Millie Goich, wearing her Bicentennial red, white & blue dress, standing behind the $10,000-filled "Q Crystal Ball" the day she picked up her winnings. Upon seeing the giant ball full of money, Millie exclaimed, "Christ! Do I have to take that thing home with me?!? How are we going to get that in the car?!" Fortunately, she was paid by check.
When I heard of Bette’s passing recently, Bette the child is who came to my mind, not Bette the adult. I never knew Bette as a grown-up. I hadn’t seen her face-to-face since my family left the Eastside of Detroit when I was 14. It was 1976. The year of our country’s Bicentennial. Everything in the 50 states was red, white and blue that year. There were celebrations and TV shows, specially-minted coins and festivities. All celebrating the 200th birthday of the USA and the history that led us to this landmark year.
But in our neighborhood, the colors at the forefront were black and white. Less than a decade after the Detroit Riots in ‘67 - and most definitely as a result of them - little by little, each neighborhood in Detroit began to empty out. With land-a-plenty north of the city in the outskirts of the suburbs, new housing was being built and people were leaving the city by the thousands. More specifically, white people were leaving. White Flight, they called it. Racism was its synonym.
The line was thick and precise.
Our neighborhood was one of the last remaining white neighborhoods in the city. An area was always identified by color. "Is that a black area?" "Do you live in the white part of town?" Much to the dismay of our neighbors, we were the first on our street to sell to a black family; a very nice teacher and her two children. She was the first person to make an offer on our house. My parents would have never dreamed of saying no to someone because of their skin color, but our neighbors didn't see this transaction in the same light. To the point that, once we moved, some of my friends were banned by their parents from talking to me. Taking their racism out on a 14-year-old to make a point.
We were no strangers to desegregation. In fact, my parents signed me up for it. The middle school I attended prior to our move was an experiment in voluntary desegregation, bringing together kids from all over our immediate region. You had to apply to the school and be accepted to attend. The school was mixed to represent the racial percentage of the city at that time: approximately 65 percent black/35 percent white. I was now the minority. I didn’t even know what minority meant at that time. All I knew was that my classmates were the coolest kids I had ever met. Our curriculum was more like college than middle school. We could pick our areas of interest and choose classes that suited our skills, rather than have to take classes that were forced upon us. It was the most creative, diverse, experience I’ve had in my life. I took classes in modern dance, creative writing, tie-dye, songwriting and plexiglass keychain making. We sang spirituals regularly like “Lift Every Voice And Sing.” We learned about Angela Davis and the Civil Rights Movement. My views of the world were well-rounded, though I didn’t know that at the time. I just thought I was learning.
Color isn’t what drove my parents from our neighborhood, my safety was. Some may say the two were intertwined. At the end of ‘76, just as I was about to go from middle school to high school, the city of Detroit put their plan of desegregation into action that, simply put, would bus kids from the white neighborhoods to the black neighborhoods, and vice versa. Forced busing, they called it. There's so much more wrapped in the word "busing," than a mode of transportation. It was black vs. white. middle class vs. lower middle class. safety vs. danger. fear vs. opportunity. The line in our particular area would have sent me from our local high school to a school across the city that had just made the news that year when a young girl was bludgeoned to death by a group of female students who repeatedly bashed her head into a restroom sink.
That was my parents’ cue to leave.
To be able to afford a house in the suburbs on a blue-collar auto worker’s salary was the problem. To win $10,000 in a radio contest from Detroit’s WDRQ was the solution. My mom was a radio contest pro. When she would wake up at 5 a.m. to make breakfast for my dad each morning before he left for his job as a tool and die maker at Chrysler, the first thing she would do was turn on her transistor radio that sat on top of a small, two-drawered hutch in our kitchen. The static of the radio dial being tuned to a particular station was the first sign of life in our house at sunrise. The WDRQ contest was a big one. To unlock the Q Crystal Ball to access the $10,000 prize, the caller had to guess a 12-digit number. After weeks of narrowing the number down, my mom was certain that she had the winning digits. Now it was just a matter of getting through at the right time, to be the correct caller, to claim her prize.
“Be the fourth caller when you hear ‘That’s The Way I Like It,’ by K.C. & The Sunshine Band, for your chance to win the Q-Crystal Ball!” said the D.J. before going to commercial break.
Three songs later, we heard “Doo doo doo doo doo do do…oh that’s the way, uh uh, uh huh, I like it...” My mom ran to the phone. There was no digital dialing back in 1976. And if there were push button phones, my family wasn’t fancy enough to have one. You had to work to win a radio contest in our house. My mom painstakingly dialed the phone, with a rotary dial, until she would get a busy signal on the other end, hang up and dial again.
Three-seven-one-eighhhhhhtttttt-four-ohhhhhhhhhhhhh-ninnnneeeeeee. The finger having to make a full rotation to get the numbers at the bottom of the dial to register. I will never forget hearing the disc jockey on the radio, while my mom spoke into the phone.
“You’re the fourth caller! Do you have the 12-digit code to unlock the Q Crystal Ball?”
My mom slowly read from her paper. “9-7-7-3-4-9-3-8-1-4-0-5.” A drumroll could be heard under my mom’s voice.
“Can you repeat that number, Millie Goich?” asked the D.J.
Bells and whistles went off. You could hear the colors of confetti flying in the air. And the D.J. said, “Congratulations, Millie Goich, the winner of $10,000 in the Q Crystal Ball!”
My mom’s name was everywhere for months following that win. Congratulations Millie Goich of Detroit! On the side of busses, on billboards, and even on the little pamphlets that record stores would keep on the counter, listing the top 100 songs of the week. It’s the first time I felt what fame feels like. Or recognition. I’d feel it years later when I’d hear a commercial I wrote on the radio, or years after that, when I’d see my own face on billboards advertising a comedy show I was performing in that week.
That $10,000 prize bought us our flight out of Detroit to the suburbs. For better or for worse. And as we drove away in my dad’s cobalt blue Chrysler Cordoba, with the fine Corinthian white leather seats, I looked out the back window to see Bette for the last time, with the rest of the neighborhood kids, waving to me as I left.
Lisa Goich-Andreadis is an author, talk radio host, former comedian and Detroit native living in Los Angeles. She manages the Jazz & Comedy Fields for The GRAMMY Awards. Married to Guns ‘n Roses keyboardist, Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis, the two share a home with four dogs in the San Fernando Valley area of L.A. Lisa's memoir, “14 Days,” is available now for pre-sale on Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.14daysamemoir.com.
Photo courtesy of author's personal archives