Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Working Philadelphia

After six weeks of school I had a tentative skill and a modicum of city sophistication (HA!). I was later to learn I still had too much country bumpkin trust (which isn't all that bad to have) and naivete about employment agencies. (We'll come back to that in another Post.)

What I still didn't have was a job.

One day the phone rang, and when you are job hunting you always answer the phone. It was a friend from high school. He and I had collaborated in both writing and performing and sometimes socialized in the teen world beyond the classroom. He wanted a favor.

He was job hunting, too, and wanted to be a telephone linesman, but had to go to Philadelphia to take some qualification tests. He had never been to the big city, but knew I had and wanted me to go with him. Well, my calendar wasn't completely full...wait, oh yeah, my calendar was pretty much empty, of course I'd go.

I don't remember exactly, but I think the telephone company building was somewhere around 15th and Chestnut. It seemed futuristic when we entered, a lot of glass, a long bright waiting area to anguish in while fretting over the coming ordeal. I had no desire to be a linesman. With my fear of heights shimming up telephone poles wasn't a good fit, but as long as I was there I might as well take the tests. It was something to do while waiting for my friend.

There were two to take. One to see what your electronic aptitude was and one to test your mechanical attributes. I passed the electronic test just fine. It must have been my electric trains. Every year I had built an elaborate platform layout for my trains. I didn't just plug them in and run the transformer, I build a main control board and wired up all my little Plasticville buildings with lights that I could bring on in stages. Overhead I hung a thin sheet of plywood drilled with pinholes and behind the holes I strung more lights. My switches allowed me to simulate day and night along with the gradual rising and setting sun and the appearance of stars in the night sky. Perhaps that and the TAB training gave me enough basics of electronics to pass that test.

Not so well in the mechanical test. I had nothing to fall back on there. The only thing I learned in school     shop had been to count my fingers when I left.

Unfortunately my friend failed both. It made for a morose trip home. I don't know what happened to my friend. Actually, I know what happened, I just don't know why. He became, I've heard, a reclusive alcoholic and he died in his early thirties. Sorry I couldn't have done more than just take you to those tests, my friend.

Another time the phone rang and it was the agency. They had an opportunity in Philadelphia with a major company. The job was as a TAB Operator in the Data Processing Department, was I interested? Why ask? Wasn't that the description of my one educational highlight I had listed on their file card? I was off to Lady Philly again.

The building was located at 260 South Broad Street. It towered up 21 stories. I had another elevator ride, but in this one I was on my own. This was the big time, a company so cutting edge they had automatic lifts where you selected your own destination from a panel of lit buttons. The decision to shut or open the door and go or stop was totally up to weight sensors and electronic switches. It was a smoother, faster ride than that one at the TAB school and instead of groans, creeks and stomach rumbles all you heard was a whooshing sound. On reaching a floor a gentle "ding" let you know,

I was given a battery of tests at Personnel, back in a time when we were still "persons" and not "human resources" sounding akin to a plug-in component on the assembly line. The telephone company had two tests, here there must have been ten, motor skills, logic, mental agility and mental depravity, aptitude and attitude, whether you took your egg yolks hard or over easy, not to mention a lot of questions about race and creed and genders that are illegal to ask today.

After the wait for scoring, I was called to a little room by a lady who held my fate in her hands. She had good news, bad news and good news. I had passed all the tests, indeed had done exceptionally well. However, I was applying for a position as a TAB Operator and the lowest such level in the Data Processing Department was a Grade 6. It was company policy not to hire people at any position above an entry grade. Generally this meant men began as Grade 3s in the Mailroom and woman started as Grade 2 Messengers. (See how times have changed, sometimes for the better?  This is why tyrannical governments don't like keeping we old people around. We can remember what once was.)

But, she continued, I had done so well in the tests, rather than starting as a Mail Clerk sorting bails of envelopes and toting barges of correspondence all day, perhaps I would be interested in a Grade 3  Junior Clerk position in Sales Accounting. Would I? Perhaps? I practically sang, Yes. Thus I began a nearly ten year stint with the Atlantic Refining Company later the Atlantic Richfield Corporation (aka ARCo) and by then well up in the Fortune Top 50 (not just the 500, the 50).

I'm not going to spend time discussing my jobs, which is not what these Posts are about. These are about my affair with the Quaker City. I'll save my struggles, successes and sufferings working for The Man for another time. I will tell instead about another love affair I owe to joining Atlantic.

I began at Atlantic late in 1959 and almost immediately met this cute little Irish Lass named Pat.  She was a twinkling delight, a pretty smile and blazing red hair. She wasn't five feet tall. She worked in the Credit Department on the same floor as I, the sixteenth. We kept meeting each other at closing time hoping for an unfilled elevator to ever stop at our floor so we could leave. As shy a person as I was, she must have struck up most of the conversations, but at sometime while somewhere between floors I mustered up the courage to ask her out.

We became a regular thing. We really liked each other and by the end of spring had become serious indeed. Serious enough it showed, because one morning she met me as I arrived at work with tears streaming down her cheeks.

"We can't see each other anymore," was her greeting. (Strike up the Soap opera organ music here, please.)


"My parents say we can't because" (low ominous cord)  "you're not Catholic," and with that she dashed away into the Ladies Room.

I certainly wasn't Catholic. I wasn't much of anything. I would have said I was a Methodist if someone pressed me on my religion, but I didn't go to church anymore, didn't pray, didn't read the Bible and more often than not would snarl at anyone trying to foist religion upon me.

Pat and I hardly ever spoke to each other after that morning. We might nod politely in passing, but she was obedient to her parents wishes despite the true heartbreak she felt that day. I admit I felt betrayed and was angry. I felt it was a silly reason for a breakup. She and I were in love and I felt she should have defied her folks and stuck with me. But technically we were both still children under our parents control. Remember what I said last Post, you were not legally an adult until age 21 in those days, and we were but 19.

As I stood stunned on the spot, this tall girl came out of the Ladies Room and approached me. She asked if I was all right. I said yes, though my body and expression was yelling something else. I then stomped off to my job.

I had passed that tall girl in the hall everyday. She also worked in Credit with Pat. We had always said hello in passing, but what I didn't know was she was telling people I was the most stuck up guy in the world. Recall how I told you I was a low talker? She would say hello and I would say hello, but she never heard me. She thought I just ignored her, yet she kept giving me her friendly hello anyway, and despite me being "the most stuck up guy in the world", who probably deserved to be dumped by that sweetheart Pat, she still showed kindness and concern that morning; very odd.

As I waited for an elevator that evening at one end of the corridor while Pat waited at the other, I discovered this tall girl standing right beside me. I am six foot, she stood eye to eye with me. We entered the same car, pressed close by the crowd that jammed in before it got away. We rode down together and on the sidewalk outside turned in the same direction, so we walked along and began to chat. Several blocks down, she went through the subway entrance between Walnut and Chestnut Streets and I continued on to the train terminal.

This ritual continued on each day at quitting time. I'm not certain how many days it took, but one rainy afternoon we walked the route underground in the subway concourse. At the platform I paused as she started for the turnstile and blurted, "Would'chaliketogotothemoviesSaturdaynight?"

I figured if she said, "yes", fine, but if she said "no" then she could go right through the turnstile and I could continue on and save us both a lot of embarrassment.

What did she answer? I'll put it this way. I'll have been married to that tall girl for 49 years come this September.

That's a lot longer than I lasted at ARCo. I left short five months of ten years. Maybe I should have held out those last few months. Ten years would have vested me for a pension, but hey, life's about living not pensions. I'd went about as far as I could at Atlantic. I mean that in terms of job level. If I had stayed I would have went very far indeed, for in a few years ARCo up and moved their headquarters out of Philadelphia to Los Angeles. I've been to the plaza where they went and would have hated it there, no place to take long walks.

So I left. I was moving into a new life. I was taking a risk.

Next Time: Psychedelphia - Hip, Hip, Hippy!


Ron Tipton said...


Another very nice posting. Your friend who failed the tests was Ray Ayers wasn't he? So sad.

I loved the story of how you met Lois. Whatever became of Pat?

You're a writer Lar. You have to put all your stories together in a book and self publish it yourself. It may not be a best seller (I have a hunch it would do very well) but you would leave a legacy behind. That's what I plan to do.

Everyone's life is interesting and has a story to tell. Most of those stories are never known because the person dies and his or her story dies with them. Don't let you story die.

I'm glad you have embraced this new form of communication. Long gone is the written word that has to be approved by some faceless person before others could read it. Freedom, it's wonderful isn't it?



Larry, aka The Kid & The Old Goat said...


No, the friend who took the telephone company tests and died young was not Ray Ayres. Ray Ayres is very much alive and living back near where he lived in high school. It is not Richard Wilson either, although Richard passed away young, too, but in his fifties.


Greg said...

What a neat love story, Larry! I'm not allowed to have any pictures of old girlfriends, though. Thankfully, that's not a problem! :)