If you know about Florida, you will be aware that it rains a lot there. June is usually the wettest month, with ten to twelve inches accumulation being about average. That is also the month that signals the beginning of freedom from school, and the opportunity to escape from the routines of everyday life.
I have written about going to visit my Seminole friends in the Everglades in the story, “The Only White Boy There” where I was privileged to attend the Green Corn Dance/Celebration. I learned valuable lessons about life and myself in those three days and became even more a part of the family of the host tribal clan.
During a visit to Big Cypress (Indian reservation) I had occasion to spend time with a very elderly woman who spoke little English and was thoroughly unimpressed with my command of the Miccosukee language. We did communicate as she felt necessary, but that was not frequent.
I was at the old woman’s “house” waiting for her niece, her granddaughter Scarlett, and our friend Larry to join me. We were going to celebrate Scarlett’s birthday and my own, neither of which fell on the dates we were there, but was the best we could do.
I use quotations on the word “house” because in the white world it would not be consider as such. The structure was called a chic-kee in the Seminole language. The chic-kee was quite functional as a domicile for traditional Seminole people but it did not have walls, doors, electricity, or plumbing. It had a raised platform for a floor and a thatched roof to keep the sun and rain off of you. It had everything that people needed to live their lives in comfort.
Can you imagine white people of today living in an open structure with no electricity or plumbing, no separate rooms for the inhabitants, no television or computer? You would actually have to look at and, talk to, each other.
While we waited for our fellow party guests, the elderly woman known to me only as “grandmother,” was busy cooking on an open fire with multiple pots going at the same time. She seemed to be in a hurry to get things done and sent me to the nearby communal garden plot to pick things like bananas, tomatoes, and some green herbs that I can’t remember the name she used, but just looked like weeds to me. They still do when I see them in grocery stores or on my plate.
When I returned from that errand I was inclined to take a nap in the shade of the chic-kee and sleep away the wait, but grandmother had other plans. She told me to go back to the garden plot; but this time go to the back and cut several large banana leaves from the older trees with no fruit and bring them back to her undamaged. I chuckled to myself all the way there about her admonition to not “damage” the leaves. What was so important about banana leaves and why did she assume that I would mess them up? She sounded like my dad.
I was to get only complete, non-split leaves, and as large of ones as was possible. It wasn’t a terrible job and it did allow me to use a big knife on something. I did love swinging a blade at stuff, so I was not unhappy.
While standing in front of the small grove of banana trees trying to decide which leaves to cut I noticed how hot and muggy it was. I removed my shirt and looking down to get it in the right spot, I dropped it on the ground with my coil of string. As I looked back up at the tree in front of me I caught movement and launched forward like the experienced snake chaser that I was.
Thanks to my experience with animal importing, I was familiar with the spider commonly known as a “Banana Spider.”It was more accurately called the “Brazilian Wandering Spider.” This creature has a very potent poison and had been known to kill humans with its bite. The dock workers at Port Everglades were terrified of them.
Back to the job at hand, I hacked off the biggest leaves I could find (while still watching for spiders) and laid them carefully on the sandy soil. The very first one that I cut, I stepped on and ruined when I went to put the second one on top of it. I cut a dozen more and then bundled them together with my string and picked up the load to carry it back to grandmother.
The Seminole are a wonderfully kind people. They never hit or even openly ridicule, humiliate, or even embarrass their youth. Their elders can convey more with a glance, grunt, or chuckle than most of the lectures I had received in the white world. Grandmother types were the most powerful of all and I have seen them make grown up tough guys wince and cower with a single look.
This was all in my mind as I twisted, turned, lifted and sweated my way through the bushes. I finally put the load on the top of my head like I had seen in so many films of other countries and it worked!
It never occurred to me to question why I was doing this task (such was the power of this grandmother’s will) or what she was going to do with them. I just did what I was told. When I returned with the banana leaves she told me to put them in the chic-kee, not on the ground by the fire where everything else was assembled. I thought that was odd but kept my mouth shut; I was learning.
As I watched I noted that she was moving very quickly for an old woman and I couldn’t figure out what the rush was. Seminoles are a very laid back, easy going society and not prone to hurrying. Grandmother started directing me to pick up things and move items into the chic-kee, which again was odd.
When I could stand it no more, I broke down and asked her, “Grandmother, why are you in such a hurry, what is going on?” She chuckled, pointed up and kept working like it should be completely obvious to me. I looked up and only saw blue skies with white puffy clouds. There were no spaceships, no pterodactyls and no answer to the puzzle.
The look of confusion on my face was so amusing to her that she chuckled and pointed to my ear and said “fah blee chee,” which I did understand; it means wind. Was she saying that I was an airhead? She then pointed at her own ear and made motions of going by her ear with her hand. Wind going by; she wanted me to listen to the wind. Grandmother then pointed to her own nose and said “okee,” which means water. Since her nose was not running, I guessed that she meant that she smelled water.
I finally got it; listen to the wind and smell the water in the air. I looked up again, but with a more educated eye that time; I knew what I was trying to see. Sure enough there were clouds on the horizon and the wind was picking up and you could smell the rain if you tried hard enough.
But how did this old woman, who had probably never seen a weather forecast in her life, know so far in advance that rain was coming? It was Florida and it did rain a lot, especially in June, but it had been sunny and beautiful all morning.
Grandmother had finished the cooking and was moving pots of great smelling food onto the chic-kee platform. From there she had me move them to the center of the floor and put them on a pile of green palmetto leaves which acted as a mat to keep the hot pots from scorching or marking the cypress wood.
The wind picked up and the clouds rolled in and I wondered what we were going to do for shelter. I had always lived in the city in a concrete block house and while I had been rained on before, it was not a “planned” thing. I couldn’t imagine grandmother wanting to get wet, although I had witnessed Seminole women washing their hair in the rain, I just didn’t see her doing that right then.
There was only one modern, or “white man,” item in this totally traditional woman’s life. That item being a treadle powered Singer sewing machine, which sat in a corner of the platform. That baby had its own rain cover, which had covered something else in a past life but now provided a waterproof barrier for the machine and its cabinet. Grandmother reached under the cover and pulled out a cushion, which she placed on the platform, and then made sure the cover was closed up tight.
Finally, I found out what the banana leaves were for! Grandmother had me tuck the stem ends of the leaves into the underside of the thatched roof where a vine as been woven in and out around the support pole. I secured the end and then overlapped each leaf by half.
Rain hit me in the face while I secured the last banana leaf into place and made me look outside of the chic-kee. It was raining hard and moving towards us in sheets of water. I hoped that the banana flavored raincoat would work.
Grandmother had me sit down against the pole in the corner protected by the six leaves and handed me a banana leaf. Then she picked up the other one and plopped down on her cushion, where she sang a little song to herself and fussed with some threads on her skirt.
When the rain blew hard the old woman gestured to me to put the leaf over me. She did the same thing, but she stretched out on the floor with the leaf over her face and started snoring. That sight made me laugh to myself, but quietly.
I first put the leaf over my head like I had hung them from the pole, with the stem side up. That wasn’t comfortable, so I reversed it and put the soft leaf end over my head and tucked the end between my skull and the post. That worked much better and it actually cushioned my head.
That was where I was when the others arrived in their truck. I was found asleep and still hiding from the rain, under a banana leaf like a monkey in the jungle. Of course with it being Florida, the sun was already out again. Grandmother was out bustling around doing her thing like nothing had ever happened. So naturally I got teased by Scarlett for being afraid of a little water.
Things are never dull in a world where wondrous experiences just wait for you to live them. I am happy to have had so many of my own.
The Truth about the KKK
Let me begin this tale by posing two true or false questions for consideration:
Is every Southerner a member of the Ku Klux Klan?
Does every Southerner believe that the KKK is really out to do good, and is simply misunderstood?
When I was 13 years old in 1966 I needed to know what the real story was in regards to the “Invisible Empire.” The two questions stated above were two of many that were going through my mind far too frequently for a young boy.
In light of the events of the 1960s with riots, abductions, and murders happening all over the country (not just in the South like some people seem to remember it) it really wasn’t strange for a young person to be trying to figure out what was true, and what was false.
South Florida was not the hotbed of racial tension that other areas were at that time. Not like Montgomery, Birmingham, Cleveland, or just about any large city with sufficient media coverage to make national news.
I still think that political advantage and profiteering had more to do with the riots than we knew. It wasn’t just about anyone’s civil or human rights. Injustices were happening, and change was coming slowly, but there was too much violence. Violence wasn’t the way that the church going, God fearing people that I grew up with would even think of behaving. It certainly wasn’t what Martin Luther King, Jr. was preaching.
I grew up with kids of every color, nationality, religion, and income level that you could imagine. If you know South Florida, you know that is not an exaggeration of the society found there. Black, white, brown, red, yellow… only meant colors from a Crayola Crayon box to us.
I knew three boys named Larry, and we had to call them something slightly different to tell who we were yelling at to throw us the ball, etc. One was called “Lawrence”, one was called “Larry”, and one was called “LT”. OK, you got that?
Now add to the mix; one was Catholic, one was Jewish, and one was Baptist. To further confuse the issue; one was black, one was white, and one was Seminole. Can you tell by the names, which was which? Does it matter anyway? It didn’t to us; they were just three guys named Larry.
If curiosity is killing you; Lawrence was black and Catholic, Larry was white and Jewish, which made LT a Seminole of the Baptist persuasion… and none of this mattered, and it shouldn’t.
Why did these people (the KKK) gather together and hold rallies; and what’s with the burning cross?
These questions are what prompted four of us to go out into an orange grove in Davie, Florida, one Friday night when we were supposed to be at a school dance at the Junior High School.
It was a foolish thing to do and a much greater risk for my three Seminole Indian “brothers” than it was for me. Seminole Indians have “mixed” with slaves at times in their history and the KKK has a special hatred for those of mixed ancestry.
At least that was what we had heard and that was a big part of the problem. We didn’t have any first-hand knowledge and the opposing sides were extremely opinionated in their own behalf. So who should we believe? What was the Gospel in this matter?
“Friday night in “X’s” orange grove, ceremonies to start at 8:00 PM, sharp. Come early and bring your own supplies. The Exalted Grand Dragon will Honor us with a speech and sermon.”
There was more to the flier, but you get the tone of the message. That was how we found out where and when the rally was being held. We were determined to find out the “why.”
Larry, Ralph, Sam and I really did start out at the dance. We didn’t lie (to our parents) about going to it, we just didn’t stay long. One of their cousins had agreed to give us a ride out to the orange grove for a half-pint bottle of Vodka.
They had already taken care of the payment, and obtained his promise not to drink it until we were safely back at the dance and he had driven home. The “no drinking” restriction was necessary because we had to be back at the school before 11:00 PM when the dance got over and we didn’t want this cousin getting into a wreck or getting arrested (or leaving us out there with the Klan.)
The rally location was a big shock to me. It was in a grove owned by a prominent family of church going folks with a very good reputation. I recall saying that “Maybe they didn’t know that it was being held there.” “And maybe pigs fly,” was the response and general consensus of opinion about that idea. I knew that the guys were right…I just didn’t want them to be.
We knew that the main road into the grove would be watched and they weren’t likely to let us in to satisfy our curiosity. They might have let me in by myself, if one of their number would speak up for me. But, I wasn’t interested in being alone with the Knights of the KKK, betting on them being understanding “Good Ole Boys.” So that approach was out. There was another road which connected this grove to the next, but it was a long way to the other end where you “might” have been able to enter, and it could have been padlocked too.
The only logical choice for us was to cross the big canal next to the paved county road that bordered the grove. Then hike in through the trees in the dark without flashlights, and hope that we didn’t encounter snakes, etc. There were also the man made obstructions like barbed wire and irrigation hardware. Yep. It was the best way, they would have to figure that nobody would be crazy enough to do that and not worry about posting guards or lookouts on that side.
We found a place for the cousin to park the car and go to sleep. He promised to wait and not drink the Vodka until the agreed upon time and if we weren’t out by 11:00 PM he was to go get the entire tribe to rescue us. We didn’t think that the cops would be of much use for some reason… a hunch that proved to have merit later.
The water was deep and cold, and there were alligators and Water Moccasins in those ditches, especially big canals like that one. Those minor details made it even more comical that we had to get naked and wade across with our clothes held over our heads to keep them dry. The running joke was about where you might get snake bit; and that nobody was going to suck the poison out, etc. We were very loony, that much is obvious now, but at the time it was just another thing that we did. We could see an alligator farther up the canal, but we were too large for it to bother with.
We found a good spot to get out and quickly got dressed again. There was a minor planning problem; we had to use our underwear to dry off with. Not wanting to put wet underwear back on, we left them hanging on the bushes to dry. I wondered for a long time if they were still there. We didn’t go back for them, that’s for sure!
We actually made good time through the trees and were being very careful where we put our feet, both to avoid hazards and to prevent making unnecessary noise that might alert the Klansmen. We wanted this to be a “private” viewing of their rally and not for us to be “part” of it. The thought of what would happen to my Seminole brothers if we were caught made me very careful. The idea that I would be the reason for harm coming to them suddenly terrified me.
It was 7:45 p.m. when we got to the edge of the clearing where there was a bonfire and a lot of “White Robes” moving around. That meant it took us 30 minutes to cross the canal and hike in to that spot. We moved along the trees, keeping them between the crowd and us until we found a likely site to watch from.
The four of us then climbed a tree almost all the way to the top. Orange trees were not my choice for climbing with their thorns sticking out everywhere. I was scratched and bleeding from several places by the time I reached my perch.
If we had hesitated at all, we would have been history. We had no more stopped moving than two guards in white robes and hoods, carrying shotguns, walked right up to where we were and stopped. I was afraid to even breathe!
The rally was called to order and the ceremonies began at 8:00 p.m. on the dot. Those boys were punctual, I’ll give them that much.
The head guy of all of them, the “Exalted Grand Dragon,” was sitting in a lawn chair behind the stage, out of sight. He didn’t get up or even appear to pay any attention when the “Wizard” was on stage working the crowd into a frenzy. I supposed that it was much like what the opening act did for the headliner at a concert or a Las Vegas show.
This hooded bozo (the Wizard) had already answered a lot of our questions concerning the attitudes and intentions of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. If you weren’t just like them you were wrong for their future and a danger to their children; and you had to be eliminated. Peacefully if possible, but however was necessary, if that was what it took.
The speaker professed to be a God fearing man on a mission to save his race from contamination and extinction. He said that he was doing it all for his children and their children. Using children and God were his main hooks to work the crowd, and work them he did! These robed figures were agitated, animated, and aggressive (just to use the “A’s”.) However you wanted to describe it, they were pumped up and ready to receive the message from their “main man!”
As good as the Wizard was at stirring the crowd up, he was nothing compared to the Exalted Grand Dragon! That man had people crying, shouting, and dumping money into a barrel. The donations were to keep up the fight against the government and all the others who would deny them their God given right. Of course, maybe a little of it would have to be used to pay for the stretch limousine that the big guy had arrived in; and would go on to the next rally in, riding in comfort.
I got the feeling that I was witnessing Adolph Hitler working on the plan for the Aryan race. There was no longer any doubt in my mind that genocide was too singular for what these crazies had in store for the rest of us.
When I was able to take my eyes off of the stage and look around us, I just about spoke out loud. Damn! The rally with all those fanatics was in front of us and their cars were parked behind us, with armed guards patrolling all around them. There was no “sideways,” the bonfire was so large that it illuminated everything around us. We were in an ugly fix, but still safe in the tree top for now.
The ceremony of lighting the cross would usually have begun the rally I was told later on in life. On that night it had special significance and had been delayed until that critical point. I had never seen so large of a cross before; it was made from telephone poles and was at least 40 feet high.
The Grand Dragon said a prayer that got a lot of “amens” all through it and had everyone focused on him. At a wave of the hand signal from him, one of the attendants lit the cross with a forty foot burst of liquid fire (like napalm) from a flame thrower. The screams, squeals and applause of the masses gathered there were thunderous!
The KKK will tell you that the lighting of the cross is a sacred religious tradition honoring the Light of God and Jesus for dying for our sins. All completely Christian and only meant as a good example of their faith.
So why then did their leader say, “All of the unclean, and the mixed curs had better take warning from this cross burning brightly in the night. We will take what is our right by any means necessary and they can perish in its flames if they get in the way.”
The crowd again responded with riotous and righteous clamor, not unlike a hound pack hitting a strong scent trail. I feared that the Dragon was going to send them out to harm people right then. In their present state of mind I believed that they would do anything that he ordered.
The man with the flame thrower was so moved that he unleashed another burst of fire on the already burning cross, causing more screams yet.
That “re-lighting” of the cross served a better purpose for us. It brought the guards in from the parking area to witness the burning and increasing level of excitement. Their movement drew them in far enough that we felt that it was our best chance to get out of the tree and slip out through the cars. Again we went with the logic of doing the least expected. No one would expect us to come out through the cars and down the main road of the grove.
Those trees ate us alive with scratches and cuts, but not a sound was made, at least not out loud. I was truly screaming inside my head from all of the pain. I almost fell out of the tree, but a hand reached out and grabbed me. Larry was looking out for his “brother,” as always.
We made it to the ground and staying low, moved as quickly as possible to get to the cover of the vehicles and darkness. Fear was a great motivator and we had plenty to be afraid of from those nuts, especially in the frenzy that they were riding on right at that moment.
As shocking as the words had been, and as disheartening as the supposed “moral conviction” of these robed figures was; the real pain and hurt lie ahead.
When these Knights of the Klan were just anonymous figures in robes, it was bad enough. But, when we got among the cars and recognized the vehicle of our Sheriff, the personalized plates of the Mayor’s car, the car of a banker who was the father of one of our friends, the truck belonging to the owner of the local hardware store (complete with the sign on the side), and other vehicles of people that we knew by the car or license plate… it went past bad, it was gut wrenchingly painful. How could they act this way here at this rally, and then smile to our faces when they met us on the street?
And then came the real crusher. The unmistakable car of the preacher whose church we had been attending! It serves no purpose to identify what religion he represented; none of them would condone what he had done here tonight.
The sinking realization that we now knew why the Wizard who “opened” for the main speaker sounded so familiar, and why he could talk for an hour and a half without letting up. We never set foot in his church again after that night.
We moved quietly through the cars and down the road towards freedom and fresh air. It smelled like sulfur and brimstone where we just were.
There was a checkpoint to pass and even though it was dark, we could smell their cigarettes and hear what they probably considered a whisper, a long way from them. We just slipped off to the side and went through the trees until we were clear of them and then got back on the sand two-track road and in no time we had reached pavement.
Upon gaining that asphalt pavement, we allowed ourselves (for the first time) to run, and run we did, all the way to the car about a mile down that county two-lane. We ran like the Devil himself was behind us, and I’m not so sure that he wasn’t.
When we woke the cousin up from a sound sleep in the back seat of his car, scaring him with our emotional insistence to hurry up, he no doubt thought that the Klan was after us. It was worse, it was demons in our minds, screaming about what we had seen and heard!
The clock showed 10:30 p.m. when we walked back into the dance; we had been gone a lifetime. It was a sad, hard lesson to learn that things are seldom what they seem and people are capable of unbelievable extremes and such hatred that I couldn’t yet comprehend.
It would take many years and experiencing war to make me know the depths of the human soul.
Right then, at thirteen years old, I was in shock. If this was what it meant to be white, then I was glad to be a “brother” to the Seminole People, maybe they would claim me and I wouldn’t have to be white anymore.
I was sure embarrassed by what we had experienced on this night and apologized to my brothers for the color of my skin. They were wiser than I was, and told me not to worry, that I had a good heart and would always know the right path to take. I don’t know if I lived up to that, but I was glad that they were still my brothers.
Whatever color, nationality, or religion that you may be… whatever differences that you may have… whatever problems may arise in your life… we learned that night that: HATE IS NOT THE ANSWER.
Television was still new and watching it was a privilege for children of the 1950’s and ’60’s. It didn’t take a lot to fire imaginations that were used to doing all of the work anyway. Saturday mornings were great for heroes like Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and Sky King. They taught us that good could triumph over evil and doing the right thing was our duty. They also showed us that good guys; got the girls, could ride a horse, play a guitar and sing, had a cool friend named Tonto, and could fly a plane. All admirable qualities to a kid.
There is a lot to be said for being inspired by good guys and it was even OK if you didn’t succeed at everything that they did. I found out that I couldn’t play a guitar and my singing sounded more like a cat in pain. I could ride a horse because I was raised around them and it was a common thing where I grew up. None of my friends were named Tonto, but several were real Indians, and they all wanted to be the Lone Ranger when we played. Unanimously they said that Tonto sounded funny and didn’t want that role, so I was Tonto. But we all liked and respected Jay Silverheels more than Clayton Moore because he was always loyal and trustworthy.
I grew up with a knowledge of aviation due to my father’s occupation as an Air Traffic Controller in Miami, so I was more interested in the Cessna 310 that Sky King flew than the plot. It was usually bad guy grabs girl, good guy has to fly airplane to rescue girl, all have a narrow escape and good guy wins. Do you remember the name of the niece? How about the airplane?
Even more dominate in my memories and by far my greatest hero, was a man that I had read about in books, and who didn’t appear in the Saturday morning lineup until much later. He was still a movie star and his name was Tarzan of the Apes!
Of those who portrayed the ape man since the Edgar Rice Burroughs books first came to film, my hero was number six and the undisputed king, Johnny Weismuller. The yell heard ’round the world! He was and is still, the only Tarzan for me.
He was an immigrant child, born in what is now Serbia, and suffered from polio at an early age, which lead to his swimming for health and strength. Johnny Weismuller was so good at swimming that he won five Olympic Gold medals and one Bronze medal, won 52 National swimming titles and set 67 world records.
I knew about the swimming accomplishments from reading about him, and hadn’t we ALL seen him swim in his films! He could swim faster than a crocodile and was so strong that he could swim upstream against raging torrents.
It wasn’t the swimming that inspired me as much as the decency, fairness and strength of character that Tarzan brought to the silver screen. He never allowed anyone or anything weaker to be mistreated. I could relate to that being smaller and weaker than nearly everyone that I knew at the time. The code of personal conduct that Tarzan lived by, and the respect that he earned from all who knew him was a model that I wanted.
That and to live in that really awesome tree house and have all of those animals as my friends. Forget mansions and fancy cars, I wanted to live in the jungles of Africa like Tarzan.
In December of 1965 Johnny Weismuller was to help officially open the Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft Lauderdale, FL., which he also helped to establish. Tarzan was going to be in one spot long enough for me to see and hear him. It was as kids today would say, an OMG moment.
Sure I was twelve years old and knew that Tarzan was a fictional character, but, this was TARZAN!
I tried to get a ride from family; Dad was working, so mother didn’t have a car, my older siblings would rather have swallowed worms than haul me anywhere. Even my few older friends were working.
I asked my mother if I could go anyway, if I could find a way. Her answer was, “Don’t be ridiculous” and went back to her magazine. She didn’t SAY no, so I took that as a yes.
“Think!” I kept telling myself. “Tarzan wouldn’t give up!”
If we were urban dwellers like people in New York City, it would have been so much easier and less mentally painful to solve this, but I was a country kid, albeit ensconced in semi-surburbia. But I did eventually come to it.
The bus! I will take the bus. I had taken the bus to the beach and back hundreds of times. I even had to transfer from one bus to another, I was a pro, in my own twelve year old mind anyway. I could do this. Old ladies do this. Piece of cake!
I am going to shake hands with Tarzan and somehow become his friend and go to Africa and … oh wait, he lives in Ft Lauderdale now. Well, I’ll get him to do the yell, that will be good enough, but if he WANTS to go to Africa, I’m with him!
There were no computers in those days. No easy find it online solutions to which bus runs where and when. I tried calling the city bus office, but being a twelve year old kid who didn’t even know which department to ask for, I got the proverbial run around. I also made a big mistake when I stated up front that I was going to go see Tarzan. It became a joke and great sport for the employees to pass my call from one extension to another where they asked me if I knew Jane and could get them a date, or had I kissed Cheetah, or was I “Boy” looking for my ape loving daddy? Finally a supervisor put an end to the sport and rattled off a list of numbers and connections that by that time, I was not prepared to copy down. He hung up the telephone when I asked if he could repeat that, but slower. I was NOT going to call them back. The one part that I caught was go south from Sunrise Boulevard on Atlantic. But how to get there was a mystery.
I grabbed all of the money that I had, which wasn’t much and headed out the door towards a gas station near by. There I got a city map and finally found Sunrise Blvd. I was determined to follow the map and hop from bus to bus until I got where I wanted to be. My first leg would be to catch the bus on Hollywood Blvd to Young Circle. From there US1 or Federal Highway as it was called there, would take me all the way to Sunrise Blvd.
The ceremony was set for early afternoon sometime and I was starting out in the morning so in my mind I had extra time. The ride to Young Circle took quite a while and should have been a clue that I was in for a very long day.
I waited at the bus stop for a long time until I finally asked a man if this was the right place to catch a bus for Ft Lauderdale and he told me that he was catching the bus to Miami from there. Panicked, I went into a local business and asked the lady at the counter where the bus stop for Ft Lauderdale was. She looked at me like I was kidding her and said, “You been standing at it for 30 minutes.” I ran back outside just as the bus pulled up and the man I spoke to sat back down on the bench.
When it was my turn in line to step up into the bus I stopped at the change box and asked the driver if he went to Sunrise Blvd. He said “no…,” and I nearly bolted out the door before he completed his statement, “… but I connect with the bus who does.” This was harder than I thought.
Not being a veteran city bus rider, other than my short jaunts to the beach, I had no idea how many stops a route bus makes each day. We stopped at every corner and it took forever for people to get on and off the bus. It was already noon by the time I caught the northbound bus from Young Circle and my concept of distance was pretty much limited to what I could see. How far something was on a map and how long it would take to traverse that distance was rocket science to me then.
It literally took hours for me to get to Sunrise Blvd and Atlantic Blvd, and then I had to go back south on Atlantic. I was down to my last few coins when I got to the spot on South Atlantic Boulevard that had signs pointing the way towards the big to-do. I walked in from the bus stop and that was good, I didn’t have to park a car that way. I couldn’t see any available parking spots anywhere anyway.
I had no idea that nearly 5,000 other people would also be there and all wanting to be photographed with Johnny Weismuller and the other Hall of Fame inductees, who ever they were. The ceremony for the ribbon cutting, etc., was over. The crowd was definitely in party mode and they were all dressed up and, adult.
The steam went completely out of me at that point and I was overcome with a “what have I done?” moment. It would have become an utter defeat for me had I not been sitting on a folding chair in the right spot, at precisely the right time.
Through a break in the mob of people I see the dark hair, white suit, and broad shoulders of Johnny Weismuller as he leads the crowd to a statue where he and two beautiful women pose for photos. I can hear a voice from the crowd saying that some reporter claims that the famous Tarzan yell is actually a fake, made up of sounds from several people and sound effects.
In response to many repeated requests, the real, true Tarzan tilted his head back and let loose with a yell that stopped every single person within earshot in their tracks. When he stopped, the entire crowd burst into applause, including me. OK, I’m good. The entire trip was officially worthwhile.
I wish that could say that I got to shake hands with Johnny and we were best of friends until he died in 1984. But that wasn’t the case. Even more people crowded around him than before and he was swallowed up in the moving throng of humanity.
As it was I was left with no money to get a bus back to West Hollywood and an almost certain beating for what I had done. But it was worth it. I did what I set out to do and I heard Tarzan yell with my own ears!
I called my uncle and asked him to call my house and ask for my oldest brother to come and get me. Which he did and I paid for my brother’s gas many times over due to his idea of interest charges. We also concocted a story that explained my absence from home and kept me from getting into trouble, which was a major bonus.
Would I advise twelve year kids to do what I did that day? No. Am I glad that I did it? Oh, Yeah!
— signed: Still a Tarzan fan!