(first posted 7/3/2016) In 1982 at the age of 38, just 10 short years since the Tempest/Duster dust up, I was fortunate enough to be able to sell my share of a small startup software service company and to wake up the next day with a clear conscience, and sense of peace and tranquility, and no need to rush here or there, or catch a flight to Dallas, or to rush to Manhattan to calm an upset customer.
I had been running like crazy for such a long time I felt guilty about not running that morning.
I wanted a simpler life.
And the clear conscience? Well, comedian Stephen Wright once said “A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory”.
I’m pretty sure I had been a good guy those past ten years.
So what kind of car should a good guy with a clear conscience who’s looking for a simpler life get now?
I said a simpler life.
Simpler than that.
Ahh, that’s just about right. But left hand drive please.
First I drove the Civic so the Accord would feel better.
The Accord felt better.
The 1982 Honda Accord was just beautiful, inside, outside, and in its endearing way of being a small hatchback but with a touch of style and a nice sense of quality.
The Honda salesman who sold me the 1982 Accord hatchback bought my 280 Z trade in from the dealership right after I turned it in. He told me “when I see a trade in where the prior owner keeps a spare distributor cap, rotor, points, six used but good spark plugs, spare air filter, and spare fan belts in the spare tire well, then I feel that is the car to buy”.
I hope it served him well. I told him there were troubling rust spots but he didn’t care. He had a fast flashy car with extra spark plugs.
The restyled for 1982 Accord was beautifully proportioned, crisp in appearance, and had a sense of being really well put together. I cannot say that enough. And the visibility looking out through all four sides of the Accord was impressive. Thin and stylish A, B, and C pillars and large windows gave its driver great views all around. It looked like the perfect high quality car for a person wanting to live a simple life, I mean a simpler, life.
The 1.8 liter engine had 3 valves per cylinder and put out 75 horsepower. I was back to a carburetor fed engine and a quieter, more serene, albeit a much slower ride, than the 1978 Datsun 280 Z “machine”.
In the above photo my brand new Accord is parked by my Washington Pond condo next to my neighbor’s Fiat Spider. She regularly beat me in racket ball. At the end of our games I’d be covered in bruises from the ball. “If you don’t want to get hit, get out of the way” she said. I kept going back for more punishment. Now I knew why her husband never played racket ball with her. We’d meet him and my girl friend at the local Charlie Brown after playing and, with a big smile he asked: “Have a nice game?”
I did notice that using the A/C impacted the Accord’s power to the wheels, especially with passengers on hills. The A/C compressor was almost as big as the engine block. But, when one is living a simpler life, one must turn off the A/C on steep hills. Or get in the right lane with the 4-ways on.
I liked the styled steel wheels and the overall feeling that the builder did not cut corners in its manufacture. Or if they did, I was not able to see where. And I looked.
The dashboard was the best interpretation of the 1980s Japan car interiors that I can recall. There was a little door under the left A/C vent for folded money. I put three crisp one dollar bills in there in case I ran short at a toll booth. Three dollars for tolls between NY and NJ is laughable now.
Paul wrote up the original 1976 Honda Accord at https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-asian/curbside-classic-1976-honda-accord-modern-architecture/ and a red 1982 hatchback model with gold wheels at https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-asian/curbside-classic-1982-honda-accord-honda-revolutionizes-the-us-industry-again/.
Perry Shoar wrote up a later model at https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-asian/curbside-classic-1986-honda-accord-why-drive-the-future-when-you-can-drive-the-present/.
Chris wasn’t visiting me as often as he had when he was younger. He had an active social like out on Long Island and no friends or relatives other than me in northern NJ where I lived at that time. That was OK. He was forming his own life as we all should, and I was still available whenever his mother went away with her new husband.
Chris and I spent time at my sister’s home and my parents drove up in their now aging T-Bird or Grand Prix from Miami for holidays.
In early 1983 I decided it was time to return to Manhattan, get a condo or co-op, find a job I could walk to like the old days, and get on with whatever life had in store for me next.
An ex-girlfriend told me about a one bedroom co-op across the hall from her. The sisters living there were going to list it with a broker but if I was interested, I could get it first. It was an 850 square foot unit on East 16th street with central A/C, parquet floors, a set back terrace, and it was on the 14th floor, overlooking the quiet back yards of nearby brownstones. In NYC housing parlance, perfect, perfect, perfect.
Was it wise to live directly across the hall from an ex girl friend? In NYC, a good unit in a nice building, with a terrace, and central air, trumped all other concerns. And, we always had a good “post-relationship relationship” and still occasionally went out for Chinese food together.
There was an occasional odd event. On Sunday mornings, it was my habit to start up the coffee maker and then go to the door to pick up the delivered Sunday NY Times before it was stolen by other residents of the co-op. I usually didn’t bother to put on a robe because it was just the hallway. Once, as I was reaching down to pick up the heavy Sunday edition, she opened her door to do the same. She was dressed; I was not. She shrieked loudly, giggled, got her paper, slammed her door shut, after which I could hear gales of laughter coming from her apartment.
I wondered who she was with and what she was telling him.
It happened more than once.
Buying a NYC co-op has one added complexity to the real estate process, the co-op board interview. I had to send the co-op board every possible piece of financial data and job history since college and then be interviewed by the co-op board in person at their monthly meeting.
On the evening of my interview with the board, I attended their regular monthly meeting. Dressed in my best suit and tie, I was told my interview was at the end of the board agenda under “other business”. I sat through the 90 minute meeting and when it seemed they were done with the co-op’s business, the meeting was adjourned.
I asked the board president if there was another meeting for my interview and she looked at me and said: “Oh, you’re fine.”
I listed my three bedroom condo in NJ and got a buyer within a few weeks.
Now I needed a job.
In 1982, The Coca-Cola Company acquired Columbia Pictures Industries for about $750 million and soon after bought the magnificent Columbia Pictures building at 711 Fifth Avenue (next to Trump Tower) from NYC real estate developer Larry Silverstein for about $57 million. (Keep this $57M figure in mind towards the end of this COAL).
Coke’s plan was to add to the already considerable assets of Columbia Pictures through acquisitions and see how much they could get for the built up business in the future.
To quantify and qualify these assets, Columbia Pictures needed better computer systems. Indeed, they were still using JCL (IBM’s job control language) punch cards to run their mainframe systems (a very outdated process in 1982). One of the critical systems needed was an Asset and Property Management Tracking System so they could show potential buyers the true value of the company and its assets.
Sound familiar? This was similar to the Grumman Property Management System, but much larger, more complex, and with user on-line screen access, control, and security to boot. Remember, this is the early 1980s, there was no public internet yet and no published HTML code. On-line programming was just getting up to speed using procedural code (like Cobol) and database systems offered by different vendors.
I contacted a headhunter an executive search firm company called JB Homer and Associates and met with JB Homer herself. Writing this and curious, I checked online and JB Homer and Associates is still in business, and it appears JB is also still there herself. JB is very good at what she does.
JB looked at my resume a long time, especially the Grumman stuff, looked up at me and said: “Do I have the job for you!”
JB said that my resume read like the job description for which her friend had recently opened a requisition at Columbia Pictures / Coca Cola.
“Coke? Atlanta?” I asked. “No; 711 Fifth Avenue, that’s 55th and 5th. Looking at my new address, JB added: “a nice brisk walk to work!”
I got the job, and JB got a fat finder’s fee. “They should all be this easy”, she told me.
With Coke’s funding, Columbia acquired Merv Griffin Enterprises, Embassy Pictures, some of Aaron Spellings’ Companies, part of Tri-Star pictures, and a few other theatrical and TV oriented companies.
I led a three person team (same size team as at Grumman) that developed Columbia’s on-line asset management and tracking system. This system was also used by Columbia’s film and tape library to manage creation and delivery of the tapes and films of TV shows and theatrical releases (movies) that Columbia sent to TV stations and theaters all over the world.
Syndication of TV series (the more episodes the better), and later premium and basic cable, and DVD distribution of movies, TV series, special productions, and even soap operas, was big money for companies like Columbia. Inventory was profit. Big inventory was big profits.
Our on-line asset system tracked every income producing asset that Columbia Pictures owned, from 70 MM prints and negatives of “Lawrence of Arabia” to each episode of “Days of Our Lives”, and everything in between.
We coded the system in a product then called DataCom/DB Ideal. It’s still around today (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DATACOM/DB) and owned by Computer Associates.
When I moved into my new co-op on 16th street it did not seem I would be using my almost new and very low mileage Honda much. I call my father and mother and said I wanted to give it to them.
Now if you read a prior COAL of mine you might recall that my mother thought VW bugs, and by extension small Japanese hatchbacks, were poor people cars; she did not like them. But one of their friends in Miami had a 1976 Accord, which she admitted was “nice”, and my Accord would be “newer”, so maybe this would be OK.
“But I do not drive manual transmission cars” she told me.
“What did you drive in the 1930s and 1940s before you got the Dynaflow Buick?”
“The what Buick?” She continued: “I said I do not drive manual transmission cars” sounding like she was talking to someone who was not quite bright enough for the conversation.
I decided to let my father sort this out. He was a lot smarter than I about these (and most other) things.
Doc sorted it out.
The plan was they would drive the T-Bird to my sister’s house on Long Island where I had parked the Honda, and they in turn would give the T-Bird to Chris, who was destroying cars at a rate that troubled me. At least he’d be safe(r) in that huge Ford.
Chris also had a motorcycle that gave me heartburn whenever I heard him as he left a family dinner at my sister’s house. I could hear him revving and shifting and revving and shifting that bike long after he was out of sight. I stood there and listened and wondered if our hug goodbye that night was the last time I’d ever see him. It wasn’t, but I worried.
I do not think the T-Bird lasted more than a year under Chris’ care, but he did not get hurt in it. I never quite found out what did happen to it. All I recall is that he told me “it broke”.
My sister called me to say that when my parents arrived at her house, she gave the Honda keys to my father and he sat in it a long, long time. He often told me this was the most fun car he has ever owned, and that included the Model A roadster he drove from Brooklyn to RPI in the 1930s.
On subsequent trips between Miami and Long Island in the Accord he would show me his mileage book and say: “look here, 43.4 miles to the gallon, and I was passing everyone on the interstate. No one could catch me.”
He put a CB in the Accord to keep a watch out for “Smokeys”.
On my first day at Columbia Pictures I met “The Irish Princess”, whom I shall refer to here as TIP, a tall, blond, blue eyed upper West Side resident who thought the name Plaut was funny sounding.
When she wanted to, TIP could put on the strongest Irish accent ever, almost undecipherable. It always made me laugh.
We started dating.
One thing led to the other.
After 13 years of single living, I did it again in September 1985. We were married in New York City’s elegant Municipal Building by a city judge with one witness. As seen above, I liked taking moody shadowed photos of her and she like to wear my white shirts.
I was pretty sure she did not have a violent bone in her body.
She even took that funny name as her own.
Back at 711 Fifth Avenue, Coca Cola sold Columbia Pictures to Sony for 3.2 billion dollars plus assumed debt of $1.6 billion. Even Doctor Evil would not have asked for that much. And, if that wasn’t a good enough deal, Coke kept the valuable real estate at 711 Fifth Avenue which was then renamed as the Coca Cola Building (*).
(*) Update Note: In August 2019 Coca Cola sold 711 5th Avenue for $909 million. A few weeks later that buyer resold its share of 711 5th Avenue to a third party for $937 million. A noted above, Coca Cola paid $57 million for the property in 1983.
The sale of Columbia Pictures to Sony would prove to be the deal that started the unraveling of the then current trend of Japanese companies buying up American companies and real estate. It was a terrible deal for Sony; they had little idea how to run a movie studio. Sony made terrible business decisions and hired the wrong people to run the studio. In 1994 Sony had to write down a major portion ($2.7 billion) of the purchase price, and then $510 million as an operational loss.
Some estimates say that Coca-Cola made a profit of about $1.5 billion in 1988 dollars before taxes on the sale of Columbia Pictures, or 1.2 billion 1988 dollars after-tax.
If you calculate what that profit is worth in 2016 dollars, it adds up to a lot. Or as the late Senator Everett Dirksen once said: “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”
So now in late 1986 early 1987 most of us at Columbia Pictures had to find jobs because Sony wasn’t going to keep most of the NYC tech crew after we had trained our replacements, and only a select few were offered spots in Atlanta Georgia at Coke’s headquarters. Frankly most of us were solid NYC or northeast types and did not want to move to Atlanta anyway, even if they had asked us to, and they did not.
I still had some work to do documenting the new systems and fulfilling some change requests, but the writing was on the proverbial wall. No bonuses of any kind were offered; none were expected. Nothing personal, this is just business. That’s the way things go sometimes.
Let’s see, I had a Manhattan co-op near Union Square, a new and very Irish wife, no car, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Hey, I think I could write a song about this
No, I’m not going to sail around the world in a J24 racing sloop, but maybe around New York Harbor.
Doc passed away in the late 1990s, a few years after my mother. He and the 1982 Accord were living in California with my brother during his last years. When he died, the three crisp one dollar bills I put there in 1982 were still behind the little dashboard door under the left A/C vent.
Time to move on.