Monday, February 23, 2009

A Match Made in Flint

Randy Gearhart reflects on the romance of Flint...

I sometimes wonder how different my life would be today if I would have taken that job at Fisher Body Plant #2.

The year was 1969. I was home for the summer after my first year of classes at Michigan State. Although they weren’t doing much hiring at the time, I was able to get my foot in the door at the plant with the help of some of my dad’s co-workers. A job was mine if I wanted it. During orientation, however, I began to have second thoughts. When we took a break for lunch, I told GM, “thanks for the opportunity,” but I felt I needed to look for employment elsewhere.

I heard that A.M. Davison might be hiring, so I headed downtown to check things out. Well, they were—and they hired me. My job was selling suits, shirts, and ties on the second floor of the upscale men’s clothing store. Little did I realize, however, that I had not only found myself a summer job, but I was about to find a wife, also.

Most of the time, I brought my lunch to work with me. But on the days I wasn’t brown-bagging, I would walk across the street to eat at the Carriage Room at Smith-Bridgman’s Department Store. The Carriage Room was located on the mezzanine—sandwiched between the store’s first and second floors. The place had an atmosphere all its own. It had a low ceiling and was lighter and brighter toward the front—where the windows stretched from the street upward—but got progressively darker toward the back of the long, narrow room. The place was almost always filled with people and noise—lots of noise. The conversation, the clatter of plates, ringing of glasses, and the chink of silverware was non-stop. Lunchtime at the Carriage Room was a study in controlled chaos. Move ‘em in, serve ‘em up, and move ‘em out—somebody was likely waiting for your seat.

The Carriage Room counter is where I met “that girl,” Debra Reburn. Debbi was a student at Ainsworth High School and was working as a waitress over summer break. Call it fate, fortune, or “the hand of the Lord”—whatever it was, our Carriage Room encounter changed the course of two lives forever. We were married June 24, 1972, at Bethany United Presbyterian Church—the eastside church I attended while growing up.

This year will mark the 37th anniversary of the Gearhart/Reburn union. We have four wonderful children—three boys and a girl—five granddaughters, and, appearing soon, our first grandson, Kyle Christopher.

In celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary, my sister, Nancy, gave us the silver heart you see above. Those little store labels were carefully clipped from my late Uncle Ben’s ties. Today, they serve as a reminder of where our love and life together began—in the heart of a city called, “ Flint .”

(Oh, in case you wondered, I’m really, really glad I didn’t take that job at Fisher #2.)


  1. This is the kind of story that warms my heart and makes my soul have a smile. Congratulations on having a Union that others can aspire to! I'd hazard a guess that if You had taken the shop job, You'd more than likely be w/someone else, more than likely unhappy or divorced, but You'd have a boat, snowmobile and part interest in a "cabin up north" where You take the snowmachine, and probably a mortgage out floating around w/some fly by company, an ulcer possibly, and be worrying Yourself sick on whether You'll have any benies this time next month. bleak? yeah, but it's a song I've heard sung more times than naught. Congratulations on beating the odds, and on the New GrandBaby! They make it all shiny and new!

  2. Thanks, bustup. You're probably right in your "what if" projections. Our life together been a grand adventure, and God has been very good to us--but, that's just the way He is! :^)

  3. Love on the mezzanine, what a great story ... I always insisted we eat there and now this story is like the icing on my memory cake of love for that mezzanine. Thanks!

  4. AM Davison's, summer of '69, hunh?

    That was my first summer out of the Army and during that summer I bought an off-yellow sportcoat at Davison's that was guaranteed -- by the young salesman, at least -- to attract multitudes of attractive and comely babes.

    The coat didn't work. Is it too late for me to return it?

  5. Love your story, ChurchGuy! Life's been good to you and it looks like it's about to be one better very soon:) P.S. The Carriage Room was one of my favorite places to go on a shopping excursion downtown as a kid and your description added a lot more colour to my memory!

  6. Truly, Cooley, if you've still got that coat, you need to slip it on and hit the Flint hot spots this weekend. You've really gotta' give these things time to work.

    Now, if for some reason the babes still aren't magnetically attracted to you, it could be something else. Next time you're downtown, stop in and we'll get you a spiffy tie to go with that coat!

    Now, if that doesn't work, we will be happy to take the coat back and cheerfully refund your money. You do have your receipt, right?

    p.s. Thanks, Gillian. Glad you enjoyed the story.

  7. Here's a tad more Carriage Room color, redgirl...

    One of my favorite pastimes in the Carriage Room (when I wasn't checking out that cute little waitress), was to sit at the counter and watch folks riding the escalator. The large glass window on the north wall afforded a great view of passing shoppers.

    One fine day while waiting for Debbi to get off from work, I was sipping on a "Tall Texan"--the famous CR chocolate soda. I paused for a moment and looked over my shoulder to watch the endless parade of people riding up and down the magic stairs. But when I turned back to take another sip from that gigantic soda glass, to my shock, surprise, and horror, the sipping straw went up my nose. Ouch and yikes! I quickly and discretely dislodged the projectile and looked about to see if anyone (especially Debbi) had witnessed the unfortunate incident. Thankfully, they/she had not.

    Now, any remembrance of the Smith B's mezzanine would not be complete, I suppose, without mention of the record shop which they had squeezed into that long, narrow hallway on the other side of the escalators. There I found many an essential 45 to add to my extensive collection.

    Certainly, no trip to downtown Flint was complete without paying a visit to those SB record racks and from there heading down to the corner and descending the dark, dank stairs to Hatfield's Records to search out what musical treasures therein did lie. Hatfield's was where I purchased my first (and only) Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention album, "Absolutely Free." (Call Any Vegetable/Brown Shoes Don't Make It/Plastic People)

    Ah, those were the days, my friend!

  8. truly a great story, and greater romance...we had our 30th anniversary awhile back, been Blessed with 3 brand new Grand Babies. And I try to ignore the coin-flip stories myself also. Continued Happines to You and Yours-kc
    and watch out for the straws, that's God giving out 'knowledge knobs" or "I told you so's"...

  9. Randy, Congratulations on your many years of wedded bliss. It warms my heart to hear of your great story and of the wonderful family you and Debra have nurtured. Knowing what I do of your roots, I'm not surprised.
    Now I'm thinking about A.M. Davidson’s. Did they still have the pneumatic tube system that you put the money in when you worked there? I remember when I went downtown on the Civic Park bus as a kid, it was a must to visit the coke machine upstairs at A.M. Davidson’s. At the time, that machine still had the 6.5 oz. bottles of coke for a nickel.

  10. Hey, John, bustup, and y'all,

    Yes, John, they still had the pneumatic tubes (an amazing piece of retrotech, in my opinion) when I worked at Davison's. And I do believe Coke never tasted so "Refreshing!" as out of that old red machine--Coke so icy cold, it'd give you a brain freeze if you weren't careful.

    I'm glad my "misty watercolor memories" have brought a moment of sweet reminiscing about the happy days of growin' up in Flint. I really appreciate all your thoughts and comments.

    I'll not bore you with the details, but our married life together has been quite an "adventure." It has been anything but easy, but it has surely been blessed.

    As most of you have probably found out by now (because you're all grown up or gettin' there), what really matters in life is not the "stuff" or the fame or fortune--it's the family and friends.

    It's been great meeting you ExPats here (thanks again, Gordie)-- making new friends and reconnecting with old ones, too.

    Grace and peace and over and out...


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at