Part 2 of the “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD” series.  Continues from last week.

During Christmas break in 1979, a trip was planned to the family houseboat, which was permanently moored at the Hurricane Hole Marina, under the Paradise Island Bridge on Paradise Island in glistening Nassau, the Bahamas.  I had never been there before but had heard a lot about it from Gloria and Dad so I was looking forward to going.

A day or two before, Gloria went to the Shop Rite supermarket in less-than-glistening Union City, to shop for groceries to bring on the plane to the Bahamas.

“What?!  Bring groceries on the plane?  Are you sure we need to do this?” I asked.

She assured me that supermarkets in Nassau were both terrible and overpriced.  And this is what they had done on previous trips.  I suspected that this was my Dad’s idea but anyway she seemed to be completely on board.  I tried to imagine what a terrible supermarket looked like and immediately thought of Shop Rite.  Could it be any worse?  Besides, I was weirded out with the idea of lugging brown paper supermarket bags filled with chopped meat and such onto the plane.  This was just about the turning point when airplanes came to be thought of as buses with wings.  And board that flying bus we did, complete with our groceries from Shop Rite!

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Above from left, my Mom, Gloria, and I.  Graduation Day at Tufts, May 1980. After everyone left the next day, I fell ill with German Measles and stayed in Somerville for a week to recover.

On flight day, Gloria, Addie, Blair, Dad, and I loaded ourselves in the two family Cadillacs, one blue and one brown, with our luggage and at least four stuffed brown paper bags (matching the color of the brown car).   So we set off to LaGuardia Airport to catch the charter flight to Nassau.

Blair and the blue caddy

One of the Cadillacs, the blue one.  With Blair in front. Photo by Bernard Olcott.

Back in the 1960s, I had had lots of experience in flying solo back and forth between New York (Dad’s place) and Florida (Mom’s place) on my own.  It was easy.  My Mom or Dad would take me to the airport, and once they found a stranger for me to tag along with (in order to save on the unaccompanied child fee), I was home free.  The stranger would enjoy his cocktail while I would sit at the window, look at the clouds, and watch the parade of East Coast cities go by.  Easy.  Didn’t every child fly that way?

Traveling with Dad was different, however.  Extra complications were always possible, if not inevitable.  As he steered his leading Cadillac onto the highway exit, he very purposefully did not pull into the airport parking garage.  Instead, he turned towards the other side of the Grand Central Parkway and parked in an outdoor lot at the Sheraton Hotel.  Now this was intended as parking for paying guests of the hotel, not as free parking for free-loading airport travelers.  I shrugged it off as yet another innovative solution to the problem of having to pay for anything.

We lugged our luggage and groceries over the highway overpass to the terminal.  Four adults (I had just qualified as one) and one small child, each with one suitcase and one bag of groceries.  Roller bags hadn’t been invented yet so each suitcase needed to be put down after 20 feet or so and then you took a quick breather while admiring the sounds of traffic on the Grand Central Parkway below.  Thusly laden, it was a very long way to the terminal and then on to the charter flight counter for our flight to Nassau.

Once there, I had a great time, especially during the New Year’s Eve party at the casino where I met other touristas and danced to a great band with my new friends.  I also got friendly with one of the dockhands, Eugene, who took me on an unforgettable tour of the back side of Nassau.  We ended up ducking clothes lines through people’s back yards until we got to a billiard hall way down on Mackay Street, where the tourist buses NEVER go.  All of a sudden, I played pool like my life depended on it – making more than a few incredible two ball shots that simply defied physics.  Worse, I actually called ‘em before I shot ‘em.  It was a magical moment, like being able to walk through walls as a parlor trick.  After the game, the Rasta guy who had been sleeping on the floor suddenly stood up to shake my hand.

One morning, I remember Dad coming upstairs on the houseboat, looking particularly awful.  He brought up with him a radio or maybe a battery tester.  He loved to tinker with electronic gadgets, especially broken ones.  It could have been the moment to ask him about the zinger.  But it obviously hadn’t been a good night as he looked tired and haggard.  This certainly wasn’t the guy who introduced me to Gloria on light feet 9 years earlier.  I let him be and decided this wasn’t a good time.

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Bernard Olcott in Nassau, Bahamas, January 1980.  Photo by the Author.

The next day, Dad asked me to join him for a walk on the beach.  He pressed me about my career plans.  I told him that I was still unsure and wanted to check out both public service and private enterprise options.  He stopped short of asking me to join him at Olcott International.  Contemplating my future was unnerving, but I felt sure that I would figure it out later.

Our vacation was over and it was time to fly back, naturally we were lighter this time as there were no groceries to lug.  Our 6:00 PM departure from Nassau was delayed due to bad weather back home.  Eventually, we were cleared for take-off, but as we approached LaGuardia, we circled for a while awaiting clearance due to continuing delays.  It never came so the plane, which was low on fuel at that point, was forced to divert to Newark.  Although this was closer to Weehawken, New Jersey where my Dad’s house was, we needed to schlep back to LaGuardia to retrieve the cars.

It was a long night, about to get even longer.  It wasn’t until 12:30 AM that a bus showed up to take us back across 2 bridges to the other airport.  At least there was no traffic.  Like a bad spy exchange at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, we huddled our way across the overpass in the 20 degree cold, looking down at the Grand Central Parkway in the early morning darkness, and lugging suitcases.  Except there was no one going back the other way of course.

When we got to the Sheraton parking lot, we saw the cars right where we left ‘em.  They just looked somewhat…lower.  Gloria pointed at a front tire.  Slashed.  Then at the one in the back.  Rim on the ground.  The others?

Stabbed dead.

Every.

Single.

One.

Eight tires in all.

Shards of rubber could be seen lying on the pavement in the dark, gloom, and cold.  Maybe it was 2:30 AM when the tow trucks arrived and taxis were flagged for another hop back across 2 bridges.

I guess the parking wasn’t so free after all.

Gloria and I never discussed it.  We didn’t need to.

Houseboat in Hurricane Hole Marina

Gloria and my baby sister Blair at the houseboat in Hurricane Hole Marina, Nassau, Bahamas, January 1980.

Copyright © 2015 by James B. Olcott

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11 comments

  1. In that photo of your father, he looks kind of like Willem Dafoe. One of my favorite stories, this one. These three re-posts lay a sound base for a future memoir.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Although I don’t agree with all of his ways, I would have done the same. I’ve heard the cost of groceries in some areas of the Bahamas is outrageous! It’s great your Mom and Gloria were on friendly terms and that your parents remained friends long after their divorce. As you know, your Mom loved South Florida and “Flagler Drive.” Ironically, my office is on Flagler Drive about a mile where she lived and the school I attend is on Flagler Drive. I now understand why she loved it so much. I hope she’ll have the opportunity someday to come back and visit.

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    Liked by 1 person

    1. On this we disagree. One of the joys of traveling is sampling the local cuisines and food markets. Hop across the border into Canada and you can peruse and buy all sorts of goodies from the Commonwealth unavailable here in the USA. Can the food markets in the Bahamas really be as bad as Shop Rite, for Pete’s sake? If they really are, I would go for a different solution than lugging bags of groceries onto the plane, with the celery sticking up the nose of the passenger next to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My sister and brother-in-law stayed in Paradise Island and told me the cost for even simple items is extremely inflated. This can add up significantly over the course of a few days for an entire family. So yes, if I were going to stay for some time, I would lug the bags of groceries but try hard not to allow the celery to go up the nose of the person next to me!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. If you count cookies and candy, Mom eats several meals a day.
        I think you inspired me to write a post about supermarkets in Nassau. You will then be personally guided as to where to go for treats and delicacies in the Bahamian capital. Watch for it in the near future!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Despite her saying, “I only eat one meal a day like my mother did and she lived to be be 104,” your Mom will eat every bite if it’s put in front of her. At dinner at F.V., she always ordered triple desert! It’s a wonder she stays so tiny. I’m looking forward some tips since I am planning a trip there soon!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I can see taking the groceries. Kind of awkward but it was a charter flight and so there may have been more room. The parking was a bit much, especially with a one or two year old sister. Would my Dad have the same. Absolutely. His response to a two year old in freezing weather. “Kids these days need toughening up.” Your father would have won plaudits from Thurber and Philip Wylie (“Generation of Vipers”; one long rant against the ‘momification’ of America…and that was BEFORE Benjamin Spock!).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree the parking may have been too much. I grew up in NJ; the slashed tires were nothing! You were lucky the Caddies (NJ slang) were still there when you got back!!!

        Liked by 1 person

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