Friday, April 6, 2012

Magic City Memories

Tonight, as family and friends sit around our Seder table, a nostalgic look at Miami Beach in 1959 airs on the Starz network. “Magic City” is a typical TV depiction of a bygone era, with beautiful people populating the picture.

I've been to Miami Beach many, many times, the first trip in January 1958. On doctor’s advice, my mother took my sister and me to the warmth of Florida. Ten-year-old Lee and our mother had just recovered from whooping cough, I from the flu.

It was Lee’s and my first time flying. We flew Eastern Airlines, a four-engine propeller plane. During the flight a stewardess allowed us to enter the cockpit and observe the pilot and crew. When we returned to our seats she pinned wings on my shirt.

In Miami Beach we stayed in South Beach on Collins Avenue, at the Surfside, an art deco hotel next to its twin, the Seaside (not sure of that second hotel’s name). The hotels served as sentinels flanking a shared pool, with the ocean a few steps down from the elevated pool area. My father’s friend Beno and his son Oscar ran the hotel’s food service, so we ate well. Except that eight-year-old Murray was a finicky eater, meaning my diet basically consisted of hamburgers and French fries, or anything else greasy. Every meal. Midway through our two week stay I developed a skin rash on my chest. The doctor informed my mother the rash was a reaction to all the fried food and grease I was eating. He counseled a change of diet. Knowing her pencil-thin son would surely vanish into thin air if she enforced this suggested regimen, she merely thanked him and relied on my discretion to not eat as many fries with each meal.

We did all the touristy things you’re supposed to do. We ate in Wolfie’s deli. We stopped at the Nosh-a-Rye, famous for its ice cream desserts. We gaped at the Fontainebleau Hotel. We saw a show at the aquarium, as well as at the Parrot Jungle. One day, I went with Oscar’s 12-year-old son to fish off the piers. This was my first time fishing, and I even caught a bone fish, a slim fish about a foot long with sharp teeth. But what I most remember about the fishing expedition was the return bus trip to the hotel. I’d been taking Brooklyn city buses for the better part of three years to and from school. However, I had never encountered a bus like the one in Miami Beach. To exit the back door, you had to wait for a green light to appear above the door and then you pushed the door out. My first embarrassment was just standing there in the stairwell, waiting for the bus driver to open the door. After being told I had to push the door open, my next, more devastating embarrassment ensued. Try as I might, I lacked the might to push the door open. How humiliating! Oscar’s son managed to thrust his arm above my head and push open the door. My excitement at catching the bone fish exited with us as we stepped onto the curb.

Lee and I agree our stay in Miami Beach was not too memorable, though I was a little ahead of the curve when push-door buses came to New York shortly thereafter. I wisely never lined up as the first one seeking to get off the bus. I’m recording “Magic City.” I don’t expect it to be as good as “Mad Men” as a period piece, but I’m sure I will feel a certain bit of pride and identification that I was there when it all began.