As I’ve gotten into my late fifties, I’ve found myself having to say goodbye to some close friends of mine in the past few years. Two of my closer friends during the last 15 years were older than me. A few years back I had to say goodbye to the late Judge Phillip Robertson, who was about 10 years my elder. Judge Robertson had a weak heart when I met him in the 90’s…and it finally gave way almost 4 years ago. This time Stanley Bates, who founded Bates Tire Store in 1975, has left us. He was 74. Stanley passed late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning at Baptist in Columbus. He was yet another victim of cancer.
It was Judge Robertson who first took me on a fishing trip to Mexico in November of 1999. That trip was the first of many more to come. Stanley was among several who accompanied me and Judge Robertson on my second trip down there. In fact, during the next 10 years or so after that first trip, Judge Robertson, Bates and myself made at least 15 trips together south of the border.
During those trips, we’d rarely let Bates do any driving, because he was always drinking beer. Let me put an emphasis on ALWAYS! Those who knew Stanley well would tell you that drinking was his favorite pastimes. That and Alabama football! Bates had a lot of aches and pains. I believe the drinking helped him deal with the pain.
Since Bates couldn’t do any driving, his job was to entertain Judge Robertson and myself during the long drives to the border…and that he did! The most memorable trip was when the three of us struck out around noon one day headed south in Bates’ Chevy Tahoe. I started out driving and took us just past Lake Charles, La where the judge took over. He got us through Houston headed south on 59 toward Victoria, Texas. Just south of Victoria, we had been on the road for a good 12 hours. It was past midnight and the judge had just stopped at a convenience store to fill his thermos with coffee to help him stay awake while driving the dark highway headed toward Brownsville. Bates was over in the front passenger seat, nodding in and out of momentary sleep. I was in the back seat doing my own nodding, weary from the 8 hours of driving I had put in earlier. I could hear the judge taking an occasional sip of his coffee while Stanley would snore periodically. The cd player was playing country classics that Judge Robertson had previously recorded for the trip.
About that time…out of the blue, Bates grabs his cell phone and makes a call (at nearly 1 a.m., Judge Robertson and I was wondering who in the world could he be calling so abruptly at this late hour, we recalled later. RW). The resulting cell phone conversation then went like this…Stanley: “Hello…hey…did I wake y’all up? I’m sorry if I did. Can I speak with Mike?” (Mike was Mike Green, one of Stanley’s good friends who often went with us to Mexico, but didn’t accompany us on this particular trip. RW)
After a 30 second or so pause, Mike got on the phone. Stanley: “Mike…I hate to bother you so late…but would you go over to my house and cut that Mercedes off…I just remembered that I cranked it this morning to run it some, and forgot to shut it off!”
I fell out laughing into the floorboard of the back seat! Judge Robertson was laughing so hard he spit some of his coffee out while trying to pull over to the side of the roadway. We spent the next 10 minutes or so laughing our guts out on the side of that Texas highway at 1 a.m. in the morning. We literally laughed until we cried at Bates…who joined in with the laughing himself.
About an hour later, Mike Green called Bates back to tell him that the Mercedes had run out of gas and had shut itself off (obviously). When we returned from Mexico a week later, not only did Bates have to get the battery charged on the Mercedes, he had to have a mechanic work on it to get it to crank again after running out of gas. He later told me he had to buy over $1400 worth of parts for the Mercedes just because he had let it run out of fuel. Many of Bates’ friends kidded him about that Mercedes for months to come. But Stanley would laugh along with them…chuckling just like everyone else as if he had once again done his job – providing amusing entertainment to his friends – and just being Stanley Bates!
Those who traded at Bates Tire Center on Waterworks Road since Stanley and Lillian Bates first opened the business in 1975, would remember Stanley as being gruff and being someone who never left you guessing where he stood on a political or social issue. Stanley was quick with the logical one-liners. His logic would be down-to-earth and home-grown from a lifetime of growing up in West Alabama/East Mississippi. Bates didn’t mince words. But he was also funny. Very funny. He always had several dogs – and always had a favorite among them – with the boxer mix ‘Pug’ coming to mind the most. I had written about ‘Pug’ many years ago. ‘Pug’ would hang around Bates Tire and had a habit of releasing a foul odor from time to time to remind you of his breakfast he had eaten that morning.
Bates’ latest boxer was ‘Charlie’. He also owned a parrot. When you visited his camphouse home on Riverside Drive, you might have a tough time carrying on a conversation when ‘Henry’ (the bird. RW) got to strutting and screaming for attention. After a little time around Henry, one could figure out why Bates had to wear a hearing aid in his later years. Henry could break the decibel barriers.
On another trip to Mexico, we were coming back and crossing into the US at a McAllen, Texas border crossing. Stanley had purchased a pair of leather boots while in Mexico. Several US border guards were checking our vehicle at the crossing. One kept questioning Stanley on whether the boots that he purchased while in Mexico (he was wearing them at the time. RW) was real or not. Stanley told the border guard, twice, that the boots were imitation crocodile…but the border guard persisted on doubting his claims. Finally, Bates – who had had a few beers before arriving at the border crossing – had his bait of the border guards’ questioning and loudly pronounced, “If I was President of the United States, y’all would be looking for bombs instead of boots!” After a momentary pause, Judge Robertson and I began to laugh. The border guards checking us out had to follow suit…and the one questioning Bates decided to leave the matter alone! It was classic Stanley Bates!
On the local front, Stanley Bates leaves behind so many friends one could never count them. He touched a lot of lives, black and white alike. It was the late banker George Cain who had taken a chance on Stanley Bates back in March of 1975 when Bates went to him to secure a loan to open Bates Tire. Cain ended up loaning Bates enough money to open his tire store and did so totally unsecured. When Cain asked Bates what he had as collateral, Bates answered, “my word!” (Bates paid the money back quickly and he and Cain remained friends for a lifetime. George Cain died several years ago. RW) Bates had worked at Johnston Tombigbee Manufacturing (across the street) for 17 years, many as personnel manager. It was Bates who gave Packet founder Roger Larsen his first job after arriving in Columbus.
There’s many more stories I could tell about Stanley Bates. He would have wanted me to tell the funny ones. Stanley and his friends got a big kick out of all the Mexico stories.
One thing for sure…there’ll never be another Stanley Bates. He was one of a kind! RIP, my friend.
Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens Calls Mike Bernsen, “Bernstein”
During Tuesday night’s Columbus City Council meeting, the council was in discussion about paving and how the paving money was going to be used. During the discussion, Councilman Mickens refered to city Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernsen as “Bernstein.” Bernsen took offense and at one point said, “my name is Bernsen, not Bernstein!”
Mickens didn’t respond. I spoke with Councilman Mickens Wednesday afternoon by telephone. “It was totally unintentional”, said Mickens about the mistake. “I didn’t mean to do that!”
Mickens said he spoke with Bernsen earlier Wednesday and they straightened it out. “Mike is a good guy,” Mickens added.
Shane Tompkins Named Columbus City Prosecutor
During the council meeting, Shane Tompkins was named the new city prosecutor. The position came open after longtime prosecutor Tim Hudson resigned the position at the end of June. Tompkins was nominated by Ward 6 City Councilman Bill Gavin. The vote was unanimous.
Carl Lee Wonders About Mayor Smith’s City Beautification
Carl Lee showed up near the end of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting last Friday. In reference to my column about Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and his beautification project in which flowers were planted at the entrance to Dean Acres, Smith’s home subdivision, Lee wondered if any of the poorer parts of Columbus were being afforded such nice, expensive work and beautification.
I think Carl Lee makes plenty of sense. I’d like to hear the answer to that question myself!
Ron Williams can be reached by email at Ronsings2you@aol.com0