A True Story

This is going to sound either embellished or completely fabricated. I promise you it is not. It’s a little story about advertising that could probably be interpreted any number of ways. I’m trying to figure out what to take away from it myself.

On December 14, I flew home to San Francisco from a client meeting in Omaha and was riding the BART train home from the airport with my suitcase and DDB-logo portfolio case. It was a pretty empty train car when I got on. Just myself and two homeless fellows. One of them sat across the aisle and up a couple rows. Whenever the train stopped, he shouted out the door at people. When it was moving, he talked to himself. I had my headphones on so I don’t know what he was saying, but people talking to themselves is pretty normal here.

Anyway, as the train goes through the city, we pick up more people. Friday night’s always a good scene on the BART. A hooker with makeup-stained tears running down her cheeks gets on and sits across the aisle from me. When the crazy homeless guy tries to comfort her, I turn my music down to listen.

The train keeps filling up until the only open seat is next to the homeless guy. Finally, a well-dressed, nice-looking woman (maybe 45ish) with expensive jewelry and a Macy’s bag gets on. She sits next to the homeless man and starts poking at her PDA.

The guy asks her a question about her PDA, but she ignores him. This goes on for several stops. Then the guy announces to everyone that this lady thinks she’s too good for him. Thinks he’s the scum of the earth, etc. It’s all pretty entertaining.

A few stops later, still peeved, he takes a Swiss army knife from his pocket, opens it to the nail file, and starts filing his nails. Naturally, the site of a knife puts everyone a little on edge. I must have been staring at it, because he looks at me and says, “It’s just a tool. Not a weapon. Just a tool.” Then he puts it away and starts talking to the woman again. He asks her about her wedding ring and tells her that she’ll end up hating her husband. Real nice stuff.

I’m still thinking about the knife, and figure the woman’s probably about peed her nice dress by now, so I walk over and ask if she’d like to switch seats with me. She smiles and thanks me, but declines.

Then the guy, who I’m sure is going to take offense at my offer, sees my DDB bag. As if he’s a four-year-old sounding out a word, he says, “D…D…B…” and thinks about it a moment. Then he says, “Doyle Dane Bernbach. They were a fantastic advertising agency in New York in the 50s and 60s. Bernbach was a genius. Complete revolutionary. Lemon. Plop plop fizz fizz. The commercial with the two Volkswagons in the garage…I love that one…” and he launches into an incredibly informed history of DDB.

He asks me if I work there and what I do for them and I asked him if he worked in the business. To this, he laughs and says, “You’re young. You probably haven’t won any of those golden parachute awards, or whatever they are, but if you do…watch out. Your friends will stab you in the back before you know it.” And he just leaves it at that.

Then he talks awhile about his father’s auto salvage and wishes me a good evening as I get off the train.

Anyway, that’s the story. I still don’t know what to make of it.