There are lots of photographs of Dallas in 1963. There are photos of the yellow star on the Texas Bank and Trust sign, and the vertical SANGERS department store sign across the street. Photos of the hotel beside Sangers, which has a ghost sign painted on its brick wall in Cambria font:
HOTEL MAURICE RATES $1.00
WITH PRIVATE BATHS STEAM HEAT
A billboard of Pepsi-Cola’s rococo logo adorns a cafeteria on Pacific Avenue. An advertisement on a bus welcomes the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages to “Big ‘D.’” Neon Coca-Cola signs jut out over the sidewalk. The Hertz Rent-a-Car digital clock on the roof of the Texas School Book Depository keeps time.
Police officers ride three-wheeled Harley Davidson servi-cars. A new Safeway supermarket has opened on Lemmon Avenue. The nudie bars with 8 x 10s of dancers in the windows are on Commerce Street, one block west of Akard and south of Main.
The American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages have convened for their annual convention. It is held in Market Hall, next door to the Trade Mart. The world’s largest privately owned exhibition hall has the same row of white arches hanging over the façade as the new Safeway. MARKET HALL is spelled across the roof in letters resembling blue toy blocks.
The bottlers view and exhibit the devices of their trade. The rise of the can is ongoing. Aluminum cans hold a ten-percent share of the soft drink packaging market. Cans account for only three percent of vending sales, but this number is expected to increase with the development of the pull-ring tab.
There are thousands of people in Dallas: bottlers, technicians, vendors, board members, presidents, and reporters from trade industry publications. The 248 rooms of the new Market Center Holiday Inn are full. Most of the big shots are downtown at the Adolphus, the Baker, or the Statler Hilton, which has music in the elevators and a television set in every room. At night the city’s lounges and supper clubs are reverberant with the basso profundo of men discussing the increase in world sugar prices. There is little fraternizing between brands. The Coke people call Pepsi “the Imitator.” There are rumors Pepsi-Cola is pursuing Mountain Dew and plans expansion into confectionary foodstuff.
The beige bottles commemorating the 1963 ABCB convention feature an oil rig, a cowboy in a red 10-gallon hat, a cotton boll, and a mustang standing on its hind legs. Canada Dry has issued two thousand ginger ales stamped with the Vice President’s Seal and labeled “Bottled for the Honorable Lyndon B. Johnson.”
Johnson flew in from Austin on Tuesday to deliver the keynote address. The president isn’t too popular in Dallas, but the bottlers stomp their feet and cheer for LBJ, who denounces America’s detractors, praises soft drinks, and tells them America is richer and stronger than it has ever been.
Twenty-eight percent of American adults are watching their weight. Pepsi-Cola is test marketing Patio Diet Cola. Coca-Cola has just entered the sugar-free soda market with Tab. The name was selected from a list of 250,000 three- and four-letter words generated by an IBM computer, aimed at people who want to keep “tabs” on their figures.
LBJ sticks around for a few minutes after his speech to shake hands and toss back sodas. There are rumors he’s going to be dropped from the ticket, but the president needs his southern ass to win in Texas. He knows it, the president knows it, and every last member of the Texas Democratic Party knows it too.
A delegate from Coca-Cola hands him an open amber bottle with no label. The vice president is partial to Coke but he’s sampling everything at the conference. The carbonation brings on spells of hiccups and burps, which he calls the hurps.
“This drink is top secret, Mr. Vice President,” the delegate says in a stage-whisper. “A citrus-flavored low-calorie soft drink. This one won’t be on the shelves for a few years.”
Johnson’s lips grip the bottle’s rim like an octopus sucker. He tilts his head back until he’s staring at the ceiling and pours the soda, gulping twice. He straightens up and whistles like he’s just seen a sweet-looking lady.
“That sure is an inviting beverage.” LBJ burps and hands the empty bottle back to the Coke delegate. “And you are a patriot.”
Him and Her
Vice President Johnson flies straight back to Austin from the Market Hall. He spent most of November at the LBJ Ranch in the company of his beagle puppies Him and Her, selling tickets to fundraising dinners over the telephone. The LBJ Ranch is a little slice of heaven fifteen miles outside Johnson City, a town founded by his daddy’s uncle, James Polk Hudson.
On Saturday he’s hosting a barbeque for the President and First Lady of the United States. They hold barbecues on the bank of the Pedernales under the tall live oaks. The Fort Worth Barbecue King Walter Jetton builds a pit with four large pieces of sheet metal and six inches of sand. There will be plenty of chickens, brisket, barbequed ribs, sourdough biscuits, and hundreds of pies on tables draped with red and white gingham cloths.
On Wednesday the vice president personally supervises the rehearsals of the sheep herding and whip-cracking demonstrations. He sips from a white Styrofoam cup filled with Cutty Sark and soda. He sticks his hand out and shakes the ice in the cup to let his Secret Service agent know when he needs a refill.
Walter Jetton makes his preliminary visit. The Signal Corps installs the special White House phone. Him and Her charge across the lawn toward the visitors. They are blessed reminders of their recently deceased daddy Little Beagle Johnson. The beagles bark at the deliverymen who arrive with hundreds of cases of Lyndon B. Johnson Canada Dry. The bottles clinking together sound like wind chimes as they’re carried up the path.
The Dallas Times Herald Final Edition
On the last day of the convention, there is a photograph of Richard Nixon and the president of Pepsi Donald Kendall on the cover of The Dallas Time Herald. It’s captioned, “NIXON TODAY . . . JFK TOMORROW.”
Nixon is popular in Dallas. It was the only big city where he beat Kennedy in 1960. He lost Texas by 46,233 votes, out of 2 million cast. Lost the popular vote by one-tenth of one percentage point. Goddamnit it was close.
The Nixons moved to New York after Richard lost the California gubernatorial election in ’62. He joined the law firm of Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander in the summer, and Pepsi-Cola is his big account. Nixon flew into Dallas for the convention on Wednesday. He’s known Don Kendall for years.
They were in Moscow together for the American National Exhibition in 1959. Kendall was the head of international operations at Pepsi and Nixon the vice president. The night before the exhibition opened Kendall pulled Nixon aside at a reception for the Americans and told him he needed a big win.
The next day Nixon steered Soviet Premier Khrushchev over to the Pepsi kiosk. Don Kendall convinced Khrushchev to compare American Pepsi to the soda they made in Moscow with Pepsi fountain syrup and carbonating machines.
Goddamnit if the son of a bitch didn’t drink a dozen cups of Soviet and American Pepsis while he made up his mind.
Nixon is staying at the Baker Hotel. His room is down the hall from the movie star Joan Crawford. They shared the Pepsi jet to Dallas. Crawford was married to the Pepsi chairman Al Steele, and when he died she strong-armed her way on to the board of directors. A Dallas police officer stands guard outside her room. That crazy dame has twenty-four-hour protection written into her Pepsi travel arrangements. She has fifteen pieces of luggage and makes Pepsi pay for the handler whose job it is to inventory the bags. Kendall is trying to ease her off the board and turn her into a goodwill ambassador, but poor old Don is bracing himself because he knows she’s going to raise hell.
The Baker Hotel
Richard Nixon hosts a small press conference at the hotel. It’s been one year since he said, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference,” after he lost the gubernatorial election. He is officially retired from politics but his friends in New York have been quietly building a fundraising infrastructure for 1968. Softly, softly catchee monkey.
Nixon says the purpose of his visit is a quick business trip. A reporter asks about Kennedy, who is kicking off his Texas trip in San Antonio. Nixon says the people of Dallas owe the President of the United States their full respect. He says he’s not criticizing the president for making the trip, but he thinks the purpose is mending fences—not the space program. He says the president’s public relations are brilliant but his performance is poor.
Don Kendall joins him for the pictures. They face each other. Nixon has a wry grin and Kendall is beaming. The photographer from the Dallas Times Herald snaps the cover of the final edition.
Carl Freund from the Morning News kicks around with Nixon after the other journalists leave. He asks Nixon if he thinks Johnson will be the next Democratic candidate if Kennedy serves out his two terms. Nixon says if Kennedy were going to drop Johnson from the ticket they wouldn’t be together in Texas, and he’d be well placed to run in ’68. But on the other hand . . . Kennedy picked Lyndon in 1960 because he helped the ticket in the South, and now Lyndon is almost as much of a political liability in the South as he is in the North.
Joan Crawford’s press conference takes place in a larger meeting room down the hall. She sits behind a coffee table covered in Pepsi bottles on paper serviettes.
She is asked to describe an ordinary day and she says she gets up at six in the morning to plan it, mentally, spiritually. She adds that for her there is no such thing as an ordinary day, such a thing would bore her death. She smiles. She advises women to quit talking and learn to listen. She says she will not be attending tomorrow’s luncheon for the president at the Trade Mart. She says although she has known Jack Kennedy for years, she never discusses religion or politics. She smiles.
“Now, let’s all have a Pepsi!”
She hoists a Pepsi up and toasts the photographer, beaming. She drinks straight from the bottle and holds it a few extra beats so the photographers can get their shot. The bottle sweats. Her lips leave a crimson imprint around the rim.
The Dallas Statler Hilton
The Baker Hotel leaves stacks of the Times Herald in the lobby for its guests. Nixon grabs one for the short ride to the Statler Hilton, where Pepsi is hosting a reception on the last night of the convention. There’s a big picture of him and Don on the cover of the paper, heigh-ho.
“Do you mind if I smoke, Mr. Vice President?” the chauffeur asks, and Nixon waves and nods that it’s fine. “Miss Crawford won’t let us smoke. We also aren’t allowed to talk or drive over forty.”
Nixon nods again. Don gave him a mimeograph of Crawford’s wacko travel demands: Lifesaver mints, a steam iron, Old Forester, Beefeater, Chivas Regal, 100-proof Smirnoff, and Dom Perignon. Old Joanie really likes to tie one on. They’ll have fun tonight, oh boy. The stories everyone’s heard about that screwy broad . . . she took on a bunch of fellows in a stag film, for one thing.
Sure—everyone knows. Louis B. Mayer bought up every copy. Stag films. Good grief.
Nixon bites down on the inside of his lip and grazes a canker sore that was almost healed. He winces. He looks out the window as they cross South Ervay and sees the rows of red, white, and blue bunting strung across Main Street for tomorrow. The wind pushes discarded bubble gum wrappers, bottle caps, and matchbooks along the sidewalk.
The motorcade route is printed on the cover of the final edition of the Times Herald, next to the picture of him and Don. He thumbs through the paper: Plea for Space Plan Kicks Off JFK Tour; New Fuss Erupts Over JFK Tickets; Congo Set To Cut Ties With Reds; Nixon Here Before JFK on “Business”; 1,300 GIs to Be Returned from Viet Nam in 2 Months.
He checks the back page for the weather report because he’s flying back to New York in the morning. It says: “Showers Possible for JFK.” The forecast is unclear. It might rain, but there is also the possibility of sun and a temperature in the high 70s.