CHAPTER 10 — you should have been here yesterday

That was three or four hours ago and I had made good use of Frank’s car. The walk along the highway back to the Caribbean Club was a little further than I thought but I had been in no hurry. Without going into the Club, I hopped in the Chevy and headed back towards town. Being Sunday, I wasn’t sure if I could find a new wench for the mainsail but the Winn-Dixie would be open and Benny’s had a fresh water hose on the dock. I had already paid for the night’s stay so, if I thought of anything else I needed, I had plenty of time to track it down and bring it aboard.

I did find a wench. The only place open was one of those marine salvage stores that dot US # 1 in the Keys like pawn shops and bail bondsmen next to the County Jail. It was so cheap I couldn’t turn it down – especially after the guy threw in the handle for free. I wasn’t sure my old one would fit? Shopping was easy. The supermarket had everything I needed except block ice and that was no problem because I had passed a Gulf Oil station on the way down that had a “block & bag” sign out front. I was going to top off the gas in Frank’s car anyway, so…………

There was actually a real live Benny at the Marina and he lent me an extension cord along with his drill and a 5/8” bit. With the new/old wench greased and mounted, two blocks and two more bags of ice in the chest, and all the provisions stowed, I was ready to hit the town. No need for the gallon jug, Benny’s had a “bathhouse” half way down the dock. A single sink, lone toilet, and the rusty headed shower stall all shared some PVC plumbing running under the dock but there was no hot water and the only drain for the shower was a 2 inch open hole in the floor. Benny’s Bayside certainly wouldn’t qualify for four ****’s in Frommer’s Travel Guide but, for a single-handed cruising sailor ashore on the back side of Key Largo, it was “Livin Large”.

Driving Frank’s car back up to the Caribbean Club, the single northbound lane of the highway was bumper-to-bumper with boat trailers and homeward bound Miamians. The parking lot was almost full but I found a spot for the Chevy over on the side and away from the road. I was hoping I would meet up with Frank later and be able to tell him where it was parked but, if not, he could find it.

I was half way across the parking lot before I remembered the glove compartment instructions and the letter Frank had told me about. Retrieving the keys and opening the passenger-side door, I started to put the second key in the slot, lock the compartment and………..opening it to see if there was a letter……… there was a sealed envelope but I don’t think it was ever intended to be mailed. There was no address and no postage stamp, just “for Frankie” written on it in pencil!

The last time I saw Frank Matheson Junior, he was only two or three years old. He and his mother, Frank’s first wife, had left town soon after the divorce and, after that, I never heard much about either of them from Frank or anyone else. As I locked the glove compartment and car door, then replaced the keys on the tire, I caught myself wondering if I was destined to ever meet-up with Frank’s son again? If so, I hoped it would be a happy occasion and, for some unknown reason, that that envelope never needed to be delivered.

Easing in at the crowded bar, I was determined to get my mind off Cubans named Carlos and my friend’s predicament. Somewhere down the line, there might be something I could do to help him out but until that time came………

I recognized a lot of faces but Frank’s barmaid sweetheart from the night before wasn’t around. In the spirit of the Key’s and feeling like a change, I ordered a double Myers rum, tonic, & lime. The last 24 hours had been non-stop action and good times but I knew it was coming to an end. I struck up a highly intellectual, by Key’s standards, conversation with a head-boat mate named Vinny next to me at the bar. Without my prompting, he had carried an argument he was having with another guy at the bar over to me and began a dissertation on the advantages of lip hooking and feathering the dorsal fins of live bait fish. Vinny was too drunk to realize that the blank stare he got from me in response was not designed to signify awe and amazement – he rambled on and my mind began to drift.

I was alone again and would soon be searching for whatever was driving me and Le Esperance to sail further south. In the meantime I fell victim to the “single guy at the bar dilemma”. I don’t believe any serious research has ever been conducted on the subject but the body language, facial expressions, direction of gaze, and overall demeanor of a man seated alone at a bar surrounded by the fairer sex should warrant study. What we go through ranks right up there with the peacock prancing around with spread tail feathers and the male mountain goat lowering his head to ram a rival suitor. It’s just not as colorful, hurts a lot less and, unless your name is Frank Matheson, seldom produces any results intended to propagate the specie. I decided to concentrate on the ice cubes in my glass, do nothing, and fall back on the tried and true axiom that I had first heard in a seedy bar from an old drunk many years ago. He had just had his amorous overtures rejected by a rouge-tinted lady that had obviously seen better times and, retrieving his beer, had slid onto the stool next to mine. Lowering his head, he had whisperingly slurred to himself : “it’s always better to not get laid early than it is to not get laid late”.

I had been in the Club for about an hour and was on my third drink when it started! As a whisper at first, it moved from person to person. You couldn’t tell where it began and it would almost stop before picking back up again – the steady murmur would rise to a muffled chant before dying down and then coming back an octave louder?

Go down you mother, Go down! – Go down you mother, Go down! – Go down you mother, Go down! – Go down you mother, Go down! – Go down you mother, Go down!

All of a sudden one on the bartenders triggered a little hand held air-horn and announced: “She’s going down and ‘if you aint coming back in, pay your tab before you hit the door’!”

The bar erupted in movement and laughter as the chant resumed……..

……. Go down you mother, Go down!….

Sitting at the bar, I watched as some customers cashed out and everyone made their way towards the backdoor. Most took plastic cups or cans of beer with them and, from what I could see through the window on the other side of the room, the yard was filling up fast. I was slick on my check so, with a little wave to the bartender, I decided to see what the excitement was all about? My newfound buddy Vinny was standing with two other guys under a Buttonwood tree next to one of the picnic tables. Seeing my approach, he motioned with a nod of his head for me to walk over and join them. The yard between the Club and the edge of Blackwater Sound had filled with a raucous crowd. Some were standing while others were seated at the tables or on the ground down near the shore. All eyes were fixed westward out over the water. With my plastic Myers in hand, I didn’t know what to expect but I was definitely part of the group and it was only a matter of time.

What happened over the next few minutes was a beautiful and inspiring experience and the fact that I was sharing and celebrating it with a bunch of rowdy intoxicated strangers didn’t diminish the feeling. The sun was just touching the horizon and the chant began anew, but with different words and an almost reverent tone……..Lie down mother, Lie down! – Lie down mother, Lie down!….. A single white cloud seemed suspended in time over the dying sun and a distant ribbon of red-fringed mangrove and sea. The light breeze moved leaves on a Buttonwood that helped the short wooden dock frame a picture of Paradise. The crowd in the yard fell silent and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one delving into memories and saying a little prayer.

Almost on queue and at the very instant that the sun disappeared, the assembled throng erupted! The “down” chant ceased as cheers, applause, and laughter filled the yard. It was a Conch Republic version of Carnival in Rio, New Year’s Eve on Time Square, and Mardi-Gras all rolled up into one!

Turning to the guys on both sides, I almost shouted:

“This is really something…….really something!”

Standing to my left and without looking my way, my new found friend loudly replied: “This is nothing. You should have been here yesterday……..some ass hole, anchored out there on a sailboat, thought we were cheering for him! He was even taking bows!”

Hearing his comment, the guys and gals around me all nodded in enthusiastic confirmation and broke out laughing.

Lowering my chin, while raising my hand to my brow and being careful not to turn my head – I glanced both ways to make certain that no one had recognized me…………. then quietly murmured:

“Yeah, I bet that was something…….really something……………”


CHAPTER 9 — boys again, with red sails

I wasn’t out on the fuel dock when Frank climbed down onto the boat. He didn’t want to be seen with anyone and, after what he had told me last night, there was no problem on my part. It was probably 30-foot, semi-catamaran hulled, and painted a camouflage like pattern of black, grey, and dark green. I had only ever seen pictures of ocean racing super-powerboats but this had to be one. A dock attendant had rushed out to take a look at the craft and see if he could peddle some gas but the Captain, I assume named Carlos, waved him off and only nudged up to the ladder long enough for his passenger to jump aboard. With a muffled roar the Cuban wheeled the boat around, headed back out the channel and disappeared behind a mangrove point. Frank was standing next to him and never looked back.

Standing at the foot of the dock as the attendant walked back towards the office, I ask him if he had “ever seen a boat like that before?”

“One time, in Nassau last year at the Bacardi Ocean Races – saw three just like it! It’s a Cougar Cat Off Shore. Sucker’s got four engines and can’t slow down! I don’t know how he got it back up in here but what’s really strange about her are the davit points. Racers don’t stay in the water, even overnight. They’re forked and racked, either dockside or in storage, at all times. That boat is rigged to be strap hauled and stowed; probably on another boat – some dingy, Huh.”

Frank and I had spent the morning laughing and bringing back old times. He bailed out on lighting the burner and had, pretty much, turned tourist by stealing a few extra winks and waiting for me to make coffee, break down his berth, and put everything away. After breakfast we decided to try to do a little sailing so, leaving the Avon tied on aft, I pulled up the anchor and let the morning off-shore ease us away from the Caribbean Club. The plan was to just leave Frank’s car parked at the Club. He would give me the keys so I could use it to pick up the rest of the things I needed that afternoon after we split up. He had decided, in his words, to not “talk anymore about what I do because I’ve already said too much and I don’t want to get you involved!”

All Frank had told me was that he was “supposed to wait for some guy on the fuel dock at the South Sound Marina.” The South Sound was on the Atlantic side of the island but my charts showed it was only a half-mile, or so, walk from another marina on Tarpon Basin on the Bay side. I had decided to tie up somewhere along this stretch anyway, so why not there? Besides putting on groceries and more ice, I needed to top off my fresh water and replace the mainsail wench. The use of Frank’s car would let me see if I could find one. We could spend the morning sailing and poking around Blackwater, then just dock Le Esperance and walk across the highway. If everything went right, we might even be able grab some lunch at a restaurant along the way.

Things went better than right! Frank had shucked his street clothes for a pair of my old cut-offs and I had convinced him that a brew in the morning was an old sailing tradition. The air was only 10-15 but it would let us sail lazy reaches back and forth on the Sound.

Blackwater is a unique body of water. It’s almost a perfect square, three miles on a side and, before they cut the Inter-Coastal channel through to the south, there was only one way in or out. The water, as the name implies, is always dark because of the black bottom. It may result from eons of muck run-off – I don’t know?

Manning the tiller on the port side, Frank had the chart book on the seat by his left thigh and didn’t care what color the water was. Glancing down at it, he asked me……….“Hey Jose, is this the map we’re using this morning?”

“Yeah, that’s the one, but it’s a chart Frank – not a map.”

“What’s the difference Jose? On land you’d call it a map so why does the name have to change just because you take it on a boat?”

“Big difference man. A map tells you where you can go. A chart tells you where you can’t!

Frank came back:            “Maybe you better explain that a little, I’m confused.”

“It’s kind of like life in general and growing up Frank. When we were kids, most days all you and your little tree-climbing girlfriends needed was a mental map showing you how to go to school and get home again. The older we got, the more maps we needed. New schools, dating girls, learning to drive, away games, even going off to college – we accumulated a lot of maps and they got more complicated but they were still just maps. The big change came the day we truly ‘cut the cord’ and went out on our own. It made no difference if you quit school on your 16th birthday, got discharged from the Service, or went on to graduate from Harvard; when that day came, you had the whole World spread out in front of you like the open sea. You could see every wish you ever had on the horizon: the Island of Success, the Island of Wealth, the Island of Happiness, they were all there! You had a visual map because you could see all of them and you could just take your pick and sail on over any time you wanted to. But there was a problem – when we picked out the first island we wanted to visit and headed towards it – we ran aground! The expanse of open sea that we needed to sail life’s course over turned out to be filled with reefs and shallows. The obstacles all had different names but many started with “Lack of” and all of them were hidden beneath the surface. There was the Lack of Education flat, the Lack of Experience bank, the Lack of Start-up Funds shoal and, worst of all, the Bad Marriage reef. All of the Islands were still visible and, over time, we might be destined to find our way to some of them and walk ashore. If we only knew where the hidden obstacles were located and could steer a course around them; we could reach all the islands and achieve everything we set out to do in life! We could do it but. in life as at sea, all the maps in the World are useless. What we needed was one good chart!”

Approaching the mangroves on the far side of the Sound, Frank brought the tiller over to head up-wind and I released the starboard jib sheet. No need to adjust the footed stay or main because we were headed right back to where we had come from. Swinging 180 degrees and cleating the jib on the port side, the boom came across and we headed back towards the Caribbean Club.

“That was quite a dissertation Jose, but I got a better idea. If those islands are as great as we think they are, other people will find out about them and some big developer from Miami will tie ’em all together with a causeway over from the mainland. After that happens, I’ll just pick up a map at the filling station and go check ’em out.”

Shaking my head, I thought to myself………so much for that philosophical interlude?

After a couple more beers and another pass across Blackwater, we veered off towards the south and made for the cut into Tarpon Basin. Lowering the sails and cranking up the diesel, I intended to head in and tie up right away but, as we turned towards land and the sun got higher, something caught my eye as it slid by under the keel. You don’t have many coral heads on the Bay side in the Keys but we had just passed over one and I wasn’t going to let an opportunity slip by! The water was clear in the Basin and, after heading up wind, I killed the engine and dropped the anchor. As I watched, we drifted back to almost on top of a big chunk of yellow nestled in the sea grass at about 8 feet. The dingy was still in the water and I had an extra set of mask, snorkel, and fins.

As teenagers, Frank and I used to dive for ’em off the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. We’d ride our bikes over, hide them in the hedges and walk right past, as Jimmy Buffett would say, “all those tourist covered in oil”. We weren’t much on conservation………swim out, dive down, gig ’em, break off and discard their front halves, then stuff the smooth rolled-up tails down the front of our bathing suits. By the time we’d caught as many as we wanted and got back to the beach, those sun-bathing little old ladies from New York must have looked twice as two, apparently well endowed, young men emerged from the deep!

We were raised calling them crawfish, Yankees refer to them as spinney lobsters, Florida restaurants insult Bostonians by labeling them Native Lobstas, and to Bahamians and local Conchs they’re just “bugs”. No matter what you call them – they like to hide out under coral outcroppings and they taste good with melted butter and a cold beer!

“Hey Jose, why have you got red sails on this boat?”

We were sitting in the cockpit and had just finished off about a dozen undersized, totally illegal, sautéed tails and the last of my beers.

“They call the sail color ‘tan-bark’ and it was traditional on cutters that operated as pilot boats in the English Channel hundreds of years ago. Ocean going sailing vessels needed to be guided into port, usually by going up a river or over a bar of some kind. There weren’t any radios, so the pilots would have to hang out at sea, for days at a time, outside the harbor entrances waiting for returning ships to come along. It was probably a pretty competitive business and you had to heave-to and wait for customers to see you and head in your direction. That’s where the sail color came in. I think it started with soaking the canvas in some tannin solution, made from tree bark, that gave them a reddish tint. I’m not sure about the details but the net result was that; the pilot boats with the tan-bark stained sails could be seen sooner than the ones with white sails……. I just like them, that’s all!”

Frank grinned and I could tell he was about to impart some Campus Shop wisdom on the situation: “Yeah Jose, those sails were sort of like the red lights you and I spent half the night trying to find in front of cheap hotels down on the river front in Jacksonville that night after our basketball game with Landon High. We needed a pilot that night but we couldn’t find one because pimps didn’t hang out on boats and didn’t have sails!”

Lunch on the boat meant that we barely had time to do our thing finding a slip at, what turned out to be, Benny’s Bayside Marina. Frank kept emphasizing that he couldn’t be late so, after tying up, we literally ran across US # 1 and down the side street towards a cluster of sailboat mast tops that had to be the South Sound Marina.

It was and we had a few minutes to spare. Before walking out on the dock, Frank turned and handed me the keys to his Chevy:………“Jose, I’ll probably be back later on tonight and I’ll try to meet up with you at the Caribbean Club or back at your boat. If I don’t see you again, I want you to leave the car in the Club parking lot. Just lock it up and put the keys on top of the left front tire. Oh, and if those things still have a key hole on the button, lock the glove compartment. There’s a letter inside for my son that I decided I didn’t want to mail until I get back to Miami. The Club never closes so, even if I’m out overnight, nobody will notice an extra car. You better check-out now, I’m supposed to be down here alone so if anybody asks you any questions – just tell them… know, something? See you later!”


CHAPTER 8 — Carlos

“It’s not a king size bed Frank but I don’t know why they’re called quarter berths. Maybe it has something to do with the crew’s quarters or a quarterdeck – I don’t know. I think it’ll be long enough but, if it’s not, I’ll row you back ashore and you can go find some fleabag motel.”

The 7-ELEVEN didn’t have everything I needed so, with a 10 lb. bag of ice, a pint of rubbing alcohol, a couple of flashlight batteries, and one of those “bakery fresh for 6 weeks” cellophane wrapped breakfast cinnamon rings, we were back in the dingy and rowing out towards Le Esperance. Frank had surprised me when he announced that he had “never spent the night on a boat!” Now he was facing me while sitting on the inflated transom of the Avon, the ice between his outstretched legs and grinning ear to ear. Funny, how we assume that everyone has done certain things only because, for you, the experience is routine. It also occurred to me that, for “Midnight Matheson”, this was probably one of the few places in South Florida that he hadn’t spent, at least part of, some night.

After we climbed aboard, Frank began questioning me and watched my every move. He couldn’t believe that such a small boat could sleep four and had something called a “head” with a real flush toilet. The Loran C, VHF radio, sink with foot-pumped fresh water, and even the built in ice chest all got his attention, but it was the gimbaled kerosene stove and two burners that fascinated him most. Lighting a burner to heat the water for our gallon baths required ignited alcohol in a spirit bowl to vaporize kerosene. The technology is centuries old but, to Frank, it was “super neat!” He asked if we were going to do it again in the morning and, if so, could he “give it a try?”

Matheson, like most first-timers aboard, had never tried to shower with only a gallon of water so I mixed him some extra to rinse off with. After we had both scrubbed down and I had made up the port side quarter berth, we used the left over boiling water for a couple of cognac laced hot chocolates. It was getting late but the cool night air and unexpected reunion with one of my oldest friends held too much promise to be short-circuited by sleep. The cockpit was still wet from our showers, so with nothing but towels wrapped around us, we meandered forward with our toddies and sat down on the cabin deck, facing off at different angles and leaning back against the mast. The October sky was a black sea of stars and neither of us said anything for …

“I envy you Jose. Things may not be perfect in your life but you still have a wife that will let you in the house and kids that, at least, care if you’re still alive. We grew up in the same town, went to the same schools, had the same coaches and teachers–we had the same everything but nothing has turned out ‘the same’ – not for me anyway.”

I didn’t say a word. Frank Matheson was not a man that “bared his soul” to anyone but, unless I was wrong, he was doing just that. I crossed my fingers and…

“I’m scared Jose. For the first time in my life, I’m really scared. I’ve never been involved in anything or with anyone that made me want to run and hide but that’s exactly where I am now. This whole deal with Carlos and the Cubans feels like it’s spinning out of control and I don’t know how to get off the carousel. Even if I ran away, I can’t afford it and they might come after me. I’m tired, I’m broke, and worst of all, I’m scared shitless! – I don’t know what to do, I just don’t know what to do…”

I’d never even come close to seeing Frank Matheson cry, but now he made no effort to hide his anxiety or the tears rolling down his face. Turning slightly, I reached my left arm around the mast and griped his shoulder at the nape of his neck. There was nothing I could say but I held tight until I felt his trembling subside. Frank wasn’t Catholic, and I certainly was no candidate for the priesthood, but the foredeck of my cutter had been transformed into a confessional. The only thing that separated my cheek from the back of Franks head was the cold metal of the aluminum mast.

Staring out across the darkness of the Sound but making no effort to face him, I asked:

“What do you think Frank, ……you want to tell me about it, or not?”

Silence…he may have been yelling and screaming inside but nothing crossed his lips. Periodically, he would twitch his shoulders and slide his heels back and forth on the deck like he wanted to stand up and jump overboard. Maybe ten minutes passed before he leaned his head back and seemed to relax.

My guess was that he had said all he was going to say, so I figured we’d call it a night.    “Well, things will probably work out and I hope you feel better now that you’ve got it off your chest. Goodnight old man, I’ll see you in the morning. You can pretend you’re a Boy Scout all over again. We’ll test your new fire making skill and see if you remember how to boil water. That mummified 7-Eleven cinnamon belly bomb ought to be a real treat.”

I reached over, patted Frank on the knee and moved to get up…

“They’re all named Carlos.”

That’s all he said… but Frank grabbed my arm and pulled me back down.

“That’s when I knew something wasn’t right; when I found out they were all named Carlos. After Betty and I separated, I hooked up with the first Carlos. Things were simple. He told me, if I could get a truck, he’d give me a little work and pay me ‘under the table’. That way, I could draw unemployment and not have to worry about any divorce settlement. I even rented my condo under a bogus name to keep under the radar. I didn’t have anything to worry about because I didn’t have anything…period. I was broke and unemployed. All the people that I had screwed over, abandoned, or beat out of money back in Palm Beach had, long since, given up on ever seeing me again. I paid cash for the truck and went through some shit forming an LLC and making the first payment on an auto insurance policy. I had to do all that just to drive off the lot but that’s been over a year now. I’ve never made another payment and haven’t heard a word from anybody.”

Frank had calmed down. The Caribbean Club was only a hundred or so yards away but the band had checked out for the night and most of the customers had probably done the same. Still sitting on the deck and facing our separate ways, Frank continued…

“For the first few months, my routine was always the same. I meet Carlos twice a week at the Carreta Restaurant down on Calle Ocho, he gives me my pick-up programar, I go to the Airport, his guys load my truck, I drive to Dodge Island, his guys unload my truck, or the other way around – you get my drift. Every Tuesday he would give me my pay envelope along with the paperwork. It was always a thousand dollars. Maybe one week was heavier than another because more ships docked or it was a holiday or something, but the money was always the same – one thousand yeats. Then, week before last at the café, he tells me that I have to do something a little different on one of my upcoming runs. Following my instructions; the next afternoon, it was a Saturday, I picked up a load at U.S. Customs dockside and noticed it was lighter than usual. I couldn’t count the suitcases but, before enough time had gone by to even load half my truck, I heard the slap on the door. After a minute or two, to be sure they were through loading me up, I drove off. What was really strange was that this was the run that a new stop had been highlighted in the schedule and plugged into my drive back to the Airport. The address was for a filling station not far from the Port. I passed it every day and I had been told to ‘just treat it like a regular pickup’ – pull over next to the curb, out of traffic, and wait for the slap.’”

Feeling like I needed to see if there was any emotion going along with this narrative, I stood up, laid down on my side on the foredeck facing Frank, and propped up my head. He picked up where he left off:

“I didn’t know what to expect but right after I pulled over and came to a stop at the filling station, I saw a short dark-complexioned guy carrying a large grey suitcase. I only caught a glimpse of him in the curbside rearview mirror before I felt the vibrations of the door rolling up and someone climbing up on my truck. After a minute or two, I heard the door roll back down and the guy came back into view in the mirror. He still had the suitcase and, again on the passenger side, he only walked far enough forward to slap on the cab door before retreating towards the gas pumps and out of sight. After that, I drove on to the Airport and everything was business as usual – pull up to baggage drop-off, the same Cubans unload me, and I drive back to the condo.”

Getting a little uncomfortable lying on the hard deck, I sat upright and wrapped my arms around my knees. Frank’s expression never changed but, with an extended pause, I sensed he was about ready to call our candid séance to a halt. I didn’t want that…

“That’s it Frank? That’s what you’re worried about? Why are things any different than they were after the first day you ever went to work for this guy, what’s his name – Carlos?

“They’re all named Carlos. They’re all named Carlos and I met the second one when I got paid last Tuesday. That night, for the first time ever, Carlos was not alone. At Carreta, he introduced me to a tall skinny Latino with black wavy hair pulled back in a pigtail… ‘I like you meet Carlos’. Not ‘for you to meet’, just ‘you meet’……..they never learn English. Anyway when I asked the new Carlos what his last name was–? He just looked at me with a blank stare and said ‘No hablo Eng…’. The other Carlos, my contact, helped him out: ‘he’s Carlos, just Carlos, same as me’. Over the next hour, the three of us shared some roast pork and Cuban coffee as ‘my Carlos’ explained that there would be different men meeting with me from then on. I was told, if you can believe this, that to avoid confusion they would all be named Carlos and that they would know who I was so ‘don’t worry about being recognized’. He outlined the procedure and assured me that nothing would change and that he would be back from time to time.”

I jumped in… “They never mentioned who they work for or the name of the Company? What about when they were talking with each other: did you pick up on any other names?”

Shaking his head, Frank answered……. “Nothing, at least nothing that I could understand. I heard them mention a few names that are the same in English – like cruise ships and airline companies. Other than that, the only name I heard them mention was ‘Norman’ and I didn’t catch a last name to go with it. They mentioned him three or four times but I’m not even sure they were talking about a person; it could have been a ship’s name or even a place? They just talked back and forth for a while in Spanish then, after the new Carlos handed me my programar and pay envelope, they both walked out of Carreta. It was only after I got home, and checked my schedule, that I found out they wanted me to leave the truck at some Cuban garage in Opa-locka to have some sort of custom work done on it and then drive down here this weekend in my car to meet some guy at a marina. Yeah Jose, and you’ll never guess what the guy’s name is…?

Oh! There is one other thing that has changed… that last pay envelope they gave me had twenty hundred dollar bills inside – they’ve given me a raise.”

On Jockstraps and Driving Directions

2019 ……. not daylight yet and real cold and windy outside. Even in south Florida, it gets this way from time to time. Got the coffee perking but I’ve got to walk down the driveway and bring in the newspapers. I’m still not dressed but it’s not that far and ……… I’ve been there before.

1955 …….. A jockstrap is kind of like a cheap garter belt with no hooks and a pouch in front. Little boys are told to start wearing them about the same time little girls start to wear training bras.

My first jockstrap came complete with a front pocket and slip-in plastic cup to protect my – well you know, let’s just call it my “OOs&====o”. I was an eleven-year-old Little League baseball catcher and Bob Grafton, my coach, told my Daddy to get me one. I got my second jockstrap in 1952 at Conniston Jr. High for football. I was the only 7th grader on the team. Nobody cared whether I had one or not and I wondered why this one didn’t have a cup? For the first few weeks, I never took it off in the locker room! I even wore it into the showers after practice so that Buddy Blount, Abner Bigbie, and all of the other big guys couldn’t see that I didn’t have any hair on my “OOs&=o”. (it shrinks way down in a cold shower!)

By the time I got to 9th grade a number of things had changed.           1) I was now one of the big guys.    2) I had a Miami Herald paper route.               3) I had a Sears Roebuck Allstate (Vespa) motor scooter. and     4) I had drawers full of long-sleeved orlon sweaters, cotton tee-shirts, white wool athletic socks, and a collection of old worn-out jockstraps. Oh! and the hair problem had taken care of itself.

Now, let me interject a list of facts and seemingly worthless assumptions and hypotheses:

The early morning temperature in West Palm Beach is pleasant 350 +/- days a year.

The early morning temperature in West Palm Beach is not pleasant 15 +/- days a year.

Boys raised in south Florida do not own gloves, mittens, heavy jackets, or and most importantly, ………. earmuffs.

Four or five layers of mixed tee shirts and long-sleeved light orlon sweaters can substitute for a heavy jacket.

A couple of white wool athletic socks on each hand can substitute for gloves or mittens.

The elastic waistband of an old BIKE jockstrap, after it has been washed repeatedly for two or three years, shrinks to about the size of a tight headband. The jockstrap pouch, however, tends to remain unchanged. Need I explain what, with a little strategic positioning and total lack of fashion consciousness, can be substituted for earmuffs?

The morning was extremely cold and I had dressed accordingly. After rolling my newspapers with Howard Shaw and his father while sitting on the sidewalk in front of Lovett’s Supermarket (later to become the Outdoor Store) on South Dixie Highway, I loaded my motor scooter to start my rounds. Howard only had a bicycle and a much larger route than I did so his father often helped him with his deliveries using the family car, especially on Sundays and days as cold as this one.

I loved the early morning hours. No traffic, Alfar milkmen making their deliveries, the smoke coming from Toffer’s Bar-B-Q at Greenwood and Dixie, and closer to home, the wonderful smells from the ovens in Sam Smith’s bakery.

Many of the streets in this part of town caused me to go back in time five or so years when I was at Southboro Elementary. That was where I first started dating girls and, until then, had only heard rumors about the grown-up things in life. I cruised down Greymon Dr. past Patsy Stephens’s house, tossing papers over hedges and into driveways. Patsy was a real hottie – 3rd grade, my place on our first date, numerous hotels, scantily clad participants, big money, a race car, and even jail time involved. Every minute was a roll of the dice and things could have gotten out of hand, ….. it was good that we split up when we did!

The wind was picking up and it was getting colder. Soon I was turning west off Washington Rd. and on to Monroe Dr. More memories as I passed 204 ……. Martha Odom’s house ………. 5th grade, I had wheels, she had great legs, short pleated skirts, nightlife, bodily contact and action with other couples. Those were the good old days!

Around 6:30 I had finished my route and was headed home. By now the sky was showing signs of first light and the chill had permeated my orlon sweaters and cotton tee shirts. I was starting to shiver. As I pulled up to stop for a red light on Dixie at Southern Blvd. my fingers were so numb under my sock mittens that I could hardly squeeze the hand brakes. Waiting southbound on the right hand side of the intersection, it was painfully evident that within my makeshift foul weather wardrobe only my trusty athletic supporter earmuffs had not failed me. The icy wind, now quartering out of the northwest, was blocked not only by the tight elastic band covering my ears but, also, by the jockstrap pouch, now firmly anchored over my right cheek with the leg straps woven around my neck and chin and a spare sock stuffed inside the pouch for added warmth.

With time to think, I was reflecting on why Mr. Shaw, Howard’s father, had recently begun to repeatedly refer to me as “Dick Head” when I was certain he knew my real name? Probably just a memory lapse, you know how it is with old men.

Funny, how you sense things before they happen. I saw the car pull up beside me on my left and, out of the corner of my eye, saw it was a big white Cadillac. I could feel myself being sized up by whoever was on the passenger side. My unknown observer could see only my left profile but, what with the multi-colored, ill-suited, and misplaced assortment of clothing and socks, I was quite the sight! I’m sure that the image I was projecting was, at best, that of some low budget yard sale on wheels .

The car window rolled down and with a squawk like female accent that I had become all too familiar with; the silence was broken.

“Is this the right way to Me am me…..dah link?”

Why I hesitated for a moment, I’m not sure. I guess I was asking myself for the umpteenth time: “just how lung is this Lung Island?” Finally, I raised my sock covered right hand and pointed south. Then, very slowly and with a demoniac smile, turned to face this lady from New York. As I did so, the sock stuffed pouch on my jockstrap earmuffs came into full view hanging off my cheek on the right side of my face.

Wide-eyed and staring at me and my facial adornment, she gasped and her mouth dropped open!

“Yes ma’am this is US #1. That’s how you get there ……..just keep on going.”

The Cadillac sped-off before the light turned green!

Jim Powell


Parker Brother Inc.    for the Monopoly board game played on our screened front porch at 368 Pilgrim Rd. by Patsy Stephens, my mother, myself and my father. Daddy was clad only in his boxer underwear. Doctor Stephens had dropped his daughter off that Sunday afternoon for what turned out to be the first date either of us ever had.

Gayety Skating Rink    for providing rental shoe skates and allowing me to spend magical Friday evenings roller-skating with Martha Odom in her cute little skating outfits. Martha was my first “steady girlfriend”.

monopoly       Gaiety Rink

Love … and 5 little books

There are very few things in my life that I can look back on as true accomplishments of character and will and not just fortune or blind luck. I successfully quit smoking in December of 1976 . Remaining tobacco free has been the result of my steadfast resolve. I got married in August of 1962 but the perpetuation of our marriage has, for the most part, been a testament to one woman’s willingness to overlook flaws and set aside disappointments. But there may be another instance of true accomplishment, yet looming, in my life’s story … maybe even five of them?

The good Lord had blessed me with five healthy grandchildren and they are all boys. The oldest, Charles J. Link, was 12 years old and an aspiring baseball player. Like most grandfathers, I was determined to follow the boy without interfering in his daily life and certainly not to “overstep” the authority of my daughter and son-in-law. I was content to remain silent when Jimmy Link (my moniker for him) told me that his Dad had had to special order his catcher’s mitt because none of the stores had one. I didn’t feel it was my place to tell either of them that this was probably because there has been a dearth of left-handed baseball catchers and never one in the Major Leagues.

I use this example only to set the table: It was in the late fall of 2008 that I came up with the idea … Jimmy Link was approaching adolescence and would soon fall victim to his hormones, begin growing whiskers, start looking at girl’s rear ends and, most importantly, stop believing everything I might tell him was true. If I was ever going to have a chance to make a lasting impression on a boy ….. it needed to be accomplished while he was still a boy.

My most enduring remembrances of my mother’s father are from the few hours spent alone with the old man traveling to and from a small farm he had near Hardinsburg, Indiana. We would drive in his Ford pick-up early in the morning from Louisville, KY, cross the Ohio River, and return in the afternoon. Take note of the fact that; I remember the time “traveling”. I remember very little of anything that ever happened during the day while we were actually on the farm. Once on the open road, “Pop” would take great pride in putting the old truck into neutral and then turn off the ignition, all in order to coast down the backside of the slightest little hill. Laughing, he would reach over and, with his strong grip, squeeze my left thigh just above the knee while extolling the virtue of gasoline conservation and evoking the opening line of our personal two-part mantra: POP LOVES JIMMY … and, as I was frantically pulling from his playful grasp, I would faithfully reply; JIMMY LOVES POP.

How could I create some, momentarily insignificant but possibly unforgettable, flash-back like this for my grandson? I decided Jimmy Link and I needed to take a trip. If he was going to remember his “Pop” like I remember mine, we had to hit the road and I didn’t own a farm. I also decided that the adventure we would undertake would be only the first of five episodes. If it was the right thing to do with him, it had to come about for his brother and his three Powell cousins. They were all younger so …

After bouncing it off his parents and a week or so of planning, we set out on our journey and here were the rules and procedures:

1) The primary destination of the trip would be determined by Jimmy Link.

2) Secondary stopovers, night-time accommodations, and routes taken would be left, primarily, to Pop’s discretion.

3) The duration of the trip was open-ended but targeted at 5 to 7 days.

4) Packed in Pop’s duffel bag was a little black book. It was the “journal” for the trip. Since Pop was an early riser, he (that’s me) would open the book from the front and, in the pre-dawn hour over his morning coffee, begin to document the previous day’s happenings and, of most importance, my observations and gut feelings. It was also allowed for me to reminisce and offer advice for the future … I had great leeway.

5) In the evenings before the TV could ever be turned on and probably after Pop had fallen fast asleep, Jimmy Link would open the same little black book from the back and put on paper in his best rendition of the Queen’s English, all that he had experienced and pondered during the day just ended.

6) It was(is), and affirmed by the solemn oath of both writers, forbidden to ever read a single word written by the other in their part of the journal.

* 6 continued) … the last and most important of all: we’ll get to later…

Beginning in 2008 and over the next nine years, I fulfilled my dream and traveled with all five of my grandsons on a trip of their choosing. With the exception of Jesse, each of the boys was at that magic age of 12 and none of the adventures were, even remotely, alike. Jesse, the youngest by a few minutes, was 13 when his time finally came. This departure from protocol was dictated by the fact that he and his twin, Luke, were the same age and their Pop, at age 76, was hesitant to attempt two trips in the same year. Jesse’s trip would have to wait but, unlike his mother’s womb, he wouldn’t have to share it with his brother.

Trip #1 – Charles James Link – 11/16/2008 – Pop’s Toyota Camry

Destination of his choosing: a mystery to me until we actually arrived … we only got there on the 2nd day of driving and after a night spent in Tallahassee, FL. It was a remote location just north of DeFuniak Springs, only 10 or 20 yards from the state line, designated as the highest place in the State of Florida. Jimmy Link had picked out the site from some topographical map expecting a mountain top vista. At less than 350 ft. above sea level, all we got was a down hill look at the road we had just come up or, looking the other way, … Welcome to Alabama.

After a night in Natchez, MS, and all we could eat at a Golden Corral, we drove on to Vicksburg where we visited the battlefield and the USS Cairo (an ironclad Civil War river gun-boat) museum. Moving north through the harvest ready cotton fields of the Mississippi delta, we would drive for what seemed like hours without a word ever being said. It wasn’t me … this boy just never talks! Passing the glow in the night-time sky of the State of Mississippi’s gambling Mecca at the state line, we get into Memphis, TN. This late arrival worked out fine because my main objective was to let Jimmy Link experience Beale Street, the home of the Blues. After driving down the night-club and bar festooned road, I decided to see if we could check-in close enough to the action to, at least, let us have a “stroll down the avenue”… At a motel, just off Beale, I was turned away by the desk attendant who, seeing a young boy in the automobile, probably suspected I was a pervert. I jumped back in the car and told my grandson “well, at least you can tell all your friends that you saw Beale St.” We drove on and soon got lost in a dark warehouse district down by the Mississippi River. A friendly Police officer told us how to get back to the Interstate and we were soon passing the same motel but headed in the opposite direction. The passing scenery had become very familiar when Jimmy Link looked at me, got this sarcastic grin on his face, and said; “now I can tell all of my friends that I saw Beale Street TWICE!”

Cold night in a motel on the Inter-state east of Memphis … drive up to Land-between-the-Lakes in Kentucky to visit maternal ancestors old homesteads and cemeteries, bypass Nashville and cross all of Tennessee before checking into a Motel 8 just outside of Chattanooga. That night, after dinner, turned out to be one of the high points of the trip for my grandson! I took him to the movies, paid no attention to what was showing and sat down in an aisle seat with my popcorn and a 12-year-old. Jimmy Link still likes to catch, just for old times sake, R-rated “Role Model” when the flick comes around on late night TV. (it was years later before his parents ever heard about this part of the trip)

It was Saturday and, after de-touring by Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA we checked into a motel near the Atlanta Airport so we could take MARTA back into the City and not have to worry about parking. Paying a visit to the Phi-Delt House, I mingled with a few old-timers inside while my grandson just stood around wringing his hands on the columned front porch. Sensing his shyness, and with a little behind the scenes prompting on my part, Jimmy Link was soon approached by the cute little date of a Phi brother and asked to be her playing partner for a game of Corn Hole … (slang, game names, and the English Language had really changed in the past 45 years). When the time was right and we had waited long enough for the prices to drop, I bought a couple of tickets from a swarthy scalper and, putting my arm around his shoulders, walked with my grandson through the cool night air over to Grant Field to watch Ga. Tech put a thumping on “The U”. (for you Auburn grads … that’s Miami)

The last day … Sunday driving back to Port St. Lucie with very few things to talk about. Tired of Inter-states, I took all the back roads I could find (you know you’re off the beaten path when you pass a sign near Starke, FL that tells you how close you are to the big local attraction… Raiford State Prison. Back in Port St. Lucie but, not wanting it all to end, stopped at a Chinese Restaurant with less than a mile to go … maybe we’ll do it again someday boy?

Every night before bedtime, writing in the little black journal, or the appearance of doing so, was required. Jimmy Link said he did and I took him at his word. Every morning I did my part … sometimes with more satisfaction than others, but always.

Trip #2 – William Reid Link – 8/11/2010 – Pop’s Trawler “Blue Heron”  

Destination of his choosing: Willie Reid decides he wants to play Popeye so we’re off on the Inter-Coastal Waterway headed toward St. Augustine, FL. First day totally uneventful unless you count the Manatee that rocked the boat, near bedtime, by scratching his back on the boat along the boot stripe.

The end of day 2 found my young crew getting bored. He had really only taken an interest in one aspect of cruising: he was fascinated by the occasional wreck we would pass. They were of all different sizes and both power and sail but they all had a few characteristics in common … hard aground, full of seawater, and covered with barnacles. He was mesmerized and repeatedly ask me, “how can that happen Pop?” I’d usually just laugh and come back with something like–“just some dummy that didn’t know anything about boats and probably had had a few too many brew skis.” Knowing we couldn’t reach St. Augustine before dark, I deciding to turn off the charted ICW channel and head out the Matanzas River. It’s a natural waterway and the site of a tiny little coquina structure called Fort Matanzas. It’s also the site of two other things ……. shallow water sand bars and a rapidly changing 11 foot tide! My intent had been for us to dinghy in and visit the 17th Century attraction but we never thought we’d be able to do so by walking ashore. Willie Reid and I never got off the boat that night but we spent hours heeled over sideways as the Blue Heron, along with her crew and Captain, lay beached on dry land waiting for the tide to return and the other boaters to quit laughing at us. I noticed Willie Reid had stopped asking me about shipwrecks and looked a little uneasy every time I popped the tab on a new can of beer.

Days and nights of 3 and 4 …….  and we’re put in at the City of St. Augustine Marina. Hook up with an old neighbor and sailing mate: Lew Krantz. Lew, and especially his wife Debbie, took my young crewman under their wings and ….. Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not, Wax Museum, Fort San Marcos, petting Dolphins on the head at Marine Land, the Lighthouse and “The Oldest” of everything else! This was an almost identical experience to one his Pop had had on a 1953 road trip, at age 13, that took me all the way to New York City. (Willie Reid didn’t care but I wrote details and in great length in his journal)

At the end of day 4, our first full one in town, and after the Krantzes had dropped us off at the dock, Willie Reid was promptly adopted by a motley bunch of “First Coast Locals” fishing on the docks near our boat. They were catching giant flounder and my young crew joined them and stayed up until ……. then snuck out again later. I don’t think he was ready to leave but, after only two days, we had to get under way …..

Sailing home on the final day, again on the ICW, we went outside and into the Atlantic at the Ft. Pierce Inlet. We had plenty of time, the weather was fantastic, and …….. put out one line with a feather and piece of pork rind and another with the simple single hook wooden plug given to me by Trent Brown, Earl Stewart’s Captain. Between us, before the day was over, we hooked and landed a total of two denizens of the deep! Willie Reid was first and brought in a good-sized bonito in relatively short order but, some half hour later, it took Pop almost 10 minute to even get his catch to the side of the boat. After the fact, this was very understandable   …… I had snagged a dreaded Sargasso snapper (clump of combination seaweed and discarded plastic)! Considering Willie Reid’s recent dockside tutoring in St. Augustine and my total lack of angling skills, this was about what to expect! But he didn’t have to keep laughing at me. Pop and his daughter’s youngest came in the Inlet at Stuart and were soon back on the St. Lucie River ……. mostly quiet now, I guess everything’s been said?

Every night before bedtime, writing in the little black journal, or the appearance of doing so, was required. Willie Reid said he did and I took him at his word. Every morning I did my part ….. sometimes with more satisfaction than others, but always!

In passing, I would be remiss if I did not mention a confrontation between me and Willie Reid. It occurred after setting the hook in Mosquito Lagoon the first night of our return voyage. The incident was minor and I have, long since, forgotten the details but the happening, and the mutual respect it engendered, will always come back to mind, at least for me, anytime my grandson chooses to utter, with emphasis, only two words ……….YES POP!

Trip #3 – Elias Bradford Powell – 6/25/2015 – various Airlines & a rental car 

Destination of his choosing: This kid was expensive and caught me at a weak moment. Eli is a big time sports fan and, since it’s summertime … why not go to a baseball game? Even better, why not go to a Major League baseball game? Better still, while we’re at it ….. if we’ve got 4 or 5 days, why don’t we go to 4 Major League baseball games in 4 different Cities? ….. and, because of the logistics involved, this would all have to transpire over a 4 day period. Economy Parking at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport is closer to LaBelle than it is to the Atlantic Ocean but that’s where I left my car before boarding an Allegiant Airline’s flight to Greenville, SC. Overnight with my son Bobby and his family, then ….. fly off to Chicago with Eli, pick up the rental car at the Airport (no, I don’t want the additional insurance), check in at the Palmer House, where I decide to take a little nap before game time. I turn Eli loose to do a little exploring, but only after his promise not to “leave the Hotel”. Awoken by a knock on the Hotel room door …… a Hotel Security Policewoman …… Eli had been arrested! Minors are not allowed in the roof-top pool solarium without supervision. My grandson was released into my custody but he showed little remorse ….. he told me that he only got caught because he didn’t have any identification to show when he tried to rent a bathing suit. …… One convict and a grand-dad catch the Elevated out to Wrigley. Cubs and Dodgers, Eli gets Clayton Kershaw’s autograph and spends some of his own money in, what will become, a ritualistic 30 minute pilgrimage to the “souvenir shop”. Cubs lose and we eat Chicago style pizza on the way back to the Hotel.

Leave Palmer House and find out it has cost me $23.00 to self-park my car, over night, in the garage across the street. Drive to Detroit in the rain but it clears up by the time we arrive at the Marriott. Nothing but rubble where most of the adjacent buildings used to stand but the sign in front of the parking lot across the street says $5.00 / All Day. When I asked the attendant “how much for overnight?” ….. he laughed out loud and told me to hand the keys to the Hotel valet because the closest guarded lot was 8 miles away ……. $18.50 plus a $5 tip ……. on the way, as we walked to Tiger Stadium, ate one Coney Island chili dog each at both the American and the Lafayette, (In Detroit, the two restaurants are next door to each other and in the same building. Every Motor City resident has a favorite …. Eli and I agreed …. we both go with the Frenchman!), and get to the ball park just in time for Detroit vs. the Chicago White Sox.

Morning drive to Pittsburgh where we will put up with an old business acquaintance and his family. Wade Horigan and one of his sons take us to Primanti Brother’s for one of their World Famous hamburgers and I got to go down memory lane seeing haunts and neighborhoods where I had spent the entire summer of 1961. (That’s a story for another time). The 4 of us get to the twilight game (Pirates & Braves) a little early, giving Eli some extra time to check out the souvenir shop.

Off mid-morning, after a hardy breakfast at the Horigans, heading east on the PA Turnpike when I get the idea to take a break from all this baseball ….. turn off near, but not close enough to, Gettysburg. Twenty-five or thirty miles of winding mountain road and Eli didn’t pack his motion sickness medicine ……. I wasn’t aware of anything being wrong until I heard a faint plea from my passenger: “Pop, can you please slow down?” ……. it all works out and Eli and Pop spend 2 or 3 hours on a Sunday afternoon looking at graveyards and paying homage at the pink granite monument dedicated to the North Carolina 26th Infantry. (the unit in which Eli’s 5great-grandfather died while serving)

Arrive in Baltimore with just enough daylight left to make us appreciate not having to live in Baltimore. Eli asks me if the streets we’re driving on to reach the ball park were “in the hood”? I forget my answer …. we were soon at the 4th game in four days. Baltimore vs. Cleveland Indians ….. even Eli was worn out so we left after the 7th inning stretch. Another Marriott near the Airport where I find out Eli hasn’t brushed his teeth in 5 days ………

Turn in the rental car and fly Southwest back to Greenville where Pop rests for a couple of days before facing another miserable experience with Allegiant. (how can that outfit stay in business?) Get back to Ft. Lauderdale 4 hours late at 3:15 AM and, after retrieving my car and a 90 mile drive, not in my own bed until sun-up.

There ended up being a lot of frustration and weariness in the week gone by but it only came as the result of an old man trying, but failing, to keep up the pace.

Through all of this; the following still held true …………     Every night before bedtime, writing in the little black journal, or the appearance of doing so, was required. Eli said he did and I took him at his word. The last morning of Eli’s trip was the only instance, on any of the 5 adventures, where I failed to get up early enough to complete my writing. Later, before take-off, I took advantage of our wait time in the Baltimore Airport to do so.

Trip #4 – Luke Robert Powell – 6/27/2016 – Pop’s Camry and three boats 

Destination of his choosing: Luker wanted to go fishing. He didn’t care where or for what and that’s what we did!

Luke’s fishing trip with Pop actually started with his Dad , my son Bobby, tagging along. Before even showing up in Palm City, the two of them went to a Marlin’s baseball game in Miami…… drive up and kill a day visiting and planning.

Now’s when the first of my PBHS Class of 1958 gang comes into play in Luke’s trip. Earl Stewart arranges for a 3 generational deep-sea outing on KAIZEN, his 60′ sport-fish. Earl, his son Stu, and grandson Jake welcome the 3 generations of Powells aboard for Sailfish, Dolphin, and Black Fin Tuna. We bring both great memories and a mountain of sashimi back to Palm City at the end of the day.

Finally on our own, Luker and Pop drive south. A quick stop in Homestead ….. my grandson hasn’t spent much time in nursing homes but, then again, Max Gelders doesn’t hang out with many 12 year olds …… After dinner on the way down at Bud N’ Mary’s on Islamorada, check in at the first of what will become a parade of Flee-Bags. This one in Marathon.

Billy Wilkinson has hooked us up with a fishing guide so, after a quick gravy biscuit at the Stuffed Pig, it’s chum’em, hook’em, and haul’em in on both the reef and outside in blue water! Back at the marina restaurant, we have lunch (the snapper we have just caught …. prepared 4 different ways) with Billy and his lovely wife Karen. Gotta go! …….. we got a long way to go and a short time to get there ….US #1….north bound …… “one road in, one road out, that’s what the Keys are all about!” Long afternoon drive ………… Flee-Bag #2; just off I-75 in Ocala ……. got in late and dined Italian.

On the road headed west before dawn ….. barely time to check in at Flee-Bag #3 in Steinhatchee before we’re outfitted with masks, snorkels, and fins and diving deep; 40!, sometimes 50! …………………. inches. Our elusive prey, as we follow our guides instructions, is the crafty and vicious ………. scallop.

With our limit being cleaned back at the dock, Luke and I track down another PBHS grad and invite him to share our bounty. I had run into Steve Davidson (Class of “61”) on Sammy Bigbie and my second voyage on the Blue Heron. Fried, grilled, and sautéed scallop dinner with Steve and a few beers, then Luke and I are off to bed early (what else are you going to do in Steinhatchee?)

Saying good-bye to #3 and our uninvited and undetected bed-buddy, a 4 inch green toad, Luker and I left Steinhatchee and headed north. Breakfast in Mayo, FL where both waitresses on duty claimed to be Kerwin (the “Throwin Mayoan” of U of F fame) Bell’s steady girlfriend in high school. On up the road …… my young charge had never experienced a spring and Florida’s are famous world-wide! On the road, headed towards Live Oak, we turn off at a little sign that read: CONVICT SPRINGS …….. Luke still hasn’t experienced a spring (it was sad); maybe on his next trip down? Sammy Bigbie was out with his chainsaw trimming oaks and killing snakes when we stopped by ………. didn’t stay long and it’s Atlanta here we come! Stop to buy bag ice for scallops we’re carrying in a cooler in the trunk …. late lunch (2 chili dogs, a glorified, 2 onion rings, along with a PC and big Orange at The Varsity), walk around the Ga. Tech Campus, stop by the Phi-Delt House and, finally, check into the fancy digs across Hemphill Ave. from the Coca-Cola International Headquarters, right across from the Tech. campus on North Ave. (no flea-bag, are you impressed?), Dinner downtown ……. bad German.

Next morning ……. the Coke Factory ……… you or I couldn’t do it! Who else but the Coca-Cola Corp. could persuade thousands of people to travel from all around the globe, wait in line for hours, then pay 10 or 12 dollars to see, virtually, nothing but a blatant multi-storied documentary advertisement about Coca-Cola! On the way out of Atlanta and headed towards Greenville, SC, Luke and Pop stop off at 401 Wimbledon Rd. and pay a brief visit to a small cottage that was the first place his grandparents ever called home. This boy has been a Champion to have kept his happy demeanor as I drug him from one old classmate or haunt to another. Looking back, I think I’d taken out many of the frustrations I felt in the aftermath of Eli’s hectic and demanding baseball traveling marathon, on his younger brother ……… someday, hopefully, you’ll understand Luker.

I know it’s getting monotonous but let me repeat …………     Every night before bedtime, writing in the little black journal, or the appearance of doing so, was required. Luke said he did and I took him at his word. Every morning I did my part ….. sometimes with more motivation than others, but always!

Trip #5 – Jesse Michael Powell – 8/3/2017 – Pop’s Camry  

     Destination of his choosing: Jesse vacillated between “go west young man” for Pro Hockey in Nashville and St. Louis ,,,, or head east for the beaches. Winter turned into spring, which morphed into summer … hockey season ended, so we packed our bathing suits.

Left Greenville too late to reach saltwater–turned off the inter-state before Columbia and spent the night in the Camden, SC lakeside home of George Corbin and his beautiful wife Joan. George is a fraternity brother and fellow jock from Tech. Mr. Corbin went out and bought some worms and Jesse caught brim off the back yard dock!

Signs along the highway should have been my first clue! The old tourist trap put-down of “cotton candy and hats with your name on them” may have originated in Atlantic City but it had moved south … ONLY 48 Miles to go ….. there weren’t many pine trees along this Carolina roadside; too little room for them to grow between the billboards. Even before Jesse told me his surprise destination, I knew where it had to be …….. Myrtle Beach, the Grand Strand, and Dolly Parton’s “Pirates Voyage”! Checked into a mom & pop ocean front motel. Jesse was disappointed when told it wasn’t retched enough to qualify for “flee-bag” status but promptly hit the sand and surf while Pop took a nap. Can’t sleep too long , we’d be late for ………. 3 and a half hours of water-logged, red-neck, and acrobatic “dinner theater”. Terrible indigestion, a dollar for another pack of gummy bears, and a last minute souvenir shop visit for a red “Myrtle Beach Life Guard” tee-shirt …….. will this day ever end?

“Why are we at the American Legion Hall in Calabash?” Jesse had asked a good question ………. we had spent the last two hours searching for a small bar and marina on the Calabash River that his grandmother and I had tied up to one night in 1989 soon after Hurricane Hugo had devastated the Carolinas. The Legionnaires were my last hope but none of the old soldiers had any knowledge of its location or had even been in town that long ago. Time to move on, more beaches ahead of us. Monumental purchase of the trip at a 7-ELEVEN…….. an ordinary, folded filling station style, North Carolina road map. Jesse wants to track our every turn! After Wilmington and the Fort Fisher Museum came Carolina Beach and some other one, I never got out of the car and can’t remember the name. We soon ran out of coastline road and, heading inland, made for another of “my secret destinations”! Plymouth, NC: the site of the last major Confederate victory in the Civil War and home of the replica of the gunboat, CSS Albemarle on the Roanoke River. So-so room at a Hampton Inn and horrible pizza and antipasto at Mama’s Diner next door ……..ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz

If God ever decided to give the USA an enema, there’s no doubt as to where he would insert the hose! The eastbound 2 lane road leading to the bridge crossing the Alligator River traverses the most worthless land I’ve ever seen …… but let’s call it the Rainbow Highway! It leads to the Atlantic Ocean and the pot of gold at its end is called Nag’s Head! After tiring of counting Lamborghinis parked in the driveways we were just in time for …….. Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers National Park, exhibit, and lecture! (if you ever get the chance, don’t miss it!) Gave up trying to fight weekend traffic on the dead end road headed to Duck, NC and just jumped back in the Ocean …….. remembering how: I tried to show Jesse the Lido Beach method of wave riding and didn’t do bad. But, when the time came to get back to dry land, I had to crawl on my all-fours against the soft sand and undertow. Showered, we got back in the car and headed inland once again. Disappointed that, after going 40 miles out of our way to find it, his roadmap search inspired destination du jour; Powellsville, turned out to be nothing but a Zip code; Jesse and I kept on driving. A monument tour and photo-op at the State Capital in Raleigh, inter-state “40” to Greensboro, NC, a fairly clean Quality Inn and another night of pleasant dreams about our next morning’s Free Breakfast!

Before Lenore, NC was officially incorporated it was named “Powellton” and the cemetery at Lower Creek Baptist Church is home to 3 generations of Jesse Powell’s male forbearers. Today, Lenore is just a stop off on the highway up the mountain towards Boone, Banner Elk, Sugar Mountain, and eventually ……. Knoxville, TN. Ted Davis was a teammate and fraternity brother in college, a successful veterinarian, and a caring husband and father. Ted had also played 7 years of football in the NFL. His years with the Colts, Dolphins, and Saints had resulted in the surgery scared and pain racked body of an old man who couldn’t get out of bed. I’d been promising to visit with him for years and, at least for an hour or two, there I was ………. me and Jesse! The destinations of these past few days were obviously not my grandson’s choices. I had taken over Jesse’s adventure itinerary but this didn’t diminish our interaction. Our on-going conversations were candid and sincere ……… I hadn’t turned off the Camry’s ignition or coasted down any hills but I had gotten closer to Jesse, and learned more about him, than I had any of the others.

Finally, Jesse got his “Flee-Bag”. The only thing worse than our motel, eastbound out of Knoxville, was the “New Orleans style Restaurant” across the Street! (Try Cuban food in Miami, French in Montreal, or Mexican in El Paso, but Cajun in East Tennessee …..?) Had to give the boy at least one more night on the road but I had developed a nagging shoulder and neck pain ……… one last night, this one with my sister and brother-in-law in Waynesville, NC ………. Uncle John took Jesse rafting as I convalesced ……… my father told me one time: “don’t get old, boy” …. I didn’t listen to him!

Last morning, and down the mountain to Greenville, SC …….

Yes, and for the last time …………     Every night before bedtime, writing in the little black journal, or the appearance of doing so, was required. Jesse said he did and I took him at his word. Every morning I did my part ….. every morning! 

5 books* 6 continued) …….. I have honored this vow and none of the five journals have ever been opened since the day each journey ended. I have even chosen not to revisit my own thoughts and accountings. I am resolved to continue this practice until I departs this world. Soon after that day the boys, now men, will be given their journal to read and share as they see fit and a voice somewhere will whisper to each: “Pop loves ………” and, hopefully, all five will smile and come back with “……… loves Pop”. 

Jim Powell

Bob Thurbon ….. the Steelers out, the Eagles in, but what’s the difference?

On Sunday, January 6, 2019, the Philadelphia Eagles were in Chicago defeating the Bears in an NFL playoff football game. At the same time, the Pittsburgh Steelers and their terrible towel waving fans were ensconced back home drinking Iron City beer and watching the game on TV. But if we could only turn back the clock ………..

A step back in time:

cir 1950 – 1951     A new boy, his mother, and his little brother, Reid, move into a house in the 200 block of Malvern Rd. in West Palm Beach. I live just across the street, over the fence and under the mulberry tree on Nottingham Blvd. Bob Thurbon’s father is not living with them but the boys’ bedroom is filled with the strangest mementos imaginable. The whole room is a sea of black and yellow and, after opening his closet and putting on a huge leather sleeved jacket of the same colors, Bob proudly informs me that his dad was a “STEELER”. I think I ask him what he stole? I didn’t have a clue but it had something to do with real tackle football and sounded neat. Then we went back outside to play!

1958 – 1960        My freshman and sophomore years at Georgia Tech and the head defensive football coach is a gentleman by the name of Ray Graves. Coach Graves is a very large and impressive man with one physical feature you could never forget; he only had a partial left ear. By football season my junior year Ray Graves had taken the head coaching job at the University of Florida.

2012            Google has turned us all into investigative gurus and spell-check has accomplished over night what six years of “see the dog, his name is spot” and one day a week in 7th grade geography class failed to do fer speling werds.

With all this newfound knowledge, I decided to retroactively check out Bob Thurbon’s story and see if his father really was a Steeler.

When I Googled “Thurbon, Pittsburgh Steelers etc” I was in for quite a surprise. As it turns out, Bob’s father was not only a Steeler, he was also a Steagle! *(If you are an NFL fan you will want to take a look at the excerpts that follow from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Gene Collier).

1943 Steagles1943 Steagles

In the wartime year of 1943 there were not enough non-draft eligible players to man all of the existing professional football teams so the teams in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia(Eagles) combined forces to play their schedule. Right there in front of me on my PC monitor was the team photo and player names of the 1943 Pennsylvania Steagles and, sure enough, there he was:

Half Back……………        Bob Thurbon

It was a name further down the roster that caught me by surprise:

Center……………….                       Ray Graves

Bob Thurbon                Ray Graves

Bob Thurbon                               Ray Graves

It’s a small world Bob Thurbon and it’s good to find out you’re still part of it.

Jim Powell ………the boy on Nottingham that got to “come out and play”


*  Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito — in 1943 they were pretty much monopolizing the shock market. The must wins were Midway and Normandy, not Steagles at Redskins. Able-bodied men were on battlefields. Significantly less able-bodied men were on NFL fields.

“The problem the NFL faced was that it didn’t have enough personnel,” said the decorated journalist Matt Algeo, who wrote a book on this topic called “Last Team Standing.” “The Cleveland franchise, the Rams at the time, had to fold. Their owners went into the service. That left nine teams instead of 10, which was very unwieldy for scheduling purposes. What made the most sense was to merge the two teams in Chicago (the Bears and Cardinals), but the feeling was that the Bears were so good that this would only make them better.”

The opposite sentiment pervaded Pennsylvania, where the Eagles were so bad the Steelers would only make them worse.

“But the Eagles owner, Lex Thompson, and Art Rooney were friends, so they made this arrangement,” Algeo said. “The NFL was very close to shutting down in 1943; it was on the agenda. If they don’t agree to merge, it’s very possible the landscape of American football would look completely different today. A lot of these franchises would have just been folded.”

Instead, the Eagles and Steelers became the Steagles and the league went forward with eight teams. The talent pool stateside after 1942 had some limitations. As Bears founder and Hall of Fame coach George Halas explained it, “We had tryouts. We signed anyone who could run around the field twice.”

This is how badly Steagles tackle Ted Doyle wanted to play. He worked at Westinghouse six days a week (everyone on the Steagles worked in the defense industry). After work Saturday, he would take the train to Philadelphia, play in an NFL game there Sunday, take the train home and be at work Monday morning. He later determined he was tangentially involved in the Manhattan Project, code name for the development of the atomic bomb.

This is how badly Bucko Kilroy wanted to play. “Kilroy was in the Merchant Marine, posted in New York, and he would somehow finagle a weekend pass to play,” Algeo said. “That was dangerous work, no easy assignment. He’d be out on sea escorts for war ships. Sunday he’d take the train from New York and play for the Steagles.”

If it wasn’t the $25 or $50 game checks that were so attractive, it must have been the convivial atmosphere between the coaches, Greasy Neale of the Eagles and Walt Kiesling of the Steelers.

“Greasy Neal was a real good coach, an offensive coach,” Art Rooney Jr. remembers. “But Walt and Greasy hated each other and never talked after 1943.”

The Steagles as an entity were heavily weighted eastward. Most of the home games were at Shibe Park, later to become Connie Mack Stadium, the uniforms were green and white, and the Steelers had only about six players under contract for 1943 while the Eagles had 16. The season-ending team photo included 20 men in suits and fedoras.

Art Jr., of course, still calls them “the Stiggles,” because if the Steelers are the Stillers, the Eagles are obviously … right.

The players weren’t a lot more comfortable than the coaches with the whole arrangement. According to an Indiana Gazette article from that period, Neale was instructing Tony Bova, an end who had played his college ball at Saint Francis, on a technique Neale preferred for his offense one day in practice. Bova ran the play exactly opposite of the way it was prescribed. Neale screamed at Bova, Kiesling screamed at Neale, and practice was over.

Bova would go on to lead the Steagles in receiving yards — 419 on 17 catches for a whopping 24.6 yards per catch and five touchdowns — and he would do it again in 1945 with post-war rosters at full strength.

Like most Steagles and most NFL players in 1943, Bova had some identifiable malady — flat feet, poor vision, partial deafness, bleeding ulcers — that the military found highly rejectable. Bova’s primary rejectable was that he was blind in one eye and partially blind in the other, but, as Art Rooney Sr. reportedly claimed, “He could hear the ball coming.”

Resolve to preserve professional football was not seen as a great public service at the time. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had written to the Commissioner of Baseball to urge that the games persist during the war for the morale of the nation, but pro football could drop dead and nearly did.

Part of what saved it were the trolleys.

“Everyone was working six days a week, so the NFL played on the day everyone was off, Sunday, and they mostly played in baseball parks that were along the trolley lines,” Algeo said. “That meant people didn’t have to use their gas rations to get there. Attendance actually went up.”

Outside of baseball, the NFL was among the few sporting events anyone could get to. Golf’s U.S. Open was shuttered. The rubber used to cover golf balls was needed for the war effort. In California, you could not see the Rose Bowl, which had been moved to North Carolina due to fears that Japan was about to attack the West Coast. To preserve gas, there was no Indianapolis 500.

But if you made it to a Steagles game, two of which were played at Forbes Field, you could see former Pitt stars Ben Kish and Bob Thurbon, as well as Bill Hewitt, who had been lured out of four years of retirement only to find that players now were required to wear helmets. He didn’t like it one bit.

It was at Forbes Field that the Steagles established an NFL record that stands to this day, though it’s been equaled three times — 10 fumbles in one game. And they won by two touchdowns.

Al Wistert, a 215-pound tackle out of Michigan who would go on to play on Philadelphia’s NFL championship teams in 1948 and 1949, was asked just a few years ago what it would be like if one of those teams played against an NFL team today.

As Algeo remembered his response: “Well,” Al said, “if we played by our rules, where we had the same 11 guys on the field the whole game, at the end of the first quarter, they’d be winning 100-0. But by halftime, they’d all be dead. You couldn’t have 300 pound guys trying to run down the field on every play for four quarters.”

1943packers-steagles12-5-ticket     steagles_900x


CHAPTER 7 — Caribbean Club

Must be getting crowded inside. Up until just a minute ago, the only activity around the dock and picnic tables had been two mangy dogs and an elderly gentleman dragging a big grey plastic garbage can. He had one of those, broom handle with a nail on the end, paper picker-uppers. The old man was nailing trash and the big black & tan was trying to do the same to the little spotted one. Now, as I watched, the backyard of the Bean Club, or whatever it’s called, was gaining in popularity. Two couples eased in at one of the green wooden tables and three guys in bathing suits and tee shirts lazily walked towards the end of the dock.

Better put the binoculars away, I’ve got some work to do.

On this tack, I would track six or eight hundred yards off shore so my plan was to bring her over to port, then furl the yankee. If I had been approaching a marina to tie up or in some tight anchorage with other boats, I’d bring down all the canvas and crank up the “iron wind”. No marina and no other traffic, so why end a perfect day of sailing with the smell of diesel exhaust?

Le Esperance is rigged with all lines running aft to the cockpit. The jib is roller furled with its spool line running in guides along the starboard rail. The halyard and downhaul for the footed staysail are pulley rigged just forward of the mast. The main has the same set up but its halyard is inside the aluminum mast with the pulley near the base. Both sets of halyards and downhauls run aft along the topside to wenches and cleats on the starboard next to the cabin hatch. Rope tailings are looped and stored on a pin rail. When lowering the sails, there is no need to hazard leaving the cockpit to stow canvas because both the main and staysail have their own lazy-jack or, in landlubber speak, a rope basket rigged to catch and keep them. By now, all you non-sailors are bored to tears but there’s a reason for explaining the ease with which this vessel can be handled without crew. Considering the sobriety, charm, tolerance, and overall congeniality of the Captain – he is almost always sailing by himself.

With the jib furled, I was on a starboard reach with stay and main. The course I was on would run me right in at the short dock but it doesn’t work that way. Even if I could drop the sails and pull off a miracle maneuver, there wasn’t enough depth that close in. As I rapidly approached the beach, more and more people streamed out of the building and into the yard. I had attracted quite an audience. To them, I’m sure it looked like I intended to join the party by beaching the cutter and, as she lay grounded and helpless on her side, just grab my drink, jump off, and wade ashore.

At the last second, I kicked the tiller to port bringing her over to starboard and up into the wind. With no back winded headsail, the boat slowed as both the main and staysail swung inboard on their booms and feathered. Instantaneously, I un-cleat and release the staysail halyard, un-cleat the looped continuous main halyard/downhaul and slack off its wench, then grab both downhauls and pull them in. The slackened sails drop in unison into their lazy-jacks as I release the lines and rush forward on the port side. Now, with the vessel virtually halted, I spin the chain anchor lead off the Samson post and slowly lower the danforth off its roller at the base of the bowsprit. As Le Esperance drifts back toward the dock in a light headwind, I give the anchor rode a tug to make sure there’s no drag before lashing it down. I’ll check it later to make sure but this’ll do for now.

On my way back to the cockpit, the entire shoreline erupts in cheering and applause! Probably 150 people are going “bananas” over my single-handed nautical accomplishment. Stepping up to the cabin top, hand furling and tucking the collapsed mainsail and securing the boom to the backstay – my adoring onlookers only get louder. Thirty or so yards is all that separates me from what, by all estimates, has to be a very knowledgeable party of seafaring men and women. They had watched my every move and were now showing their admiration.

Turning to face the crowd, clad only in my old straw Panama Jack and the same black nylon running shorts I had been wearing for the last three days, I waved and took a bow. Let me correct that, I took numerous bows – I bowed forward, I bowed aft, then, with hat in hand, I bowed again straight towards shore spreading my arms in triumph … I was Poseidon, God of the sea! My Court awaited my return and the more I bowed the more they roared with laughter and finger pointing.

Working the foot pump to inflate my Avon, I was kicking around the merits of taking a gallon bath vs. just rolling overboard for a swim. Still had a little daylight. Time enough to heat up water but, without rubbing alcohol, I couldn’t light the kerosene stove. There was a way, but it hurt to even think about it, use an ounce or two of scotch – ?… bad idea. After getting the dingy in the water, I’ll just swim around the boat a few times – might even scrub off the boot stripe. Then, when I climb back aboard, I’ll just hit the crotch and pits with a little bar soap, rinse off with some fresh water, and row ashore. After an hour or two I’d probably smell like a goat but I doubt that anyone would notice.

…like Bogie and Bacall, Starring in our own late – late show, Sailing away to Key Largo

After my swim and rinse, I had run the brush through my hair and changed into Levis, tee shirt, and Topsiders. No ladder, so I had gone in on the beach and walked the dingy back out midway on the little wooden dock, two-and-a-half hitched her bowline to a piling, and walked across the, now dark and empty, backyard.

Soft lighting, Engelbert Humperdinck singing After the Lovin’, no one in the room except a bow-tied bartender polishing sniffers, and absolutely the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life … long dark hair, dreamy blue eyes, full sensuous lips like fire and ice, and an absolutely perfect figure. She was sitting cross-legged at the bar in a pair of 4 inch heels toying with a glass of white wine and smiled in my direction. Her dress was tiny and black. A simple strand of pearls highlighted a modest but enticing neckline. As I approached, she lowered her gaze and subtly nodded towards the seat next to her. In my mind, the erotic aroma of perfume mixed with the heat from her well-tanned body promised a doorway to heaven.

No, wait a minute! It was in my mind, all in my mind. That’s the way every man alive momentarily imagines his entrance into any strange bar. Resigned to reality, I left the balmy night air and walked inside.

The Caribbean Club was one huge rectangular room with a few tables and a stool surrounded island bar in the middle. A three-piece local band and middle-aged male singer took up a far corner surrounded by a small area that passed for a dance floor. A large picture window on the back wall framed the darkness hiding the beach and Blackwater Sound but all of the other walls had frames of their own – a lot of frames, picture frames. Turns out; the Club, and especially the little dock out back, was where the waterfront scenes from the 1948 movie Key Largo were actually filmed. Small black and white photos of Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall were hanging everywhere. One picture showed them standing with cameras, sound booms, and a production crew next to the very piling where my dingy was tied. Smiling to myself and shaking my head – here I had been listening to Bertie Higgins for the last week or so and didn’t realize that he was not only telling me to “sail away to Key Largo”, but also exactly where to set the hook. Here’s lookin’ at you kid. I didn’t know if I could find it once again, or even what I was looking for, but only something good could come out of this.

“You see anybody you know in those pictures Jose?”

I didn’t have to turn around. There is only one person in the world that calls me Jose.

“You son-of–a-bitch” – it was all I could say as I turned to face Frank Matheson. “What in God’s green earth are you doing here?”

He hadn’t changed. An inch or two shorter than me but still well over six feet and trim and handsome as ever – his full head of blond hair was a shade darker and his face had a few new lines but there wasn’t a woman in the room that wouldn’t look twice! Frank and I had been football and basketball teammates all through high school and best of friends on into our twenties but I hadn’t seen him in years.

Frank had been sitting at the crowded bar and had already registered and made his intentions known with a young barmaid while simultaneously, with his smile alone, laying the ground work for negotiations with two very attractive unattended ladies on the far side of the bar. After getting a couple to move over one, I eased in on the next stool.

“Okay Jose, what are you doing here? You alone, and what’s been going on for the past – what, ten years?”

I brought Frank up-to-date over conch fritters and a Lite beer. I noticed he was drinking diet Coke and decided to ease off a little myself. After an hour or so, I had covered the highs and lows of married life, raising adolescents, building a business and, obviously of most interest to him, my recent sailing sabbatical from all of the above! Frank really perked up when I told him about Linda and the Regatta.

Almost like he was standing at the free throw line with a big game in the balance, he brought the first three fingers of his right hand to his mouth, first licking and then rubbing his thumb over them, he faced me, got that sheepish grin on his face and turned back the clock. “So, did you get any pussy?”

I cracked up – he hadn’t changed.

Soon, I had Frank telling me what he had been up to. I knew he had married for the third time and moved out of his apartment in Palm Beach but then the trail got cold.

With a slight shrug, he began to fill me in–“You know Jose, I really wanted to be a good husband and father. In my last marriage, I even went out and bought a bar-b-q grill. We joined a church and played cards with the neighbors – I did everything I was supposed to do but it never works. I’ve come to the conclusion that women just can’t count on me and it’s always been that way. Do you remember a girl named Patsy Saunders? She was in my third grade class and lived near my house. We would walk home together after school and one day she came up with an idea – we would climb up in the big banyan tree on the corner and play a game. The rules were simple: she’d show me hers if I’d show her mine.”

Frank got this little grin and continued – “The problem was, I didn’t know if I could trust her? I only said okay after she agreed to take her pants off first.”

At this juncture, the cute young barmaid overheard our conversation and, with a quizzical smile, leaned over to catch the ending. Frank had already introduced himself and, even if he hadn’t, his good looks alone were enough to demand her attention. Add to this the fact that the “your pants first” pick-up line would be a novel and seldom used approach, even at the Caribbean Club and she had to ask:

“Okay Frank, so what happened next?”

Surprised that his young friend had jumped into the conversation, he went on –

“She lifted her dress up and tucked it under her arms. I forget what color her panties were but they had flowers or teddy bears or something on them and, before long, they were dangling off one of her bare feet! She had her legs together but I could still see the crack. I asked her if I could touch it – she said ‘No! It’s your turn’ and started pulling them back up.”

A customer on the other side of the bar was waving and calling for the barmaid, so she chimed in – “come on, hurry up, what happened next?”

Turning from me and looking at her with his blue-green eyes and patented stoic smile – “What happened? – What do you think happened? – I giggled, jumped down from the tree, and ran home!”

Broadening his smile while taking the barmaid’s left hand in both of his, he lightly caressed her and continued: “But I’m more refined and mature now and things have changed. I’ve come to realize that I have to treat the women in my life with greater respect. I’m determined to walk the second mile and give them twice the attention and consideration I have in the past. Tonight, after you get off work, we’ll go back to my place and if you show me yours – I promise, I’ll show you mine twice!”

Frank and I both broke out laughing as the girl slowly shook her head, flipped the bar towel over her shoulder, and left us with that famous, one word, female quote of frustration and disgust: “men…!”

“You know Jose, they’re smarter than we are – women I mean. Ever notice how they like to get you to do all the talking? Things they say like, ‘we need to talk’ or ‘tell me about yourself’ – you never hear a man come out with shit like that. I’ve even come up with a theory: a man talks to a woman to get sex and a women uses sex to get a man to talk. You and I are only after one thing – pussy, and they know it. I think their mothers teach them how to string us along until they can find out if we’re worth keeping around. Once you figure them out and start playing the game their way, it makes getting laid real easy – problem is; by then you’ve lied to a couple hundred women, gotten the reputation for being a worthless playboy, and all of the, what’d we use to call them?, – ‘good girls’ have found Mr. Right and disappeared. The next thing you know – you’re 42 years old, been divorced 3 times, got a 20 year old son you see twice a year, and your sitting in a dive on Key Largo talking snatch with an old high school teammate while trying to decide if it’s ‘worth it to hit on a barmaid that’s young enough to be your kid’s girlfriend’?”

“Well Frank, that’s an upbeat outlook on life. There’s do doubt you’re single again but from what I just saw, a lot of fathers can unlock the chastity belts. Midnight Matheson has definitely slowed down! Where do you call home these days and what are you doing for a living, still in real estate and insurance?”

The look on Frank’s face saddened, his voice lowered, and his words were halting–“I’m renting a little one bedroom condo down off LeJeune Road near the Airport. It’s close to my work and it’s all I can afford. No need for me to try to shit you Jose, I’m not doing real good. Betty, she was number three, or I should say her father made me sign a pre-nup. The old man’s got a lot of loot and sorta’ saw me coming. Anyway, all I ended up with was the old Chevy and enough cash to buy the truck I use for my business. That’s right Jose – you heard me: your ‘Playboy of the Palm Beaches’ is now a Miami truck driver.”

I didn’t want to act surprised and, since I had spent a few years behind the wheel myself, I came back with – “What kind of business you got Frank?”

“I haul luggage to and from cruise ships on Dodge Island, usually from the Miami Airport. People fly in from all over the world to leave out of the Port of Miami to cruise, gamble, and visit straw markets. Most of them come right back at the same dock in a week or so and return to the Airport. Transporting their suitcases and golf clubs is the same game my ex-wife’s family is in and I made a few connections before she dumped me. There’s this bunch of Marielito Cubans that picked up the contracts on some of the independent Panamanian Registries’. The big haulers like Betty’s father get all the vessels from the major cruise lines but a few smaller ships slipped through cracks or got bought off, or whatever happens? I try not to get too involved. Anyway, all I do is show up at the same Calle Ocho cafe every Tuesday and Friday night, meet this guy named Carlos, and get my “programar”. I think that’s Cuban for “where I’m supposed to go” and it’s all written in English. Then I just make sure I’m parked at the designated Airport or dockside U.S. Customs location at the exact time and follow the exact route and etcetera. They pay me in cash and I don’t lift a finger or even touch a single suitcase. I never come in contact with any of the tourist. I stay in the driver’s seat and seldom even see the guys that load and unload my truck. All I do is wait until I hear a slap on the door and drive away. Except for Carlos and one of the baggage handlers at the Airport, I don’t know any of them and that’s fine with me. Sometimes I hear them talking but, as you know, I cheated my way through two years in Mr. Gomez’s class and still couldn’t tell you what Camino Real on my textbook cover translated into.”

Something didn’t sound quite right, especially Frank’s professed ignorance and his brief emphasis on the exact route and the “etcetera” part of his abbreviated run-down. Nobody ever uses that word in conversation unless it’s something not worth talking about or they are hiding or running away from the truth. Maybe he’d tell me later, or maybe not, but he obviously didn’t want to stay on the subject so I decided to give him an “out”.

“You must have taken the weekend off, how long are you going to stay in the Keys?”

“No Jose, I’m not taking any time off – I wish I could! My trip down here is business but it’s something I’ll tell you about some other time. Right now, I’ve got until tomorrow morning to spend with my old compadre and I’m not going to screw it up by talking about work. You told me you needed to go to the grocery store and I haven’t checked in at the motel yet – too late for Winn-Dixie, let’s hop in the Chevy and hit that 7-ELEVEN at the Card Sound Road cut-off. When we get back, you gotta show me this yacht.”

may I have a word?…

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How many times have we all heard this said?

Years ago I emailed Ruthie a segment of a journal I had compiled for my grandsons. I only did so because Johnny Riggs was mentioned and I hoped it would find its way to him. Almost as an afterthought, I attached a labeled photo of my Southboro Elem. class of 1952. The picture had first been posted by another classmate (I believe Patsy Stephens) over a year before. I treasure my copy and I’m sure all of the others in the picture that are still alive do also, but let me ask a question…

Southboro Class of 1952Will anybody treasure this photo 30 years from now?

Because someone has gone to the trouble to put names with the faces, one of my great-grandchildren may say, “look there’s Pop’s dad, he kind of looks like Herb”. If there were no names attached, the picture would be worthless and end up back in the box and eventually relegated to the trash heap or, at best, pinned on the wall at Cracker Barrel. To illustrate just what I’m trying to get across; I have a second photo, 3 years older, that was sent to me by still another classmate. Annette Vines is married to an ex-business associate of mine and lives in Ormond Beach. She didn’t graduate with us but she’s the angelic little thing seated on the ground – far right – in the picture of Mrs. William’s 3rd grade 1948-49 class at Southboro Elem. I recognize some of my classmates but not all, maybe you’d like to give it a try and fill in the blanks?

Southboro Elem 1948-1949

4th row, standing on chairs   __ ? __, Lake Lytal*, __?__, Eddie Shoemaker, Jimmy Powell, Doug Stainthorpe, Billy Wilkinson                                 3rd row standing  __ ? __, __?__, __?__, __ ? __, __?__, __?__                                                        2nd row seated  Johnny Wilcher, Johnny Riggs, Bill Stevens, Bobby Sutton, __ ? __, __?__, __?__          1st row on the ground __?__, Susan Schmitt, Patsy Stephens, Jane Smith, Annette Vines

  • * name confirmed, thank you!

My sister stopped by yesterday with two boxes of stuff she had separated out for me from family items retrieved after my father passed away. My mother had preceded him. My father was an avid picture taker and had photos from as far back as the early 1930’s. Most of the shots include family members and friends that I recognize but I’m sure my children will not. The same can be said for other photos depicting locations, homes, events and etc. Along with these were portraits, wedding pictures, landscape shots, team photos, graduation pictures, and even tintypes – many dating back well into the 19th century. Along with all of these hundreds of photographs was one letter. It was from my mother to my aunt Mary in South Carolina. I won’t bore you with details but the letter was dated April 18, 1943 and, in my mother’s handwriting (an art form our great-grandchildren will have no concept of), told of her opportunity to travel by automobile from Oklahoma to visit her parents in Louisville, KY despite the wartime gas rationing.

There weren’t more than a few hundred words in my mother’s letter but, as I sit here today, every syllable she wrote is worth more to me than all of those pictures of strangers. No! A picture is not worth a thousand words if a thousand pictures without, at least, a single word can be worthless!

Put it in writing my friends. Put it in writing not just to label photographs but put it in writing to tell future generations who you were, what you thought, and why you wanted them to know … they will appreciate it.

Jimmy Powell

an illustrative postscript on the lighter side:

Aunt Maud                  Maud Ident

On the back of this tintype from the 1800’s are the words you see above … “Maud Tharp, sister of Amanda Tharp”. Amanda Tharp was my maternal grandmother so that means we are looking at a baby picture of Jim Powell’s grand-aunt. (Is that exciting or what?)

….. my “in between” moment in time …..

Many times in life we have experiences that, when we look back on them, were very profound and treasured happenings. On a few rare occasions I have realized, at the very instant, that what was transpiring around me was something I would never forget and found myself wishing I could stop the clock to savor the moment. The most vivid and lingering of these special times occurred as I was approaching my 40th year and evolved around my father Eugene, my son Bobby, and myself.

Bobby and I had been on canoe outings before but on this trip we decided to make it a three generation affair. What we were headed for was a two day/one night paddle down the Peace River north of Arcadia in south-central Florida. We were dropped off by a commercial outfitter near Zolfo Springs with our canoe and pushed off mid-morning.

Nothing unusual was in store for us the first day or night. We spent the day paddling; Bobby in front, me in the rear, and Daddy laughing about being in “the lazy man’s chair” in the middle. We camped out and had all the excitement that one would expect from a grandfather, son, and grandson campfire get-together but my lifelong remembrance was not to come until our trip was almost over the next day.

After two days and a night on the river, we arrived at the prearranged pick-up place. The outfitters called the location “Gardner” but it was really little more than the end of a dead end road at the river’s edge. Actually it had, at one time, been a through road and the ruins of the old bridge were still evident. Arriving about two hours ahead of schedule, we decided to beach our canoe across the river and do some exploring on the old road side. Little remained of what, I’m sure, was once an important artery of commerce in this rural corner of the earth. The three of us settled down, ate some lunch and, realizing our little odyssey was about to end, wandered our separate ways. It was here and now, and at that exact hour, that began what I will always hauntingly remember as the mid-point of my life. The one instant in time when I sat truly in the middle from whence I could only be “too early” or, more probably, “too late” ever again.

The river bank at this juncture was a steep sloping ridge. Bobby had gravitated down to the edge of the water. Daddy, with that little smile on his face and without saying a word, drifted away from the river toward higher ground and into the edge of a, long abandoned, nearby old orange grove. I, for no particular reason, sat down on the sandy ridge above the slow flowing river almost exactly midway between the two of them.

Down below me, Bobby was squatting down making mounds of mud on the bank. They weren’t anything too elaborate, just mounds, and every now and then he would look up at me as if to say … “I know I’m too old to be playing in the mud but, just this one last time.” I couldn’t hold back the happiness in my eyes but my lips were silent. I wanted to tell him that you never lose the little boy that lives inside and that I wish I could come down and “give him a hand.” I didn’t say anything and neither did he.

A short distance away, Daddy had taken up a position underneath an old orange tree. He just stood there alternating glances between the knarred and barren branches and the general direction of the ridge where I sat. He seemed as one with the old grove–the harvests of years past were much closer to both of them than the world on the other side of the river. He would reach up, break off a leafy twig to smell or taste, then fleetingly look my way again before smiling and moving on to the next tree. I got the feeling he was speaking to me without a word being said …”Boy, I won’t get to do this with you again because I’m growing old and so many things that used to be easy are awfully hard.”

I wanted to yell out to him that we would do something just like this next week or, at the latest, next month. I didn’t want this to be the last time and I wanted him to know it but, somehow, the moment passed. We smiled at each other again and both looked away.

My “in between time” was happening. Bobby was on the river bank looking up but couldn’t see my father. Daddy was in the old grove with a clear view of me but could not see his grandson below. I was between the two and could see both of them. Now it happened: I realized that, as I was between them in distance, I was also between them in age. I could understand my son and his youthful play and envy his innocence. I could recognize the melancholy in my father’s eyes as he wandered through the fallen leaves in the shadows of the old grove. This was my moment of being between … I would never be able to recapture it. Bobby would never again play in the mud where I could see him because he would be a boy no more and Daddy would tell me he didn’t think he could take another canoe trip because he just hurt a little too much when he got up in the mornings.

Sure, I didn’t have to let the moment get away. I could have decided to take them deep sea fishing or travel to a major league game or any number of other excuses to try once again but the big business deals, the meetings out of town, and all the other mileposts and yardsticks of success got in the way. The worst part is that I knew this, even as I sat there on that sandy ridge.

The time came, we crossed the river, and the outfitters picked us up. The three of us rode back to the base camp in silence. I’m sure the other two weren’t aware of the significance of the moment. Daddy’s happening, whether he had recognized it or not, was long past and Bobby would have to wait for another place and time. Mine had come, stayed for a sad and wonderful instant, and would never be again.


Jim Powell


CHAPTER 6 — gimme an “E”

Do arsenic and uranium have anything in common? They are both elements and show up as symbols on the Peridiot – whatever that chart on the chemistry class wall was called? Uranium either blows up things or lets you turn on the lights. Arsenic is, according to Webster, a brittle grayish-white nonmetallic substance, but to the rest of us it’s ……….. well it’s just poison!

The towers and containment domes of the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant dominate the western shoreline of lower Biscayne Bay. Ever since the Three Mile Island disaster, some people have stayed away from this entire area like it was poison. Years ago, and long before FP&L built the power plant, pioneers on the Bay must have felt the same way. This stretch of water only has four islands and they all have, essentially, the same name – Arsenicker. You have West Arsenicker, East Arsnecker, Long Arsenicker and, the smallest of them all, just Arsenicker Key. All four of them were, presumably, either named after someone that liked to poison people or some, long-forgotten, medieval Dutch proctologist.

The sun had been up for an hour or so and red marker #8 at the cut entrance into Card Sound was within sight. A light on-shore breeze was letting Le Esperance ghost along at maybe a knot and a half under full sail. Breakfast, a generous description, had been a stale guava Cuban pastry square and two cups of instant coffee with real half & half.

Last night, after I had slipped away from the madness, was an exceptionally peaceful time. Knowing that, in the direction of my drift, there was no danger of running aground, I had a lot of time to reflect. I could just lay back, rest my head on the rail, gaze up at the stars and think about happy things. We all have happy things but nobody ever talks about them because they’re …….well they’re just ours.

My happy things are usually reserved for when I’m trying to go to sleep. They don’t necessarily need to be “happy” happy things, but, if they’re not, they certainly have to be happily out of my control. For instance, I can go to sleep quickly if I concentrate on some obscure segment of Civil War history. I have a particular favorite: Grant moving his army down the western bank of the Mississippi River to cross over south of Grand Gulf and, thus, set the stage for his siege of Vicksburg. Even as a Southerner, you have to appreciate the brilliance of the march but all of what I have just said is really irrelevant. By pretending I’m a bystander, sometimes even a mule in a road-side field as the Union troops march by, I block out everything else and just concentrate on what are, in effect, thousands of blue clad, rifle toting, sheep jumping over some Louisiana split-rail fence. I can’t save Vicksburg, so there’s nothing for me to worry about……….ZZZZzZzZzzzz

Sometime in the pre-dawn hours I had awakened, still adrift and curled up on the cockpit seat. The northern horizon back toward Elliott Key continued to glow with the lumen of carnival and the faint sounds of revelry never stopped. I dropped anchor, took a pee off the transom, crawled into my v-berth forward, and blissfully crashed.

Card Sound is really just the lower end of Biscayne Bay but your mind-set changes as soon as you clear the cut. Names on the chart like Caesar, Hurricane, and Rubicon are replaced with Swan, Pumpkin, and Angelfish. The water clears up and the sea grass that flows by under the keel changes from dull brown to shimmering green. Even the neighborhood changes. The sinister nuclear power plant to the west on Turkey Point is replaced by glancing east towards the opulence of the Ocean Reef Club. The homes are magnificent and the Club, with its golf course and marina on Angelfish Creek, marks the northern end of Key Largo. It marks the northern end of Key Largo but, as every true Floridian knows, it doesn’t mark the beginning of “the Keys”. I’m still not quite there.

A familiar sound from inside the cabin – 1300 AM, WFFG Marathon–turn up the volume, he’s still with me! … in love so desperately, Honey – I was your hero, And you were my leading lady, We had it all

On a port tack and for the first time since I was off Lauderdale, it looked like I might get in some real sailing. The wind had picked up as it swung around to the SSE. Unlike Biscayne Bay, Card Sound is 8 to 10-feet shore to shore. No sand bars or shallow banks so, for the next hour or so, all I had to do was head her up, sheet um in, cleat um down, and see what heading the Good Lord had in mind.

Close hauled on the wind, Le Esperance was sailing herself with the end of the windward jib sheet cleated and looped around the tiller to hold her slightly off the wind and on course. For a single-handed cruising sailor this was what it was all about – the steady breeze wasn’t heavy enough to put the lee rail in the water, but almost – you have no crew or auto-pilot but it makes no difference. You can go and come from the cabin at will – you want a beer, go get one – need to hit the head, now’s the time – you want to see what it feels like to sit up on the forward hatch, or even climb out on the bowsprit, all while full canvas is bent and the boat is under way – DO IT! My favorite duty station at times like these is to climb out along the lee side to where the outboard wire shrouds rise up to the mast and spreader then, standing with my toes over the rail and each arm and shoulder around its own wire shroud, lean with the steady tilt of the boat out over the edge. Doing this heels the vessel even farther and lets me watch the grassy bottom with its colorful sponges and occasional sandstone outcropping seemingly fly by beneath me. Sometimes, a sudden gust will bring her over far enough that the sea comes up over the rail, my feet get wet, and I can almost reach out and touch the water! Then, as we come back off the wind, she rights herself, swings back on course, and sails on.

All too quickly, I was closing on the Card Sound Bridge. This was my first bridge in three days but, with 65’ of vertical clearance, it wouldn’t slow me down. Beyond the bridge lay the open water of Barnes Sound. The wind direction was steady but a slight course change towards the east meant that I’d need a tack or two to work my way south. That being the case, I would now have to actually man the tiller, swing over and cleat alternate jib sheets with each tack and, periodically, move from one side of the cockpit to the other. All this, while making certain not to spill any of my first creation of the day! To myself, I sarcastically mused: “life is filled with hardships”.

There is a primitive satisfaction for the male of the specie that comes with sailing. You are in total control! The wind is your slave … damsels swoon with your every move … pirates flee on your approach. There is no shoreline on the face of the Earth that, given enough time, you can’t set foot upon and claim for Sovereign, Church, and State–or, after your third Johnny Walker, you can just say “screw’em all” and claim it for yourself!

This was exactly what I had in mind. Leaving, in my wake, the drawbridge and the weekend lawn-chaired refugees from Little Havana that filled the wharf side motel at Jewfish Creek, I had officially entered the Keys and Blackwater Sound was my welcome mat.

We had it all …..(we had it all), Just like Bogie and Bacall, Starring in our old late – late show, Sailing away to Key Largo…………

Still another couple hours of daylight, plenty of time to get across the Sound and anchor off the lee somewhere in Tarpon Basin. Le Esperance was, once again, close-hauled and sailing herself but there was no reason to lean out from the shrouds–-the sun was too low and Blackwater meant … pouring myself another scotch. I climbed up amid ship and sat along the windward handrail. I had to put on provisions tomorrow. Needed batteries for my flashlight and rubbing alcohol for the spirit bowls on the kerosene stove. Diesel, fresh water and canned goods were okay and, truth be known, I could probably make it on down to Marathon except for one thing–the glass in my right hand held the last of my ice!

What I wouldn’t give for a cheeseburger, a frosty mug of dark ale, and drinking companions that spoke the Queen’s English and weren’t all from Georgia. I didn’t need to tie up. I could just set the hook, drag out the Avon, pump her up and dingy in, but to where? There was a marina at Tavernier and some restaurants on Buttonwood Sound but I was running out of daylight and, if I tried to find them in the dark, the only bar I’d be sitting at tonight would be a sand bar.

Sizing-up the situation, I put the binoculars on the shoreline off my port bow. There were cars – there were a lot of cars, both on the road passing by and parked in front of a large rectangular wooden building on my side of the highway. Partially blocked by the trees, I only got a fleeting glance of a roadside sign but what I could make out brought a smile to my face. A combination of live music, the Florida Keys, and Saturday night meant …. no matter what it was called, the “bean Club” had real possibilities!

But could I get there?

I jumped up, wheeled down into the cabin and grabbed my chart book. Quickly running my finger along a line to the location I was just observing – there was a wet “4” almost on top of a dry “E” which was, in turn, directly over of the =============. The “4” promised a minimum four-foot depth at low water; the “E” was the second letter of “K_Y LARGO” and the “=====E=====” was US Highway # 1!

……Here’s lookin’ at you kid – (Here’s lookin’ at you kid), Missing all the things we did, We can find it once again – I know, Just like they did in Key Largo……

With a lee anchorage that close to shore, a busy highway almost on the beach and such an inspirational piece of advertizing out front:….let’s all chime in with the old high school cheer! Gimme a 4 – …fourrr, gimme an E – …eeee, gimme a US # 1 – …you ess number one – put’em all together and wha’da you get???? –……… “Jim’s going ashore tonight!”

CC sign                       Chart Pic