“Mud season” is the unofficial fifth season in states like Michigan and Ohio – the period between winter and spring when one hopes for another snowstorm to cover the filthy piles of blackened snow that line the roads.
Skies are always cloudy and gray. Add some drizzle to the mix, and that what it’s like on this Friday morning in mid-March as I fly out of Dayton.
Five hours later when I land in Los Angeles, I’m blinded by bright blue skies and sunshine.
Herb has instructed me to take a shuttle bus to the valley. Or is it The Valley? Even freeways are named by their number – as we head north on The 405. I marvel at the traffic choking all four freeway lanes and at the distant mountains capped with snow.
I’m excited and nervous. I’ve got this job in the bag, or he wouldn’t have bought me a ticket. Right? Our phone interviews have gone well. I’m qualified, I think – even with only a year of experience. We’re both Midwesterners. And he did say that my sample proposals had been impressive. Why is he not meeting me at the airport?
I sit back in my seat. “Relax.” We pass a sign for UCLA. I flash back to many a New Year’s morning, huddled in the living room watching the Rose Parade as a blinding snowstorm obscures the picture window. In the afternoon my dad and brothers would watch the Rose Bowl, rooting for whichever Midwest team was challenging a rival west coast school. Often it was the UCLA Bruins with their perky, blonde cheerleaders dressed in pastel blue and yellow uniforms. And it was always sunny on New Year’s Day in Los Angeles. Always.
Another sign points the way to Burbank. Beautiful downtown Burbank. Oh, how my dad would love it if I got him tickets to see Johnny Carson.
The bus exits the freeway and pulls into a big parking lot at the Van Nuys Airport. As I climb down from the bus, there’s a tall man in his 50s standing on the sidewalk. He’s slim, wearing a plaid, short-sleeve shirt with dark, slicked-back hair, and a schnoz as big and bulbous as my Uncle Mickey’s.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
“How was the flight?”
“It was fine, no problems. I was a little nervous about my connection in Chicago because the weather was nasty, but all flights were on schedule.” I shield my eyes from the sun and make a mental note to buy some sunglasses. “It sure is a beautiful day here.”
“It rained here a couple of days ago. That’s why the air is so clear and you see the snow on the mountains.”
I follow him toward the short-term parking where he stops behind a blue Camaro and fumbles for the keys in his pocket. He unlocks the trunk and loads my suitcase, then gets in the driver’s seat, leaning over to unlock the passenger side door.
Now what do I say? “How far is it to your office?”
“About 20 minutes. Are you hungry? I thought we’d get some lunch.”
Oh, a business lunch! Maybe he’s gonna take me to one of those famous LA restaurants. The Brown Derby, or maybe Spago. “That would be great!”
We exit at Topanga Canyon Boulevard, North. He pulls into a Denny’s parking lot. “Is this okay with you?”
“Of course.” So here’s the deal so far: He’s practical, by suggesting a time-saving airport shuttle. He’s frugal (maybe cheap?) eating at Denny’s. But the Camaro is a surprising choice for a guy who uses so much Brylcreem in his hair. It is 1981, after all. And now I can’t get the damn jingle out of my head.
Brylcreem – a little dab’ll do ya
Brylcreem – you look so debonair
Brylcreem – the girls will all pursue ya
They love to get their fingers in your hair.
We’re seated in an orange vinyl booth, perusing the menu when our waitress comes over. “Hi, I’m Lucy. Can I take your order?”
What does a person eat during a lunch interview? At Denny’s. “I’ll have the Mini Chef Salad Combo with a cup of Cream of Broccoli Soup. Thousand Island dressing on the side, please.” Feels right – not too expensive, not too fattening. Maybe vegetable soup would have been better? Too late now.
“And what would you like to drink?”
“Ice water is fine, thanks.”
Herb orders a Proud Bird Turkey Sandwich with extra bacon. Fries. “And an Arnold Palmer.”
He tells me that he was a tool and die guy in a factory in the Chicago suburbs before he applied for a sales job at Matson Cruise Lines.
“That’s a pretty big change. What made you do that?”
“My brother-in-law dared me. I did get hired, but after a few years with Matson, I went to Princess Cruises. They moved me out here in 1972 to start their group department. Five years later, in 1977, I started CTP.”
“Was it tough at the beginning? Did you have employees and clients from the get-go?”
“Actually, Tommie, who you’ll meet later, has been with me from the start. And since I know the cruise business from the inside, we’ve had good success thus far.”
He clears his throat. “So – tell me, Marilyn, why do you want this job?”
I launch into my life story – growing up in Michigan with three brothers, Catholic school, teaching degree in Home Ec with no job prospects, moving back home and then my big adventure to southeast Asia. Pausing for a spoonful of soup, I hesitate. I’m sure I told him all of this before. Am I talking too much?
“I know I’d be nervous if my daughter was traveling around by herself. What did your parents think about you traveling alone?”
“My dad couldn’t understand why I wanted to go over ‘there’ – of all places. I’m sure they freaked out when I started traveling solo, but I called home, collect, once a month, and wrote regularly to let them know I was okay. When I finally came home, my dad half expected that I’d have a shaved head and would be wearing orange robes!”
He laughed. “That trip was quite an adventure.”
“Yeah, I’d never done anything by myself before. Nothing so exotic. But I loved every minute of it, and it’s why I pursued a travel career. After returning home, my cousin got me the job with E. F. MacDonald. He was a client, and must have told them they had to hire me! Because at that point, I had no real experience.”
“What did you think of E.F. MacDonald? They’re a major company.”
“I really loved the job at first, especially doing proposals. The researching and planning all the pieces of the puzzle. You asked why I want this job? Because I love doing proposals!”
Herb smiles. “If you’re finished with your salad, we’ll go to the office. It’s just a couple of blocks away.”
I dab my lips with my napkin and slide out of the booth. I think he likes me!
The sign at the top of the gleaming 5-story office building on Topanga reads Union Bank of California. There’s a huge field across the street. “Is that what I think it is? Is that a farm?”
“This whole area was once the Warner Brothers back lot. They filmed a lot of old westerns here. Now it’s being developed. That farm won’t be around much longer.”
“What do they grow there?”
“Strawberries in the spring, and later in the summer, corn.”
He parks in the lot underneath the building and we ride the elevator to the top floor. He opens the door to Suite 540 and immediately, a woman with short brown hair and a headband rushes over with a welcoming smile. “Hi, I’m Tommie! It’s so nice to meet you!”
“Tommie is my Director of Operations,” says Herb.
A younger woman with frizzy hair appears from around the corner. “Hi. I’m Beth. I assist with program operations.”
“And I’m Kim,” says a sheepish voice from behind me. “I’m Herb’s secretary.”
“It’s so nice to meet all of you.”
Herb disappears into his office. Tommie says, “Let me show you around.”
I think to myself, this won’t take long. This company is tiny. I follow her around the corner where she points out two built-in workstations, each with a keyboard and monitor.
“What are those?”
“Those are our Xerox word processors,” she says. “They’re fantastic. Have you ever used one?”
“No, we have a separate department called ‘Creative’ that puts proposals together after we’ve given them the day-by-day itinerary and budget. We do everything on paper and they design the pretty finished product for presentation to the client.”
“You’re going to love using these machines. They’re great!”
“And this is my desk,” Tommie continues. “That’s Beth’s desk and over there by the door is where Kim sits.” She points to an empty desk. “And that’ll be you.”
Herb hasn’t offered me the job, but she seems to think that I’m already hired!
The L-shaped desks are mustard yellow and the office walls are covered in brown wallpaper that looks like patches of cork. It feels a bit dark. The windows overlook a condo complex and tall eucalyptus trees. Kim has an electric typewriter on her return. A hulking brown box – the size of a deep freeze – sits in the middle of the space.
“That’s a teleticketer,” Tommie says. “It prints out all our airline tickets.” We peek into the back room where there’s a copier, several 4-drawer file cabinets, supply shelves, and near the window, a round table, small refrigerator, and microwave. “We usually eat our lunch back here.”
Geez, this whole company could fit into my department back in Dayton. How do they do it all with only a few employees?
“That’s it! I’ll let you meet with Herbie now.”
Did she just call him ‘Herbie?’ I take a seat in one of two gold vinyl swivel chairs facing his desk. Tommie closes the door. Sunlight floods the room.
Herb looks up from his desk, “What do you think?”
This place is so small compared to EFM. “It’s nice. Everyone’s really nice.”
“I can pay you $1,300 a month. You get health insurance and a reserved underground parking space. Your title will be Director of Planning, a new position I’m creating just for you. I think you’ll fit in nicely here.”
“Thank you! I accept!”
A half-hour later, he drops me off at the Woodland Hills Holiday Inn. I check in. “Can I get quarters for a for a five-dollar bill?” I ask the front desk clerk. He gives me the change and I find the pay phone.
I should call my parents. But I dial EFM instead.
“Hello, this is Debi.”
“I got the job! I got the job!”
Silence. Then, “What am I going to do without you?”
The next morning, Herb and his wife Judy meet me for breakfast in the hotel coffee shop. He offered to loan me his car – the Camaro – to look for an apartment. We spread out a map of the San Fernando Valley and Judy circles the neighborhoods that probably have reasonable rents.
It’s another beautiful day, sunny and bright, as I drive down Ventura Boulevard. I turn left on Canoga Avenue where, one after another, beige stucco apartment complexes have ‘For Rent’ signs on the lawn. I’m nervous about stopping. Everything’s so big here; so many choices. I hope I can afford something decent.
I turn right on a major cross street called Sherman Way. It’s flanked by tall palm trees on both sides of the street. I gotta do this. I pull over in front of a building that’s not too big, not too small. The manager shows me a one-bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor with a balcony overlooking a kidney-shaped swimming pool. It faces west, so it’ll get lots of natural light in the afternoon. It has a dishwasher, too – and a gas-powered fireplace that turns on and off with a switch. The rent is $400/month. I like it.
“Can I get back to you?” I ask the manager. “I’ve got to look at a few more places.”
Back on Sherman Way in Herb’s car, I blink hard against the bright sun. I blink again. No, I’m not dreaming. Driving toward me in a baby blue convertible, fuzzy ears flopping in the breeze – is the Easter Bunny!
Yeah – I’m gonna like it here!