Dink McDuff was one of my best friends in my earliest days in the contracting business. I had know him since about 1963 or 64. He and my Dad had worked for the same company, doing underground utility construction. I thought he was the funniest person I’d ever met. Being about 12 years old upon our first encounter, it didn’t take much to impress me.
After going into business at 19 years old our paths crossed and it didn’t take long for us to have some sort of a partnership. It wasn’t an enduring sort of deal, so within a year or two we parted ways. But we remained friends. Dink was a generation older than me, at least in age. I was probably several years more mature in my settling down and sticking to anything than he ever was.
After our partnership ended, Dink would come through Austin and borrow money for a new venture or a need a vehicle to drive until his boat would come in. Something always kept me needing to contact him.
During this time he would be headed to Alaska to mine for gold and then before long he’d be off to Africa to mine for diamonds. Each time he invented something that would surely make him a billionaire, before there were billionaires running around everywhere.
Another time he made a little oil gobbler machine that would go out into the water and clean up oil spills, all by remote control. Yes this was different than the containment diaper he made that he would strap onto barges or ships that were ruptured. That one is a story all unto itself. Another time for that one.
It’s not that Dink wasn’t creative, it was his lack of carry through with things. He got bored easily, I think.
This was a long time before the internet so I developed a network of contacts that helped me keep up with him. There were Jim’s Coffee Shop Managers that we each knew, that could verify a Dink sighting. There were motel managers that could tell me the last time he stayed there and when he said he’d was due back.
We each knew the same people in various segments of the construction business that would hear from Dink occasionally.
One time he had been in Africa for several months and was due to arrive back in the states. There were reasons that I didn’t expect to hear from him when he arrived back in Texas. Him owing me money was probably on the top of that list.
Dink seldom kept a permanent address anywhere back in those days. He lived in hotels. But I knew his habits so well that I called a motel in north Houston and he answered the phone within 2 hours of landing at the a Houston airport.
He hadn’t even checked in under his own name.
Mind you I wasn’t that desperate to talk to him but it was more of a game and an opportunity for me to throw him off balance than anything else.
I knew where he liked to stay. I called the airlines to see what time various airlines would be arriving from Cape Town, South Africa. I have always had a good memory as well as I kept good notes.
That day I called the Vagabond Motel (yes that really was his favorite place to stay in north Houston) I asked for George McDuff and when they said he hadn’t checked in, for some reason I said, “has George Stockton made it in yet”? When the girl said, yes he just arrived a few minutes ago, I knew I had hit pay dirt.
I’m not sure how I even knew to ask for him by that name. Stockton was his mother’s maiden name. It was purely a guess.
But when he answered the phone and I was on the other end, he was spooked. That’s really what most entertained me.
He came up to Austin in a couple of days, I think more wanting to know how I found out he was back in the country and how I found him so quickly. I don’t remember ever telling him how I knew.
Tracking down Dink was the start of a hobby for me of doing skip tracing. After the Internet came along I was able to hone my skills and can find out more than I should about almost anyone.
But you just have to be careful how you use it.
Once I had a son that was dating a young lady. The first time I met her and she told me where she was from, I said oh, do you happen to know John Smith and his wife Suzy (not their real names). They were her parents next door neighbors. Then I ask if she knew this other couple, her parents neighbors on the other side. She was amazed. But then I told her I was only playing with her, that I really didn’t know anyone from the town where she was from.
She laughed and we all laughed.
When she went home next, she was telling the story to her mother. Her mother didn’t laugh.
Oh well, you win some and loose some.
Time passed and after a while a wedding took place in her hometown near Houston. All was going well until at the reception she wanted to introduce me to the neighbors that lived on each side of her parents.
I told her that’s just fine, I really don’t need to meet them.