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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

From Skies above to Dallas to Atlanta Under the Ground


On January 18, 1981, I left for Dallas on my first business trip ever. I had flown before, but never in a large airliner. My flights had been small prop planes, mainly in a Cessna when I dated Suzie, the teenage pilot back in 1959. This airliner flight was sort of a big deal and also somewhat a nervous experience.
It was also probably quite different than the flying experience today sine 9/11. Instructions were to try and be at the airport 45 minutes before the scheduled takeoff. I don’t recall any big list of non-carry-on items, except firearms and fireworks. When you arrived at the terminal you checked in at a long counter with a ticket clerk. She (it was usually a female) asked what seat you preferred and then issued a boarding pass. Despite my long-standing fear of heights. I always asked for the window seat. I liked to look out and see the top of clouds or the miniature towns and ant sized people below. Somehow encased inside a silver tube relieved my acrophobia.
You placed your baggage on cutout in the counter and were given a tag number. I seldom carried anything on board, except my camera and perhaps a book to read. This is also where the first security checkpoint occurred. The ticket agent asked if you had packed your own bags, had the luggage been out of your sight at any time and did anyone ask you to carry any items on the flight for them. My answers were “yes, no and no”. Who would answer anything else even if it wasn’t “yes, no and no.” Those questions certainly kept any bad guys off the plane, don’t you think? I mean, nobody would ever lie about letting someone give them something to bring with them?
With boarding pass in hand I would walk down to the designed hall of gates. There you passed through one security checkpoint where a guard X-rayed any parcel, suitcase of briefcase as you stepped through a metal detector. If no bells rang, you picked up your items and proceeded to your gate. There was no groping, no taking off of shoes and no scanning in a machine that showed your private parts to strange eyes. No one was pulled out randomly for a body cavity search. Your family or friends could go through with you and wait at the gate to see you off.
They would announce your flight’s arrival and when they were prepared to board it was very orderly. First-Class passengers and people requiring assistance boarded first. After that they did it by sections of seat numbers, beginning at the rear of the plane. It all the years I flew I never experienced any rowdiness by the passengers. There might be occasional complaints about delays, but nothing escalated to fights or some of the stuff you see today. I never saw anyone pulled off a  plane kicking and screaming.
My first flight was on American Airlines into Dallas-Fort Worth International. I remember how every time the engine noise changed I was looking about wondering what had gone wrong; were we going to crash. And I’ll tell you how na├»ve and green I was. My seat was in the first row of coach. I had no one in the seat next to me and I had all this leg room because I faced the bulkhead and there was more space between my seat and it than between the other seats. I had always heard that first class was in the front of the plane, so I assumed I was in first class. I wasn’t, I was a dumb country boy at the front of coach. Live and learn.

When I checked in at the hotel I had an unusual greeting, the desk clerk didn’t ask me how I spelled my name. Most places I went I was asked that. Nowhere in Dallas did that question come up. Meredith was a well-known and respected name there because Dandy Don Meredith had been the Quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and was in 1981 part of the original Monday Night Football commentators.
I was going to big conference sponsored by the BAI (Bank Administration Institute). It was called the P.A.T.H. Conference. The acronym stood for Productivity through Automation, Technology and Human Resources, but after a few years this was shortened to just the BAI Productivity Conference. The one in Dallas was the first and it was decided back at the bank that productivity was my thing, so thereafter I attended  every year's shindig. It was nice since these were always held in a southern city in late January or Early February, right around Super Bowl time. It was great, it took me out of the deep freeze of Northern Delaware and gave me an opportunity to travel. These conferences were like an all-expense paid vacation to me.
It always caused me wonder about the airfare. The Bank would send me flying out on Sunday and my flight home would be the following Saturday. The Conferences were only two-and-a-half day affairs, not counting the Sunday evening reception. The actual meetings started on both Monday and Tuesday at 8:00 in the morning and ran until 5:00 in the afternoon. On Wednesday it was only a half day, over by noon. It seemed the Bank should have me coming home Wednesday afternoon or at latest on Thursday morning. However, I learned the Bank got cheaper flights on a package deal requiring a Sunday departure and Saturday returned. This is what caused the wonder.  Really, was the price for the plane ride such that it was cheaper to pay three extra days of hotel stays and meals. The hotels were always top rated ones, too, usually at least 4-Star.
This was my first experience in life of having an expense account as well. The Bank prepaid for the plane fare, then I paid for everything else on the credit card I was issued when I started with the bank. After the trip I submitted an expense account and they reimbursed me for my expenditures. They didn’t even put a lot of limitations on what I spent, although I knew I couldn’t go hog wild.
I was very frugal. I wasn’t out to take advantage. I wasn’t a big spender going out to nightclubs or anything in the evenings, even though I was allowed personal entertainment. Some guys did a lot of clubbing it up on these jaunts, including picking up women. I generally spent the evenings in my hotel room. My personal entertainment came during those extra free time I had when I would take bus tours of the cities I was visiting. I didn’t even always spend more than a tour book and map and go walking about on my own, which I did in Dallas. I wandered down to where President Kennedy was assassinated. I was shocked to discover how small Dealey Plaza was (photo at top of page).  It always looked so much larger on TV.
I did take a Gray Line tour , which took us to the Astrodome (left) and Millionaire’s Row, where all the oil rich executives lived.

My main indulgence was dinners. I enjoyed going to the upscale restaurants and having a good meal. I mean, if you are going to be dining alone, you might as well have good food. Dining alone was nothing like portrayed in Stave Martin’s “The Lonely Guy”. I wasn’t seated in the middle of the dining room with spotlights following me to the table. Most restaurants when you asked for seating for one put you somewhere you didn’t feel conspicuous.
Sunday evening the BAI always held a reception for early arrivals. I went to these, even though I didn’t like cocktail parties, which is basically what these were, and I was no good at schmoozing with strangers, but BAI always served finger food along with the drinks and I could get enough food to serve as Sunday dinner, thus I had an extra slot for spreading out my expenses.

You see, I was always a bit concerned about the cost of my dinners. Later I discovered most people traveling on the Bank’s dime didn't give a hoot, but I feared they would question my spending perhaps $40 dollars for a supper alone ($40 was an expensive meal back in the early 1980s). However, I could spread the cost out on my expense report to make things look properly reasonable. I was never a breakfast person. I would get up, have a couple cups of coffee and that was breakfast. I could also pick up donuts or sweet rolls at the conferences if I wished. Lunch I hit a fast food joint like McDonalds. Sometimes BAI would have enough stuff laid out for breaks at the conference I wouldn’t even eat lunch. I could then take what I spent for dinner and put some of that bill on the breakfast line and some on the lunch line. I generally could distribute 15 or 20 dollars this way.
The 1982 P.A.T.H was in Atlanta, Georgia at the OMNI Complex, in which my hotel was located. The OMNI was really a little city with a mall, a sports center, and ice skating rink, a concert hall and a movie theater. I saw “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” there. The Police played the auditorium while I was staying, I think it was “The Ghost in the Machine Tour”. The street was awash in Police fans most of that night. I’ve never been a Police fan; I think their songs are monotonous and boring for the most part. I certainly didn’t go down to see them. I think the Atlanta Hawks played a game in the Omni Collisium another night I was there. I never much liked basketball either.
The first day I checked in and opened the drapes of my room I was greeted by a large billboard on the roof of a building next door. It said, “Welcome to Atlanta – Murder Capital of the World.” It then showed how many killing had been done to date that year. Apparently the Police were in negotiation with the City for a new contract and the Police Union had erected the billboard.
I didn’t like Atlanta and it wasn't because of that billboard. First thing I did habitually anywhere I went was go out and take a walk. But Atlanta was downright spooky. Here I was downtown and there was nobody out and about with me. The streets were empty. It made me very nervous. I was never afraid walking about Philadelphia or New York day or night because the streets were always crowded with people. Here it was mid-afternoon and like a ghost town. Every so often I would see a couple people waiting on a corner, I suppose for a bus, but that was about all.
On Wednesday afternoon after the conference ended,  I booked passage on a bus tour. The bus never showed up, so I set out with my tour book and map to do it myself. Same phenomena, no crowds, only a few stragglers here and there. One of the place I had read had to be seen was called “Underground Atlanta”.
It the Tour Book I had gotten from AAA, as well as other articles I had read before coming to Atlanta, this think called Underground Atlanta was listed as a “don’t miss”.  It was called the entertainment and club center with historic interest. It was an underground town, the buildings having been constructed after the Civil War between 1866 and 1871. In the 1920 new buildings were built above this old section and it eventually the old reconstructed Atlanta was deserted and forgotten, although during Prohibition a number of speakeasys blossomed below the newer structures. In the 1960 this abandoned, buried history was rediscovered and turned into an attraction. It was definitely one thing I really wanted to see while in Atlanta. 
When my Tour Bus failed to show, I set off walking and searching for this famous site.

The sidewalks were pretty empty as usual, but after a while it the avenues got more deserted. I found myself standing atop a low wall looking down and beneath me saw these opening, like some kind of concourses.  I went down some nearby steps and saw a old sign saying something about the Atlanta Underground.
The whole thing was kind of off-putting, but I had my camera and I tend to get brave when seeking pictures, so I wandered into one of these opening. (Somehow a lot of my photographs of trips disappeared. I wished I had the ones I took there in Atlanta. My photos conveyed the horror movie scene the Underground had become.) It was dimly lit inside, totally deserted and all I could hear was water dripping somewhere. It was like entering a cave. From where I stood I could see what looked like streets; in fact, I could make out old store fronts. I shuffled in further, snapping some photos as I went. This may have been Underground Atlanta, but it didn’t look like the center of nightlife, daylife or any kind of life. It looked like a dead zone. It was downright spooky, a perfect setting for some of the Horror stories I use to write. I snapped the camera shutter a couple more times and beat a hasty retreat out of there.

After some inquiries back at my hotel, I was informed Underground Atlanta was shutting down. It was a dangerous high crime area that the desk clerk warned me to stay away. (In 1989 it reopened, but has struggled for existence since.)
I didn’t stay a full week in Atlanta. Unlike most of the business trips I took, I flew out on Thursday, January 28, the day after the conference. As I said, I didn’t like Atlanta. I had called home on Wednesday and said I was lonely and the evenings were long.
The day after I got home the Philadelphia Bulletin, the once popular newspaper I had delivered door-to-door as a boy, closed its door. I used to deliver a couple issues of The Saturday Evening Post with my papers, but that Philadelphia centered magazine had shut down printing in 1969. Gradually the old era was passing away piece by piece.
In late March Lois began having regular sick spells. She was pregnant again for the the tenth time. On April 27 my mom and grandmom came and took her into the hospital to be sewed up once more. After taking a test at Widener on the morning of May 1, I brought Lois home from the hospital.
June 23 found me winging south to my not so favorite city of Atlanta once more. It wasn’t a conference this time, but a seminar on Quality Circles, the new buzzword in business. It was given by a man named Rich Toole, who was marketing employee participation programs. I had met Mr. Toole at the P.A.T.H. conference and we decided to follow up with him to study the ideas further.
On June 28, the day after I turned 41, I was back home and took Lois to the doctor. He moved her due date to September. A month later, July 28, we saw the doctor again. He told Lois everything looked fine and she might go full term. Well, wouldn’t that be novel. The doctor saw her again on August 10, said everything looked good and he wouldn’t see her again for three months. Boy, was he wrong.
Meanwhile she and I had come to the realization that despite having planned to live at Cobbs Street for several more years, it was going to be too small a house for three kids. On the 22nd we dropped Laurel and Noelle at my parents while we went to look at houses for sale. We had already listed the Cobbs Street address with a Realtor. Probably a good thing.
On the 23rd Lois’ water broke and I drove her to the Metropolitan Hospital in Springfield, Delaware County. "Hello, Doc, is it three months all ready?" Now, this gets confusing as the modern world constantly merges from small to larger institutions. On Darryl’s birth photo, taken by the hospital, the margin says “Friends of Tri-County”. The name had been Tri-County Hospital, but became Metropolitan when Darryl was born.

My mom and grandmother came down to stay at our house. Early on August 24 Darryl William was born by caesarian. He had held on into the sixth month and was our giant at 5 pounds, 10 ounces. He was 18 inches long and had dark hair and blue eyes. They put him in an incubator. Lois was in a lot of pain. He was our only child to com home with his mother from the hospital.
I was to say later and often that God had given us Laurel when they said having a baby was impossible. He then gave us Noelle, who never had any prenatal preparations or had Lois seen a doctor, just to prove man had nothing to do with this, it was all God. Then he gave us Darryl so we would have a boy.
I use to introduce us to new people this way. “Just remember us this way, 3Ls and No L” (Larry, Lois, Laurel and Noelle) and then along came Darryl to ruin that little mnemonic.
His coming along also ruined our determination to remain living on Cobbs Street.


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