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 Wildcats 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 elevator 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 undoubtedly 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!” Bob 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 crew 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 hotel 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.
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