“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?  


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