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September 14, 2023

The Day Jerry Came On Down


This photo of Bob Barker in his later years is from Reddit.

To those of us who grew up in the U.S. through the early 2000’s, we understand the role the late Bob Barker played in pop society. Barker, who passed recently at age 99, was the breeziest and most facile of television game show hosts. Smooth, neatly coiffed, nice guy persona, and (in real life as well as on screen) a man totally committed to animal rights.

I’m sharing this Bob Barker story to honor his passing.

I was a young man, just home from work one Friday in the 1980’s. Early in our marriage, my wife and I had arrived at an understanding about household chores that has lasted for decades. Due to her superior culinary skills, she would prepare dinner. I'd help with prep work if asked. Then I’d clean up afterwards and do the laundry on weekends. We both shared other chores, like cleaning our tiny 450 square foot guest house, that was just off a dodgy street in Inglewood, California, a couple of blocks north of Century Boulevard.

Seated in our diminutive living room as my wife made kitchen noises, I began flipping channels on the TV with the remote control. A lifelong news junkie, I was aiming for a local news broadcast, but technology required me to flip through channels up or down in sequence until I reached the desired number.

As I did so, I passed a channel with a lot of cheering people, flashy music, and bright colors in motion. It arrested my travel, even though I subliminally recognized the broadcast as an episode of the game show “The Price is Right.” More to the point, I thought I had just seen a familiar face – and I had – in addition to the host Bob Barker’s.

I settled into the channel and put the remote down. I had missed the “come on down!” introduction and was at the part of the broadcast where Barker was doing a brief on-stage interview with a new contestant – whom I knew from work.

Jerry (I never learned his last name) was a short, wiry, tow-headed man in his early 30’s. He was a frequent sight around the facility where I worked, in Torrance, California.

Torrance is home to the Del Amo Fashion Mall, a 2.5 million square foot property and sixth largest shopping center in the United States. And it was directly across the street from my workplace in what was then called the Metro Bank Center. There were two buildings in the complex: one of them a tallish bank tower. The Metro Bank building, as it was called then, was a smaller, semi-circular building with a bank on the ground floor, and four stories above. I worked on the third floor in marketing as a copywriter for a company that provided computer processing of income tax returns.

In this contemporary photo, that was the old Metro Bank Building peeking from behind the trees on the left.

Jerry, who was standing awkwardly next to Bob Barker on my television, was the facility’s maintenance man. He changed lightbulbs, performed minor repairs, supervised the cleaning service, and listened to complaints from tenants when things were broken. He was a very active guy who had a habit of jumping on or off the escalator that ran between the two buildings just as it was beginning or ending its travel. He would vault over the rail and land on the staircase next to them, or onto the escalator stairs themselves, depending on which way he was jumping, the keys on the big key ring attached to his belt loop jingling madly.

He wasn’t wearing his key ring on television.

“Tell me, Jerry,” asked Bob Barker. “What work do you do?”

It was a harmless, “let’s learn something about our next contestant” question, but Jerry looked nervous, his eyes darting from side to side.

“Uhhh…. I’m an engineer,” he replied.

Engineers were a big thing in those days. That portion of Los Angeles County was dominated by the big aerospace companies of the era – TRW, Northrop, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, Rockwell, and many more – and all of them hired armies of engineers. You could spot an engineer in southern California quite easily: they were the ones (mostly men) with neat, short haircuts and clean shaven faces, wearing short-sleeved, button-down shirts with plastic photo IDs clipped to their shirt pockets.

Jerry was a little too mop-headed for an engineer, but he was clean shaven and was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. He didn’t have a photo ID clipped to his pocket, but he wasn’t an engineer either.

Barker wasn’t letting go.

“What kind of an engineer are you?” he asked. Even with the low-resolution television image of the day, I could see beads of sweat forming.

“Uhhh.. mechanical. I’m a mechanical engineer,” Jerry replied.

You mean, "maintenance engineer," I thought.

Jerry – watch-me-vault-over-the-escalator-Jerry – was the least self-conscious person I knew at work, but put him in front of a camera, and he starts living a persona.

This isn't uncommon. As business people, we adapt to changing roles and circumstances, and to the workstyles and cultures of the companies we work with and for. Sometimes this means making personality adaptations. When we’re off the clock, we relax into ourselves. Except for a few who linger beneath the studio lights and relish being someone imaginary.

The following week Jerry was back to leaping onto and off the escalator, keys jingling madly. I don't know how much he won on The Price is Right (I didn't continue watching the show), and I never asked him about it. No one I know ever did either.

Let Jerry be Jerry. I have my own personae to worry about.

Escalator with stairs photo from

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