Today was a day to chase memories and to discover that time doesn’t erase your memories, but sure makes it harder to retrace some of the steps involved in those memories!
Susie and I have many Fort Lauderdale memories in common, starting with our first Florida trip as husband and wife, which started in Fort Lauderdale, and included a trip on the Jungle Queen (which is still operating from the exact same spot). Then we were here with the kids several times over the years, drove down for lunch on the beach one day when we were down for a wedding at the Breakers in Palm Beach, and the two cruises we were on when Kenny was working on Royal’s Allure of the Seas originated from Fort Lauderdale. But the memories I was trying to chase today, originated long before those. In fact, long before I knew Susan Lynn Johnson.
These memories have their origin in a little private school, on 79th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, where I went to school from First Grade through High School. It was called Garden Country Day School when I started, but the name was shortened to just Garden School along the way. It started with three guys who met in the Technician’s Club, and became fast friends. Richard and I were in the same grade, but Dave was a year older than us, and his sister Joyce was a year younger. Richard and I had known each other since first grade, but David and Joyce showed up in the high school years. Our 3 Musketeer friendship was really cemented during the summers of 1964 and 1965, when the New York World’s Fair was in Flushing Meadow Park. I lived near the 82nd Street stop of the #7 elevated train, Richard by the 96th Street stop, so we’d meet on the train or the World’s Fair platform. Dave lived in Flushing, so he’d take the bus down Booth Memorial, come in the Rodman Street entrance, and we’d all meet by the Unisphere. Those were two magical summers for the 3 of us, as we probably went to the fair over a hundred times, and knew it like the back of our hands.
As members of the Technician’s Club, we were all involved in the school plays, and since David was a year older, he got his license before us. During rehearsals in the spring of 1966, we spent a lot of time hanging out, and going to and from rehearsals in the 61 Chrysler Winsor that had been handed down to him. It was big, it was black with a red interior, and it had those crazy Virgil Exner designed fins…we called it the Batmobile! Now with wheels, we didn’t just see each other at school and the fair. We were at each other’s houses, hanging out on the weekends, and doing the things you expect of 3 best friends.
After spending the summer of 1966 together, David went off to the University of Arizona, at Tucson, while Richard and I finished our senior year at Garden. After we graduated, Richard’s family moved out to Suffolk county, and we didn’t see as much of each other. Meanwhile, David came home from that first year in Arizona, deciding that he wasn’t a student, and that college wasn’t for him. He went to work in the Cohen family tie business, and we saw each other often, and spent much time at each other’s houses and became part of each other’s family! In a real sense, I had a brother and a younger sister…a heady thing for an only child!
David was the brother I never had, and in 1968 when we moved from Jackson Heights to Bayside, David’s folk’s house in Flushing was just down the road! Now we were together all the time! David would have dinner at our house, and my Mom would tell him that the ham she was serving was really rare roast beef. I’d eat dinner at the Cohen’s house, and David’s Father would always try to time the punch line of his joke, just when we had a mouthful of liquid! Mrs. Cohen fed me matzah brie and taught me a life lesson that I will always remember, as I will the exact moment and place she taught me. One day in the living room of their Flushing house, she and I were talking and she said to me, “Frankie…when you’re talking to someone, look them directly in the eyes. It lets them know you value what they’re saying!” To this day, some 50 years later, it still pisses me off when I’m talking to someone and they’re not looking me in the eyes! Thanks Mrs. Cohen!
Since he no longer had a college deferment, he watched the draft numbers closely, and when it looked like it was getting close to him, he went down and volunteered, and was able to specify helicopter school. Remember, this was the height of the Vietnam War…not sure how smart that was, but he wanted to learn how to fly! I remember the day I took him to his Army Induction at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, wondering when I’d see my “brother” again. I didn’t have to wait long, as David was home in about 8 weeks, when it was discovered that he had asthma. Thank you for your service, you’re commitment to the US Army has been satisfied.
So David came home, went back into the family business, moved out to his own apartment, but NOTHING changed between us. We were still with each other as much as possible. Going to the movies, eating out, spending time with each other’s families, and going on vacation together…if you saw one of us, it was pretty unusual if the other one wasn’t tagging along!
At some point though, he decided he wanted more out of life, and took an electronics course and was working towards an FCC license. Although not a “student”, like most of us, if we like the topic, we rise to the occasion, and that David did. He passed the course, got the license, applied for jobs, and got one with the Motorola Company, down in Florida! This was a great thing for him, but to be selfish, a major blow to me. My best friend in the world, who I’d been best friends with since high school, was moving away. But fear not…a solution was on the horizon!
I was working at WHN Radio in NYC at the time, and a new IBEW contract had just been negotiated, with some rather radical thinking for the early 70s. What the contract did was create two classes of engineers. There were “On the Air” Engineers and “Production” Engineers. The “On the Air” Engineers would work 5 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and do one DJ’s whole show. The “Production” Engineers would work four days a week, 8 hours a day and do News or Commercial production, and fill the weekend on the air slots. That first year, I was designated to be the guy who filled in for vacations, as vacations were now scheduled 12 months a year, but only one of the guys could go at once. So the results for me were that, as well as my vacation, there were 5 times that first year where I’d work for a Monday – Friday guy, have Saturday and Sunday off, and then the very next week, work for one of the 4 day a week guys and be off Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday! So, in addition to my vacation weeks, 5 times during the year I was off for Five Days In A Row! So what did I do???
This was back in the days when you could fly Eastern or National Airlines (remember their campaign, “Hi, I’m Betty…Fly Me!”) roundtrip from LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale for $69. This was also the day, when the Fort Lauderdale Airport was fronted with no name car rental agencies where you could rent a Ford Pinto or a Chevy Vega for $9.99 a day! So what did I do for all of those 5 day periods? Why I bought a plane ticket, rented a cheap car, and made believe I lived in Fort Lauderdale! For 5 times that year, Dave and I were roommates at his apartment in Fort Lauderdale, and 5 times that year we renewed our best friendship, and hung out, doing best friend things. Honestly, things were cheap back then, I’d become permanent at WHN and was making nice money, and I lived at home! Hell, I’d even bought a boat!
So that’s what I was trying to relive today. Trying to remember some of the memories, and some of the places we hung out during that year. Trying to find where Dave’s apartment was, trying to be that 24 year old I was 44 years ago. Trying to remember my best friend, and the fun times we had, in a much less populated South Florida. But alas, times they do change, and progress marches on. When he first came down here, his apartment was at the end of the developed part of Fort Lauderdale, and 40 plus years later, the areas are not even recognizable. Roads that used to be underpasses are now over passes, and golf courses are housing developments or shopping centers. Areas that used to be nice residential neighborhoods are slums, and even McDonalds and Burger Kings we used to frequent are gone or unrecognizable. Time marches on, and how I expected almost 45 years later, to find things that look the same, I don’t know. Hell, I don’t look the same as I did 45 years ago! Why the hell did I expect Fort Lauderdale to??
One of the biggest disappointments in my life, is that Susie, the love of my life, never got to meet David, my best friend. One Sunday, not long after that first year he was down here, I came back from a day out on my boat with some friends, and walked into my folks house in Bayside to find my Mom and Dad very somber. It was not easy for them to tell me that that afternoon, my friend David Cohen had died in an accident while taking skin diving lessons. That’s why it was so important for me to try to find some vestige remaining from that great year I had visiting David in Fort Lauderdale!
Thanks Susie for understanding and encouraging me today, to try and find the places where these memories happened, and to keep them alive. I love you!
Thanks Joyce Cohen Leiber for letting me steal some of your Facebook pictures