Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It takes a little luck to reach 70

This is a short story, based on a true story, that I recently submitted for my Writer's Group"

“FOR WANT OF A SHOE . . .”



“These years have been a gift.”


Oliver, drinking his usual early morning coffee on his 70th birthday, was not bemoaning life as a septuagenarian, but on this day reflecting on an event almost 40 years previously that could have kept him from reaching  the young age of 40, much less 70.


The 1978 Annual Convention and Trade Show of the Society of Electromechanical Engineering was taking place at the Peachtree Center in downtown Atlanta, and  Oliver and his wife Julia were among the thousands packing the restaurants in central Atlanta the evening before the last day of the show.


Sitting at their table in the upscale Abby Restaurant, Oliver looked at their two guest.  “Joe and Carol, thanks calling and suggesting dinner.  We have really missed seeing you; what has it been now, a year?”


“Can you believe it Oliver?  Carol and I missed the show last year so it was 2 years ago we last got together! Man!  Time flies when you get a little older; right Carol?”


“Faster every year!  Thanks for getting us a table here at the Abbey Restaurant Julia, Joe and I have never been here before.  I take it that this beautiful old gothic-revival building was some sort of church; do you know it’s history?”


“As I understand, an Episcopal congregation laid the foundation in 1915.  That congregation eventually moved on,  and a couple of other congregations used it after that.  It was turned into this restaurant just last year.  I just hope the food is as impressive as the building.”


Carol and Julia continued catching up on their families and recent trips, while Oliver and Joe turned to professional topics.  Half-way through their dessert and coffee, a large man from a nearby table rose and stopped in front of theirs.


“Hey Joe, didn’t know you would be here tonight.”  


Joe rose greeting the visitor “Marc!  Same here.  I knew you were presenting your latest research tomorrow morning, but hadn’t run into you before now.  I want you to meet a couple of friends of mine; Oliver and Carol, meet Marc Elkin.  Marc’s doing some big time research up at Ohio State.”


Oliver shook Marc’s hand, “I’m moderating the early morning session tomorrow, and if I recall correctly,  you are the lead off speaker.”  


Marc confirmed that indeed he was presenting the first talk, and as they exchanged pleasantries found that they were staying at adjacent hotels a short distance from the restaurant.  After a few minutes, Marc moved back to his own party’s table, leaving Oliver’s foursome to finish their coffee.  They paid their check, and stood to leave, but as Carol tried to stand, she slipped and sat back down hard on the chair. She had twisted her foot trying to stand, breaking the left strap on her new pair of high heels.  “Dam,” she uttered “I’m going to have to walk real slowly; unless you want to carry me Joe?” Smiling playfully at her husband.  


They made their way through the restaurant door to downtown Peachtree street, where the traffic had diminished to a few cars and the occasional taxi.  Coincidentally, Marc Elkins, his wife Evonne, and James Martin, a Chicago Scientific Company representative who had treated the Elkins to dinner that evening, were also standing at the entrance.  Marc was holding an empty wine bottle that he was taking back to the hotel to soak off  the label for his collection and in his other hand had a “doggie bag” of unfinished dessert.


James Martin was pointing down the street “We’re just thinking of walking off this dinner.  You can see the Sheraton sign down there.  It looks only about 5 or 6 blocks; you guys want to walk with us?”


“Sure” said Oliver and Joe almost simultaneously, turning to join Marc’s group.


“Hold on!”  It was Carol, Joe’s wife. “I really hate to be a wet blanket.  You all can walk if you want, but I just can’t limp all that way with a broken strap, and going barefoot on these streets doesn’t sound like a good idea; so I’m doing a taxi!”  


Julia gave Oliver a glance and then reassured Carol “Of course! No problem, Oliver and I will share a taxi with you two.”


“Sorry Marc,” Oliver apologized.  “It looks like our group is taking a taxi.  I’ll see you at the first session tomorrow.”


The next morning Oliver, before the early, 8 am session started, was in the auditorium making sure the lighting and audiovisual equipment were in working order when a grim-faced woman entered the room with a folder of papers.  She took one of the papers from her folder, and handed it to Oliver.  “Read this announcement at the start of the session.”  As she hurried from the room to her next location, Oliver read the single paragraph.


The Society of Electromechanical Engineering regrets to inform its members that Marc Elkins, a respected member of this organization, will not be presenting his lecture this morning.  Last night, a short distance from the Abbey Restaurant, as Mr Elkins, his wife Evonne, and James Martin a Chicago Scientific representative were walking to their hotel when two armed men came from an alley and demanded their wallets. Mr Elkins was apparently unable to immediately comply because he was holding something in both hands, and without warning one of the assailants shot Mr Elkins. Mr Martin managed to grab the gun and it discharged twice, with one bullet shattering his thumb, but causing the two men to release the weapon and flee.  

Mr Elkins was declared dead soon after arrival at the hospital; Mr Martin is in stable condition following surgery.  

Evonne Elkins was evaluated and released; she did not give a formal statement. She was overheard however, making a single, somewhat confusing comment . . . “If only I had broken a shoe.”

“Yes,” mused Oliver, finishing his coffee, “I have indeed been fortunate.”

********

This is from a true story.  Oliver is me, and Julia is Barbara. Joe is Dr Joe Logic, who had joined us for dinner as a friend of a friend. Marc Elkins was Mark Tetalman, MD, and his group were coincidentally eating at a nearby table.  We were attending the 1978 Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) Annual Meeting in Atlanta. The dinner was at the Abby Restaurant (recently closed), and Dr Tetalman was shot to death only a half block from the restaurant (we had left in taxis minutes before the shooting).  Joe Logic's wife did in fact keep us from walking with them by saying "Come on guys!  I've got new heels" so our group did take taxis to our hotel rather than walk with the Tetalman party. I was moderating the early session the next morning when I was brought that announcement to read at the start, though Dr Tetalman was not scheduled to speak at that particular session.

Below the event is noted in the history files of the RSNA (Radiologic Society of North America).  The RSNA was scheduled to have their annual meeting (usually 60-80,000 participants) in Atlanta 6 months after the SNM meeting, and Dr Tetalman's murder, along with numerous other assults, roberies, etc caused the RSNA to consider canceling their meeting.

Part 17: Murder in Atlanta

  • By the end of 1978, RSNA had held its annual meeting at Chicago's McCormick Place four consecutive times. However, some Society members, particularly those who did not live in the Midwest, had been asking the RSNA Board of Directors to schedule a meeting in another region of the country. Society membership had surpassed 10,000 and the newly organized Board of Directors wanted to be responsive to members' needs. Consequently, RSNA leaders planned to hold the 1979 meeting in Atlanta, the 1980 and 1984 meetings in Dallas, and the 1981, 1982 and 1983 meetings in Chicago. The 1984 meeting was eventually held in Washington, D.C.
  • Atlanta had recently become a workable site for the RSNA Scientific Assembly with the opening of additional hotels and the new Georgia World Congress Center, which was promoted as a symbol of a revitalized South. The Society's Director of Scientific Meetings, George Schuyler, had determined that the Center could house all the technical exhibitors and had enough conference rooms for Refresher Courses and Scientific Sessions. However, it lacked a huge auditorium comparable to the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place for the heavily attended Sunday Film Interpretation Session. But Schuyler, with his usual efficiency, was arranging to hold that session in another building in Atlanta and was scheduling special bus service to transport meeting attendees from the convention center to that building.
  • RSNA leaders were looking forward to the annual meeting. It was to feature the first Categorical Course on Radiation Therapy, organized by Frank L. Hussey Jr., M.D., and a Scientific Exhibit about the use of magnetic resonance in medicine, presented by Paul C. Lauterbur, M.D. But by summer 1979, while RSNA was preparing to hold its Scientific Assembly in Atlanta, one of the worst crises in the Society's history erupted.
  • Crime and Repercussions
  • In late June, as the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) held its annual meeting in Atlanta, SNM officials confirmed 15 incidents in which meeting attendees were either assaulted or robbed.
  • The worst incident occurred on June 28. Marc R. Tetalman, M.D., a young RSNA member from Ohio, was attending the SNM meeting. That evening, he, his wife and James Martin, a representative of the Eastman Kodak Company, had dinner at a downtown Atlanta restaurant. Upon leaving the restaurant, they decided to walk the few blocks to their hotel. During the walk, they were accosted by a man brandishing a gun who demanded money and valuables. Dr. Tetalman resisted since he recently received his watch as a gift. The thief fired his weapon. Dr. Tetalman was killed. Martin, who had tried to protect Dr. Tetalman, was severely wounded.1
  • Subsequently, RSNA, with its meeting to be held in Atlanta five months later, received countless calls and requests from Society members and technical exhibitors to send a message to Atlanta's city officials, hotels and convention bureau by transferring the 1979 meeting to another site. RSNA President William T. Meszaros, M.D., and the Board of Directors realized it was too late to move a meeting the size of the RSNA Scientific Assembly. When members and exhibitors became aware that the meeting could not be held in another city, they demanded cancellation of the meeting. To complicate matters, the media were depicting Atlanta as a city in chaos. News reports claimed that Atlanta's crime problems were racially based. Approximately 200 vacancies in the police department could not be filled due to a court order related to suits of discrimination and reverse discrimination in the city's hiring policy for police officers.
  • The Board of Directors decided the Scientific Assembly would be held only if RSNA could get a promise of tight security from Atlanta city officials. Otherwise, Dr. Meszaros realized he would have to break commitments to exhibitors and paper presenters.
  • Police on Every Corner
  • Consequently, Society leaders were in immediate contact with Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and Department of Public Safety Commissioner Lee Brown demanding assurances of safety for RSNA meeting attendees. On August 8, 1979, Dr. Meszaros, Schuyler, Executive Director Adele Swenson, Board Chairman Milton Elkin, M.D., and Board Liaison for Annual Meeting Arrangements Richard G. Lester, M.D., met with Mayor Jackson, Commissioner Brown, law enforcement officials and representatives of Atlanta's convention and tourism industry.
  • >RSNA officials indicated that security in Atlanta was too tenuous for the Scientific Assembly and suggested they would cancel the meeting. Atlanta officials, realizing the importance of the RSNA meeting to the city's economy, engaged the Society leaders in hours of discussion and ultimately committed to an increased presence of uniformed police on the streets, around the World Congress Center and near the hotels to be used by RSNA meeting attendees. Said Mayor Jackson to the RSNA delegation, "Doctors, when you are here for your meeting in November, police officers will be coming out of your ears," to which Dr. Elkin replied, "That is just what we want!" 2
  • To their credit, Atlanta officials immediately went into action. They got the courts to allow the filling of the vacancies in the police department. Undercover police officers were to be put into uniform and unmarked police cars were marked. Georgia Governor George Busbee promised state troopers would assist city police. The managers of the downtown hotels promised to expand their uniformed security staff.
  • During September, October and early November, Schuyler and other RSNA staff periodically visited Atlanta to monitor the implementation of the city's commitments. In addition, RSNA hired private security firms to supplement city and state services. The Society also had additional signs printed to post at the Georgia World Congress Center reminding meeting attendees to remove their name badges once leaving the convention center so as not to be easily identified as out-of-towners. Requests were also printed in various meeting publications asking attendees to take taxis even if traveling a few blocks.
  • The decision by RSNA leaders to go ahead with the Scientific Assembly in Atlanta did not please some Society members or technical exhibitors. A few members threatened to attend the meeting armed. Some technical exhibitors threatened a boycott.3
  • November 25-30, 1979, the weather in Atlanta was pleasantly warm. The city was decked in Christmas decorations. Police seemed to be on every corner. The 65th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the RSNA was held without an untoward incident affecting any Society member. Dr. Hussey's Categorical Course on Radiation Therapy was a success. Dr. Lauterbur's Scientific Exhibit was the radiologists' first introduction to magnetic resonance imaging—a new modality that could help visualize anatomy by using a strong magnetic field rather than ionizing radiation. Yet attendance was down from the 1978 Scientific Assembly and some meeting attendees inwardly grumbled about the intrusiveness of the security measures.
  • RSNA leaders did not plan to hold the Scientific Assembly in Atlanta again.
  • References
    1. Tristan TA. Personal communication. 6 Aug 1993.
    2. Elkin M. Crisis in meeting selection. [In] RSNA Remembered: Reminiscing with Adele—1985. Oak Brook, IL: RSNA, 1985:39-44.
    3. Elkin M. Personal communication. 11 May 1995.