I have often thought of our trip and returning to Daytona to relive my youth, but marriage, children, divorce and career postponed my return. Retirement, forty-eight years after the first passage south, in the Delaware section of the Delmarva Peninsula, provided me the time to retrace my original trip.
My goals for the second passage differed from the first. Many of my southern Delaware golfing friends, wintering in Florida, would send nasty-gram emails whenever it was cold in Sussex County, Delaware informing us they were playing golf in their shorts, while we dressed in overcoats. Rather than complain about the emails, they made me curious as to whether I should visit them and contemplate spending my winters playing golf in Florida. I drove to Florida, in December, to examine the East Coast around Palm Beach and the West Coast, near Naples, where my friends spent their winters.
My plans for the second passage differed from the first, since I was driving alone. I had no interest in running after women. I am struggling to remember my past sexual experiences. I cannot drink beer, because I am gluten intolerant. I planned to avoid spending eight hours a day on the beach getting a tan, since I have spent years at the dermatologist, being treated for sun damaged skin. However, I wanted to see how the South had changed since my first trip.
It took me ten minutes to plan the drive from Ocean View, DE to Palm Beach, FL using MapQuest on the Internet, not AAA. I stopped at Savannah, GA, on the drive south, and Fayetteville, NC on the return trip. Whereas I spent the first passage driving in a non-air-conditioned car on two and four-lane roads, I made the second passage using an air-conditioned car with seat warmers on interstate highways, except for a small segment from Bethany Beach Delaware to Norfolk, VA and Emporia, VA.
While driving on the interstate is faster, 60 to 75 miles per hour, compared to an average of 45 on the first trip, I missed many of the local population’s cultural traits on the second trip. During my drive I left the interstates for lunch, gas and site seeing. I tried to compare what I remembered years ago, with my new observations. Stuckey’s still served lunch and sold pecan rolls, although I did not buy any candy, since my doctor told me I was pre-diabetic, compared to the earlier trip when I ate at least ten. When I walked into the restaurant I noticed a major difference, black customers were eating their lunch served by white waiters, and black waitresses served white customers. While I knew desegregation had been legally implemented, it reassured me to see it, as my earlier personal memories had been of a segregated South. It pleased me that my country’s racial problems, while not completely solved are well on the way to recovery from the segregation and racial poverty of fifty years ago. An individual who died before 1970 would find an un-imaginable level of racial tolerance today, compared to their experiences before 1965.
I stopped for gas many times on the trip and had numerous conversations with southerners and never had a problem understanding them.
My visit to southern Florida made me appreciate the Delmarva Peninsula. All my New York college friends, family, and their relatives must have moved to West Palm Beach, which I found more densely populated than Brooklyn in the 1960’s and more congested than 2012 Washington, DC Beltway rush hour traffic.
I traveled for three hours on Interstate 75 from West Palm Beach to Naples, crossing the picturesque Everglades and the Big National Cyprus National Preserve. The Naples area on the Gulf Coast is sparsely populated compared to West Palm Beach, but lacks the inland bays of Delaware, and the rivers of eastern shore Maryland and Virginia, where I can kayak and fish from a skiff, without fear of being eaten by alligators and pythons. Thus, as I am leaving middle age, I have decided to spend my next thirty or forty years, enjoying the golf courses, tennis courts, ocean, bays, rivers and natural wonders of the Delmarva Peninsula, without wintering in Florida.
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When I, Bill O’Malley, attended college on the brink of adulthood in 1964, I drove from Flushing, Queens, New York City, to Daytona Beach, Florida during spring break with four of my friends: John, Larry, Ralph and Tim. My companions all went to St. Johns University in Queens, New York. We went in search of warm weather, of experiencing southern culture, of learning how to surf, and our main goal meeting college-age women who were converging on Florida. We left New York on a cold March Friday morning, with a cooler packed with beer and lunch, a fear of driving a car with NY license plates in the South, and being caught and hung by the KKK. This was not an idle fear, since in the 1960 southern headlines reported the killing of northern Freedom Riders, church bombings, and Civil Rights marches stopped by southern sheriffs using attack dogs.
The Delmarva Peninsula where I retired was not immune from racial tensions, which began in Cambridge, MD in the early 1960s, culminating in riots in 1967, destroying much of the downtown area, the scars of which still remain. Anyone born after 1970 might not appreciate our fear and the violence of the Civil Right struggle.
We planned well, lacking a GPS system, we obtained route and motel reservations from the AAA. We avoided the southern speed traps identified in the AAA travel plans to minimize contact with southern police. In the 1960s the country was poor compared to 2013, but even college students with summer jobs could afford the trip of 1,050 miles, since gas cost 29 cents a gallon, and we were sharing moderate motel expenses. We hoped to complete the long ride in twenty-four hours, with two seated in the front and three in the back in a large 58 Chevy, our luggage stuffed in the trunk and two surf boards strapped to the car’s roof. We took turns sleeping and driving, with a strict rule: each driver would quit drinking four hours before driving. There were few interstates in those days and we primarily drove on two-lane rural roads, and an occasional four-lane divided highway, without lights and bordered by irrigation ditches. Several of us experienced our first dark nights, with bright stars and the Milky Way astounding us. It is never completely dark in New York.
After driving four hundred miles, full of a beer induced hunger, we stopped for dinner. We found a restaurant on a rural Virginia highway with a prominent Stuckey’s sign on its roof. After enjoying a southern dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and string beans, we began to leave and Ralph discovered Stuckey’s flagship product, pecan nut rolls, purchasing several. He took a bite, when we began driving and exclaimed, “These are great. Have some.”
He broke off several pieces and handed them to us. We all smiled after biting into the candy.
“We’ll have to stop there again. Did you notice there were no blacks, either customers or help in the restaurant?” Tim said,
“We’re in the segregated South.” Larry replied.
We missed our twenty-four hour schedule by an hour because of a communication’s problem and a driving mistake.
We stopped for gas in North Carolina when gas stations were called service stations and attendants pumped gas. When the attendant, dressed in an oil-soaked uniform came to the driver’s side of the car, Ralph said “Fillerup wid regula,” in his 1960s Brooklyn accent.
The attendant gave us a quizzical look and replied in unintelligible words.
None of us could understand him, nor he us. We felt we were in a foreign country and I’m sure he considered us from a different world. Both of us tried enunciating our words, but after our first attempts, we reverted to pointing with our fingers to communicate. Ralph pointed at the regular gas pump, and raised his hand high which the attendant understood and filled the gas tank. I will not describe the signals we used to convey our need to visit the restroom. It took us fifteen minutes instead of the five it would take in New York to complete our tasks.
We observed the country as we drove further south. The land turned to red clay, and the homes became differentiated between the respectable wood frame painted houses, set far from the road, surrounded by late model cars, and acres of farmland, with a few whites entering or leaving the home, to those of small tattered tar paper and wood unpainted shacks of fifteen feet by thirty feet, less than fifty feet from the rural two-lane road. No cars adorned these shacks, only black children from toddlers to teenagers, and an occasional adult, all dressed in frayed, colorless clothing. We were in shock and remained silent. We had black friends in New York, who lived in respectable middle class housing. These homes were our first real view of the impact of racism, outside TV and our visits to the segregated Harlem and South Jamaica, Queens slums, whose housing was far superior to the ramshackle dilapidated homes of the black south. We talked about Civil Rights, an uncommon, but mature, discussion for us, until we fell asleep.
Our driving mistake occurred around three a.m. in the dark moonlit Georgian night. I woke up with my head hitting the car ceiling and the car bouncing. I looked out the window and saw we had landed in a ditch. The driver, Larry spoke when asked by his four scared companions what had happened, “I saw headlights coming straight at us so I swerved the car right and went into the ditch.”
“Let’s get out and see if the car’s okay,” Ralph replied first.
The ditch was two feet deep and contained a few inches of water. John and Larry, our surfers from California, examined the security of the surf boards on the roof. John said, “Thank God, they’re still secure. If they fell off and broke our vacation would be ruined.”
Never having surfed, I did not share their relief.
“Let’s see if we can push the car out. We don’t want to wait for the police, it might take hours, and we don’t know what they’ll do,” I suggested, expressing the fear of the others.
We let Larry steer the car and we four strong nineteen and twenty year olds began pushing the car forward. We soon realized this approach was getting us deeper into the ditch, and the spinning wheels of the rear-wheel drive vehicle were spraying us with mud.
“This isn’t working, let’s push it backward,” Tim said.
Larry took his foot off the gas and we went to the front of the car and began pushing it up the hill, as Larry lightly pressed the gas pedal. The strong reverse gear moved the car, still spraying us with mud, onto the shoulder of the road.
We took a deep breath when finished and were unsuccessful in wiping all the mud off our clothes.
“Larry, we’re on a divided highway, it’s impossible a car with oncoming lights could have forced you off the road, unless they were driving in the wrong direction. Are you sure you weren’t asleep?” Tim said.
“I don’t know. I was exhausted and I saw the headlights. I thought I saved our lives.”
“It doesn’t matter. If a car was coming you did save our lives, if not, you were asleep and gave us an early morning workout. Even though you still have an hour of driving left, I recommend Bill drive, if he’s not tired,” Ralph said.
“I’m okay. I’ll drive, but we should give up beer until we arrive, since we don’t want to get stopped with beer on our breath and mud on our clothes.”
We agreed. I drove through Georgia, giving up the wheel, when we passed Jacksonville, FL.
Within six hours of leaving New York, we discovered another difference between our homes and the South. Our trip started with the windows closed and the heater on high. As we drove south the car became hotter and we began to reduce the heat to remain comfortable, but we had to turn it up as the night chill grew. We turned it off in southern Georgia at sunrise, since our 1958 Chevy lacked air conditioning. We opened the windows by eight a.m. as the temperature rose, to escape from the hot stale air reeking of spilt beer and the aroma of five young men sweating from pushing the car, and sleeping. The heat was the first happy vindication of the reason we left a cold New York.
We arrived at Daytona at one p.m. and explained our adventure to the motel clerk who looked at our mud-stained clothes in distain. He verified our reservation, and hesitantly let us sign-in.
Our two bedroom suite was located in an old rundown former apartment building two blocks from the beach and a quarter of a mile north of the Daytona Ocean Pier. We brought the cooler in before our luggage and immediately chugged a beer, to celebrate our safe arrival and avoidance of the KKK. Each bedroom had two single beds and the living room had a pull-out sofa. We pulled straws to assign the beds and the order of taking a much needed shower. I won the sofa bed and the first shower. After showering, unpacking, and drinking our second beer, we decided to skip lunch and crash.
At four p.m. after waking up, we visited the beach, which I saw differed from Jones Beach, NY.
“At home there’s either a sand bar a hundred yards out, where the waves break, or no sand bar, and the waves crash on the beach, while here the beach is flat and the waves run for a long while before they break,” I told the others.
“That’s why we came here. Unlike Jones Beach, the waves here are perfect for surfing.” Larry answered.
We rejoiced at seeing beautiful girls clad in bikinis, compared to the women wearing heavy winter coats in cold New York. We talked to a few and I asked a slim blond, in a string bathing suit, never seen at Jones Beach, “We’re looking for something to do tonight. Do you have any ideas?”
“Go to the Pier, if you like to dance. The band starts at nine. I’m Jean. My friends and I will see you there,” She said pointing to the Pier.
Jean introduced her friends and I identified myself, as did the other guys. They were from Indiana, students at Purdue. We impressed them by talking about our New York origins and our enrollment at St. Johns and Hofstra. Well St. Johns anyway, they never heard of Hofstra. I promised Jean that I would tell her all about Hofstra at the Pier.
I will not report the prurient details of our evening, with them or with other women we met, since the five of us had girl friends in New York, who we later married. While I divorced, I lost track of the marital status of the others, and I do not want to impact the relationship of those still married when they read this story. I am sure we all lied to our girl friends about our Florida experiences.
We left the Purdue women at five-thirty p.m. famished, since we had skipped lunch, and walked to the all-you-can-eat restaurant, recommended by the motel clerk. Upon entering, we saw we were at least forty years younger than the other all-white customers, our first experience at meeting the retired segregated population of Florida. We viewed the $6.50 buffet next, spread on a twenty-foot table, starting on the right with salad, rolls, vegetables, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, fried fish, and pork chops. A chef stood to the left at a separate table, carving a round roast. Another table to the left of the round roast displayed desserts.
Our famished stomachs forced us to the first table where we loaded up on salad on one plate and other food on the second, filling our plates several inches high, while those of the senior generation, contained healthier portions. After finishing our initial serving, we went for seconds, including a separate plate for desserts. None of the senior generation had seconds.
We slept well on Saturday night, after overeating and dancing, and arrived at the beach in the early morning and splashed ourselves with suntan lotion and spent most of the day looking at girls, talking to a few. We did not see the Purdue women during the day, but planned to meet them at the Pier after dinner. We stayed out in the sun for eight hours, except for a short break for lunch at a boardwalk eatery. Late in the afternoon, we observed everyone was cherry red.
On Sunday evening we returned to the restaurant repeating our first evening’s performance. We walked back to the motel slowly in severe pain and stayed at the motel room that evening and decided against taking showers, knowing drying ourselves would be too painful.
I called Jean’s motel, and when she answered, I said, “Hi, it’s Bill. I had a great time last night. You’re quite a dancer.”
“Thanks, you’re good too.”
“Unfortunately, we stayed on the beach too long today. We’re hurting with severe sunburn and can’t meet you tonight.”
“You sure you didn’t meet another group of girls and are dumping us?”
“No, we’re intrigued by you and your friends. We don’t have farm girls in New York City.”
“Well, I was going to tell you tonight. We’ve been invited to an Ohio State party on Monday evening. One of my friends, who you haven’t met, dates an Ohio State student. If you’d like to go, meet us on the boardwalk at the front of the Pier tomorrow night at eight. There won’t be any food at the party, just beer kegs, so have dinner, before we meet.”
“Thanks. We’ll be there.”
“Good, please don’t go to the beach tomorrow, you don’t want to get worse, and go easy on the beer, since it’ll dry out your skin and make the pain worse.”
“Okay, you’re the premed. See you tomorrow night.”
I relayed the invitation and medical advice to the guys. They looked forward to the party. They said they would follow her advice about staying out of the sun, but since she was only a premed, they decided to ignore her advice about drinking.
After waking up from a painful restless sleep, we decided not to shower, stayed in the room most of the day reading and playing cards. My bathing suit felt tighter on Monday morning. My friends experienced the same phenomena. We wondered if the humid Florida air shrunk our clothes.
Around noon severe itching replaced the pain of the sunburn. I left my room and asked the desk clerk, “How can I stop the itching?”
“Use calamine lotion. You can buy it at the drug store across the street,” he replied
The itching stopped, but I smelt like the calamine bottle. I told the others to use calamine lotion to treat their itching and by early afternoon we all emitted my new body odor.
On Monday evening when we entered the restaurant, the manager a former New Yorker without an accent walked over to us and said, “You’ll have to leave. We’re not going to serve you.”
Tim our pre-law student asked, “Why.”
“I don’t have to tell you why.”
“This is a public restaurant, licensed by the city. You have to serve us.” Tim replied.
“You’re not in New York. See the sign by the door. It says, ‘We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason.’ Those words are approved by the city,” The manager, smiling, said.
“We’d still like to know why?” Tim stymied, replied.
“Have you looked in the mirror today? This is the third day I’ve seen you, but you all are getting pudgy. We charge you $6.50, but you eat over twice as much food as we budget. We can make a profit with our genteel clients, who have healthy appetites, but not with you college student gluttons. You’re ruining your vacation. Even northern girls don’t like fat boys.”
“I guess it’s not the humid Florida air,” I said as we left the restaurant,
Arriving at the motel after dinner, I measured my waist horrified to found it had increased from 32 inches to 34 inches. We heeded the restaurateur’s advice and ate healthier the rest of the trip.
With the enthusiasm and confidence of youth we decided to dress for the party, in spite of the sunburn itching, without showering. We planned to meet the Purdue women and consummate our new relationships. We arrived at the boardwalk first. The girls arrived a few minutes later, looked at each other, and gave us strange and surprised looks.
Jean, still twenty feet away from us, asked, “Is that a New York hair style?”
“No, we couldn’t wash our hair, because of the sunburn,” I replied.
“You guys have BO and smell like a medicine cabinet.” She said as she got closer.
“We couldn’t shower, and the sunburn started itching so we rubbed ourselves with calamine lotion,” I explained.
“You guys stink worse than my father’s pig sty, and your hair looks worse than our dogs, after they’ve rolled in the mud,” Another girl commented.
“I don’t think we can take you to the party, you’ll gross everyone out, and ruin our reputation, if the word got out we’re your friends,” Jean said, and the other girls shook their heads in agreement
They turned around and walked to the party, while we stood in amazement, at their unreasonableness.
“At least they didn’t complain about our beer breath, like my girlfriend does,” Tim said.
“They couldn’t smell it over the lotion,” Ralph commented.
“They’re not for us. They’re too Goody Two Shoes, for New Yorkers. They don’t understand our suffering. The evening would have been a bust,” Tim replied.
We knew they had helped us avoid a disastrous evening. For whatever reason, we did not meet any other women that evening, as we strolled on the boardwalk and patronized a few bars. We never saw the Purdue women again.
The next day we felt better, rubbed on more calamine lotion, but still decided to postpone showering, until the itching stopped, so as not to aggravate it. We began experiencing cabin fever, from staying in the motel for two days, so we decided to go to the beach after lunch. Still in fear of the sun, we wore our jeans and long sleeve shirts, and doused our faces with thick white suntan lotion.
We saw women staring at us as we walked the two blocks to the beach. I said, pointing my head around, “Forget the Purdue women, all these women are looking us over.”
“You’re right. Let’s see how we do today. We’ll even get more babes after we start surfing,” Larry commented.
We spread our blankets between several groups of bikini clad women and started talking to them. Most of the women were shy and reserved in their conversation, excusing themselves to go for a swim. We could not follow them, since we did not want to expose our peeling sunburned skin to painful salt water. After two hours of these interchanges, and for fear of damaging our handsome faces with more sun, we decided to go back to the motel.
“It’s surprising we couldn’t connect with anyone,” Larry said as we walked back.
“Maybe it’s our clothes. They weren’t Florida beach attire,” I suggested.
“I doubt it. There were several people in protective clothing,” Ralph replied.
“Yeah, but they’re in their sixties, like those in the restaurant,” Tim said.
“Maybe they’re just tired from the partying and from being hit on,” I said.
We returned to the motel. As I walked into the bathroom, I saw myself, in a full length mirror. The image was not me, but of a Bowery bum shocking me and making me think, No wonder we’re alone. I quickly showered and realized the itching faded away as I washed the mixture of dried calamine lotion and sweat off my skin and shampooed my hair. I dressed in clean shorts and a tee shirt and told my friends to do the same. I felt rejuvenated, as the others did.
After dinner on Tuesday we went dancing at the Pier, and were successful in meeting several women. At the motel, we drank a few more beers, laughing about our mistaken view of our attractiveness and sexual prowess, despite how we looked, dressed or smelt. We embraced our new humility, vowed to shower at least twice a day, and restart the vacation over on Wednesday morning.
“Since we’re healthy now, we’ll begin the surfing lessons at ten tomorrow. I recommend we leave the beach for lunch and stay off till three so we don’t get sunburned again,” Larry said.
The next morning, we walked to the beach carrying both surf boards.
“Aren’t those waves much higher than yesterday?” Tim said.
“Just a little, but the higher the better,” Larry replied.
I didn't agree with his statement.
After we had settled on the beach, Larry said, “John and I’ll show you how it’s done.”
They both picked up the surf boards, with smiles on the faces, and waded into the surf. After at least fifty yards, when the water was waist high, they jumped on the boards, lied face down, and used both hands to paddle out beyond the breakers.
“That’s a lot of work, just to surf,” I said.
“They seem to love it, so it must be worthwhile, and they guarantee it’ll attract girls,” Tim replied.
“It might not be work to them. Let’s watch and learn,” Ralph said.
The gracefulness of their moves impressed us as they surfed toward us, noticing at least a hundred women, including some we met the previous night, staring at them. Each of us thought, I’d like to learn to surf, I’d be irresistible.
John and Larry laid both surfboards on the sand and instructed us on how to stand on the boards. Next, they took us out to the water, and showed us how to get on the boards and paddle through the waves. We were proud of our performance, thinking this must be the easiest way to attract women.
Then, Larry and John attempted to teach us how to stand up on the boards in the water. Our confidence and dreams of unlimited women vanished. As I fell off for the fourth time, Larry tried to use an associative method of teaching.
“Bill, think of standing on the board as just skiing on water. When a wave changes the position of the board, adjust your legs from the knees to stay balanced, the same way you do when skiing.”
“We’re from Long Island, not California. We’ve no mountains. None of us have ever skied.”
“Really, New England’s so close.”
“We play basketball and go to the beach.”
“Too bad, I’ll teach you next winter. It’s almost noon. Let’s leave before we get sun poisoning.”
We felt relieved as we walked off the beach. As we passed beach blankets adorned with bikini clad women, we noticed the look on their faces were not smiles, but smirks, except when they lovingly gazed at Larry and John, who returned the looks with come-on smiles.
After lunch we stayed in our room returning to the beach at 3:00 p.m. and continued our practice. By 5:00 p.m. we were able to stand on the boards and Larry said, “That’s enough for today. I don’t want to exhaust you. Tomorrow we’ll surf the waves.”
At dinner Larry and John praised our performance, saying it took them a week to learn what we had learned in a few hours. We thanked them for their encouragement, which we thought were lies, and promised to do better the next day. We improved each day and by the end of the week, both Ralph and Tim became proficient, while I remained a beginner.
Larry and John were not lying, surfing does attract woman. After dinner on our first surfing day, freshly showered with combed hair we visited the Pier. Three of us were astonished when women who had seen us attempting to surf besieged both Larry and John, who introduced us to their new friends, and promised to include them in the surfing lessons for the remainder of our vacation.
We had a great time driving home to New York, still on the lookout for the KKK, discussing our experiences and new knowledge of women, surfing and our plans to learn skiing next winter.