By Rich McIlhenny
Like many a child growing up in Mt Airy in the mid-to-late ‘60s, I was mesmerized by The Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder, who dominated the airwaves during the pre-Brady Bunch Era of our youth. I even thought our father, Francis, sort of resembled the handsome and rugged Bruce Wayne, who slid down the hidden “Batpoles” in stately Wayne Manor, with his sidekick Dick Grayson magically turning into Batman and Robin on the way down.
They’d jump into The Batmobile, which is without question the coolest car ever made, and rush off to battle the Joker, the Penguin or the Riddler and their henchmen and save Gotham City from whatever devastation was being visited upon it by these evil villians .
During that time, my dad worked for General Electric in Valley Forge, which had a huge office and plant where they made products for NASA and other companies. Our family piled into his orange ‘57 Chevy to head out to the company Christmas party in December of 1967. After a bit of a drive and unable to find a close spot, Dad dropped my sister Lisa and our mother and me out front, while he went to park the car.
We walked into the huge and magically decorated lunchroom, where there were hundreds of kids with their parents all abuzz as Santa was sitting by the Christmas tree giving out presents. Lisa and I ran over to get in line as we listened to my father’s friend and co-worker Bud Leo on the microphone welcoming everyone to the affair.
After a few minutes of waiting, Mr. Leo’s soothing voice was suddenly interrupted by sounds of a struggle, while the lights started to flicker on and off. Soon there was a very loud and evil laugh from the stage above us. Everyone looked up to see the Penguin himself, who had just wrestled the microphone from Bud, who now was being tied up by one of his cohorts. In no time, several other baddies were making their way towards Santa. The crowd gasped, and children cried out as the Penguin’s muscle dragged Santa onto the stage and tied him up with Bud.
The cries grew louder as the toys were gathered up and taken from kids by the villains as the Penguin taunted us over the loudspeakers and asked where our savior was this time. The happy family holiday party had turned into a nightmare. Parents tried to console their crying children as the Penguin laughed and teased us all more and more.
A shout of “look at the window!” caused the kids to cheer, as their heads turned to the large plate glass window of the lunchroom, where they looked out to see the Batmobile peeling through the parking lot and come to a screeching halt just outside. Batman and Robin jumped out and pressed their faces against the window, peering inside at the disturbing scene. Kids cried out “Batman, Robin! We’re in here!” as the heroes went rushing around the side of the building looking for a way out after finding that the main doors were locked by the Penguin’s men.
As the crowd came to a hush and everyone wondered where they were, Batman and Robin slid down ropes from the level above onto the stage to cheers and started duking it out with the baddies. Fists were flying, and kids were screaming and rooting them on as Batman and Robin knocked out the villains and untied Santa Claus to thunderous applause.
Bud wrestled back the microphone from the hands of an angry and now tied up Penguin and shouted, “Kids! Let’s hear it for Batman and Robin!!!!!” The crowd went wild as Bud turned to The Caped Crusader, who by then was panting and sweating heavily. “Batman,” Bud said, “once again you and Robin took care of the Penguin and his terrible men and saved Christmas for all of these boys and girls. Is there anything that you would like to say to them?”
Batman paused and looked over the crowd while the children waited breathlessly to hear him speak. “Nah, not really,” Batman replied to howls of laughter from the parents and stunned looks from the children.
While the crowd buzzed and the baddies were taken away by the just-arriving police, Lisa and I fought our way through the crowds of kids surrounding Batman and Robin. Once we got up close, I looked up at Batman, and he looked down at me. It was then that I saw a familiar twinkle in his eye.
“Batman?” I asked nervously. “Do you drive an orange car?”
Smiling as he picked me up, Batman replied, “Yes, son. I do.”
Rich McIlhenny, a lifelong resident of Mt Airy and a realtor with Remax Services,
can be reached in his Batmobile at RMAC88@aol.com.