Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The last of the speed livers.

        Ross and I worked together at our second jobs, at a large automotive ad agency in Detroit. I had started at a small agency in Chicago, Ross at the huge J. Walter Thompson in New York. He introduced himself as "the last of the speed livers"  --- meaning he lived at a furious pace. He worked at the office as an art director about 50 hours a week, then went home to be a husband and dad, worked all evening improving his house, and half the night as an artist.

       Watching Ross work on an ad was like watching one of those cartoon characters. It was a flurry of color, a blur that magically always turned into a striking ad. One day Ross' father came to the office and asked what he did. Ross showed him how he created layouts by using his great drawing skills. "You draw?" his father asked. "Don't let your boss know you do that on company time."

       We worked together only occasionally, because we were in different groups, but we became good friends. We lived in the same small Michigan town, Huntington Woods, and Ross picked me up every morning in his black VW beetle, and returned me at night. The return trip was more exciting. "There's a grab bar to hang onto," he'd say every night. "This is going to be a white knuckle ride." On the morning trip we'd tell what we planned to accomplish that day. On the way home we gave all the excuses why we couldn't.

        Three days in New York changed Ross forever. He and two friends of ours, Marv and Marty, snuck off to New York with suitcases full of samples, mounted on heavy cardboard, to get jobs. Marv and Marty got what they wanted; Ross got a job offer he really didn't want. He came back to Detroit and studied the "hot" New York agencies with a vengeance. Then turned around and went to Doyle Dane's L.A. office where he did those great VW outdoor boards, and then moved on to the hot new L.A. agency, Chiat/Day. That agency had a culture of hard work that suited Ross. (The company T-shirt said "Chiat/Day" on the front, "And Night" on the back.)

       Ross thrived at Chiat/Day, and became one of only 13 shareholders. He then moved to their San Francisco office as Creative Director. In a few years he retired to paint and called me up one day. "The cleaning lady comes to my condo to vacuum every Thursday. Can I come to your place and make ads with you?" I was thrilled, of course, and he stayed for three years.

       Today Ross is retired for good, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where his wife Jean is from. He is painting and writing books about people in advertising.

        I forgot to ask him if I'm one of them.


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