I used to drive 40 miles each way to work and back. I lived in a town called Birmingham, a beautiful suburb of Detroit, and drove on I-94 to Ann Arbor, where my advertising agency was. Through rain, snow, dark of night and everything in between.
In the mornings, I had breakfast once I got to Ann Arbor, at the Campus Inn next to Harris Hall. Harris Hall once belonged to a church, and my partners bought it to house the agency. Our executive offices and the accounting department were downstairs. The creative department and our conference rooms were up a grand staircase on the next level, on what might've been a huge dance floor. On the stage were the account executives. We were probably the only agency with stained-glass windows.
Later, as our ad agency grew to 40 people, we moved into the Almandinger Piano and Organ Company factory. We completely renovated the building; the brick walls and high, beamed ceilings were awesome. Because it had been a piano factory, the floors were four feet thick.
Then as we got more and more Detroit business, we opened a branch office downtown in Renaissance Center, which is today the General Motors Building you see on TV during sporting events. We were on the 37th floor. We had three clients right in the building, and in horrible weather, I drove to the RenCen for the day instead of out to Ann Arbor.
Everything's relative. These days I take the BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, to work in San Francisco, and if the train is held up for four minutes, I get irritable.
I love being in San Francisco, and after 23 years I'm starting to tear up when I hear Tony Bennett sing about it. But I miss my friends and those early, more innocent days in Ann Arbor when anything seemed possible and often was.
Those white-knuckle rides on I-94 taught me things you can only learn when you're too young to be scared. Things such as going after clients too big for your agency. And how, for some reason, I did better ads on the 37th floor than I did on an organ factory floor.