Down The Exxon Lane -3

When company seminars ended with a ‘Happy Hour’

Metropole Karachi on the right. The white building, far left, was the Central Hotel (Photo from Pinterest)

I don’t know if any of the old Exxonians remember the Candlelight Room in the Metropole Hotel, across the street from our office. That’s where we held monthly meetings, on the last Friday of every month, after the office hours. All management employees attended these meetings where one of the senior managers would make a presentation about his area of work followed by a question-answer session. The purpose of such meetings was to make all management employees familiar with the overall operations of the company.

Dr. Mac Fuqua was the president. A Ph.D. in chemical engineering, in his 50s, from Lousiana, he was a quiet and polite person with a distinct southern accent. He attended these meetings.

At the end of the meeting, everyone would head to the bar, set up for the event at the back of the room, which served both soft and hard drinks. (Prohibition came much later, in 1977.) With a drink of choice in hand and the thought of a leisurely weekend ahead, everyone would linger around joining other colleagues in conversation.

In Marketing Services those days, we were in the process of setting up a soil testing lab, a favorite project of Dr. Vick Sheldon, the Marketing Services manager. We hired a soil chemist to run the lab. I was his immediate supervisor.

The new hire, a young man (let’s call him YM) in his early twenties, a fresh graduate from Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) had been a bright student at college. He was a diligent worker and did his job well. However, his exposure to city life had been minimal, if at all. Other than me, he was hesitant to approach his colleagues with a question or for casual conversation. He was too bashful and kept to himself and his work. In bigger gatherings, he felt secure staying close to me, like a freshly hatched chick stays close to the mother hen.

The monthly meeting in the Candlelight Room, YM’s first, was a whole new experience for him — the people, the lights, the glitter, the bar, and drinks. He sat next to me during the meeting, curiously watching the proceedings. After the presentation, when he noticed everyone heading to the bar, he whispered in my ear, “are the drinks free?”

“Yes, help yourself”, I told him, and I joined a small group talking about their weekend plans.

After some time, I looked around to see where YM was. To my surprise, he was talking to Dr. Fuqua, one-on-one, holding a glass of whiskey in one hand, a grin on his face, and making wide gestures with his free hand as if lecturing Dr. Fuqua on something profound. Dr. Fuqua watched him patiently with a polite smile.

I could tell from YM’s gestures and a permanent grin on his face that he had had one too many. I continued watching him with some concern.

And then, to my astonishment, I saw YM burst out in laughter, perhaps at a joke or something Fuqua might have said. He even raised his hand as if he was about to backslap Dr. Fuqua or give him an exuberant high-five. I was sure Dr. Fuqua wouldn’t be amused to be backslapped or high-fived by an employee, let alone a fresh hire — that too an intoxicated one.

Realizing the gravity of the situation, I approached YM, patted on his back, and managed to wean him away from Fuqua. I also suggested that he better go home. He had emptied his glass by then.

He came out of the hotel looking for a ride, spotted Khalid Mukhtar (then in Purchasing), and requested him for a ride, which Khalid readily offered since he was going in the same direction. The way YM staggered into Khalid’s newly acquired white Volkswagen, Khalid told me later, it was obvious that he was boozed up to the gills.

The ride, Khalid told me, was uneventful, YM keeping his head lowered between his knees most of the time. (Cars didn’t have seatbelts those days.) But before getting dropped at his place, YM raised his head, briefly looked at Khalid — and threw up in the car!

I was sorry to hear Khalid’s plight but also wondered about the consequences if I had not pulled YM away from Dr. Fuqua in time.

It might have been a leisurely weekend for everyone else, but not for Khalid. He told me he spent the weekend scrubbing and deodorizing his white Volkswagen.

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