Terror In Tokyo!

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Or for fans of Japanese Literature puns:    がいじん ものがたり (Gaijin Monogatari)

Yes, that is a giant spider (statue) terrifying residents of the Roppongi District of Tokyo. I will let you know later how I was almost destroyed in this neighborhood.

Things were going swimmingly working on the Honda account. Co-workers were great, clients were great, my free car was great.  I didn’t think that things could get any better…but they did. Bill Hagelstein told me that we were going to Tokyo to visit Honda’s world headquarters and to attend the Tokyo Motor Show. On top of everything else, we were going to fly Business Class. Cool!

After an eleven and a half hour flight, which only seemed like half a day, we were transported to our hotel, The Okura. The Okura was a beautiful hotel situated across from the American Embassy. Built in 1962, it was to be a showcase hotel for Tokyo’s 1964 OkuraSummer Olympics. Sadly, they began to tear it down about a year ago to build a high rise hotel in anticipation of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. While I was checking in, I saw Don Hufford and Don Cooke, the Publisher and Ad Director of Car & Driver Magazine, walking toward me. Many magazines carrying import advertising  sent staff to cover the Tokyo Motor Show. Bill and I caught their attention.  Of course, being great media  reps, they immediately invited us to dinner.

There would be five of us for dinner. Don Hufford knew of a wonderful teppanyaki place in an area called Roppongi. Our cab stopped in front of Amakawa. Teppanyaki restaurants prepare your food on a hot grill  in front of you. Think of a Japanese version of Benihana. Kobe beef TeppanyakiAfter two rounds of $15 Chivas, it was time to order dinner. Don said the kobe beef here was delicious. I looked at my menu and did the ¥/$ exchange math in my head.  A 12 oz. Kobe steak was $150…a la carte!! I looked for something cheaper, like Spam. Don then removed my cloak of guilt. You MUST try the Kobe beef. Sounds good to me. The tab for the five of us came to over $1500 in 1983 dollars. I guess this wasn’t Car & Driver’s first Tokyo Motor Show.

In the cab on the way back to the hotel I mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of bars and clubs in the area. My hosts told me that there were a lot of “hostess” bars in Roppongi. They had been to one the night before, and made the offer to take me with them the next time they went. For those who don’t know, Japanese Hostess Barhostess bars are establishments where one can go for a drink and have a hostess assigned to you who will drink with you, flirt with you, light your cigarettes, sing karaoke, and listen attentively to your blather. The ladies are known as kyabajō, cabaret girls. There is no sex…Tokyo has other places for that. There are a number of these bars in L.A. and NYC. I know. The first one I went to was in Little Tokyo in downtown LA. I was the guest of the President and Executive Vice-President of Mazda. I should point out that these places are obscenely expensive. That is why 90% of bills at hostess bars are put on corporate credit cards. Corporations are more than happy to have their executives spend five or six hours together after work talking business and having a good time.

The Tokyo Motor Show is gargantuan in scope. Housed in several exhibition halls of the RK012618Tokyo Convention Center, the TMS is a ten day event where manufacturers from around the world present their visions of the future of transportation. Over one million people will go through the gates. It’s a little like trying to get into a Super Bowl every day. One hundred thousand people every day pushing each other trying to get a glimpse of the latest from BMW and Toyota.

By the end of the day you think your arches have fallen. Looking at prototypes all day takes its toll on your body. That’s why I decided to make an appointment for a massage in the Hotel Okura’s spa. It was rumored to be world-class. I entered the spa waiting room and was shown to a chair to wait for my name to be called. A few minutes later an elderly woman dressed in white opened a door to one of the rooms and said, “Cavanagh-san?” I was surprised by the size of the room, and all the equipment. In addition to a massage table the room had a small soaking tub, a very short wooden stool next to a woodensteam-cabinet-with-steam-generator-500x500 bucket, and some contraption that looked like it was a discarded prop from a David Copperfield show. We smiled and bowed. She pointed to a closet. We then held a brief discussion using the universal hand signals for, “Do I take all my clothes off?” She nodded. OK. Go with the flow. The lady then led me to the magic box.  She opened it and motioned for me to climb inside. Was she going to saw me in half? I then found out that it was steam cabinet. She cranked up the steam and watched as I poached. After ten minutes, she let me out and guided me to the very short stool. She had me sit on it, and as I figured out they weren’t going to bring in a cow for me to milk, this was part of the spa treatment. She began pouring buckets of warm, soapy water over me. Then she brought out a brush and went to town on me. Then more buckets of warm, clear water. I should have asked for the sealant and the wax buff.  I think you get a car deodorizer with the special. I was then led to the small pool that was filled with warm water.  I was about to fall asleep when she pulled me out, dried me off, and put me on the massage table. I did fall asleep about half-way through the massage. When I was done, I was refreshed, my arches were no longer fallen, and I decided to take up Car & Driver’s offer to go with them to a hostess bar.

Club Morena was a hostess bar in Roppongi. I knew of it because it was the favorite hangout of the American Honda executives. They said that I should go if I ever had the chance. I now had the chance. And making it better, the folks at Car & Driver were going to Roppongi-69432host me. I called them and said that we cold meet there at 8:00. The cab driver dropped me off in front of a tall, narrow building. Fortunately, I found the words Club Morena among the jungle of gaudy signs with flashing lights. The sign said that Club Morena was on the 4th floor. I entered the building to see a very narrow stairway…no elevators! After much huffing and puffing, I arrived at Club Morena. As I entered the bar the mama-san (yes, that’s what they’re called) approached me with a “Hey, gaijin (foreigner), what are you doing here?” look on her face. She spoke English so I began rattling off the names of the American Honda executives.  Her face lit up. “Welcome to Club Morena!  Are you by yourself?”  I told her that I was meeting two other people. She hustled me to a large table in the corner as she barked orders in Japanese. By the time I got to the table, we were joined by three hostesses and three small trays full of wasabi peas and Japanese rice crackers. My hostess sat down next to me, while the other two kept a respectable distance at the table. She valiantly tried to ask my name in English. I told her, and asked hers.  She said, “Tiffany.” I had a hunch that Tiffany was her nom de hostess. I ordered a beer.

hostess005I figured that I could nurse it until my friends got there. Tiffany kept giggling and filling my glass.It was now 8:45 and I was starting to get a queasy feeling that I was on my own. I could hear the meter running…ka-ching, ka-ching. The mamasan came over and wanted to know where my friends were. She asked not so much out of concern, but because I was taking up a table for three. Fifteen minutes later she came back.  “It’s raining outside, maybe your friends are delayed.” She asked where my friends were staying.  Like an idiot I told her. She wanted to know their names saying she would call them for me. I blurted out, “Room 1207!” This was my room, so there would be no answer. She went and called, coming back to say that they must be on their way as she put another beer in front of me.  The other two hostesses had already been reassigned. I finally arrived at the terrifying truth.  I was on my own in the quicksand of overpriced booze!

A waiter walked by and I asked for my bill.  It came. $160 for a beer and some wasabi peas. I left the amount in yen and waited for the mamasan to go into the kitchen. Whispering “Sayonara” to Tiffany I bolted toward the door. As I hurtled down the stairway, I heard someone yelling, “Stop!  Stop!” It was Tiffany.  Was she going to drag me back to the mamasan?  It was then that I noticed that she was carrying an umbrella.  We walked out Taxionto the street.  It was pouring! She dutifully held the umbrella over me while I tried to hail a taxi. She informed me that the scores of cabs parked in the street were pre-booked by bar guests so they knew that they could get home. Tiffany handed me the umbrella and jumped in front of a moving cab. I heard what I guess was Japanese profanity coming from the driver as Tiffany motioned for me to get in. I made my escape.

As I walked through the lobby of the Hotel Okura, I spotted my Car & Driver friends at the bar. “What happened to you guys?” I asked. They informed me that they were very tired from being at the show all day and visiting Club Morena completely slipped their minds. I told them about my terror.  They laughed and asked if I wanted a drink.  I said yes.

NEXT:  Bless me Father, for I have sinned. Can you stash 60 Hondas for me?


I Shut Down New York City

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Television commercials require quite a bit of planning to come in on-time and on-budget. Television commercials shot on location require even more planning. But, no matter how well one plans, anything that can go wrong…will.

The 1982 Honda Accord was restyled and featured some new technology. Accords were now being built in the U.S. Auto writers were calling it an engineering wonder. The decision was made to produce a TV commercial having Burgess Meredith discuss the Accord’s ad_honda_accord_hatchback_blue_1982engineering mastery while the vehicle was filmed cruising past notable U.S. engineering wonders: The Hoover Dam, The St. Louis Arch, The Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

The shoot would require precise planning as the film crew and the vehicle would move the shoot across the U.S. Time was money even back then. A small group of agency people would accompany the flying circus. We would shoot one location for a day. We’d then wrap the location and put the vehicle on a car prep truck to meet us at the next destination. The agency was represented by the writers and art directors who conceived the spot, an agency producer who had worked up the budget and schedule with production company, and an agency technical specialist who made sure that the vehicle was properly prepped for each shot. The producer and production company were also responsible for getting all the necessary permits from the local governments for shooting and traffic control. I went along as the “designated suit.”  This was an account person who would have the opportunity to fall on his career sword if anything went wrong.

We left Los Angeles and headed to Henderson, Nevada, full of optimism and high spirits. The Accord looked smashing as it drove across the top of the Hoover Dam. The footage was “in the can,” and after a brief cultural visit to Las Vegas, we set out for St. Louis.

White, puffy clouds greeted us in St. Louis. The helicopter camera caught great views of the car passing the St. Louis Arch. We wrapped and took off for New York City.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, it was named after Giovanni da Verrazzano who in 1524 became the first European to enter New York Harbor USS_Leyte_Gulf_(CG_55)_under_the_Verrazano_Narrows_Bridgeand the Hudson River. He discovered a narrow passage that carried him from the Atlantic Ocean into the harbor. And, no, that’s not a typo in his name. For some strange reason, when they named the narrows after him, map makers decided to leave out the extra “z” in his name. The bridge connects Staten Island to Brooklyn and the rest of Long Island.

We landed at JFK and settled into our hotel in Manhattan, not noticing the gathering storm clouds. Being the last location, we decided to find out whether they sold steaks and Irish whiskey at The Palm on 2nd Avenue.  They do!

Our call was for 6:00 AM on the Staten Island side of the bridge. The heavens had opened and were pouring sheets of rain and showers of lightning down upon us. Visibility was very poor. We were all there, setting up all the equipment. Well, almost all of us were there. The car wasn’t!  A quick call let us know that the car was stuck in Pennsylvania. A quick look let us know the the Port Authority Police were setting up roadblocks to stop traffic on the bridge’s upper level. The truck drivers whose trucks were now backed up for a mile were becoming a bit choleric. One of the production assistants told us that it would be at least another hour before the Accord arrived. The backup at the entrance to the bridge horrible-traffic-jam-picturesgrew. Truck drivers and commuters were getting angry. A police supervisor walked toward us and asked, “Who’s in charge here?” I suddenly felt sixteen fingers pointing at me. The police captain wanted to know why we weren’t filming anything. I explained that the car was delayed. A great idea came into my head.  “Why don’t we let these folks use the bridge until the car arrives?” The captain reached inside his trench coat and pulled out a very official looking document. He perused it for about 15 seconds and said, “Sorry, pal, no can do. It says right here that we have to close the upper level off from 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Youse guys still got five hours of closure.” I protested, but the policeman said, “Orders are orders,” as he walked away. What the public servant didn’t catch was that the permit allowed the bridge’s upper level be INTERMITTENTLY closed between those hours. Our producer ran into the Port Authority Maintenance building, which sat next to us, to make frantic calls to some nameless bureaucrat who was in charge of traffic pandemonium permits and have him call the police captain.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 9.26.04 AMNew York City was effectively shut down. Well at least Brooklyn and Queens. Unfortunately, Chris Christie was only 20 years old at this time. It would have been easier to blame this “Bridgegate” mess on him.

To deflect blame, I told the production assistants to start the rumor that the bridge was closed because a despondent Boston Red Sox fan was threatening to jump off the bridge. The boiling anger was lowered to a simmer.

Finally! The police captain was summoned to the phone inside the maintenance building and was told to open the bridge until the car got there.  He told his men to remove the barricades.  It was just then that the car prep truck carrying the Accord arrived.

We raced to unload it as traffic slowly began to move across the bridge again. The production company let us know that the helicopter with the cameraman was on its way. When it was ten minutes out, we closed the bridge again, further enraging the drivers who had been miles out in the back-up. The shot was to show the Accord driving across the bridge toward Brooklyn. The helicopter flew alongside the car and then pulled back when it reached the bridge’s midpoint to show the entire bridge and the Manhattan skyline in the background. Close the bridge. Shoot the car.  Open the bridge. Close the bridge. Shoot the car. Open the bridge. Repeat as necessary.

We were close to wrapping when something happened. Noon. It was time to feed our crew. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union, to which all of our crew belonged, required that we feed them after specified periods of time. They had been working in the cold and rain for six hours. The catering people had been setting up tables and chairs for the lunch. On-location catered meals rival those of the finest restaurants. We were trying to squeeze in one more shot before breaking for lunch. Everyone was starving. Someone shouted, “Oh no!” I turned around to see hordes of Port Authority mobmaintenance workers pouring out of their building and racing toward the food. For some reason they figured that the food was for them. We shouted for an assistant to go tell them to back off. The assistant quickly returned, being told by the workers exactly what he should do to himself. This situation was getting worse. Our guys were still working. The maintenance guys were feeding.  Think school of piranha and a cow. I then thought of the only thing we could do. I would have to speak “unionese” with them.  It would be the only thing they would understand.

I trotted up the hill. I needed to know what union they were in so I could speak their dialect. Then I realized that we probably had a mix of IBEW, Teamsters, SEIU, and IABSORIW (steel workers) gorging themselves. I needed to use the Esperanto version of “unionese.” This dialect was universally understood. “Hey everyone, this is IATSE food. You wouldn’t want them to file a grievance with the AFL- CIO would you?” They all looked at me, Coquille St. Jacques dripping from their lips. They immediately realized that they were all committing a cardinal sin: You don’t eat another union’s food! They backed away from the table like roaches from Raid. “Thanks guys, you can have anything that’s left.” They were all smiles as they ambled back to their pens.

We finished the shoot. Wrapped everything up. Left the food in foil chafing dishes and raced across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I looked out the rear window of our car and saw every piece of the food being devoured.Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 7.42.51 PM



Next:  Terror In Tokyo

I Leave Home


child walking along road


As in many other industries, ad agencies follow a certain protocol when poaching talent from another agency. Rather than use a “scorched earth” policy that leaves behind bad feelings, reputable agencies rely on oblique seduction.  Thus it was when I was approached about leaving the bosom of Foote, Cone & Belding/Honig. Bill Hagelstein of Needham, Harper & Stears, called me one sunny afternoon.  Bill was part of the original immigrant wave from Detroit who ventured to Southern California to make ads for Japanese cars. In fact, we had worked together on the Datsun (now Nissan) account at Parker Advertising…for about 15 minutes. Bill had been working there for some time.  Datsun fired Parker 15 minutes after I was hired. Fate was attempting again to bring us together.

One sunny May afternoon in 1982 I received a call from Bill. After we exchanged pleasantries, Bill asked mMouth at Phonee if I might be able to help him with a favor. I immediately agreed. The folks at Needham were looking for an account supervisor to work on Honda. Bill outlined the responsibilities, salary range, and benefits.  I told him that I would “make inquiries.” I sat at my desk, staring at the narcotics officers busting crack dealers in the park across the street. It was then that a thought crossed my mind.  “Why should I offer someone else for this plum job.  Why don’t I go for it?” I went home and discussed it with the family. I was going to go for it.

I called Bill early the next morning. Like two sand cranes performing a mating ritual, Bill and I danced around the issue for a few minutes.  Then I said, “Bill, I thought of someone who would be perfect for the job at Needham. Me.” He laughed and said, “I was hoping you’d say that. I couldn’t come right out and ask you.” Plausible deniability. By me asking him, Needham couldn’t be accused of poaching. The agencies and clients would be calm about it.

It was tough leaving FCB/H. They are the ones, after all, who had plucked me from the Slough of Despond. I felt a great deal of loyalty toward the co-workers who had taught me that Tanqueray  was a damn fine gin. But I had to face facts. I didn’t see much chance for imminent upward mobility. The client was struggling to find a new identity afteMoney Stackr being known for their rotary engines. At the time, Mazda was split into two American companies. One headquartered in Rancho Dominguez, CA., the other in Jacksonville, FL. Consensus on creative was often a rocky road. Oh, who am I kidding? I did it for the money.

Honda and NH&S were whole different worlds from where I was. Accords, Civics, and Preludes were flying out of dealer showrooms faster than the trucks could deliver them. It was like printing money.  Actually, a few years later something like that was going on. But enough has been written about that chapter that I don’t need to go there.

One of the first things I noticed in my new world was that American Honda actually
Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 9.20.03 AMmirrored what their advertising slogan was: Honda – We Make It Simple. No onorous creative and budget presentations to countless levels of committees . For major presentations we would be in front of four people: Joe Haight, the Honda Ad Manager, Tom Elliott , at that time the VP of Marketing, Cliff Schmillen, SVP of the automotive division, and Yoshihide Munekuni (known affectionately as “Moon”), the President of the automotive division.  Back then, Honda was using the avuncular, soothing tones of Burgess Meredith as the voice-over talent in the commercials. Once the storyboard had been presented, we would read the copy, starting with the words, “And then Burgess says…”

Honda also gave NH&S responsibilities that went beyond the “normal” client/agency relationship. Working with Porter/Novelli Public Relations, we put on their new product short-lead press previews. One of our account people was the “The Honda News Bureau.” We produced their major meetings, including their annual dealer meetings.

In previous posts I’ve gone on about how great it was to have a job that gave you a free car. This job went a step further. It allowed you to hobnob with the rich and famous. Honda was coming out with a completely new iteration of the Accord.  They wanted to dazzle their dealers at the dealer meeting where the car would be revealed. Honda asked us to handle the meeting. Honda knew that most of their dealers would attend with spouses and/or girlfriends in tow. Honda wanted to invite industry thought-leaders. J.D. Power (Dave Power) would attend with his Associates. I was glad Dave was coming because he loved cigars as much as I did. Honda Motor Ltd. executives from Tokyo would be there. A lot of people would be there. We needed a massive venue. Bob Welsh was the titular head of the Honda account at NH&S.  He also was the producer of the Honda meetings and shows. He put Sol Hurok to shame.

The first thing Bob did was to take over the Las Vegas Hilton. They could accommodate thehilton-las-vegas 2000+ rooms that would be needed. Then he booked a “surprise mystery guest,” to boost attendance. Then he used the leverage that comes with booking thousands of rooms to coerce the kitchen and chefs to do the near impossible. When I checked in three days before the event, I was told by reception that I only needed to provide ID. I said, “Don’t you need a credit card for incidentals?” I was told that wouldn’t be necessary as my entire stay was being comped.

Very impressive.  I immediately tried to determine how many pay-per-view movies I could watch during the six days I would be there. The new Accord presentation went off without a hitch. When the commercials were shown in the darkened ballroom, our agency plants in the audience were able to start the cheering and applauding. Almost as impressive as the show was the dinnerBobHope that night.  After a few words from Cliff Schmillen, dinner started.  The Hilton chefs had prepared Beef Wellingtons for 2,000, all of them served warm. Dessert was flaming Baked Alaska for 2,000, all of them done correctly. After dinner Cliff introduced the “surprise mystery guest” to the musical strains of “Thanks for The Memories.” Bob Hope walked
out to thunderous applause. Hope was great. A few hours before the dinner his people had asked for the names of the Honda president, the largest dealer, the worst golfer, the highest ranking executive from Japan, etc. He seamlessly worked all of them into his routine. After the dinner, several of us from the agency and Honda were told to be in the lobby the next morning by 9:00 AM. We were also told to bring swimsuits.

The next morning, six of us assembled in the lobby. The Hilton’s Director of Marketing came up to us and said, “Follow me.” We went out the front doors and were escorted into waiting limousines. I breathed a sigh of relief as the limos turned toward Lake Mead and were not heading out into the desert. We were’t going to be whacked! The Marketing VP Hilton Yachttold us that the Hilton Hotel wanted to thank us for our “hard work” over the last few days by letting us spend the day on Barron Hilton’s yacht. The crew saluted as we boarded. A light breakfast was laid out in one of the state rooms. The bartender was able to supply much needed Bloody Marys. I spotted a box of pampers, guessing that those were for baby Paris. We cruised to a small cove on the other side of the lake where the captain dropped anchor. A diving board was attached to the stern section of the upper deck. Lunch was served onshore. After an afternoon of Glennfiddich-fueled cannonball dives off of the diving board, the captain headed back to the marina where the waiting limos took us back to the hotel. Hmmmm. This Honda gig was pretty neat!


Next: I Shut Down New York City