Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Florida Memories -- Part III (Where we Stayed)

Over the last few weeks, I've written a few stories that my parents had told me about their time in Florida and discussed traveling to and from Florida. This concluding article discussed where we've stayed over the years.

Where we stayed

The Venetian Causeway, Miami, FLorida

My Dad's parents rented a house on the San Marco Island on the Venetian Causeway (just a few islands west of where my Mom lived when she was in high school.) We often stayed there. It was on Biscayne Bay, had multiple bedrooms, and a great Florida room. I'd often sit in the Florida room reading comic books purchased at Alfies on Alton Road, one of my favorite places to visit.

My sister, Kay, with some of the fish my Dad caught
One year my Dad set up a "automagic" fishing contraption attached to a bell and managed to catch a pretty large lady fish in the middle of the night. During the time we stayed at that house the Goodyear people offered rides on the Goodyear blimp which was based on an island off the MacArthur Causeway. To this day I regret turning down the opportunity to do so when it was offered to me.

The King Cole pool area
In early visits we'd head over to the King Cole (where Kay and I learned to swim) and the Roney Plaza...both long gone. But by the late 1950s my grandparents had rented a cabana at the new (1954) Fontainebleau Hotel. Their cabana was number 315...which was just a few down from the cabana used by James Bond when he played his famous game of gin with Auric Goldfinger. At the Fontainebleau we learned to scuba dive and starred in a movie.

Goldfinger at the Cabanas

One day about 1957, Kay and I were playing with some other kids at the kiddy pool (shaped like a pussy cat) when some adults asked all of us if we wanted to be in a movie. This was in the 1950s so this was still pretty innocuous. Of course we all said yes (no parental releases required apparently--did I mention that this was in the 1950s), and before long we were seated in temporary bleachers set up along one side of the main pool. The director told us to laugh and clap when he said action. We did, and that was it. I need to stress here that we were looking at absolutely nothing but size 16 (or larger) Jewish ladies in size 8 (or smaller) bathing suits -- which come to think of it was worthy of a laugh but perhaps not the clapping. Fast forward many months and the phone at home rang. It was my classmate Bill Mahru saying "hey, we were at the Glencoe Theater and saw you and Kay in a movie!" It turned out that we had been filmed for a short subject that was showing along with, I believe, the Glen Ford movie, "Don't Go Near the Water." Of course we had to go to the theater the next evening to see ourselves on the big screen. When we got there Dad found out that they were not showing that particular short that evening, but he talked the manager into changing the lineup for us. To this day I have no idea how Bill noticed us. We had about a millisecond of screen time as we were shown applauding a championship diving competition that had taken place at some other time and that we had never actually seen.
The Americana Hotel, Bal Harbour

For several years we stayed at the Americana Hotel in Bal Harbour on Collins near 97th Street...a pretty long way from my grandparents. We stayed in the same two rooms multiple times (I'm thinking 1065 and 1066 but who knows?) and were there with my parents' good friends the Hirshmans (Jerry, Doris, and kids Rick, Louis and Susan). We kids would be pretty much left alone except at dinner time where we'd go out to one of the restaurants we liked (see below) or ate at the hotel. One memorable dinner was at the hotel's fancy restaurant, The Gaucho Room, where we were happily eating our salads and all of a sudden Kay shrieked "There's a spider in my salad!" The waiter quickly took the salad away and shortly the Maitre'D came back holding something in his hand. He showed it to Kay and said "don't worry little girl, it was only a feather." My folks were about to chime in "see it wasn't a spider" when they realized that a feather was only marginally better.

In spite of dining well, most every night at the Americana would find us (the kids, not the adults) in the coffee shop for a late evening snack. They had a dynamite orange freeze and a great chopped chicken liver sandwich. Often, Louis would be magnanimous and pick up the check (meaning that he'd sign it to his parents' room instead of ours.)
The Eden Roc and the Fontainebleau

Eventually my grandparents moved into a rented apartment in the Executive Apartments (now Condominiums) a half a mile north of the Fontainebleau. We would walk between the two stopping at the Eden Roc (where one evening I stood in the back of the showroom and saw Johnny Mathis perform) and (later) the Doral multiple times a day. My grandfather would spend most mornings and afternoons at the Fontainebleau playing cards with his friends. He'd have the same thing for lunch every day of the week except Sunday, at a table served by his favorite waitress in the Fontainebleau coffee shop: a bowl of strawberries, a bowl of cottage cheese, and a bowl of sour cream.

My grandfather kept that apartment for years after my grandmother passed away in 1963 (a week before the JFK assassination). We'd stay there often. In the years before he moved to a retirement community in the mid-1970s (Leisureville!) in Boyton Beach, I'd occasionally walk out of the apartment at the same time as the kindly old man in the apartment next door would be take his dog on a walk. We had a nodding acquaintance on the elevator and I am sure I petted his dog, but it was sometime later that I found out that the man's name was Meyer Lansky (yes, that Meyer Lansky.)


Joe's Stone Crab restaurant in South Beach
This section will be necessarily short as there are only a handful of specific restaurants I remember eating at during our Miami Beach visits. The king of these was Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant in the South Beach. Once each trip we'd go with my grandfather and order plates of stone crabs, a steak, hash browns, sliced tomatoes, coleslaw, salad with real Roquefort dressing, and their wonderful key lime pie served family-style. It was a feast that I remembered so well that when, in 2004, I missed a connection in Miami and had eight hours to kill, I rented a car and went to Joe's for a lunch of stone crabs, salad and pie. (I also used the car to explore old haunts in Miami Beach before turning it in.) I wrote about that visit in more detail here.

Gatti's restaurant
Other restaurants that we were particularly fond of include the marvelous Gatti Restaurant near the south beach, and the Forge on Arthur Godfrey Blvd. There were many other regular restaurants, but I am drawing a blank on names.

Speaking of The Forge, one year while I was still a graduate student, my Dad's cousin Phyllis fixed me up with a gorgeous woman who worked as a salesperson at Saks Fifth Ave on Lincoln Road (before it became an open-aired mall.) I took her to the Forge and we seemed to hit it off well. When I came down again sometime later we went to a party hosted by one of her friends and she proceeded to ignore me all evening.

One treat for many years was Sunday dinner at cousin Phyllis's club, Westview Country Club. On Sunday nights after dinner they'd play a game called MUSIC (because BINGO was illegal) and we always had a good time. On one occasion the TV in the bar was showing people escaping from Cuba just as the Cuban revolution ended. I was old enough to understand what was going on, so this dates this particular visit to be in January 1959. (Postscript: in September 1974, Phyllis was found murdered by her housekeeper's son in her Miami Beach home.)

Getting my SCUBA diving certification

In 1971 I decided to get serious about SCUBA diving and took a series of lessons at the local YMCA. I did well and had purchased all the necessary equipment except a tank. The certification required two check-out dives. In the Pittsburgh area both dives would be in a quarry, but I decided to take one of them in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park off of Key Largo, not too far south of Miami.

The day I did the dive, my Grandfather's housekeeper packed me a lunch that included a couple of brisket sandwiches, and I drove down early in the morning. The ocean was glass smooth. I went out on the boat and did the dive with no problem at all and received the check-out credit. But while I was waiting to get back into the boat, the view of the boat bouncing up and down in the very calm ocean gave me severe motion sickness. I was miserable for the rest of the time on the boat. But strangely enough I was just fine as soon as I got off. I took my second check-out dive in a quarry in 40 degree water being able to see maybe six inches ahead of my face. I had no problem because I could see nothing. I received my card, but almost immediately sold the brand new equipment because I could not imagine being able to use it in an environment that I wanted to actually dive in.

When the Transderm patch was developed, I tried diving again off the shore of Maui. As soon as I saw reeds, etc. swaying in the surf I got ill. I know it is probably psychological....but I just can't do it. Too bad, because I really loved it.

Disney World

I've been to Disney World three times. The first time was when I was still a graduate student and my Dad asked me to help him and Mom drive a car down the Florida. They were spending the winter in an apartment in West Palm Beach. I agreed on two conditions (of course if there had been any resistance to the two conditions I would have done it anyway.) The first was that we spend a night at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel in Chattanooga. The second was that we visit Disney World.

This was in 1973 and the national speed limit had been lowered to 55mph. No problem, my Dad bought a CB radio and really got into the "breaker 1-9" culture. In any event, thanks to the Interstate Highway System we were able to make it from Chicago's North Shore to Chattanooga the first day out. The hotel had special rooms in railroad cars...each room took up half a railroad car and was much like a regular hotel room (albeit decorated in a over-the-top Victorian style) with a full bath. The only difference between in and a regular hotel room is that we could hear the rain beating against the metal roof all night.

The second day on the road was somewhat shorter and we made it to the Disney World area by late afternoon. My Mom hadn't been feeling very well, but after a nap and something to eat she was ready to go. It happened to be New Years Eve. We got to the park after dinner and were having a good time. Around 11pm, my Dad started to wear out and said that he was going back to the car and that we should be back by midnight (or he would presumably leave without us.) Mom and I went through the World of Tomorrow (GE) exhibit and as we came out we realized that it was almost midnight. I can still picture Mom and I running through the crowds along Main Street as the clock counted down to midnight and Mom turning to me and saying "I feel just like Cinderella". We made it to the car (that was still there) about 12:30am. (And made it to West Palm Beach my early afternoon on January 1.)

I made the second trip with my now-wife Barbara in 1990. I've already written about it here.

The third trip was in March of 2002 when we took Barb's son and his family to Disney World followed by a Disney Cruise. We visited EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom By this point I'd seen enough of Disney to last me a life-time so while the others spent time in line to go on the various rides, I went ahead to other rides to obtain the available line-skipping passes. As I recall we again pooped out by 3pm and returned to our hotel.

The family at the Magic Kingdom
After a few days at Disney World we were bused to Port Everglades where caught the Disney Magic for the cruise to the Bahamas. Upon return Barb's son and his family went to Orlando to fly home and Barb, Lizzy, and I drove a rental car down to the Palm Beach area to visit Mom and Dad for a few days before flying home from there.

Later visits to Florida

Most of the above covers visits from my childhood or young adulthood (the exception being the visit to my Mom's childhood home in 2011.) Of course I continued to visit Florida regularly in my adult years.

In February 1993, Mom and Dad were spending a couple of weeks at the Breakers in Palm Beach. Unbeknownst to him (but known to Mom) Barb and I flew down to celebrate his 75th birthday. We got to the hotel around lunch time and walked into the coffee shop and totally surprised him. But the thing I remember most about that lunch was his friend, Stan Katz, saying "David, I hope you live to be as old as you look!" To be fair, Dad was not looking well around then, but he went on to live more than 17 years and played golf until he was 90.

This concludes my series on family Florida memories. I hope you've enjoyed it.

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