Sunday, May 22, 2011

Aristotle taxi company

I have taken cabs all over the world, some of the drivers I was actually able to understand. Since I like talking and will to everybody I meet…cabbies are great. They all have an opinion, not necessarily connected to any actual knowledge they may or may not have.

They drive all day, usually in horrific traffic, and meet all kinds of people and have plenty of time to think and form their opinions, half-baked or not.

They are a source of information as well as observations. They are like a gallop poll; they have heard hundreds of opinions, and give a summary of them. I really enjoy taking cabs.

In NY the divider that used to be between the driver and the passenger has pretty much been taken down. When I used to fly into NY from Mexico, I would take a cab that was usually driven by a Greek or a Mexican. Both would make you feel you were in their home country. The language was totally a mix between NY and Greek or Mexican. Malaka bullshit and hijo de puta shithead. Since I speak both languages I would chat with them on the way in, usually the Greeks moaned about the Mexicans and vice versa. I never got any great wisdom from them, but lots of passion.

English cab drivers are amazing, they practice for two years, it is called, “the knowledge,” and they pride themselves on knowing every street in London, quite a feat. We lived in a small new street in Knightsbridge. I took a cab and surprisingly he did not know the street, when we got there after I directed him he confessed that it was one of the very few times he did not know a street. I said, “you learn something new every day.” He looked at me and in a cockney accent; he said “I didn’t learn anything new yesterday, gov.”

In Japan my taxi rides were pretty silent, other than the hisses and hiiii from the drivers periodically.

Greece has it’s share of surprising cabdrivers, other than the ones that refuse to take you, because they are not going anywhere near your destination. There are a lot that discuss politics and their cousins in America. The situation in Greece, as you know, is pretty terrible at the moment; most everyone blames the government, and the cabbies that I take unanimously agree.

The other day in a cab, driven by a very dignified driver, I was told the solution for Greece and it’s political problems. He said, “ the politicians are all useless and corrupt; they are all the same, two families with their cronies running everything.” There are no new guys on the horizon; they do not have an Obama. The driver said, “fire them and hire foreigners to run the country; treat Greece like a corporation and get professional managers to run the country, an Austrian for example as the prime minister, some guys from Switzerland for seats in the parliament as well as English, Germans and some Chinese ministers as well.”

All foreigners, not a drop of Greek blood in any of them. It seemed so natural and right; nationals should not handle politics. We have to get foreigners that are hired to do the job, if they screw up they are fired and we hire another pro to do it. Can’t fire an elected official.

This cab driver seemed to have given this quite a bit of thought, as wacky as it sounded, it made sense to me.

We can have courses in the best universities, prime minister 101, major in finance minister. I suspect there are some problems to this but I cannot seem to think of them right now. We seem to have tried everything else; maybe if we treat the country like a big international corporation, we can have some success.

The solutions of a lot of our problems are probably driving around in yellow cabs all over the world.
Philosophers all.

Let’s give it a shot, couldn’t be worse than what we have now.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

“I do not believe you are here on holiday, I think you are here to work, sir.”

Since I have always traveled a great deal, I have run into customs and immigration guys all over the world.

Usually there is not any great problem. In the old days you could even be a wise guy with them without any great fear of being arrested or worse.

I remember once returning to England from a couple of days in Paris and being asked at customs if I had anything to declare. He could not believe that I had not bought anything, cigarettes, lighters, booze, perfume, nada, nothing, I had not bought a damn thing!

Finally in desperation, he seriously asked me “what is that bulge under your jacket?”

You guessed it; I said with a smirk that it was a gun then quickly said it was a joke; after all it was the UK in the 60’s when the police did not even carry guns.

He said,” I know sir, please go into that room to be searched.”

If you say something like that today chances are a search is the least of what will happen.

A friend was returning from Tokyo to New York via Fairbanks Alaska, it was the early 70’s and there were no scanning machines at that time yet. He was being padded down by a State Trooper, arms around him checking for anything behind his back, Harry has a bigger mouth than I do, he asks. “Do you get kissed often doing this?” Try that today and you will not make the flight to N Y, or any other one.

When I was transferred to London in 1965, it was the year our son Paul was born; the situation was a bit complicated….the company had wanted us in London 4 months before but I kept stalling, we wanted our son born in Chicago. Eventually, they insisted I go before our son was born. They would have all my documents, working papers, etc. ready for me by the time we were ready to move. Sounded good. I went for a month before all the documents were ready as a tourist, found an apartment, organized everything or so I thought and returned for the birth and baptism of our son.

My wife was incredible, our son was 30 days old and we are going to live in a foreign country, not many women would do that.

We arrive in London ready for the new adventure. The first person we meet in England is the immigration guy, a little short guy wearing, if I remember correctly, a brown shirt. That should have tipped me off.

He looks at our passports and asks what we are doing there; I say, “We are on holiday.” Remember, I returned for a second time after just a month. He looks at us, me, my wife and our 30-day-old son. He stands up as tall as he can and asks,

“Are you here to work?”

I like the idiot I am, stand up taller than him, and say, “We are on holiday.”

“I do not believe you sir, I think you are here to work.”

At this point we are put in a waiting room, with a bunch of people from all kinds of countries in ethnic dress, to be sent back on the next plane, I am insisting on first class tickets.

Lots of luck on that one.

I get to a phone and call our office and speak to the company lawyer.

“If you do not get me in before they throw me out, forget the damn job.” I yell at him.

One hour later the little guy in the brown shirt comes in and says, “Have you changed your story?”
He also asks me if I am sorry to put my wife through this. Jeannine jumps to my defense and tells him, while waving our son around, that we are detained in this room with all these poor, pathetic people because of him, not me.
Go get him Jeannine.

I tell him that he knows that I am legal. He only wants me to apologize and tell him the truth, which I am not about to do. Finally, one hour later he lets us out of the room and into the country. The lawyer is outside with the correct papers; I am pissed off at him as well.

I really handled that one wrong, for years in my mind I have been blaming the agent, maybe I should have just told the truth, or the company lawyer should have told me about my papers being OK.

Today things are different…do not come up with smart-ass comments, no matter the temptation.

Beware of short guys with brown shirts in airports.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My favorite ad.

I have probably made hundreds of ads myself and been responsible for hundreds more, for some reason this one is my favorite.

I did it in Chicago in 1964 with a great copywriter I worked with, Shari Lee Mason.

We had the Marshall field account (a famous department store), we didn’t have the retail business but we did have the image account, which ran in the New Yorker magazine once a week.

For the Christmas season we had to do an ad for the toy dept. No way were we going to do the traditional corny ad of happy kids with tons of toys.

We worked on it for a while and came up with the normal junk, kids and toys.

Shari suddenly asked, “What about the toys?” She wrote the line, “Every toy should have a child.”

We knew we had something special. For me, the only visual was a crying teddy bear.

I decided to do it in black and white like a charity ad…no color, everything non Christmas.

The client loved it and even had plastic tears glued on the teddy bears, when they were sold the tear was removed.

Loved that ad! I have done more famous ads and certainly bigger and more elaborate ads for bigger clients; this still is my favorite ad. I think we made the perfect balance between picture and words.

We made people see something they knew in a different way, which I think is the definition of creativity.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Xappy Birthday from da Tsicago office."

Belly dancers play a pretty big role in my life, from going to the Egyptian Gardens and the Port Said in NY during the 50’s and the 60’s to various birthday parties as well as events that completely embarrassed me.

A friend sent a belly dancer to my office in London, it was 1967, I have to admit I lost it; I was absolutely a stuttering idiot.

This is something I have done many times to other people, but I could not handle it at the time.

If you take the piss out of people you usually are not very good at having the piss taken out of you.

When we were in Chicago, about 1963 or 4, my boss was Jeane Bice, terrific boss. The head of Interpublic at that time was the great Paul Foley. Interpublic was in NY in the Time Life Building.

Paul’s Birthday was that week and all the offices were obviously sucking up and sending “creative” birthday wishes. Billboards in NY, ads in the NY Times, radio commercials etc. Jeane says come up with some ideas. Great! Here is my chance to be noticed or fired.

My group comes up with all the normal ideas and then we remember Paul was in Turkey during the war and loved that part of the world.

Here is my chance to look good. “Why don’t we send him a belly dancer to the office?”
“Great idea, organize it.”

I call the Egyptian Gardens in NY and tell them what I want. It will cost $300, but I have to pay before she will dance, none of this ‘bill me later crap’. I have to arrange the head of traffic at NY McCann to meet the dancer, Zoroumba, in the lobby of the Time Life building and give the money to the drummer, who will be there with her.

It must have been a rather sinister sight…money being handed over to some big guy with a drum and a heavily made up girl in a trench coat, in the lobby of the Time Life building at 3 pm.

We were not there, we are in Chicago, and the head of traffic calls up and tells us we are a big success. Detroit had a stupid ad in the Times, LA did a radio spot, a poster from Atlanta…but ours lasted two hours! Paul kept throwing money at her and later went to the Egyptian Gardens with the IPG directors.

I wonder if that is why I got promoted and sent to the London office in 1965?