Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Day She Came Back

Two weeks ago, on a hot Saturday morning, Shawn called from KC. "I'm on my way," he said. True to his word, he was bringing the Olds to St. Louis. I wasn't sure what to do for the next 4 or 5 hours. Usually it's like straighten up the living room, vacuum, stuff like that. But this was the first time I'd ever prepared to welcome a car. And an old one, at that. Given the hot day - climbing into the mid-90's - I was worried about the car making it the 250 miles. So I straightened up the driveway, picked up some dead branches. I probably would've vacuumed it if the cord would've reached.

At 2:30 he called. "I'm at the Loew's parking lot in Kirkwood," he said. "I'll be there in a few minutes." Loews? What did he do, come to St. Louis to go shopping? Turns out, he trailered the car in. Smart move. He wanted to drive up to my house in the car.

A half hour later I was standing at the top of my driveway, waiting, listening, remembering. How would she look? How would she sound? How would I feel about someone else driving her? I waited and sweated, held the camera at the ready. Before long I heard the deep purr of a not-new car. A deep rumble. And there, around the bend in our street, came the '65 Olds Jetstar. 

If you've ever gone back to the house where you grew up, the grade school you attended, met an old girl friend you'd lost contact with, even pulled out a high school year book or an old baseball glove.... if you've ever done any of those, then you know how I felt. Joy. Sadness. Excitement. Longing. A feeling that all is right with the world, that some of the good things of life will always be there for you. And one other compelling feeling that I come to experience more often these days. The feeling of time gone by, all too quickly. 

A poem came to mind, days later.

            "Across the fields of yesterday, 
             he sometimes comes to me. 
             A little lad just back from play, 
             the boy I used to be."

Not to belabor this nostalgic event, I'll just say the car was all I had hoped it to be. And Shawn was the right person to own it. For he deeply cared about it, wanted it to be perfect, had worked hard to recreate its beauty, knew more about cars than I did. I had forgotten how well designed the car was, a low, streamlined, powerful presence. How magnificent the dark and light blues were. I drove it around the neighborhood, feeling strangely comfortable in it. Shawn and Mary Lee and I visited for a long time. He told of his endless search for parts, his efforts to restore it as close to the day that I bought it, the same year Mary Lee and I were married. 

That evening we drove to Blueberry Hill for dinner. Top down. Shawn was behind the wheel; I didn't want to risk hitting something. The 3 of us sat in front. You could do that in those old convertibles. Drove up and down Delmar afterwards, ala "American Graffiti." Then hamburgers for dinner. 

The evening ended too quickly, and Shawn decided he was going back to KC that same night. After taking Mary Lee home, I followed him to Loew's and helped him put the Olds back on the trailer. We shook hands, promised to stay in touch, and he said he'd bring her back when he had finished all he wanted to do. Then, for the second time in my life, I watched her roll away, into the night at the edge of the parking lot.

One reassuring thought stays with me. After 46 years, both my marriage and my Olds are still running. It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Is You Is or Is You Ain't?

I admit, I like non-alcohol beers occasionally. I like the taste, and I like not falling asleep shortly thereafter while watching TV. However, I noticed something rather unusual recently on an O'Doul's label. Not only unusual but contradictory. I think. O'Doul's label says "non-alcoholic." (see photo above) 

It also says, in smaller type, "contains less than 0.5% alcohol by volume." (see second photo above) Now that says to me it contains alcohol, it's just less than .5%. Does that mean if I drink 10 O'Doul's (or any of the other "non-alcohol" brews), I'll have drunk the equivalent of a "real" beer? There is probably a legal description or escape clause somewhere that helps legitimize this. Granted,  I don't fall asleep after having one or two. Another non-alcohol beer is high on my list of favorite brews: Buckler. It's made by Heineken. Talk about full, rich beer taste. I think it's what Joe Biden drank in that strange presidential beer blast last year.  Buckler, too, "contains less than 0.5 etc". Not a big deal, really. Just wondering if anyone has any insight into that category. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Immortality on the Can

The bright blue can sits in front of me, next to my plate of BBQ ribs, slaw and 3-bean salad. The occasion is a group of friends who have gathered at our house for a last-minute pre-July 4th celebration. Which means eat and drink, with only verbal fireworks. 
I’m a black belt master of BBQ, which is evidenced by my rub, my sauce, and my backhanded basting technique. All I will tell you about the rub is that I use garlic powder, paprika, ground black pepper, chili powder, and a couple of secret ingredients from the lower shelves at Schnucks. My sauce is classified, right next to the government file on time-travel experiments.
But I digress.
I pick up the blue can with the red and blue letters and a picture of a glass of beer. Large beads of sweat trickle down the can. St. Louis humidity makes for an appetizing product shot. I read the label while someone at the table tells a story about being questioned by the FBI in some sort of real estate scam. The financial concepts are beyond me. So I stare at the can and four words capture my attention. Four simple words. Two separate thoughts. One immortal marketing campaign.
And my imagination takes off. 
Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. But don’t cue the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver. This is a different yesteryear.
Once upon a time, in an office far away, a young copywriter - at least I picture him as young - and as a “him” - sat at his desk and pondered his assignment. Ideas were due the following day. Lines, themes, concepts. Anything that might sell the product.
In front of him, next to his note book and index cards and layout pad and felt tip pen, sat a can and a bottle of Miller Lite Beer.
The year was 1972. The agency was McCann-Erickson. And the category of “light beer” was an invisible blip on brewery radars. Guys drank real beer, like Bud and Schlitz and Pabst and Miller High Life. Light beer was for wusses and women.
The copywriter stared out the window at the fading day. The question nagged at him: How do you get real guys to drink light beer? Specifically, Lite Beer from Miller? Well, he thought, what if you had real guys with the beer? Like athletes. But pro athletes couldn’t appear in beer ads. So... maybe retired athletes. Famous guys connected with sports or some facet of masculinity. 
Add some conflict. The guys argue. About the product. About two differing points of view of what’s so good about Lite beer. Put ‘em in a bar. Maybe some chicks hanging around.
Yeah, that’s it. He feels the surge of breakthrough. He stands on the precipice of beer history. The view is glorious. He writes down four words on the layout pad. Four words in bold, black felt tip.
“Great taste. Less Filling.”
And a category is born.
At least that’s how I picture the birth of this great campaign.
I have but one wish for that copywriter. That he’s alive today, in good health, and surrounds himself with the comforts and joys the world has to offer, including a winter home on St. Bart’s, a summer home in Boulder, and a vintage 1972 Corvette in cherry condition. I hope he was paid well, had a sizable stake in profit sharing, and made a killing when the agency merged. And that he got out with his nerves and digestive system intact. 
Before I return to the ribs and slaw and get ready for the watermelon and peach cobbler, I have one more really deep thought. It’s this: Copywriters are the Shakespeares of our culture. They create the words that can live forever. Maybe not as lofty as the Bard’s, but certainly more pervasive. “Just do it.” “This Bud’s for you.” “Think small.” “Finger lickin’ good.” 
And “Great Taste. Less Filling.” Maybe those words will still be on the can a hundred years from now. And someone else will ponder the state of our culture.