A Monday Morning Memo from The Wizard of Ads
Not old enough to drive, I sit in the back seat and read billboards for 200 miles. What else can a fourteen year old kid do to pass the time? Outside my window, Hereford cattle stand behind barbed wire fences looking every bit as bored as I feel.
We’ve traveled less than 30 miles before I’m yawning and thinking, “Herefords all look alike and most billboards are just oversized yellow page ads.” But wait, what’s this? The crumpled hood of an old car leans against a barbed wire fence. Spray painted on the hood, a message, “Hamp Baker says Drive With Care.”
Who the heck is Hamp Baker?
Near Bristow, a wrecked ‘62 Chrysler sits in a pasture. Along its length, the message, “Hamp Baker says Drive With Care.” All the way from Tulsa to Ardmore, Hamp Baker expresses his concern for my well-being and I’m not the only one who notices. Within months, he’s a statewide mystery.
Later that year, I’m sitting in a folding chair in the school cafeteria, waiting for my mom to do her patriotic duty. I hear a woman laugh. A few minutes later, a man guffaws and I see that everyone who emerges from behind the curtain is smiling. When Mom comes out, she tells me that listed among the unknowns in the obscure race for corporation commissioner is our old traveling buddy, Hamp Baker. He wins by a landslide.
Perhaps he just didn’t have the money to post billboards that said “Hamp Baker for Corporation Commissioner,” but I prefer to believe he was a marketing genius. I think Hamp Baker knew full well that no one really cared who served as corporation commissioner and that most voters would simply mark the name that “felt right.”
It’s been decades since Hamp Baker was elected, and not once in all those years have I spoken to anyone who ever actually met the man or knew anything at all about him. Yet thirty years after he spray-painted a few dozen cars with his message of warmth and concern, thousands of Oklahomans continue to smile whenever they hear his name. I believe Hamp Baker instinctively understood the power of associative memory; “Win the heart, and the mind will follow.” Who knows how high he might have climbed if he had set his sights a little higher?
Drive with care.
Roy H. Williams