The drive from Birmingham to Lansing is pretty much a straight shot up I-96, much to the dismay of towns like Howell, Fowlerville, and Williamston. The new Interstate bypassed them all. The Flying Coffin’s throbbing 6 cylinder, 255 cu. in. engine, mastered by its Powerglide automatic transmission, was ready to be unleashed. To be on the safe side, I took the small plastic statue of St. Christopher my mother had given me out of the glovebox and placed it on the dash.
I don’t recall much of the drive up to the MSU ad department. The green, Mid-Michigan countryside seemed to turn into a blur of green and blue, supported by the thumping of the outside air rushing through my open windows. I pulled into the parking lot at 4:58 PM. I had driven 87 miles in 48 minutes!! Running up the stairs, I realized that traveling at almost the speed of light had made the interior temperature of the car go up to about 475 degrees. I was soaking wet! If the Campbell-Ewald recruiter mentioned anything about it, I would cleverly tell him that I had gone swimming and happened to wear the wrong “suit.” I was pretty sure that ad guys appreciated a rapier-sharp wit.
I was ushered into a small conference room where the recruiter greeted me. He began by telling me something that I already knew. He had asked our department chairman for the names of five grad students he might like to interview. Then he told me something I didn’t know. He was visiting a total of five Big 10 schools and interviewing five at each school. From this pool of 25 young men (yes, I know…but there weren’t very many women ad majors way back then) Campbell-Ewald was going to choose five to be admitted to their management training program. Hmmmm. I had a one in five chance. I knew that I needed something to make him remember me among the sea of eager white faces he would be meeting. As he looked down to shuffle through his papers, I slowly took out the golden ticket I had just received from Ted Teegarden. I looked at the contacts he gave me, not recognizing any of them. We started the usual interview “Dance of Ennui, ” where we talked about our pasts and what brought us into advertising. I thought this was a good time to use the golden ticket. I told the recruiter about my buddies, Gail Smith, Bunkie Knudsen, Jack Morrisey, Ted Mecke, amd John Delorean. Again, hmmmmm. That didn’t seem to phase him, or else he knew that I was lying. Then he commented on my last name. “Are you related to the Mayor of Detroit?” I told him that, indeed, I was. He was my dad’s younger brother and my godfather. His face lit up. “So you’re a Westsider,” he said, referring to the fact that I grew up on the west side of Woodward Ave. “So am I!” We found out that we’d grown up only a few miles from each other, gone to the same hamburger joints, went to the same movie theaters, and had endured the agony of buying back-to-school clothes at the same Federals.
He asked on what street I lived. I told him that it was Prairie, a few houses north of Grand River Ave. A big smile grew on his face. My dad used to own a bar on that corner. “The Pink Pony!” I exclaimed. He said, ‘Yes!” I said, “I know it well!” He said, “What a coincidence!” I said, “I know!” I did know the Pink Pony very well. It was only about 200 yards from our front door, and featured the biggest TV I had ever seen. Most Saturday and Sunday evenings my mom would say, “Tom, can you go get your father? Dinner’s ready.” I would trot down the street and timidly stick my head in the door that opened to a dark cavern filled with smoke and the smell of stale beer. Men’s voices would try to out shout each other as they argued over who was a better Detroit Tiger, the new kid named Al Kaline, or the legendary Charlie Gehringer. “Dad! You have to come home now. Dinner’s ready.” My dad would immediately emerge from the darkness and hold my hand as we walked home.
The Campbell-Ewald recruiter and I talked and reminisced for over 90 minutes…much to the chagrin of his next interview. As I left, he winked and said, “We’ll be in touch.” I learned something that afternoon. Sometimes you have to break away from the pro-forma “Dance of Ennui” and engage the schmooze gear to really know someone.
Next: Manchild In The Promised Land