We really enjoyed meeting you today.”  Noooooooo! I think I saw a bar around the corner.  “That’s why we’d like to welcome you to the Campbell-Ewald Training Program.”   Nooo…Wait!!! Yessssssssssss!!  Right then, I was very happy that I was wearing a dark blue suit.

“We’re prepared to offer you an annual salary of $9400.”  Be still my heart.  That was an obscene amount of money!!  “If you work out after 90 days, we’ll bump you up to $11,200.”  The room started to spin.  Sphincter don’t fail me now.  “Is that acceptable, Tom?”  By the puzzled looks on their faces I think my answer came out of my mouth as, “Yerrrg.”  We all shook hands.  A secretary magically appeared with a Campbell-Ewald New Employee Handbook full of paperwork for me to complete.  “Can you start next week?” Mr. Pink Pony asked.  “I can start right now, if you want me to,” I blurted.  They both laughed.  “Ha-ha.  What a kidder.”

I attempted to maintain some sense of composure as I was escorted back to the elevators. The composure broke as the elevator doors opened in the lobby.  I ran to the nearest lobby payphone to call my parents. They were almost as excited as I was. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t hear my dad in the background say, “Well, that’s one launched.”  I called my girlfriend.  Her happiness for me was tempered by her concern that I was now going to be living almost 90 miles away.

Oh no!! My keys were still locked in my car.  I ran back to the parking lot, where I was met by the attendant who handed me my keys.  “How did you get them out of my locked car?”  “It’s my job,” he cryptically smiled and said.  Claude Brown wrote a novel in the 60’s, and even though I was light years from his experience, I felt like “A Manchild In the Promised Land.”

Next:  Into The Belly Of The Beast