Hundley had been away from West Virginia for a long time, though. He had gone first to Minneapolis in 1957 and then to Hollywood to play with the Lakers in 1960. He lived in Malibu Beach, wore suits specially styled for Cesar Romero, dedicated baskets to, and twisted with, Doris Day, tried out for the lead TV role in No Time for Sergeants (lengthy portions of which he can still recite verbatim) and provided reams of copy for the L.A. journalists. He also sat on the bench a lot watching another Mountaineer, Jerry West, lead the Lakers. Soon it was time for Hot Rod to find honest employment.
He signed on with the Converse Rubber Company as one of 10 ex-ballplayers whose salesmanship and promotional finesse absolutely obliterate the competition in the basketball-shoe market. Hundley took over a territory that includes West Virginia—which is why he was back now, sipping a Cutty and water, playing blackjack and doubling down on 8s. "What if the joint is raided?" a stranger to the speakeasy asked Hot Rod. "Just make sure you get in the same cell as the dealer," Hot Rod said, taking a hit at 15. The people all around roared and said, "Yeah, Rod." ("Maybe you can end the story with that," Hot Rod suggested later.)
Driving out of Wayne toward Huntington the next day, Hundley negotiated a typical West Virginia curve. "Hey, listen to this," Hot Rod said. When he says, "Hey, listen to this," it means there is a punch line coming. "Hey, if they flattened this state out it would be bigger than Texas. And hey, listen to this. The roads here curve so much, most of the time you can see the back of your own head in the rearview mirror. But hey, I love it, the old Mountain State. It's a little slice of heaven."
(Later, in explaining why he makes Greensboro, N.C. his home now, Hot Rod said, "I couldn't live here. Hey, I just know too many people.")
Touring West Virginia or the rest of his territory—Virginia and North Carolina—Hundley sees sporting-goods dealers, coaches and other basketball officials, gives clinics and makes speeches for Converse, and particularly for the Converse 'Chuck' Taylor All Star basketball shoe. The All Star is basketball's Jell-O. It dominates its market the way the Louisville Slugger and the Northland hockey stick dominate theirs.
"Selling All Stars really isn't hard," Hot Rod admitted, fighting a turn near Parkersburg. "Before I took over West Virginia this great old salesman named Pooch Curry had the state. Pooch wasn't a player. He's a fisherman. He would just storm into a store, throw his order pad on the counter and yell that he was rushed—so just hurry up and fill it out yourselves for the All Stars. Hey, nobody ever carries a sample."
Still, fashion fans, there is a minor revolution going on in the basketball-shoe world. For the first time low-cuts have begun to outsell high-top sneakers. Also black shoes are back in style, and the In thing to wear is the black low-cut. "It started in California," Hundley explains. "With the surfers. Hey, listen to this. Now the kids call them bossa novas." Moving down a stretch on Route 4 near Gassaway, which he calls the Gassaway Straightaway, Rod did a little bossa nova twitch at the wheel. "Bossa novas, how sweet it is," he said.
Hundley is enthusiastic about anything going on around him. He also laughs at nearly anything, with an almost sinister cackle that belies his little-boy look, and he is one of the last of the great leerers. However, although now 31, he still is occasionally asked in bars where he is not recognized for proof of his age.
Silence wears on him, particularly his own. To keep the dreaded thing away he will even babble on with his older daughter, Kimberly. Kimberly is just 3, and Hot Rod can hardly wait till Jacqueline, who is 8 months, is also capable of sustaining conversation. ( Hundley's pretty brunette wife is named Florence. If they have a third daughter she will be named Stephanie. "When you hear about a broad named Kimberly or Jacqueline or Stephanie," Hot Rod says, "hey, you want to meet this broad. But Jane or Mary or something...")
To combat the quiet while driving alone on the job, Hot Rod will often deliver his favorite imitations. These include (more or less in their usual order of appearance) Dale Robertson's Pall Mall cigarette commercial, Walter Brennan, Billy Eckstine, Johnny Addie introducing the gentleman who is "counting for the knockdowns at the bell," Don Dunphy describing a fight that is always between Joey Giardello and Joe Giambra, and the P.A. announcer in Madison Square Garden. Other times Hot Rod will suddenly just cry out exuberantly, "How sweet it is!" or "It's a little slice of heaven!" or sing this refrain from a hillbilly song: