PACIFIC GROVE, Calif.-Look, up in the sky! It's a bulldog! It's a mensch! It's Harvey Hustle!
Like Superman, Harvey Brodsky zeros in like a speeding bullet whenever the Forces of Evil attack the safety, practicality or environmental record of retreaded tires. After two decades of defending the often-maligned products, Mr. Brodsky is known by many in the tire business as a relentless evangelist for what he calls ``recycling at its best.''
``Harvey has been the voice of retreading,'' said Joe Kilcoyne, tire-industry veteran, engineer and International Tire & Rubber Association Hall of Fame member. ``A day never goes by that Harvey is not doing something to promote the use of retreads worldwide or to answer negative publicity about retreads.''
Like the mythical Metropolis' Man of Steel, Pacific Grove's man of recycled rubber wields words to fight for truth, justice and the retreaded way. Watch him in action for even a few minutes-firing off letters, marshalling the troops to fight statehouse legislative assaults or answering calls and e-mails from not only North America but far-off points on the globe, and you're reminded of Lou Grant-without the junkyard dog, er, newsroom attitude. Heck, like Lou he even works at a ``Trib.'' Only in this case TRIB stands for Tire Retread Information Bureau.
But where Clark Kent would dive into the nearest telephone booth before waging the good fight, Mr. Brodsky somehow got it turned around, often dashing out of the TRIB's office-itself not much larger than a telephone booth-to do his work, whether it's in the ITRA's hometown of Louisville, Ky., Washington, D.C., or to moderate a panel and give a talk at a recent academic symposium in Scotland.
Fairly heady stuff for a native of Philadelphia who fled Los Angeles in 1971 and settled in California's Monterey Bay area. ``I came here after doctors told my wife and me that our kids' health problems were caused by L.A.'s smog. I'll never forget it. They said, `It's only the smog. They'll get used to it,' but Harriet and I said to ourselves, `Who says they have to?' ''
He had a thriving business in Los Angeles doing custom furniture and repairing restaurant seating, but has never regretted moving to Pacific Grove, where he and his beloved dogs can walk to the beach and nearby famed golf courses like Spanish Bay and Pebble Beach. Mr. Brodsky was offered the TRIB job in 1981 after business consulting stints in the tire industry turned out well.
``Harvey has had to walk in a virtual minefield'' in an industry that is made up of many companies and people that are competitors, Mr. Kilcoyne pointed out, adding that Mr. Brodsky has been able to attain cohesiveness among the players by being ``very honest and open about all of his activities. He only sees the good in all people and is able to channel that good to help benefit the tire retread industry.''
Mr. Kilcoyne also credits his friend and colleague with helping retreaders survive the industry's ``dark days'' when the demand for recycled passenger-car tires all but evaporated. The problem was two-fold: Prices of new tires became too competitive and radial tire retreading technology proved initially daunting. Now, Mr. Kilcoyne pointed out, ``many companies from around the world e-mail TRIB asking for help in establishing new retread operations or for equipment. Harvey sends those leads out to all members and we, as industry suppliers, follow up on those.''
A great follow-through is part of the work ethic Mr. Brodsky learned from his father, who ran a successful auto upholstery business in Philadelphia. A pen-and-ink drawing at TRIB entitled ``Journey'' is both a map and a statement to the Brodsky Way. The provocative drawing shows that although the road to success is a combination of having the ``right system,'' acquiring ``true knowledge'' and ``ideals,'' the path is lined with plenty of potholes, including ``laziness,'' ``conceit'' and ``lack of preparation.''
Mr. Brodsky's preparation for a career as a master persuader and educator was unorthodox but effective.
Affected by a teacher's stinging-and public-rebuke, he was turned off by the classroom. So in high school, he would play hooky in downtown Philadelphia. ``In the morning I would hang around the automat. In those days they would have saltines and condiments and hot water free.
``I learned to use the hot water, Worcestershire and crackers to make a soup, and I would read. It was at the train station so there was every newspaper you could think of at hand: the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times, the Philadelphia papers. I would read voraciously.
``Then, when there was nothing left, I would explore the museums and art galleries.'' In the afternoon, he would report to work at his dad's shop. ``I just loved working. Even then.''
These days he reports each day to the TRIB office, located on a side street in downtown Pacific Grove, which is known more for its Monarch butterflies and proximity to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A model of efficiency, the organization's quarters are so compact that when a new, industrial-strength photocopier arrived, ``half the office had to be dismantled'' to shoehorn the machine in, he said, grinning. He and his staff, Barbara Tovey and Ann Light, stagger lunch breaks so there's always someone at the phones and computer. ``I can't offer our people much money,'' he said, ``but I try to be the kind of boss I'd like to have.''
Mr. Brodsky has a policy of giving each staffer a half a day off per week, with pay, to perform community service of their choosing. ``Barbara's working at a local hospital. Ann works with a battered-women's shelter. I feel it makes them more well-rounded. It's a nice thing to do,'' Mr. Brodsky said.
Each afternoon he closes up shop and either walks or drives his trusty, well-used Acura Legend the mile to his home, dons a sensible orange vest with reflecting stripe and hooks up his beloved dogs, Annie and Ginger, for a walk to the nearby beach. Sonny, like Annie, a former racing Greyhound, usually stays at home because he is fearful of going outside after being mauled by a pit bull. The man-and-his-dogs bonding and playfulness happen rain or shine, and he often sings to his dogs. ``It's good for the soul,'' he said of the seashore. ``I feel rejuvenated and, to be frank, sometimes I do my best thinking here.''
The Life of Harvey? Perhaps-but not always post-card perfect.
His wife, Harriet, died of cancer in 1984 at only 47, leaving him with a teen-aged son and daughter. Sometimes his evening walks take him to the majestic outcropping where Harriet wanted her ashes scattered. The sounds of sea lions, gulls and crashing waves punctuate the air. ``I take off my hat, salute her and blow her a kiss,'' he softly said, with a tender twinkle in his bright blue eyes.
But he did find love again and shares his life with his wife Rona, a psychotherapist with a private practice in Pacific Grove.
Charles Stein, an accountant who does TRIB's annual audit, said his friend of more than 50 years possesses ``a smile that seems to never fade, never has a mean word and is an exceedingly hard worker who truly believes in his mission.''
It was Mr. Stein who let slip the ``Harvey Hustle'' nickname.
What some industry folks might not realize is how long ago Mr. Brodsky actually earned that sobriquet.
``In college I was madly in love with an art student. Gloria Segal,'' Mr. Brodsky recalled. ``Gloria called me up and said there was a Pablo Picasso exhibit opening and we made it a date. This was the first time this particular work-I forget the name now-was to be seen in the U.S. At the show we got into a horrible argument and she walked out on me. I was just beside myself.
``I came up with an idea: I knew that one of my favorite writers, Art Buchwald, lived in Paris. So, desperate, I wrote him a letter saying to the effect, `Mr. Buchwald. You're my only hope to win back my girlfriend. I need you to get me Pablo Picasso's autograph.'
``Well, the day my letter arrived. Art Buchwald was having lunch with photojournalist David Douglas Duncan, Picasso's photographic biographer. He showed it to Duncan, who said, `Hey, I'm seeing Picasso on Sunday. Do you mind if I take that letter?'
``Well, Duncan showed it to Picasso and Picasso was so taken with my plea that he did a quick sketch. He not only inscribed it, he dated it and signed it.
``To my knowledge, it was one of the only times Picasso did all three.''
Alas, even a signed Picasso (the famous artist died in 1973) wasn't enough to win back his girlfriend's heart. Today, somewhere in Philadelphia hangs one very special Picasso, that, like Harvey Brodsky, is an irreplaceable original.