Thursday, September 18, 2008

BIG BILL FROM KANSAS

I first met Big Bill from Kansas way back in September 1956, roughly fifty-two years ago. Little did I know on that day that I would work for and with Bill for twenty-nine crazy, interesting and wonderful years. Those were the golden early days of exploding growth in the television industry, and new business flowed over the transom daily.

Bill was the owner of one of fifty-five national television advertising station representative firms operating at that time in the major advertising centers of the country. When I joined the company had only five offices and when I left there were thirteen.

Bill came from Marysville, Kansas, and he was a dapper little guy with a spiel that could charm the bark off the trees. Bill never missed his weekly appointment at the Chicago Drake Hotel barbershop that included trimming his pencil thin mustache and a manicure. Although only about 5’6” tall he was known to wear Adler Elevators in his shoes, until the leg pain forced their removal. While he was very successful in his business career, Bill was even more proficient charming tall young women all across the country, and he worked deftly at it every hour of every day.

Early on, I asked Bill how he got to Chicago, he pointedly told me that he was raised on a Kansas dairy farm, and if you ever got up at 5:00AM on a dark, cold winter day, and tried to milk a cow when his wet tail covered in shit hit you in the face, you, too, would get the hell off the farm as soon as possible. From that day on Bill, never dressed as a farmer and was, in fact, considered a fashion plate.

Bill’s interest in the ladies came to my attention soon after joining the company when I learned that he convinced his (supposedly ailing) wife to live in a beautiful ocean front condo in Santa Monica, California, because his business obligations required him to travel extensively, and he wanted his wife to be near good medical facilities. Shortly thereafter, I learned that Bill lived in a 13th floor apartment on Chicago’s near north Gold Coast while his younger, tall Scandinavian friend lived directly above on the 14th floor near the stairwell.

Actually our work did require a very heavy travel schedule to visit our client stations across the country, and in fact most days of the week I was hitting one city after the other, sometimes five within one week. Back in the late 1960’s, Bill, my counter-part Bob out of New York and I traveled to Roswell, New Mexico to meet with the owners of television station KBIM-TV in hopes of renewing our sales representation contract.

We flew into Albuquerque and rented a car to drive to Roswell, some 190 miles away. We drove the last leg of the trip, because the little planes flying to Roswell frequently resulted in terrorizing rough rides over the Sandia Mountains. About 50 miles into the trip we reached Clines Corners, New Mexico on Interstate #40, where we would turn south for Roswell. Being about noon, Bill suggested we stop at a small restaurant for some lunch. Little did we know that this was a very bad idea.

Behind a steam table was a lovely little elderly Mexican lady serving an array of Mexican food and when Bill saw the white chili he urged the lady to ladle some into his bowl. When she did, Bill urged her to put another scoop into his bowl. I can still remember that lady telling Bill…”Oh! Senor, I do not think that is a good idea”. Bill insisted and he got another generous scoop.

Shortly thereafter we departed for Roswell, now some 140 miles away. What a drive that was, because the land is barren and bleak like the face of the moon. You saw signs for ranches 50 miles off on the horizon of infamous Lincoln County. You would see hundreds of sheep and antelope and one big hill after another. As we progressed, Bill leaned over the back seat, and asked how fast I was driving. I told him that I was going the speed limit. Bill suggested that we were in the middle of nowhere and I could easily pep up the speed five or ten miles per hour. I did that, and about fifteen minutes later, Bill was suggesting that I increase the speed again. This went on until I was flying down this two-lane road all the time thinking that any minute I would be pulled over by a New Mexico State Trooper.

When we finally flew into Roswell in a cloud of dust, and found the motel, Bill was out the door before the car came to a stop. We later learned that he ran into the motel and frantically urged the desk clerk to give him a key to any room immediately. Bob and I got all the luggage out of the car and into the motel as Bill reappeared gaunt and red faced.

When we got to our rooms, Bill announced that when that little Mexican lady suggests one scoop of white chili you damn well better believe her. We joined the owners at their beautiful country club that evening and Bill frequently kept excusing himself from the dinner table.

The next morning Bill arrived for breakfast looking pale and exhausted. He looked me in the eye and said…”Bob, when we drive back to the airport in Albuquerque, if you stop at that God Damn Mexican restaurant you’re fired.” The other Bob and I laughed so hard we damn nearly were fired for that, too.

Oh yes, we also got our sales contract renewal in Roswell too.

But here is an ironic part to this story…Without any assistance from me, several years later in 1978 my son, Kenneth, traveled down the road to Roswell to his first paid job in broadcasting as a Summer Intern/Sports Director at KBIM-TV. He returned to the University of Illinois that fall for his senior year and graduated with a degree in communications in 1979. From there his career progressed upward having already worked at WPGU-AM, WILL-AM and WCIA-TV Champaign/Urbana, IL, then on to Danville, IL, Coco Beach, FL, Mobile, AL, Orlando, FL, Tampa, FL, Houston, TX, back to Tampa, and for the last ten years he has been an Emmy Award winning Reporter/Anchor at KXAS-TV, the NBC affiliate in Dallas. During those years of advancement he covered the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, and served as an embedded NBC reporter with the Marines during the battle for An Nasiriyah in 2003, and most recently covered Hurricane Ike in Houston for MSNBC and the NBC News channel, which was his fourteenth Hurricane assignment. Who would have believed that Ken’s journey would start in Roswell, and then carry him all over the world? As Paul Harvey says in closing his daily radio reports…”And now you know the rest of the story”.

COMMANDER GRANGER

2 comments:

Ensign EP said...

Commander - that is a great story. As you are well aware, I hate those little planes! I guess the lesson here is when the little elderly Mexican lady tries to warn you not to have that the second helping - you should listen!

Texas Lieutenant said...

Recently while traveling I-40 through the great state of New Mexico I passed Clines Corner. And wisely, I did NOT stop!! Many places in New Mexico advertise "White Chili." I've never tasted it!!