A seemingly serious question was overheard recently in a crowded airport.
A teenager, in a cracking voice of unsteady octave, asked: “OK, so who was Will Rogers?”
Though I knew no one in the group, the scenario reminded me that ours is a culture locked in fast forward.
Giant newspaper headlines announced Rogers’ death in a plane crash 75 years ago; the world mourned.
How could anyone be so blank about America’s beloved ambassador?
Somehow, though, this youngster was clueless about the man best known for liking others so much.
As I filed through security, I was saddened at the prospect of words — staples of the printed page, radio, TV and movies — being thoughtlessly left behind us in the mist of time.
And some of the best of them were written and spoken by Will Rogers.
Of this artful “fun-poker,” President Franklin Roosevelt said, “Will Rogers kidded with gentle irony that left no scars behind.”
My spirit drooped at the thought of our how-soon-we-forget propensities.
The din of people hurrying through the terminal was punctuated by ads, auditory and visual — here, there and everywhere.
Noting cartoonish ads on screens plastered to the walls that inevitably will be tossed aside, I thought about ad classics on TV that had long runs, but now are gone.
We joked of squeezing Charmin, joined Clara Peller in searching for beef on burgers, drank “the pause that refreshes,” and figured that the Maytag repairman’s life couldn’t be all bad.
Yep, ads have short shelf life, too. The wheels of time crush too much.
But wait. There’s a notable exception in the advertising world.
It’s now at 35 years and counting.
The ad has won a string of national and international awards and is now ensconced in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running commercial in TV history.
It spans just 10 seconds, featuring a “woman” tossing a tire through a plate glass window.
The short message from Discount Tire Company: “If you are dissatisfied with one of our tires, feel free to bring it back.”
Company founder Bruce Halle probably never dreamed that the simple commercial would eventually become universally recognized.
And the company has gotten, and is getting, more mileage from it than from the best premium tires.
Production costs for the ad were clearly low-budget.
They needed only a tire-throwing actor gussied up as a woman, one tire, and one sheet of plate glass.
The ad was introduced in 1975, when the company had fewer than 30 stores.
This was just 15 years after Halle’s business began in a bare bones manner.
He had six tires and a portable air tank. He kept the tank full thanks to an abundance of free air at a nearby service station.
It would be an understatement of the century, if not the millennium, to say he has prospered.
Next came the firm’s first store.
Opening 50 years ago in Ann Arbor, Mich., DTC now has 750 stores in 22 states with 10,000 employees.
The nation’s largest tire and wheel company now generates annual revenues of more than $2.5 billion.
What about Halle? He’s 80 now and still going full speed ahead.
The lauded corporate chief remains vigorously on the scene with his long-recognized, sleeves-rolled-up philosophy.
In a make-believe world, wouldn’t it be fun to have dinner with the likes of Will Rogers and Bruce Halle?
To complete the foursome, how about adding another up-by-the-bootstraps guynamed J.C. Penney?
Penney’s initial investment was huge compared with Halle’s.
After all, he plunked down $2,000 to buy a one-third interest in his first store, $1,500 of it borrowed.
Clearly, their philosophies and work ethic were parallel.
It was Penney, by the way, who showed a young employee named Sam Walton how to wrap a package using a minimal amount of ribbon.
I can imagine Rogers, eyes gleaming, following the animated conversational volleys of Halle and Penney, two men he would have really liked.
Penney might have discussed his befuddlement about the effectiveness of advertising.
He often joked that he knew half of his advertising budget was misspent but didn’t know which half.
To which, Halle might have responded, “I’ve got both halves tied up in a tire-throwing ad, and I’m glad both halves are working great!”