The Bahamas and Florida
A Personal Story
Fun in the Sun
May 11, 2008
Richard J. Garfunkel
The Bahamas are a collection of many, many islands, over 700 along with 2400 uninhabited islets and cays. It’s a long archipelago that stretches over 760 miles and some of the cays (pronounced keys) are not farther than fifty miles from Florida. Only about thirty islands are occupied and the vast percentage of the 300,000 Bahamian people live on the 80 square mile New Providence Island, where the capital Nassau is located. We went to the other main island, Grand Bahama, which is much larger in geographic size, but has much fewer people. Most of them are concentrated in Freeport and Port Lucaya. There is little real worthwhile agriculture on any of the islands because of their sandy and rocky terrain.
Demographically the Bahamas are 85% African-black heritage and about 15% white. On Grand Bahama, the whites make up much less than 15% of the population. It’s a an island that barely rises to 68 feet above sea level, and its main purpose and income is from tourism which is concentrated in the hotels and time-sharing facilities that dot the beach. Our place is called the Taino Beach Resort, and the word Taino derives from the name of the original natives that formally lived there at the time of the first European discoveries. Of course disease practically obliterated the Tainos, and eventually the Bahamas became a British Colony by conquest. Therefore, English is the official language of the islands with a smattering of Bahamian and Haitian heard now and again.
We took a cruise liner, the Discovery Sun over from Port Everglades. This now relegated ferry, which cruises daily (except Wednesday) from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport was built about 50 years ago, and it is a bit primitive compared to today’s standards. It’s a bit slow, has no central atrium and weighs in at about 20,000 tons. The passengers are dominated by young day-trippers who take the 10-hour round trip back and forth to the Bahamas for about $150 to $200 for the pleasurable and exhausting experience of running around the island for 3-4 hours. There are staterooms, but it seems on the trip to Grand Bahama, which boards between 6 and 7 am, most people stay on the sun decks making sure they get their money’s worth of solar bliss. Most of the passengers are young, Hispanic and European with a smattering of Americans. The girls lie spread out in the sun with their bikinis, while their boy friends usually start on an alcoholic diet as soon as the ship disembarks into the open sea. Drinking can start as early as 8 am and it seems that no matter how much is consumed no one seems the worse for wear. Because there are some older people, and Bahamians who are making their weekly crossing for affordable food and consumables, there is little raucousness. Most people are happy enough to sun themselves, drink, sleep, and gamble. There are plenty of activities, which include dancing, shopping for perfume and liquor in the duty free shops, and listening to some Bahamian music or watching a broken down comic. There are a couple of meals served, so the time flies relatively fast. By the way the food wasn’t too bad at all and it was served buffet style and one could eat forever if one wanted to.
Once when the Discovery Sun pulls into Freeport, and customs are cleared, the day-trippers disembark first, and the vacationers, like us leave last. Our luggage is laid out in a the customs warehouse, we were picked up by “Cash” Walker, a local cabbie, and $28 dollars and twenty minutes later we pulled into the Taino Beach Resort. They have a new visitor center, which was built in the two years since our last visit, and it is quite nice. One could store their luggage in a locked area, they have a business center, where one could use the Internet, without cost and for an unlimited amount of time, unless someone was anxiously awaiting a keyboard and you had been there 30 minutes. One could also find out all the information needed regarding activities and expenses. It was quite an important addition to aid their ability to service their guests.
Meanwhile our unit was quite nice and airy and the weather was pristine. We have a wonderful balcony over which we could eat any meal, sit in the sun and look at the pool. We were separated from the incessant Bahamian music by the water slide, and our room was completely quiet and the blackout curtains made sleeping quite pleasant. In our unit the a/c was too good, and after a few days we shut it down accept for the evening. The cool breezes off the ocean made life in this tropical paradise quite enjoyable.
Grand Bahama Island was pretty beaten up by a few of the hurricanes that periodically decimate the Caribbean. Especially devastating was Jeanne, in the fall of 2004, which rampaged through Haiti, killing 2500 people and leaving 300,000 homeless. When we first set foot on GB island a few years ago almost all of the foliage had taken some brutal hits and many, many structures were either totally obliterated or damaged beyond repair. It was very obvious because hundreds of thousands of trees were either broken or destroyed and the damaged structures could easily be seen from the roads. Large resorts on the eastern neck of the island, like Paradise Cove Resort, near Deadman’s Reef and Old Bahama Bay & Marina were leveled. When we went to look for tennis courts at the Crowne Plaza, near the International Bazaar, the hotel had been abandoned. But today, almost four years later the foliage has almost grown in and what damage that still remains can barely be seen from the road. Therefore, when we drove in from Freeport Harbor, we could readily see that nature had almost fully recovered, while mankind and its structures still lagged behind.
The Taino Beach Resort had it share of problems and a whole section of the resort was ultimately destroyed by the storm. We saw the remnants of it a few years ago, but it is now torn down. But now the resort is beautiful, the pool is marvelous, and the beach has been re-done and the white sands are magnificent. There are also wondrous human sights to observe populating both the pool and the beach. We met young people from Spain, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, and from all over the Caribbean. They were all relatively young, in good shape and loved the sun.
We didn’t spend an insane amount of time in our rooms, but our unit had enough room to sleep at least six. We ate our breakfast on the balcony every morning, lunch in the room most of the afternoons, and dinner once in awhile. Food in the Bahamas is rare and expensive. Much of the quality food is brought in by Bahamians and tourists, each week on the Discovery Sun. Prices are just too high and the quality leaves much to be desired. A quality-style orange juice could cost ten American dollars for a half-gallon. A bag of potato chips is $6.00! Besides that gasoline is about $5.00 an Imperial gallon, and this time we didn’t rent a car at all. By the way, one of the last vestiges of British rule and influence is that one drives on the left side of the road, and there are many round-abouts or traffic circles and they can be a bit tricky to negotiate.
One of our meals out was in Port Lucaya, at the Chinese Café, the best bargain in town, where one must take a water taxi for five dollars per person, per roundtrip. Luckily, Linda was able to negotiate six round trip passes because our room had a dishwasher leak. It was a fortuitous spill that was easily repaired. The shopping district of Port Lucaya has many shops, a straw market, where one can by tee shirts, hats and trinkets, and many upscale stores selling jewelry and women’s clothing. One could easily find almost every brand of timepiece sold under the sun. Meanwhile, on the water ferry we met these attractive young folks who had also taken the Discovery Sun for a few days in the sun and surf. They were from all over the world. Auturo, who is an artistic consultant for Ralph Lauren, is a six-foot two-inch Adonis from Mexico, who was paired up with the luscious Nicole, who has a Greek father and a Brooklyn mother. Ali, the quiet one, who seemed to know the least English and imbibed the most, was of German-Turkish heritage. He was linked up with the exotic Sandra, who hailed from the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Later on we were to meet them in the pool and at the water slide. We told them that there was a Greek restaurant in Port Lucaya, and after we pulled into the dock we went our way and they went their way!
While at the port, we window-shopped as usual, but we bought virtually nothing. It was not that the prices in Port Lucaya were non-sensible, but we didn’t need a thing! But, of course, Port Lucaya is where people come to not only shop, but to eat at the myriad of restaurants that are provided. There are also a number of bars that flank the left side of Count Basie Music Bandstand. The bar stools are always filled as the locals and tourists quaff the local beers like Kalik, which are sold two for $5.00, and they either watch sports on television or gawk at the passing parade. There is never a shortage for “eye candy” and girls and guys of all sizes parade for the local group of critics. Many at the bar would remind you of a more portly version of Crocodile Dundee. But who can blame the gawkers, the girls wear less and less. and they are younger and in better shape than ever. They know what they have, and flaunt it.
As it gets dark, the native Bahamian entertainers, called the Junkanoo, come out with their skin drums and feathered outfits and they dance into the Count Basie Square as bright and bold as one could humanly imagine. It is a raucous show with everyone getting more and more excited with every fevered strike of the drums, and the blasts of their trumpets. It is quite a show and it was very reminiscent of the scene in one of the James Bond films where he gets caught in a Latin American Mardi Gras parade. After the parade, we made our way back to the dock and caught the 10 minute after the hour water ferry back to Taino Beach. Every night we were pretty exhausted from morning tennis, midday sun at the pool, and afternoon time at the beach. In between I was able to finish Martin Gilbert’s excellent book, “Churchill and the Jews,” and two Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe mysteries. One was “The League of Frightened Gentleman,” written in 1934, which was Stout’s third mystery novel, and has remained a classic from that day on. I later finished “The Prisoner’s Base,” which Stout had written in the early 1950’s. Of course to Nero Wolfe fans, who are familiar with his style and surroundings, one could see the maturing of his aide, assistant, and alter ego, Archie Goodwin. Archie was a little rough-edged in the early 1930’s, when Stout introduced him in the classic, “Fer-De-Lance.” But Wolfe also had changed subtly, while remaining true to his corpulent self. I noticed quickly that Wolfe was using the word “flummery” in the early 1950’s and, of course, he continued to use that term all through the rest of Stout’s seventy-six Nero Wolfe mysteries. Linda on the other hand was reading weightier stuff. Not only was her book serious, “Parting the Waters; America in the King Years 1954-1963,” but it really weighed a lot, almost three pounds and 1064 pages through the index. She is making progress, and as of this evening, she is at page 819.
Meanwhile the pool at the Taino Beach Resort is marvelous and I was able to photograph Nicole, Sandra and Arturo as they accelerated down the water slide. They certainly had a great time. It’s nice to be young, footloose and fancy free. They were all having a blast. Linda sat down with Nikki and she told her all about how the couples paired up. Arturo works in the corporate offices of Ralph Lauren, and Nikki is a sales girl. They have been secretly dating and are it seems more than friends.. They do not want anyone there to know. Sandra is Nikki’s close but younger friend and she met Ali and they are all staying together in one room at the Flamingo, which is part of the Taino Beach Resort complex, and day traveler’s from the state’s can rent a room for a day or two. It seems also that Sandy and Ali, who both are not working, and are here on visitor’s visas, are currently living together in a youth hostel. Meanwhile the girls and guys went up and down the water slide and I volunteered to take some pictures. Eventually they were exhausted from their efforts and Sandy went to a chaise lounge to sleep while we read and snoozed in the sun. As the day wore on they started to pack up and make their way to their room and to find a taxi to the Discovery Sun.
As the days wore on both Linda and I got involved in some “pool” games and I was lucky to win the “tennis ball” throw around and I was awarded with a Bahamian baseball cap. Eventually our young friends had to depart for Fort Lauderdale and we found our way to the beach, where the water was warm and crystal clear. There are not very big waves at the Taino Beach. It certainly is not like Jones Beach, Ocean City, Maryland or Atlantic Beach in North Carolina. It is gentle surf, and it could be because there is not a great tidal pull, and the one can walk pretty far out into the water without having to swim.
On one of our last night’s we were driven over to the “fish-fry” that was held at a nearby bar, by one of our management buddies, Mr. Shorn Malcolm. We met Shorn three years ago, and he is one of the sweetest fellows around. He was educated at the University of Nebraska, which is as far culturally from the Bahamas that one can get in the New World. He’s a terrific guy, and like most of the Bahamians, they all know that the tourist dollar is king and they therefore act accordingly. The Bahamians seem like a gentle people, who are genuinely polite, gracious and nice to be with.
Eventually we had to say goodbye and we headed early over to the Port. We wanted to be first on the Discovery Sun, which was expected to board at 3:00 pm and depart at 4:00 pm, so we could book a stateroom. It’s a five-hour trip back to Fort Lauderdale, and we did not want to sit topside at night, or be forced into enduring the seats in the public rooms. We felt that we could relax in our own room, shower, have our own bathroom, store our carry-on items, play some cards and read quietly. In truth, all that happened, and the fifty-dollar investment was well worth it. We had a great buffet meal at 6:00 pm with some nice people who amazingly spent the week with the people that we played tennis against. That was a funny coincidence. The ship pulled into the port at 9:50 pm, it took about 40 minutes to clear customs, we were able to rush through customs because almost every on the ship were not American citizens. We met our driver, Mr. Mauricio Herrera, and he transported us directly to our next location, the Vacation Village, located at 16461 Racquet Drive in Weston. Weston is a beautiful planned city, west of Fort Lauderdale. It is the third richest community in Florida behind Palm Beach and Bal Harbor. We had huge suite on the sixth floor and it was incredibly comfortable. We again went to bed early, were up at our usual time, about 7:30 am, had some orange juice, and were picked up by Enterprise Rent a Car, located at Danny’s Great Bear Auto Center. Originally we were booked for a PT Cruiser, but because the lighter connection did not work, and therefore our GPS was useless, we were able to upgrade to a Nissan-Murano, for the same money. The car is incredibly large and powerful.
After looking around for a supermarket, and eventually finding a place for a late breakfast, we headed out for the Sawgrass Mall, which we assumed was an outdoor flea market. It was not! It is a huge place, and after wandering around for a few moments we bought some tennis balls and suntan lotion. The next stop was Miami Beach. With help of our trusty Garmin GPS we quickly found Rtes 846, 595 and 75 and the Florida Turnpike and we eventually crossed over into Miami Beach. We headed south on Alton Road, and then made our to 10th Street, where we parked not far from Washington Street which is parallel to Collins Avenue and not far from South Beach. We walked over to the Ralph Lauren Store at 740 Collins Avenue, where we knew that our newly found friend Nicole was working. As we walked down Collins to 8th we found the store, and walked in finding Nicole standing there were her fellow sales people. She was dressed in tight pants and a white-laced top that accentuated her figure. We chatted for a while as her manager frowned at us, we promised that we would be back and then we headed for the South Beach sand. The beach was quite crowded with what it seemed like thousands of people. A crowd of racially mixed young people, who were mostly Hispanics, dominated the beach.
Unlike a few years ago, when we also walked on the beach, this was now the weekend, and it was crowded not unlike Jones Beach. There were volleyball games going on, and there is a new craze down there, called beach tennis, which was also being played. The last time we were there, European women who were mostly topless dominated the beach, and they seemed unaffected by intruders. This time the beach was dominated young Hispanics and blacks. There were an incredible number of mixed couples and they were much more lively and athletic. The beach had fervor and its energy seemed to reverberate from one group to the next. It was noisy, boisterous and it reminded me of the stylistic paintings of Coney Island in the 1940’s with all of the exaggerated bodies twisted in different shapes.
After returning to Ralph Lauren to say goodbye to Nikki, who was now joined by Sandy, we took a few pictures and headed back to our car. In this section of old Miami Beach there are many, many rehabilitated art-deco buildings: the Tiffany, the Essex House, the Sherbrook Delano, and the magnificent Temple Emmanuel. It’s much different from when I lived on Hibiscus Island in the summer of 1968. The lower Miami Beach of that day was completely dead, run down, and the home to old hotels and retirees. It was like a happy-hunting ground for older people from New York, who stayed in $100 per month ramshackle walk-ups only a block or so from the beach. There were virtually no stores, nothing going on and no future. But today all is remarkably different. Maybe it all can be attributed to Versace who established his presence in what is now known as South Beach. The streets are jammed, upscale shops vie for space along Collins Avenue and Washington, and the cafes and restaurants along A1A are jammed. The Casablanca and Johnny Rocket’s are where the beautiful people and their fans hang out. But every spot along A1A is crowded, especially at night. In the words of the legendary Fats Waller, “The Joint is Jumpin’.” We found our car where we left it on 10th Street, made our way to Lincoln Road, but couldn’t find a space for love or money. We were running out of time and we wanted to meet our old friends, the Reeds in Kendall at 6:00 pm so we didn’t have an insane amount of time to search for a space and then walk around the Lincoln Road Mall. Many years ago I had a good customer there named Linda Silverberg, who was at least 50 years older than I. She was a Sephardic Jew who did a lot of business with many of the South Americans who came through Miami Beach in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Frustrated about not finding a space, we headed over to the MacArthur Causeway, which was originally built in 1918, and is today the second most photographed bridge in the world after the Brooklyn Bridge. It is a 2466-foot causeway-bridge that was completed in its basic form in 1925-6. It was refurbished, widened and beautifully illuminated in the period from 1997-9. The causeway connects Miami Beach with Miami and extends A1A. As one crosses the causeway one can see the Miami Herald Building that welcomes one into the heart of the Brickell section of Miami, which over the last decade or so has grown remarkably. Halfway across Biscayne Bay one can make a sharp right turn into the twin islands; Palm and Hibiscus that are now linked to the mainland. These islands in the 1930’s were practically barren, and one could only reach them by boat. The most famous resident of that island was Public Enemy Number One, Al Capone. After he was released from Alcatraz, in the late 1930’s, he relocated to 93 Palm Avenue on Palm Island where he died on January 25, 1947, from the ravages of syphilis at the tender age of 48. It was said that the fearsome Capone was deathly afraid of needles and refused a simple dose of penicillin that would have for sure cured his social disease. Mr. Hank Morrison now owns the Capone house that was originally built in 1922. He bought the 3682 square foot home around 1972 for $68,000 and has currently listed it for sale at $6.8 million. Wow!
I knew the house and the area quite well. In the summer of 1968, my great friend, Doctor Laurence A. Reich of Los Angeles, and formerly of Hawaii and Mount Vernon, NY, and I lived in an apartment on Palm Island. While he was enduring an externship up in North Miami Beach Hospital, I had the luxury and use of his 1964 XKE convertible Jaguar. I would drive him up to the hospital where he worked, and quite often, three days later, I would pick him up again. The time went by very quickly, but I got the used to the lay of the land quite well. It was incredibly hot on Palm Island in July and August and the apartment, we had rented from one Bill Canaan, who summered in Provincetown was not air-conditioned. So every time we cross the causeway, I take a detour into the islands, which are now gated and I take a short drive around. It is incredibly overgrown by Bougainvillea, and the new houses are incredible. Who would have thought that a house there would appreciate 100 times in value?
After our once around, we headed back to the causeway and found I-95 which loops around Miami to Route #1 and we were quickly back on our path to the Reeds who live in Kendall, which is a wealthy community of over 75,000 inhabitants and is located in unincorporated Dade County. Barry is formerly from Mount Vernon, NY, where is family lived until about 1962, when they moved to New City, NY. He married Jill, who was from Miami Beach, over thirty years ago. He is a practicing doctor, who has been down in Florida since his interning days at Jackson Memorial Hospital. They have three grown children, who are very smart. But all the Reeds were smart. Three of the four sons are successful physicians and the fourth who I knew in Mount Vernon also has a sharp mind. He makes a living playing professional bridge and Scrabble. So we made our way down Dixie Highway, Route # 1 and we pulled up to the Reeds right on time. Their son Josh was there, he is now an assistant professor at NYU’s Stern School of Management. We talked for a while about our dinner in New York at the Saigon Grill on Amsterdam Avenue, and went of to a wonderful meal at a neighborhood joint called “The Big Cheese.” The portions were great, the food was excellent and the price was right.
After our dinner we returned to the Reed’s house on 64th Avenue and we spent another hours or so talking about foliage, Bougainvillea, the local economy, our children’s pursuits, and the potential price of gasoline this summer, we departed. It was an easy trip back to down 120th Street to Route #1 and then up the Palmetto to Route 75. We were back in Weston in thirty-five minutes.
The next morning we were up early, at about 7:30 am, and after a little breakfast, we went to play tennis at their tennis complex, which was a short walk from out suite. It was pretty hot by the time we finished, and we rushed back, showered, changed and headed out to visit the Gerstman’s, who live in Boca Pointe. We met Sy and Shelly at their beautiful home, talked a bit, and headed over to their clubhouse to meet with their good friends the Bronfman’s. Alan Bronfman and I have been exchanging emails for a few years now, and he an old political hand from Kansas City, and a great fan of Harry S Truman. We all had a fabulous brunch, talked politics for two hours and we were able to enjoy the last few games of a top-notch tennis match pitting to local young pros against each other. It was a wonderful visit, and it was great to enjoy the Gerstman’s company once again. On our way home we found our way to a large Fiesta Flea Market on Sample Road, We walked around for an hour or so, bought myself a salami sandwich for dinner, a few more post cards and though overwhelmed by the size and the variety of what was offered, bought nothing else. It was again an early evening. I continued reading my next Nero Wolfe mystery, “The Golden Spiders,” which also was written in the l950’s and was about why a few people were murderously run over by a car. As I may have said earlier, I have read all of Rex Stout’s classics, and they are always fun to re-read over the years.
We awakened to a lovely Monday morning. The weather has been uniformly excellent, and we planned to go up to Manalapan to see Bill and Joan Bernstein, but before our afternoon appointment, we committed ourselves to breakfast and a courtesy gift from the time-sharing mavens. What was supposed to be a breakfast and a short survey, turned into a 3-hour extravaganza. We were duly impressed with the property, thought the offer was quite interesting, but weren’t ready to spend $18,900 on three weeks of time-sharing. It was attractive, but we knew that the secondary market has similar properties at deep, deep discounts. After escaping the clutches of the their sales force, we headed across 1-75 to 1-595 to 1-95 and north to Lantana, where Manalapan is located. Unfortunately Joan was unavailable, she was with her mother and brother at a local hospital, and we therefore had a pleasant 3-hour visit with Bill. We have known each other for over 55 years and though we have some sharp differences over politics, we really enjoy each other’s company. He has a wonderful home, in a beautiful location and he and Joan have put it together with great taste.
When we parted I told him that we wanted to go up AIA to Palm Beach and walk along Worth Avenue, and see if there were any discernible changes. He recommended a great Italian restaurant called Testas, on Royal Poinsettia Boulevard. It truly was a wonderful meal, with excellence service and at a reasonable price. We drove across the Lake Worth to West Palm Beach, which is a remarkable city and headed over to 1-95 and our way back to Weston. We were truly amazed at the beauty of West Palm Beach, and I look forward to going back. Eventually we got back to our rooms at about 8:00 pm, packed our bags and did a little reading, watched some television, and prepared ourselves for the next day’s departure. It truly was a wonderful time, and well spent.