More Tales From the Darkside

Leave a comment

woman-screaming1

I wasn’t the only one who witnessed the terror of a visit from a high ranking Chevrolet executive. Our Campbell-Ewald guy in Chicago saw his own psycho-drama played out, all because of an innocent, last second decision. When a Regional Manager would visit a Zone Office city, cars and drivers met him at the airport, his luggage whisked away to his hotel and neatly put away in dressers and closets. His schedule was handled down to the nth degree. The angst was ramped up when the National Car or Truck Sales Manager would visit. Bottles of his favorite booze and lots of ice were in the room, as well as shrimp and crab claws on ice. When the General Sales Manger came…well, hooweeeee!  Police barriers were set up, children were taken out of school to line the motorcade where they would dress up like Dinah Shore and sing the “Baseball, Hot dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet” theme. Imagine, if you will, what sphincter tightening and pants dampening fear gripped the Zone when the capo di tutti capi, the General Manger of the Chevrolet Motor Division came to town. It happened on a sunny Saturday in October.  Bob Lund, GM VP and General Manager was flying to Chicago to attend the Northwestern FootballWildcats vs Edna Ferber Writers’ College Flying Scribes football game.  It was being broadcast as the ABC NCAA Game of the Week.  Chevy pretty much owned the broadcasts.  Opening and closing title billboards, lots of spots, and the presentation of the Chevrolet Offensive and Defensive Player of the Game Scholarships. Bob enjoyed being down on the sideline after the game for the televised presentation of the checks. Not since D-Day had America seen this massive mobilization of men, machines, and eggs Benedict. The plan was coordinated down to the most minute detail.

Mr. Lund would be driven from his home in Bloomfield Hills to Willow Run Airport outside of Detroit.  He would board the GM plane for the flight to Chicago’s Midway Airport. There, he would be greeted by the Assistant Zone Manager. Two District Managers were assigned to carry any bags Bob had, and then the four people would drive to The Palmer House Hotel, where police had cordoned off the street and parking was reserved in front of the building. Another District Manager would escort the party to a waiting Grand Ballroom Dinnerelevator where they would be whisked to the 4th Floor Grand Ballroom. He would be greeted by the Zone Manger, the Regional Manager, Chicago-area Chevy dealers, and a photographer from GM PR. An incredible buffet brunch had been laid out. Champagne, juices, eggs Benedict, lox and bagels, breakfast meats, an omelet station, baskets of seasonal fruits, assorted crepes, lobster thermidor, and two full bars filled with premium liquor. To add to what would Mariachi-band-460x300undoubtedly be a festive occasion, the Zone had hired a mariachi band…Los Musicos Ambulantes de La Calle. At 12:15, the motorcade would leave the Palmer House and head to the stadium in Evanston. As a failsafe, each point of travel in Chicago was being covered by a District Manager who was near a pay phone to give any updates to a direct line in the ballroom. The planning was perfect. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could go wrong.

The October Saturday broke sunny in Chicago, and several hundred miles away in Bloomfield Hills. The GM air crew had filed their flight plan into Midway airport. Bob Lund was brushing his teeth, awaiting the arrival of the driver. Everything was on schedule…until the phone rang.  Bob’s wife answered. “Bob, it’s for you,” she said.  “It’s Bill Fleming.” Bill Fleming was an ABC football announcer,  He also lived in Bloomfield Hills, very close to Bob Lund.  They were good friends. Bill Fleming was also a pilot, and owned his own airplane. “Bob,” Fleming said,”are you going to the Northwestern game?” Bob answered that he was. “So am I,” Bill said.  “I’m flying over there out of Pontiac airport.  This was only a few miles from Bloomfield Hills, not the long drive to Willow Run to take the GM corporate plane. “And, I’m flying directly into the airport in Evanston, so we can avoid all that Chicago traffic.”  “Great!” BobDSC_0057 said. I’ll be right over. Bob called Willow Run, telling him he wouldn’t be flying today.  As he was their only flight, they all packed up and went home.  Bob told his driver to take the day off. Bob Lund and Bill Fleming took off from the Pontiac airport, and effectively severed the Achilles tendon of the Chicago Zone Extravaganza.

Meanwhile, back at the Palmer House, the party had started. The steam trays had been fired up, the screwdrivers and bloody marys were flowing, and the Zone Manager was passing out tickets for the game. A suite had been set up in the stadium’s press box for the Chevy brass. Bob Lund was supposed to be landing at 10:30 AM. It was now 10:45 and the District Manger had not called from Midway. No problem, maybe there was bad weather over Muskegon. It was 11:00 when the Assistant Zone Manager called in from the airport.  “He’s still not here”, he said. A look of worry appeared on the Zone Manager’s face. When it was 11:10, the news that the plane wasn’t in yet began to spread through the room. Someone decided to call the GM Air office at Willow Run. With the sunken_cessnacrew long gone, the only person there was a dispatcher who had just arrived.  He checked the paperwork and told the Zone Manager that the plane “probably” left about two hours ago…more than enough time to get to Chicago.  Oh no!!! To already terrified minds, this could mean only one thing: Mr. Lund and the GM Corporate plane had gone down over Lake Michigan! “Alert the FAA.” “Have the Civil Air Patrol look for oil slicks on Lake Michigan.” Because this had happened on his “watch,” the Zone Manager knew that his career was over. A command center was quickly set up in the ballroom.  The GM PR guys said, “Don’t talk to the press until we have more facts.” The two District Managers  would stay at Midway to act as liaison with the FAA. Pockets of quiet crying broke out in the ballroom.   The Chicago Police had to be notified because the officers out in front of the hotel had only been paid until 11:30. A shroud of dismay settled over  the Grand Ballroom. The mariachi band playing Mi Rosa Salvaje Irlandes didn’t lift any spirits. It was now 12:45 and everyone at Chevrolet was trying to resign themselves to the tragedy. Then, the phone rang.  The Zone Manager grabbed it. “Any news?” he said.  “Uh, sir, this is Mike Swenson. I’m the District Manager stationed at the Northwestern stadium. Uh, sir, I just ran into Mr. Lund.  He’s really upset and wants to know where the hell all the Chevy people are.”

“Everybody to their cars!” he yelled.  “He’s not dead, he’s at the stadium.”  There was a mad rush toward the door.  Our Campbell-Ewald guy, who didn’t receive a ticket to the game, asked the Zone Manager, “Sir, what do we do with all the food and liquor?” “Send it back,” the Zone Manager yelled back over his shoulder as everyone raced for the elevators.  Our guy looked at the hotel’s banquet manager who was personally surprising the extravaganza. He slowly shook his head. “You guys own it and this room until 2:00.” With that, he ordered his staff to clear the tables.  “Wait,” our guy said. “If Chevy already paid for it, you can’t touch it until 2:00.” “Oh, you’re going to eat it all?” the manager sniffed. “Yes,” said our guy and a Chevy District Manager who had been left behind. The two of them tried mightily, but by 1:20 they were overstuffed and quite drunk. Then the idea hit them. It would be a shame to waste all this food and booze. The District Manager stayed behind, while our guy went out of the NorthwesternFootball2006hotel onto Monroe St., and down to Michigan Ave., inviting homeless people to go to the 4th Floor Grand Ballroom of The Palmer House. There they would find all the food they could eat. A small stampede was generated.  When the folks got to the Grand Ballroom, the mariachi band struck up a local favorite, Vientecinco O Seis A Cuatro.  A lot of people were able to eat that day. The Zone guys were only an hour late for the game. Everyone laughed about the “crazy mix-up.” And, nobody got fired.

Next: The Bloom Starts To Come Off Of The Rose

 

Chita Rivera Saves the Day

1 Comment

tumblr_lfxgx9bWGr1qzfhxho1_400

We bid a fond adieu to Kansas City.  We watched as the moving packers swept through our apartment like locusts on the Kansas plains.  The last thing to be loaded onto the moving van was our new 1973 Chevy Vega Kammback Wagon.  I was nothing if not a company man.  I gave the keys to my free KC car to my replacement. Dick Byrne was giving me his Impala company car. We landed at LAX and went directly to the Franklin Arms.  This was old Hollywood at its stylish.  The residents were all “entertainment people” who would rent a unit on a month-to-month basis. Lots of ice plant and palm trees. A large pool in the centre of the units provided ample tanning area for folks to maintain their healthy Hollywood patinas.  It was about a half a mile from my office.  Fortunately, each unit was air-conditioned, as it was 104 degrees when we arrived.  I told my wife to enjoy the pool as I went off to work. Our furniture wasn’t expected to arrive for another five days. After the first day of having nothing to do from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM but sit by the pool and read, she informed me that she was getting bored. Uh oh! I suggested that she walk down Hollywood Blvd, maybe visit Grauman’s Chinese Theater which was next to my office.  She wasn’t too keen on that as long as the temperature was above 100.  I told her that I’d try to come up with something for her to do all day.  

This all changed on the evening of the second day.  My wife had met a friend at the pool.  Chita Rivera!  Ms. Rivera was the first Anita in West Side Story on Broadway. Her show stopper was the song “America”…”I like to be in America, OK by me in America, Everything free in America.” She and my wife struck up a conversation and became pool buddies.  Whew!!  On the third morning, as I was checking for any mail, a French couple was checking in.  I don’t really recall what he looked like, but his wife/girlfriend/mistress/lover was striking.  Think of Catherine Deneuve with long dark hair.  Thatimages afternoon I received a call from my wife.  She was quite upset. “What kind of place is this?  Around noon, a French woman comes out and takes her top off and starts sunbathing in front of everyone!!!”  “No!!!,” I exclaimed.  “Tom, I want you to call the manager and complain.” I replied that I’d “get right on it.”  When I got to the apartment that night she asked if I had called the manager.  “He was out, so I left a message.”  The next day, at noon, I got another call.  “She’s back! This isn’t France. Call the manager”  About ten minutes later I surprised my wife by joining her at the pool.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.  “I brought you some lunch, Dear,” as I dropped an egg salad sandwich in her lap, while I frantically scoured the lounge chairs.  “Uhhh, where is that French trollop?”  “Oh, she left about ten minutes before you got here.” Hmmmm. The next day I brought a tuna salad sandwich…at 11:00.  No luck.  I guess someone else had called the manager.

Being the LA Field Guy was the greatest job in the world.  Even though I protested that I didn’t, all of the TV and radio stations, newspapers and outdoor companies in LA and San Diego thought I could help them get on a Chevrolet media buy. I quickly learned about Chasen’s, Perino’s, The Brown Derby, The Polo Lounge, Trader Vic’s, Tail O’ the Cock, and Scandia to name a few.  I learned that the big outdoor companies, Pacific Outdoor and Foster & Kleiser, would barter space with Las Vegas resorts and airlines to provide trips to clients.  I quickly realized  why Dick Byrne had refused to go work in Detroit and stayed in this job for 17 years.  If I played my cards right, I could stay in this job for at least 39 years.  I quickly became used to the lifestyle.  The one thing that I had yet to master, and found out that I should, was golf.  The landed gentry in England went fox-hunting, the Germans went boar-hunting, LA Ad Guys played golf. A wonderful man named Harley Humes “adopted us.”  He was a rep for Pacific Outdoor, and was already well into his sixties. My wife and I would often have dinner at his house in La Cañada. He was “old LA.” His father was one of the founding members of Wilshire Country Club in 1919. Harley came into my office one day and announced to me, “Tom, I’ve gotten you a membership in SCAGA!”  This was the Southern California Advertising Golf Association.  Rich ad guys who were good at golf.  “I’ve put you in our foursome for the next tournament at Lakeside County Club,” he said. Another old line club, a short distance from Warner Brothers in Burbank, Lakeside was founded in 1924 and had as it’s members Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, W.C. Fields, Oliver Hardy, Gene Autry, among others. On the day of the tournament, and with my Sears golf clubs, I arrived at the club. A man about the same age as my father 8893588_122902194863approached me and asked if I was Mr. Cavanagh. I was, I told him.  “Hi, sir.  I’m Sam. I’ll be your caddy today.  Why don’t you just give me those clubs and meet your friends in the grill.”  OK. Not too shabby.  I met Harley, who was sitting at a table with two other gentlemen. The first was introduced as Jim Davis, who owned a photography studio.  The other was introduced as Neal Reagan, Senior VP at McCann-LA.  I tried to lighten things up.  “Hey Neal,” I asked summoning all of my 26 year-old hubris, “you any relation to our actor-governor Ronald Reagan?”  “Why yes,” he intoned,”Ron is my brother.”  Uh oh!!  I felt retribution on its way.

As we walked toward the first tee, Harley pulled me aside and whispered, “We’re partners in this foursome. Don’t let Neal get under your skin. He’ll try to ride you, but he’s really a good guy. We’re not betting that much.”  If this hasn’t happened to you, you have NO idea the terror of being the new guy in a golf organization as you walk up to the first tee which is surrounded by golfers waiting to see what the “new kid” can do. I casually asked Sam for my driver and sauntered to the tee.  The quiet was deafening as I began my images (1)swing. Keep your head down!  Keep your head down! The ball left the tee with a mighty crack.  It was about 100 yards out when the ball’s right turn signal began flashing and it veered into some brush on the right side of the fairway.  Whew!! At least I got off the tee. “You’re OB, Tom!” Neal crowed.  “Tee it up again, you’re lying three!” Mortified, I walked over to Sam for my 3-wood.  Just hit it straight.  Again, the turn signal. This time the ball wasn’t as far right.  “OB again!!” Neal observed. “Tommy, you are now lying 6!!!!” I walked over to Sam and asked for my 9-iron. At least my slice would be limited. By this time the throng had dispersed, shaking their heads and chuckling to themselves.  My shot went all of 60 yards, but I was off the tee.

The rest of the round wasn’t too traumatic.  That evening at the awards dinner, Neal sat with me. The evening was kept buoyant by gallons of vodka martinis.  Well into the evening he turned to me and said, “You know Tom, you took my ribbing well. You’re a fine Irishman…like me. It’s a pleasure meeting you. Now I have to go the bathroom. I’ll be right back because I want to talk to you.”  He ambled off to the mens’ room.  After 30 minutes had gone by, Harley and I became alarmed.  We asked the waiter if he had seen Neal.  “Oh” he said, “Mr. Reagan got into his car about 30 minutes and drove home.” There were giants in those days.

Next:  The Case Of The Missing Cars 

….And Now For A Word From Our Sponsor.

4 Comments

announcer-bw

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.

Tom 

Free company cars??

6 Comments

Thank you for visiting.  I should start with an explanation as to why, having lived through twelve (so far) U. S. Presidents I would want to now take a plunge into the blog pool during this era of my checkered career.  Quite honestly, I have too much time on my hands.  I’m firmly convinced that once you receive your AARP card in the mail, HR departments everywhere are alerted to the fact that incipient senescence  may make you a hiring risk.  For over 40 years my career has been advertising.  It has provided more thrills than swimming with sharks while cleaning a 400 lb tuna.  It is an industry that tries to win votes…for its clients’ products.  It has been an adventure.  Someone once said to me, “Always remember, at the end of the day we’re just trying to sell soap.”  Hence the blog’s title. These are my somewhat clouded reminiscences.  I promise not to name names…if possible.

After I decided to change majors in college, I was bouncing around looking for a course of study that would provide me with financial security for the rest of my life.  I found the answer while working as a counselor at a summer camp in Michigan.  I noticed that the father of two of the campers would drop his sons off each year in a brand new car. During the summer of my career ennui, I asked him why he always had a new car each time he drove up to the camp.  He told me that he was a management supervisor (whatever that was) at an ad agency in Detroit that handled the Pontiac account.  Each year when the new cars came out, the company gave him a car to use.

This was incredible!!!!  You had a job like Darrin Stephens AND you got a new car every year?!?!?  Sign me up!  I later learned that you could tell what year an episode of Bewitched was filmed by looking at the model year of the Chevrolet parked in the driveway.images66pontiacbonnevillecoupe  Chevy gave cars to the show each year to showcase the current models.  It was literally raining free cars.

The decision was made.  I became an advertising major at Michigan State University.  My friend on the Pontiac account told me to look him up when I graduated.  I very blithely took that as, “Tom, when you graduate, there’s a job and a FREE CAR waiting for you.”

Next:  “I got your multiple-linear regression analysis right here!”