Feb. 8, 2002
In the fall of 1979, Vickers Petroleum Corp. of Wichita needed crude oil and decided to use the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, NY, to help get it. Vickers would entertain some of the world’s top crude oil suppliers in an effort to win friends and influence them to do business with us.
I was a Vickers employee at the time, and our CEO, known as Chief, told me to fly east and make all the arrangements. He didn’t say whether I was the best man for the job, or the man he could best do without. Whatever, I headed east, intending to quickly prove to him it couldn’t be done, because we were too late to get housing or tickets.
I flew to Lake Placid and was met by a real estate agent I will call Gladys, whom I’d met on the phone. She said we could still get tickets, so we looked at houses. They were awful, except for one very nice six-bedroom home in the middle of town. I asked why it wasn’t rented, and Gladys said, “because the rent is $50,000 for four weeks.”
I was glad to hear the price, because it meant that as soon as I called the chief and told him it was the only suitable place he’d say forget it and come home. But he said rent it. I asked him to repeat that, and he did. We were serious about the Olympics.
Before this party was over, I would make five trips to Lake Placid, three of them by way of New York City, And here’s how it finally worked out:
Our foreign friends flew into New York City in groups of 10, more or less, with a new group flying in, and the previous one flying out, every four or five days. Each arriving group was met by limousines and taken to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for the night. Next day they were flown in our parent company’s corporate jets to Lake Placid. Each group was hosted by our top crude oil executive, and if more horsepower was called for, the chief himself would be there.
Incidentally, the flights between the Big City and Lake Placid were backed up by buses in case of bad weather. We paid them good money, and they never left the lot.
I hired Gladys to run the house, hire a staff, and arranged to serve breakfast and lunch everyday. For dinner, I made a deal with the best restaurant in town to have a private room available every night.
Getting tickets was simple. We donated about $30,000 to the Olympic Committee and that allowed us to buy $30,000 worth of tickets.
For ground transportation it was cheaper to buy a van than to rent one, so I bought one from a Ford dealer. The money was sent from Wichita, and before I returned to Lake Placid, the dealer had gone broke, locked the place up and left town. I also was told nobody was looking for him or our money. We rented a van from Canada.
During the games I stayed in Wichita. I was told that in every way, including business, our money was well spent. And the chief got to see the historic US victory over Russia in ice hockey.
When it was all over, I went back to claim what we’d bought for the house, mainly 2 TV sets, sheets and towels, tableware and so on, including the leftover booze, and you know what I found. Our stuff was gone, and trustworthy. Gladys was missing. The real estate office where I had originally found her said they didn’t know where she was, and I never heard from her.
The education of the Kansas bumpkin was complete.
On this last trip to Lake Placid, I had rented a car in Syracuse, and before I left Lake Placid, I drove by the Ford dealer, still closed, by the place where I’d made the “Olympic Committee” deal to buy tickets, and finally pass the Olympic Village, which was scheduled to become a prison.
I couldn’t think of a better spot to build a big jail.