It was terribly hot that summer 63-plus years ago in New York, and Mom and Dad decided, after years of winter vacations in Florida, that they would move to Miami Beach.
Dad used to talk about how there were no motels then, only motor courts and cabins, all of which had big signs in front that read, “Air-Cooled,” which, of course, meant no A/C!
We arrived in “Myamuh” in August 1946. After a short stay in an apartment somewhere below Fifth Street in Miami Beach, we moved to 8035 Harding Ave.
In the meantime, Dad, an artist and sign painter, signed a lease for a sign shop at 222 Fifth St., which he would occupy until he became ill in 1957.
It was sometime in 1947 when Dad and I would begin a routine that we would repeat every Sunday for three years: We would go downtown to the Mayflower Coffee Shop, at Southeast First Street and Biscayne Boulevard, and I would watch the “donut train.” That is, the raw dough would plop onto the flat cars and make the circuit to become donuts.
Bonnie was our waitress, and after breakfast we would go to the pony track, which was where Jordan Marsh would be built, on the corner of Northeast 15th Street and Biscayne Boulevard.
After I rode the ponies, we would head north for the highlight of the day. We would drive up to Northeast 36th Street and Dad would take us into the Florida East Coast Railway’s Buena Vista Yard, where I would climb on the steam engines and play endlessly.
Nobody chased us away, and it was from those deeply ingrained early experiences that I would go on to become the chronicler of the Florida East Coast Railway’s incredible history as company historian.
Sometime around 1948, we moved to 80th Street on Biscayne Beach. I started at Biscayne Elementary School and a month later we moved to Biscayne Point. We lived at 8035 Cecil St. for 31 years. I have wonderful memories of living there, from playing softball on North Biscayne Point Road to riding our bikes on Cleveland Road and around the Point.
It was a special moment in time. We would go to the Surf or the Normandy theaters on Saturdays to see a double feature, a serial, 10 cartoons and the newsreel plus the adult matinee, all for a quarter!
Following sixth grade at Biscayne, I would move on to Nautilus Junior High. It was during my first year at Nautilus, 1956-57 that I walked into the FEC’s beautiful downtown Miami ticket office in the Ingraham Building and asked for timetables. I’ve been collecting FEC memorabilia for more than 52 years.
I was a swimmer. In September, 1959, our Ida Fisher class moved to the “old” Beach High.
We were blessed to have gone to what was, from the late 1940s through the very early 1970s — with the exception of the Bronx High School of Science — the No. 1 rated academic public high school in America. We had between 88 and 94 percent of Beach High graduates going to college every year.
I graduated from Beach High in June of ’62. With no desire to go to Florida, I went to what I fondly nicknamed “1/2 S U” in Tallahassee. I was out of my element and returned to Miami in December, transferring to the U of Miami and going to work at the Fontainebleau as head teenage counselor.
Several friends told me about a new program that they were starting at (then) Miami-Dade Junior College in hotel-motel and food service management. It was the decision to go to Miami-Dade that would change my life.
With greatly improved grades and a bit of luck, I was accepted at Cornell University in June of ’66, graduating in 1969.
Over the years, I’ve worked at some of the legends among Miami and Miami Beach hotels and nightspots: the Castaways, the Newport, the Playboy Club and others. I met Ike and Tina Turner, The Drifters, Frankie Vallee and so many others who played at the Seven Seas Lounge or the Playboy Club. Being at the clubs was like living a different life, and like the old TV show, The Naked City, everybody had their own, unique, different and sometimes interesting story.
The Miami years have been extraordinarily good to me. Since 2004 I have written and had published 15 books.
Indeed, that nonsense about “Will the last American leaving Miami be sure to bring the flag” is, as stated, pure, unadulterated nonsense.
The flag ain’t leaving — and neither am I!