Sunday, September 2, 2018

Florida Memories - Part II (How we got there)

Last week I wrote a few stories that my parents had told me about their time in Florida prior to me appearing on the scene. The story picks up here with traveling to and from Florida. Part 3 will deal with where we stayed.


Traveling to Florida by Plane or Train

Apparently my Dad had an awful flight back to the US mainland from the Aleutians because for years after he would not get on an airplane. This meant that when he and Mom went to Europe (for instance) it was via a transatlantic ship such as the Queen Mary. It also meant that when the family went to Florida, if we wanted to travel together, we would drive or take the train. Mostly Mom, Kay, and I would fly down, and he arrive later by train. On a typical trip (before the jet age) the three of us would fly out of Chicago's Midway airport on a Delta DC-6 or DC-7. I hated those flights. I almost invariably got air sick.

A Delta DC-6
There were a few times when we'd break that pattern. On the last day of January in 1958 I was nearly 10 years old and in my bed when Mom and Dad came home from Friday night dinner at my Grandmother's. They woke me up and asked if I'd like to go with them on the train to Florida the next morning. I jumped up and down on my bed yelling "yes"! Early the next morning we were driven to Central Station in Chicago in time for the 8:40am departure of the City of Miami. I can be certain of the date because of the headlines of the paper that morning...the US had successfully launched its first satellite, Explorer I, the day before.
The City of Miami from years before I rode it
The City of Miami had both first class and coach accommodations. My parents had reserved a "compartment" (a private room with an upper and lower berth and with more room than a "bedroom"). When the conductor came by to collect our tickets we were moved to a "bedroom suite" (two adjoining bedrooms with a folding door between them and two upper and two lower berths.) This was my longest train ride to date and I had the run of the train. Somewhere before Carbondale, one of the two diners on the train had a "hotbox" (axle seized up) and had to be set out. The next morning I woke up to see trees full of Spanish Moss for the first time and to stretch my legs at Jacksonville Union Terminal during a crew change.

A City of Miami closer to what I actually rode
By the way, the reason for the trip to Miami was that my Dad's mother was in the hospital with a heart problem. She would ultimately succumb to it almost six years later.

The South Wind (also from years before I rode it)
We took the train to Miami one more time a few years later. My Mom, Kay, and I boarded the South Wind on the Pennsylvania Railroad at Chicago Union Station. This time we had a bedroom suite reserved. Dad wasn't with us because he was on a business trip. He joined us that night at Birmingham. The ride, as we left Birmingham was quite rough. Watching my Dad trying to get into his upper berth with the train bouncing around was quite a sight!

Traveling to Florida by Automobile

We also drove to Florida twice. Or rather Dad and Kay drove twice. Mom and I only drove one and a half times due to my school schedule. Both times were before the Interstate highway system existed. For the first trip, in 1958, we left our house north of Chicago on a very cold and snowy day. We made terrible time but still managed to make it to Terre Haute Indiana via US 41 by around 3pm while enduring countless playings of the Little Drummer Boy. (Google maps says that the same trip would take less than 5 hours today.) Because it was so early Dad decided to push on to Evansville, Indiana which was about 2 hours away...except that we encountered very icy roads and it probably took more like 4 hours.

Similar to what I probably saw in Evansville
The next morning when we gassed up in Evansville I encountered my first "White Only" and "Coloreds Only" water fountains. We had hoped to make good time as we got further south, but the snow on the roads was somewhat worse and we got stuck for over an hour behind big rigs having trouble getting up a hill just outside of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. (Hopkinsville is memorialized in The Hopkinsville and Southern because of this day.) We eventually made it through Hopkinsville and into less snow covered regions. We passed through some smallish towns where the traffic lights were upside down (red on the bottom) which gave my color blind Dad problems and where they had speed limits like 27mph. I wonder what the main source of income for such towns was? The further we went the more signs for Stuckeys, Mail Pouch, and Burma Shave we saw. We stopped at a Big Boy along the road in Huntsville, Alabama for some pie, and then traveled on to a motel in Sylacauga, Alabama for the night.

Harder Hall, a golf resort in Sebring, Florida
Our destination this trip was a golf resort called Harder Hall in Sebring, Florida. I think we did Sylacauga to Sebring in one day, but it's a long trip and we may have stopped overnight. On the return to Chicago we stopped at Silver Springs, Florida. We took a boat tour through the springs and saw signs next to downed trees saying "Donna did it!" (Donna was a huge hurricane that came through in 1960.) We stayed at the Albert Pick Motel in Terre Haute the last night out before we arrived home.

The Albert Pick Motel in Terre Haute, Indiana
The second trip to Miami by car was to the Americana Hotel in Bal Harbour (Miami Beach.) Kay and Dad drove and Mom and I caught a Delta DC-8 out of O'Hare. The flight was memorable because as we were taxing to our runway the plane came to a very sudden stop and I saw another plane land across our path. The day before our trip home I managed to come down with a flu. We must have left very early in the morning because we had lunch at a restaurant in Perry, FL where I had an "accident" and Dad had to get a change of clothes for me out of the luggage. That night we stayed at the Hotel Reich in Gadsden, AL. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant served by uniformed black waiters (another sign of the old south.)

The Hotel Reich in Gasden, Alabama
By the way, I mention both Harder Hall and the Reich. As a child I hated the idea of staying in old hotels. As an adult I relish the opportunity ... if they are well maintained.

During my college years I would sometimes meet the family in Florida. Usually I took a United Airlines flight from Pittsburgh to Miami (an old Capital Airlines route) but one year my girl friend Jeanne needed to get home to Boston for some emergency and was distraught. I had a youth fare (standby) ticket to Florida and she had one to Boston. Both flights were delayed so we spent sometime in the movie theater inside the old Pittsburgh airport while we waited. Eventually her flight was canceled due to fog in Boston. It looked like it would be difficult for her to get out the next morning. I did not want to leave her alone and so we both flew to La Guardia and ended up spending the night sleeping at one of the gates. The next morning I saw her off on the first flight to Boston and then I worked on getting myself to Miami a day late. There were lots of flights on multiple airlines at that time (National and Eastern at the very least) but all of them were leaving La Guardia full. An Eastern agent suggested I go to JFK as there were seats on an afternoon flight. I did that and managed to snag a first class seat. First class passengers were offered a choice of steak or lobster for lunch/dinner.  After enjoying (probably the lobster) the stewardess (not flight attendant in those days) asked me "would you like another steak or lobster, sir?"

In 1968, Mom, Kay, and I were in Florida at Christmas time, staying in my Grandfather's apartment and waiting for my Dad to arrive. By 1968 passenger rail in the US had really started to deteriorate. Dad boarded the train feeling a bit under the weather and holed up in his bedroom out of Chicago. By the time the train got to Chattanooga it was running so late that he got off the train and rented a car to drive the rest of the way. As he was passing the Atlanta airport and facing a really long drive he, on the spur of the moment, turned the car in and bought a ticket on the first flight to Miami. It turned out that the fight he had booked made a stop in Jacksonville, but he eventually got to Miami intact and only flew after that.

In 1978 I went to work for SRI International in Menlo Park, California. I'd occasionally make trips to the east coast for a project I was working on and would take advantage of a $10 add-on fare that allowed a stopover in Florida. Those visits to my grandfather were my last. He passed away in January 1982 just days after I had moved back to Pittsburgh to start a new job.

I'll conclude this series on Florida memories with a discussion of the various places we stayed over the years including an encounter with the mafia!

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