May 25, 2023

High rent opens door to 56 years of friendship


Wearing a starched white uniform and toting bedpans in 1967, I learned from the nuns of St. Marys Hospital how to make $1 million. All I had to do was work 1 million hours. By the time I was a senior at UGA, I discovered how to cut that requirement in half. My new job paid double—$2 per hour. Plus, I got to switch my uniform to blue jeans and boots.

A few times a year, I stop by and talk to my old bosses, Tom and Peggy Collins. We reminisce about the first time we met, on the gravel lot where Bernstein Funeral Home now stands on the Atlanta Highway.

Two months earlier, I had just completed my freshman year, and I was destined to live in the fraternity house. Over a pot-roast-potatoes-carrots-and-cornbread Sunday lunch, Mother asked, “Again, where you are going to live this fall?” She frowned, “You’ll never get any studying done in the fraternity house.”

Then she turned her gaze to Big Dink. “I think you should take him to Athens and find an apartment,” she said. Before sunup the next morning, we were rolling up Highway 15. Our first stop was Tara Apartments on Hancock Avenue.

That took less than 15 minutes. When my dad heard $200 per month, he quizzed, “Have you ever been in one of those mobile homes?” While I was shaking my head, he announced, “I haven’t, either, so let’s go.”

Driving out the Atlanta Highway, we wheeled into the first dealer we saw—Flamingo. With his Georgia Tech linebacker’s grip, Tom Collins shook our hands. Within minutes, we were walking through a three-bedroom home. Big Dink squinted and said, “This is kind of big. You have anything smaller?”


Peggy, Tom’s wife, started filling out paperwork on my new bachelor’s pad—a 12-foot-by-40-foot two-bedroom New Moon, $2,995 plus $125 for a beige GE washer and sales tax. Commercial Credit extended a loan. My payments of $61.83 started in 45 days.

Big Dink asked Tom to pick a good, safe place to park my purchase. When I arrived a few weeks later, I was living in Seagraves Mobile Home Park, behind what is now the Waffle House on Oconee Street.

On the drive back to Jesup, my dad asked, “Now, don’t you have a fraternity brother who would like to rent that spare bedroom?” One phone call landed a $60 per month tenant who split the utilities expense. I paid the $15 monthly lot fee.

Fast-forward a couple of years. I was a senior in college and a fresh-from-the-altar groom. My new roommate balked at paying rent, so I had to get a better-paying job. Flamingo came to my rescue, again. Tom called it a maintenance apprentice. I called it being a flunky, but a $2-per-hour godsend. On Sundays, he let me sell on commission.

But the other six days, I was assembling furniture, mowing grass and swabbing out repossessed houses. Besides keeping Hamburger Helper on our plates, the job had other benefits. The Collins family took an interest in me, and Tom introduced me to master motivator Earl Nightingale. As I skinned my knuckles, I listened to Earl on tape. I can still hear that deep voice urging me to pursue my goals.

UGA graduation came, and I didn’t get to stick around for the rest of my work-500,000-hours-make-a-million plan.

But when I drove away from Flamingo, I knew I would be coming back—again and again.

You never want to leave good friends.

Thanks, Tom and Peggy.