Clawing My Way To The Middle.

(This is why Herb Bass, John Francis and Sandy Marshall opened an Agency special­izing in Trade Show Presentations).

Clawing My Way To The Middle.

I was going through some boxes the other day trying to get rid of some shit so my daughter doesn’t get stuck with it when I die.

Some yellow-lined papers fell out of a box. I looked at the writing on one page. “SHUT UP. IT’S THE BOOZE TALKING”, was scrib­bled across the page in a loopy hand­writing. I looked at another page, “ENOUGH, ALREADY!” It went on like that for 13 pages.

Ah, the Golden Age of ADVERTISING”, I thought, as I remem­bered that 3 hour lunch in 1978, and the Confer­ence Room meeting that followed it.

Charlie Roderman (another writer at Bots­ford) and I went to the Hoffman Grill for lunch that day. We had the breaded veal cutlet with extra gravy on it. God, I miss the Hoffman Grill. . The walls were covered with giant oil paint­ings that were them­selves covered with 40 years of cooking oil and it had a dark wood and brass railed inte­rior that felt like some­thing from the 1800s. The frail, old waiters who wore rumpled tuxedos and looked like they were propelled by whichever direc­tion pointed their over­loaded trays. Our usual waiter (Howard) would bring 3 beers when you ordered 2. He deliv­ered 2 beers to us and put the third one on the edge of our table. That’s the one Howard would stop and gulp from every time he passed our way.

Charlie and I ate, drank and laughed our way through lunch. We cracked up over our stupid puns and stories (thinking we were at our own Algo­nquin Round Table minus anyone who mattered; like maybe a Woll­cott, or Dorothy Parker). Words like, “I’ll tell you what a ‘concept’ is.…it’s a large bird that flies in the Andes,” occu­pied our mind­less wander­ings. After a few hours we ambled (stum­bled) back to Bots­ford Adver­tising. Reeking of beer we entered the dreaded Confer­ence Room. Hal Riney gave us his Creative Director renowned bushy-eyebrowed frown as we fell into our chairs at the long table. Various Account Exec­u­tives, Media people, an Art Director, and the Agency Producer slowly filled the room. I sat next to Charlie, trying to keep from laughing at how serious everyone looked. A yellow legal pad and pen was placed on the table in front of every seat.

This was a meeting about a Trade Show Presen­ta­tion in Las Vegas. The Race Car Driver, Mario Andretti, was going to show his new Cobra car with its “Powered By Oly” banner on it and then present some new Olympia Beer commer­cials to a group of beer distrib­u­tors. I had been chosen to write the presen­ta­tion script and create all the “exciting” ads, buttons and other para­pher­nalia. I resented this whole Trade Show idea. (“Trade Shows were beneath me,” I arro­gantly thought, I was an award-winning radio and tele­vi­sion commer­cial writer. Didn’t Riney know I didn’t do Trade Shows?”) This meeting suddenly seemed like a good oppor­tu­nity to voice my feel­ings. “Hey, before we start talking details here.…I’ve got some­thing to say,” I slurred. Charlie’s head popped up and he scrib­bled some­thing on the yellow pad in front of him. A sheet of yellow-lined paper floated onto my lap. The words, “Shut up. It’s the booze talking,” were scrib­bled across it.

With single-minded concen­tra­tion and liquid courage, I wasn’t about to let a few words of caution deter me. I continued to launch into my diatribe.

Why write a speech for Andretti? Can’t he just say, “Here’s our new Oly campaign,” and let the work speak for itself? Another yellow sheet landed in my lap. “Blah, blah, blah,” was the new message. I let the paper fall to the floor. I was on a roll. “And why go all the way to Las Vegas to display this crap. We’ve got lots of great Trade Show venues here in San Fran­cisco, and can we change the date of this thing? My daughter’s birthday is coming up around then”. I ignored two more yellow pages (“You’ve hit rock bottom and you are starting to dig,” one of them said). Hal Riney got up and headed out the Confer­ence Room door. He gave me another bushy-eyebrowed dirty-look as he passed. For some garbled reason, I took this as a sign that since the Big Boss was no longer in ear-shot, there was no reason to stop my inspired words of wisdom. I rambled on as Charlie’s yellow pages fell on my lap and people continued to leave the room. “Media” left, the Account Execs found their way out, and the Art Director said, “dumb shit” as he passed my chair. “And about that ‘Powered by Oly’ banner on a race car. Is that really a good idea? I mean, talk about drunk driving moti­va­tion”. The last person to leave the room was the Agency Producer. She looked directly at me and said, “If I want talk like this, I’ll go to the Iron Horse Bar downstairs”.

These deli­cious memo­ries filled my old brain as I stared at the 13 pages in front of me now in 2016. 1978 was certainly one of my Golden Years in Adver­tising. Even though the gold was the color of Olympia Beer and my brain was fully “Powered By Oly” that day.

Todd Miller