by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, September 14, 2021 No Comment(s)

Our oak tree, in the late stages of the takedown

A neighbor noticed it first. The oak tree in the back of our house had a broad upper span, as 100-year-old oaks will. Its thick branches were extending over the rear of three neighboring properties, and the neighbor to the south noticed that a large branch over their home did not look healthy. The leaves were turning brown. It was a dead limb, and with hurricane season approaching, neither of us were anxious to see it break off and land on his roof. The rest of the tree seemed to be okay, but in the few weeks that it took to get a tree expert to look at it, other upper branches were also turning brown. The dead leaves were leaving the limbs bare. At first the tree guy thought we could just cut off a few dead branches, but by the time he was able to schedule the job, the whole tree seemed to be turning brown. And huge chunks of bark were now falling off the lower parts of the huge trunk.

"Lightning hit it," the tree guy decided. "When that happens, there's no way to save it."

Now this story does not rank in gravity with the situation in Afghanistan, or even the Covid pandemic. But in our neighborhood, the death of a vintage oak tree is not a trivial matter. In fact, Colee Hammock is named for the majestic oaks which line its streets and give the neighborhood a shaded charm that has few matches anywhere in the state. That beauty was obvious to the earliest developers of Fort Lauderdale. Mary Brickell, who owned the hammock in the late 1800s, took on one of the most powerful forces in the young state to preserve it. When Henry Flagler wanted to extend the Florida East Coast from Palm Beach to Miami, he wanted to keep it on a straight line on the high ridge where Florida's watery coastal strip gives way to more solid earth. That would bring the tracks through Colee Hammock.

But Mary Brickell insisted Flagler move his route west, away from her densely wooded hammock. Thus the sharp inland veer which takes the FEC tracks west and into downtown Fort Lauderdale. She had the foresight to preserve Colee Hammock for the shaded residential neighborhood it is today. It is more than a desirable place to live. Visitors enjoy walking several streets that are largely insulated from the heavy traffic to the beach on Las Olas Blvd. It is not unusual to see people pause to photograph the more striking homes, especially those with dense moss hanging from the oaks.

Thus it was with reluctance that we had to take our ailing tree down. It was not our first oak casualty. Over 50 years we have lost three others. One, maybe 50 years old, died in the middle of our front yard several decades ago. We replaced it with a tree that has grown about half as big as the original. Hurricane Wilma cost us two trees. One, very old, snapped about 10 feet up and landed on our roof. Fortunately the leafy branches cushioned the impact and we escaped with just a few holes to patch. The other was a younger tree in the back of the house, shading our deck, that was uprooted when the top half of a very old mango tree in the adjacent yard snapped and fell on it. Many younger oaks were uprooted by that storm and were propped back up. We wish now we had done that with our tree.

Preserving the character of Colee Hammock has not been easy. Most of the houses in the 1930s and 40s were built around the position of the trees. With a few exceptions, most of the homes were modest single-story cottages, designed to the scale of their lots. Inevitably some were neglected and became knockdowns. Most new construction, invariably much larger, has been respectful of the old trees, especially those which shade the streets. Increasingly, however, buyers are knocking down the old houses, even those in good shape, simply to make room for houses of several floors which take up the entire lots. This land usury has led to the disappearance of some apparently healthy old oaks under mysterious circumstances. There is a suspicion that some trees were poisoned to justify their removal and permit much larger homes than would otherwise be possible. 

John Harris, whose firm Earth Advisors in Plantation is one of the country’s leading authorities on  tree preservation, understands both sides of the story. An arborist and forester who also has a master’s degree in economics, he is a consultant to environmental groups, teaches a class on the subject, and writes a technical editorial for the Society of American Foresters. He sympathizes with those who want to protect old trees, but he also understands the problems Florida governments have in granting permits for tree removal, or enforcing vague regulations to protect neighborhoods such as Colee Hammock.

“Some of the oaks may be 200 years old or older,” he says, “and as they get older just as people they have health problems.” He says an arborist supporting a tree’s removal can find numerous hazards ranging from branches extending over a neighbor’s roof to trees whose surface roots constitute a tripping hazard. He says that roots sometimes affect water pipes, and when the roots are cut back, the tree can become unstable in severe weather.

“Public safety will always win,” he adds.

Florida’s problems are compounded by a state law passed and sponsored three years ago by legislators who had concerns about mitigation on their own properties to expand homes. Says Harris: “The law is deliberately written in such generic language that is so ambiguous that it makes it difficult for any city or county to decide if they have legal standing for code violations.” The result is that some old trees are obviously removed to make room for bigger houses that are determined by local laws governing the size of a building that can be built on a lot.

Further complicating matters is that not all arborists have Harris’ integrity. One element determining a permit for tree removal is a letter of support from a certified arborist. Some Colee Hammock residents think that all some arborists need to provide such a letter is a check that clears. And in fact, when it comes to 100-year-old oaks, almost all of them could be found to have potential hazards, such as our oak, whose decayed innards could not stand Wilma's gusts. This construction trend has resulted in a number of modern "box on a box" structures which are barely separated from and in fact dominate their older neighbors. Whereas the original houses had a cozy charm, some of the new construction has all the appeal of an Army reserve center. Longtime residents are upset and bewildered by new buyers who are drawn to the neighborhood because of its attractive canopy and then build monstrous homes that remove trees and destroy the very quality that attracted them in the first place.

Our late tree, because of its location, does not change the neighborhood's leafy character. Most only knew it was taken down by seeing the remnants lying in our swale waiting for pickup. Only the backs of adjacent houses were deprived of its shade. But a few days later I awoke in the middle of the night. The bed is close to a window, and when lying down one can see some sky. And in that sky was a strange yellow oval. For a second the thought of a UFO occurred, until the realization that this object was there all along, but the thick foliage of the tree had blocked its glow. 

The object is called the moon.


by Bernard McCormick Monday, August 16, 2021 No Comment(s)

Photo by: DonkeyHoteyCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

People may wonder how Governor Ron DeSantis can expect to be re-elected, much less run for president, after all his terrible recent publicity. The answer in a word is socialism.

Republicans all over the country, but especially in Florida, use that word at every opportunity. It works magic, particularly among those immigrants who have arrived in Florida from Cuba and other countries where their freedom has been lost. The great irony is that they have not fled socialism, although their former countries may have used that term for their political system. What these people really fled was dictatorship — authoritarianism, loss of basic rights and property, rigged elections, false imprisonment, etc. And they come to Florida and vote for people who would do the same to them if they get the chance. Go figure.

Wondering if socialism is enough to save DeSantis led to a consultation with this writer's chief Republican lobbyist, Elwood O'Goniff of McCormick, O'Goniff and Craven. He said DeSantis could survive any bad publicity by saying socialism as often as possible. The only word that could beat him is, oddly enough, socialism.

"That makes no sense," he was told.

He explained that when the Social Security Act was passed in the 1930s, and Medicare in the 1960s, Republicans opposed them both as socialism. They still use the word to oppose expansion of medicare. So what Democrats should do is ask DeSantis why he wants to get rid of Social Security and Medicare. He'll go crazy, because he knows that even among his most fanatical supporters, the same seniors who voted for Trump, the one thing that would kill him would be the idea of taking away Social Security and Medicare. 

But when he protests that he would never in a thousand years get rid of Social Security and Medicare, you counter by saying that a lot of people think you would, because Republicans oppose socialism, and they originally opposed both of these socialistic ideas. Our source explained that it is the same trick Trump uses about the election. Say a lot of people are asking about fraud, even if you know they aren't, and after you repeat it a thousand times people will start believing it.

"But isn't that immoral?" he was asked.

"Don't be ridiculous. Morality has nothing to do with politics," he said. "If I were advising Florida Democrats, which I would never do unless they paid me, I would tell them to run ads imploring DeSantis not to get rid of Social Security and Medicare. When he says he has no intention of doing that, they say a lot of people are saying you will. When he says that's a crazy rumor, you bring up socialism and say if he's against socialism, how can he be for socialistic stuff like Social Security and Medicare? They can even say they know he wouldn't get rid of them, but he should clear up the rumor that a lot of people are spreading. And that way they keep spreading it. It works every time."

“Socialism.”


by Bernard McCormick Thursday, August 05, 2021 No Comment(s)

Watching the Olympics, and financial and political channels, makes one aware of the extent to which the sports lexicon has invaded other forms of human activity. Hardly five minutes go by without hearing an expression that originated on the playing fields of man or beast. 

Baseball probably started it when a home run became any successful endeavor. President Roosevelt in the 1930s referred to his batting average on getting his historic agenda passed. The other day a TV reporter referred to major league supporters of the big lie propaganda. Three strikes and you're out pertains to any politician who commits multiple mistakes. Reporters throw a curve when they ask a politician who expects a question on the immigration disaster if he is messing around with that cute new intern. When the same politician is too hungover to make a speaking date of the Kiwanis lunch, he sends his PR man to pinch hit for him. If the same politician also likes boy interns, he may be called a switch hitter.

Football is not far behind. It has one expression that has come full circle. Hail Mary, a Catholic prayer, became a synonym for a miracle pass, such as Doug Flutie's winning bomb against Miami in 1984. The term has grown wings and now is used for any long chance situation. An NBC reporter chose it to describe the odds of Republicans voting for the elections bill. Inside the 20 has come to mean any effort that is in the home stretch (itself borrowed from horse racing, as is not their first rodeo from bronco busting). A quarterback is the recognized mastermind of a business or political situation. When a Republican Senator is asked what he really thinks of Donald Trump, he punts, changing the subject to the Mexican border.

Basketball has fewer contributions to regular speech but a full court press can mean an all-out effort to register voters, and a slam dunk has multiple applications.

Which brings us to our real theme. For the first time since 1908, the U.S. did not win a single medal in rowing. Not one — not even bronze — in a dozen men’s and women's events. It is an awful downfall from the days when John B. Kelly Sr. was a national hero for winning in the 1920 Olympics, or our men's eight-oared crews (usually our best college crew) won almost every Olympics from the ’20s to the ’50s. Since the 1960s all countries have sent all-star crews. Our women had won the eight for three straight Olympics. This year both men and women finished fourth. Despite the fact that high school and college rowing has never been more popular, our national image seems in decline. It was hard even to get results this year; maybe because the media prefers covering winners. 

This writer was once a coxswain, back in high school. As a freshman I stood 4’10” and weighed 75 pounds, not exactly an offensive lineman's dimensions. But I was a natural coxswain. And just as I was becoming the best in the world, or at least on the Schuylkill River, I grew a foot and gained 30 pounds and the coach kicked me out of the boat. But everyone knows coxswains are a little weird, so to raise the rowing profile, here is a weird idea: Insert some popular rowing expressions in general discourse, as with baseball and football.

One of the more obvious Is to catch a crab, which happens when an oar goes into the water at an angle, rather than squared up. The oar slices deep and sends the oarsman sharply back and brings a whole crew almost to a halt. In smaller boats it can knock a rower out of the boat. It rarely happens with elite crews, but it did turn a boat over in the recent Olympics. It has great possibilities to describe any major screwup by a politician or anybody else. Another popular phrase is open water. It means when one racing shell is more than a length ahead of a rival. Open water between the boats. At standard distances, such a lead is rarely overcome. A candidate who polls more than 55 percent would have open water over their opponent.

A Power 10 is when the coxswain calls for the crew to row especially hard for 10 strokes at a key point in the race, hoping to build a lead or narrow one down. It could be used anytime a heightened effort is required. Perhaps the best of all is weigh enough — a command that goes back to Shakespeare, meaning to stop rowing immediately. It could be used for any circumstance where an individual must cease and desist. It would be a good way to silence someone like Matt Gaetz, or a super heavyweight wrestler who goes over 500 pounds. That person would be told to weigh enough. 

And with that slam dunk of a dreadful pun, it may be the right time to weigh enough.


by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, July 27, 2021 No Comment(s)

Harry Rosenfeld (right), as remembered by The New York Times, with Ben Bradlee (left) and Dustin Hoffman (middle) in 1976.

 

Harry Rosenfeld's recent death prompts a discussion of the then and now in American journalism. 

Harry who? 

Think back to the award-winning film All the President's Men in which Jack Warden portrayed him. It was one of a number of excellent performances, including Robert Redford as Bob Woodward, Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein, and Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee. The Washington Post stories resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. If this doesn't ring a bell, stop reading. You won't get what's coming.

Rosenfeld was the assistant managing editor of The Washington Post who supervised young reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein when they stumbled on the Watergate story, which ranks among the best that American journalism has to offer in the last century. He supported his reporters when managing editor Ben Bradlee, realizing the magnitude of the story, wanted to replace them with more experienced reporters.

The Watergate scandal began in 1972, and here is the connection which relates to today. The event occurred not long after I interviewed Roger Ailes for Philadelphia magazine. Ailes was a communications advisor to President Nixon. He got that role after he coached Nixon in his winning presidential campaign of 1968. Ailes was prominent in Joe McGinniss' best-selling book, The Selling of the President 1968. He came across as very smart, very amusing, and very unscrupulous. Ailes was based in Philadelphia at the time. He was producer of Mike Douglas afternoon talk show. In our interview, Ailes defended his presentation of Nixon as fair and balanced. It wasn't. Press conferences were stacked with friendly reporters who asked only softball questions. It was contrived at every turn. Exposing that is what made McGinniss' book a sensation. Ailes did admit that he thought the media was biased in favor of Democrats, and said he'd like to see a Republican outlet to balance the three major networks. I barely mentioned it in the piece; it seemed so far-fetched. But two decades later, after he rose in television status, Ailes saw his opportunity in cable TV. He started Fox News and stayed as its head until forced out by a sex scandal in 2016.

When The Washington Post first went after President Nixon, it was alone. Other media, print and broadcast, largely ignored its stories. Eventually, however, as the evidence mounted over two years (tapes were discovered proving Nixon's heavy involvement), the rest of the journalism world joined in. Prominent Republican politicians sealed his fate when they came to believe that using CIA operatives to spy on Democrats, and then lying to cover it up, was a very serious matter. Men like Republican Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, Democratic Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, and Republican Attorney General Elliot Richardson put their reputations on the line by respecting the Post's reporting. Richardson resigned rather than obey Nixon's order that he fire the lead Watergate prosecutor. Ultimately there was little support for Nixon among his own Republican colleagues.

But imagine if now were then, and Ailes had launched Fox News in 1972. Suppose, for two years, it brought on guests, including elected officials, to say Watergate was a hoax and a plot to get Nixon. And every time a negative Nixon story broke, the network switched the subject to President Kennedy having chased girls or the seemingly endless Vietnam War or some other "false equivalency." Suppose this network did not cover Watergate at all, or only when it figured out a slant that defended the president and made a large number of Americans believe that there was nothing wrong with using the CIA to spy on political opponents, and lying about it under oath. Suppose men like Baker, Ervin, and Richardson said nothing, or voted not to pursue the matter in any way. And suppose their silence was applauded at every opportunity by a well-watched network.

The difference between then and now is media treatment, and a Congress filled with Republicans who would throw men like Baker and Richardson out of the party. And attack Harry Rosenfeld and his newspaper as enemies of the people.

It should be noted that Nixon’s transgressions, so shocking then, now seem like venial sins compared to the gravity of trying to overthrow a presidential election and helping incite an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Congratulations Harry Rosenfeld and The Washington Post for your journalistic courage. And also recognition to Roger Ailes for proving that the evil men do lives after them.


by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, July 13, 2021 No Comment(s)

 

The McCormicks were honored to be part of the television presentation marking the 100th anniversary of St. Anthony Parish, Broward County’s oldest Catholic church. Compared to some Fort Lauderdale families who date almost to the beginning of the parish, we are newcomers — only 50 years. We are perhaps unusual in that we remain in the same house we bought in a hurry in 1970, and have had four kids and six grandchildren attend St. Anthony.

It was all quite accidental. Moving into a new state and a new magazine, we did not have time to house hunt. Most young families were settling out west in Plantation and Coral Springs. The old neighborhoods in east Broward were out of favor with the younger crowd. Accordingly, Peggy began asking Catholic schools in Plantation if our three young kids could get in. She was amazed to hear one school had a three-year waiting list. We had never heard of a waiting list for a Catholic grade school in Philadelphia.

When she asked if there was any Catholic school they could get in, it was suggested we try the old school downtown — St. Anthony. When we learned there was no waiting list, our house hunt shifted east and was quickly solved by the delightful Martha Brown of L.C. Judd & Company, who had, in her words, “the perfect” house for us. She was sure right. Fifty years later we still live on a quiet street in the historic Colee Hammock neighborhood. It combines well preserved old cottages such as ours, built with durable Dade County pine, shaded by ancient oaks, with some spectacular (and expensive) new structures occupied by some of the city’s leading citizens. And St. Anthony found us that location.

We did not, however, want our kids in St. Anthony just for the convenience. We wanted a learning environment we both knew well, a safe and orderly classroom experience, hopefully instilling the values we shared, and presumably shared with all the parents in the school.

We found that, and much more. On the first day of school the first young mother we met was Jane Hearne. She was the former Jane Maus of the Maus & Hoffman men’s clothing family. They had created the modern Las Olas Boulevard when, in 1940, the original William Maus led a group of merchants from northern Michigan to establish winter operations in Florida. At least 10 stores followed that company south. That first meeting led to a relationship with three generations of one of the town’s most prominent families. That relationship led to a trip to Petoskey, Michigan, to see (and write about) where all these businesses had their start.

It soon became obvious that we had found in St. Anthony a trove of Broward County’s leading citizens. We learned that Brian Piccolo, newly dead and not yet memorialized in the film Brian’s Song, had gone there. Also Chris Evert, still in high school when we arrived but already a national tennis figure. The Gore family, which was still running the Fort Lauderdale News (now the Sun-Sentinel) had strong connections to the school. The family of E. Clay Shaw, Fort Lauderdale’s mayor in the 1970s, and later a longtime U.S. Congressman, was a member of the parish. Jack Seiler, who became mayor several decades later, was a student in the school at the time. The Thies family, of beer distributor fame, were parishioners. Many of the pioneer families have had two, and in some cases three generations (going on four) associated with the school. Mauses, Camps, Buckleys, and many others have added new waves of students to the school.

Over the years our family was no more active in parish activities than dozens of other families, but we were privileged to be selected by the then Pastor Timothy Hannon (one of several Irish born pastors over the years) to have our daughter Julie among the small group of children who met the Pope at the Miami International when he visited in 1987.

The anniversary TV presentation included remarks by Father Michael Grady, St. Anthony pastor, who has built a reputation as a master of short, trenchant homilies (rarely longer than three minutes) and Sister Therese Margaret Roberts, age 94, who said she remembers the building opening. She taught at the school for decades.

Key participants in the video, and most deserving, were members of the Camp family. James Camp II was in the same class as Sister Therese. He joked about her catching his passes in gym class. His father was one of the earliest parishioners, arriving in 1925. He helped launch Broward’s first bank after they all closed in the troubled 1920s and became a statewide figure in the financial industry. James II became a lawyer and was joined by his son, also James, in the law firm.

“My dad is 93, and was baptized here,” Jim Camp III said. “I’m one of five, and we were all baptized here, as well. We’re members here with the school, went on to St. Thomas Aquinas, and I have five children, and they were all baptized here.”

“I hope that it’s always here,” he added. “I guess I’d like to see some of my grandchildren to continue part of their life here as well.”

 

The graceful St. Anthony Church opened in 1948, replacing the original smaller church on Las Olas Blvd., which moved to 3rd Ave. and became the First Evangelical Lutheran Church (above). Only recently, it closed and is slated to become a restaurant nightclub.

 

It did not make it into the TV interview, but we contrasted our Philadelphia experience with St. Anthony’s legacy. In the 1950s we could walk to three Catholic grade schools and had a short ride on public transportation to reach several more. All but one of those schools are gone, and in several cases even the parish churches, beautiful old structures, have closed. On the other hand St. Anthony is close to its capacity of 490 students. Its affluent surrounding neighborhoods and the explosive growth of downtown assure the school continued support.

St. Anthony not only continues to thrive. It is still growing. The parish used its 100th anniversary to launch an ambitious expansion of the school and a parish social center. Come back in 100 years to see how that worked out.


by Bernard McCormick Saturday, July 03, 2021 No Comment(s)

The proposed and much-debated infrastructure bill includes money for Amtrak improvements, quite a contrast from past budgets when Amtrak was routinely starved for funds. Part of the proposals for Amtrak is fast intercity trains, connecting major cities with other population centers that are too close to warrant airline service. The Acela train on the northeast corridor proved the concept. Such trains are being considered all around the country, especially for major markets such as Chicago and L.A. Some are already in service.

Locally, Brightline is a good example. Although currently suspended due to the pandemic, it has already proved itself as a fast way to navigate the Gold Coast from Miami to Palm Beach, and should really show its value when extended to the Treasure Coast and eventually Orlando. These new railroads are not conventional commuter trains. Tri-Rail has stations every three miles, but the intercity concept puts stations 10 or 15 miles apart. They are meant to be a quick ride.

To implement this fast train concept, existing railroads will have to be improved for higher speeds — in some cases entirely new tracks unimpeded by grade crossings. Such plans are being considered for a new service from Atlanta to Nashville by way of Chattanooga. That revelation brought to mind an idea we have promoted for almost 50 years: an expansion of the successful Auto Train concept.

The obvious move is a Midwest train, using the existing Sanford station as its Florida terminus and somewhere in the Indianapolis area as its northern. The concept is not new. In fact, it was tried, back before Amtrak took over what started as a private company. That was in the mid-1970s. Auto-Train Corporation had introduced its northeast service so successfully that after riding it a few times, we were so convinced the idea would sweep the county that we bought stock in the company.

The move to serve the Midwest made sense, especially when the train was combined with a regular passenger service. Alas, the execution was poor. Railroads in general were under pressure at the time, and the quality of many routes in the Midwest had deteriorated, slowing speeds and creating hazards. The host railroads even warned Auto-Train Corporation that its locomotives were too heavy for the substandard tracks.

The new service barely had a chance to prove itself when a serious derailment caused the train to be suspended. The legal problems that followed caused the whole corporation to fail. Amtrak discontinued its conventional Chicago-Florida train in 1979. But the concept of loading cars on trains was sound, and after a few years Amtrak took over the northeast Auto Train and has run it to this day. It is one of the few Amtrak trains to almost pay for itself.

The idea of a Midwest auto train comes up periodically, but now, with the possibility of rebuilding the rails it would use, it is tempting to make a real push. Combined with a conventional long-distance passenger train, it seems more than feasible.

The trick is to combine the best features of the proposed intercity trains with the established Auto Train. It would begin in Miami and serve the present Amtrak stations in South Florida. There are five between Miami and Palm Beach. But once it hooks up with Auto Train in Sanford, there should be only a few stops at key locations — South Georgia, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, Louisville. Those few minutes delay will not be important to Auto Train patrons, but should add considerably to ridership, and the bottom line. That kind of schedule would work well as a connection with the intercity trains being planned.

The same applies in the north. After Auto Train disconnects somewhere south of Chicago, the conventional Amtrak section could continue on to Chicago and the Twin Cities or Milwaukee.

Initially, this train need not be daily. Schedule what the traffic will bear. Auto Train users, and Amtrak long distance riders in general, do not make spur of the moment travel decisions.

A Midwest auto train made sense 50 years ago, but it was badly executed. Now seems the time to do it right.


by Bernard McCormick Thursday, June 10, 2021 No Comment(s)

With everybody staying home so much of the last year, we all saw a lot of TV interviews on all manner of subjects: politics, sports, civil rights, finance, religion, and sex, to name a few. Regardless of the topic, we heard repeated use of creative terms as we recognized the intersection of the existential and systemic influences on the conversation.

We have been in this rodeo before, and without getting over our skis and spiking the ball ahead of our pay grade, we invariably dreamed we were involved in one of these interviews. In this dream, we were both asking and answering the questions. For ease of simplicity, we refer to these roles as Q (for questions) and A (for answers).

 

Q. Thanks for joining us to talk about this existential reality. You know the rules. We belong to the Larry King school. We never read a book before we do an interview in order not to prejudge our guests. We will ask only questions we know the answers to, and if we don't like your answer, you can thank me for having you on the show and go home.

A. Right, and you know I'm only here to promote my book. Whatever you ask me I will turn my answer into a plug for the book.

 

Q. Roger. And what do you think of the world today? Do you recognize the existential presence of systemic systemicism?

A. Maybe I can deal with that in my book.

 

Q. And what is your book actually about?

A. I don't know. I haven't read it.

 

Q. I thought you wrote it.

A. Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

 

Q. Isn't that from a JFK speech? What does that have to do with your book?

A. President Kennedy didn't write those lines. Everybody knows Ted Sorensen wrote his stuff. Nobody writes their own books today. But I do intend to read my book. I've been running around with the NBA playoffs, Stanley Cup, and Trump's new Twitter stuff. But I will find time.

 

Q. What about the bipartisan issues? People want to know where you stand.

A. I'm working on that seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

 

Q. That's a lot of time. Does that count the afternoons I see you chasing broads in Las Olas bars?

A. No, that's on my own time.

 

Q. You obviously manage your time well.

A. Any man who can't handle his job in two hours a day is in over his head.

 

Q. Is that another Sorenson quote?

A. No, that's my Uncle Chris. He divided his time between selling real estate and the track.

 

Q. Well, our time is up. We just have time for a half hour's worth of commercials. We'll ask if you get lucky in our next interview. Thanks so much for casting light on this important subject.

A. It is always a pleasure to discuss existential indigenous tribalism. I look forward to dreaming another book with you.


by Bernard McCormick Monday, May 03, 2021 No Comment(s)

Las Olas is rarely as uncrowded as this illustration by Colin Breslin would suggest. A current proposal would widen the street by eliminating the landscaped median. The city has made Las Olas friendlier for pedestrians, but closing lanes in the business district has increased cut through traffic on nearby residential streets. This is increasing as new downtown residential buildings come on line.

The most outlandish proposal was to rebuild the Atlantic Ocean near Weston. The second was to build a tunnel from Broward Boulevard to the beach. We deemed both ideas absurd solutions to the problem we were addressing, which was the mounting congestion on and near Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale's oldest and most heavily traveled path from the mainland to the beach. These preposterous proposals were intended as a preface to a complaint about the ridiculous overbuilding in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The increasingly heavy traffic already created a traffic mess that will only get worse when (and if) all the too tall buildings under construction are completed and filled with new residents. Why does the city approve developments that welcome new residents while damaging the quality of life of those already here? The worst bottleneck is Las Olas, which the city proposed narrowing, a move that would only make living in the old neighborhoods around Las Olas increasingly unpleasant.

We shouldn't have deemed our ideas absurd so fast. On the same Sunday morning we began to write these thoughts, The Sun Sentinel carried a front page story titled: "Tesla tunnel to the beach may not be a pipe dream."

The story appeared incredible until we saw quotes that showed influential people were taking the idea seriously. The most catchy name was Elon Musk, who was known to do impossible things. The tunnel would be built by Tesla's Boring Company, which already built a similar tunnel on the West Coast. The quoted cost of the 2.6 mile tunnel was surprising low, compared to the proposed cost of bridges to eliminate the drawbridge crossing where the FEC Railway tracks meet the busy New River.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis was quoted as intrigued by the idea, as were other community leaders, including Mary Fertig, a respected neighborhood activist who lives off Las Olas in the Idylwood development. The catch? This tunnel is not the Henry Kinney Tunnel that carries cars under the New River on Federal Highway.

It would not be for cars. It would be two lanes, only 12-feet wide, which would convey a transit car capable of great speeds. It would begin at the new Brightline rail station on Broward Boulevard and end at the beach with stops along the route where passengers could exit and use elevators to reach blue sky.

Useful? Of course, but how useful would depend on how many commuters between the beach and downtown require their cars during work hours. Tourists obviously don't, but many of those now jamming the rush hour roads funneling into to Las Olas are workers, coming and going in all directions from Downtown. They need cars just to complete their daily commute, not to mention work-related trips.

Since the idea of a tunnel is considered feasible by informed parties, why not recognize the Age of Biden and think bigger? Much bigger. How about a combination of the futuristic rail tunnel and a conventional tunnel carrying cars and other standard vehicles? It would be a big job indeed, but it would be a solution to a traffic problem that until recently appeared unsolvable.


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, March 31, 2021 No Comment(s)

The location was ideal, on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in the old Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown. Chane's pharmacy (we called them drug stores in those days) was surrounded by other active businesses. There was a popular bar across the street, a super market just a half block away, and a high-end candy store just a few doors down.

There was a busy shoe repair store close by. The second floors of the buildings housed offices, including dentists and lawyers. There were two large grade schools a few blocks away. Students passed the pharmacy on their way home. They often stopped in to enjoy the soda fountain. The year was 1951.

Our friend Tom McGill, who worked there as a soda jerk, recalls meeting the owner and his wife. We don't, but we understand the senior Mr. Chane was ill and may have died about that time. But we did know his son, Marvin Chane, who appeared to be running the place when he was only 19. He was a good looking, personable guy, and seemed to be a savvy young businessman. We saw him when we dropped by to visit Tom McGill, which was often. In fact, we had hoped to get the job as a soda jerk when Marvin hired Tom. Our problem is that at age 14, we were only 4'11" tall, one of the smallest boys in our high school freshman class. Tom McGill, although a few months younger, was about a foot taller. Marvin thought we were too short for the fountain counter. He hired Tom.

Tom liked to tell the story about how he left the job after about a year. He liked Marvin Chane and enjoyed his job, but money is money.

"I was making 55 cents an hour," he recalled recently. "I had a chance to earn 75 cents working at a Sears auto store, changing tires and stuff. I asked Marvin for a raise. He said no and tried to talk me into staying, pointing out that I would have to spend carfare to get to the Sears store in Jenkintown. But I did leave."

McGill recalled the incident when informed of Marvin Chane's death at age 90 earlier this month, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

We are not sure how long Marvin Chane ran the pharmacy. In the next decade, the neighborhood went down. Most of the good stores closed. Thousands of families moved. Today, you can hardly recognize the intersection. It is a place where you make sure your car doors are locked when you stop at the light. We think he sold out before things got really bad. He was, as we said, a good businessman.

If the Germantown pharmacy was a good business, his next move was an apparent gold mine. He owned a pharmacy downtown, in the high-toned Rittenhouse Square area. He probably had that property for most of the 1960s, but we don't recall seeing him during that time. The next time we heard his name was when our managing editor at Gold Coast Magazine began dating him in the mid-1970s. By then, he was a co-owner (along with his cousin Marvin Himelfarb) of the Bahia Cabana in Fort Lauderdale. They were known as Big Marvin and Little Marvin. They turned an obscure non-descript little hotel located on the south side of the Bahia Mar Marina into one of the most popular waterfront hangouts. It took advantage of the great view of the active marina, which was separated by only a narrow inlet. That location is what prompted Chane to make the purchase.

In the process, they pioneered open air waterfront bars. That is according to Bob Townsley, who had a 50-year career as a bar manager on the Fort Lauderdale beach. Townsley worked with Chane during the early days of the Bahia Cabana.

"The bar there was indoor," recalls Townsley. "One day Marvin said to Little Marvin, 'What would you think about putting the bar outdoor near the water?'"

The bar soon became a reality. It was a round bar, and the owners also rebuilt the small dock with tiered seating leading down to it. Thus began a 28-year ride as the bar attracted a steady crowd. According to Bob Townsley, it also inspired numerous places with waterfront views to put in open air bars. It was sold in 2000 and closed after serious storm damage in 2017. A major development was recently announced for the site.

We are sure that during our many visits, sometimes with our young family, we brought Marvin up to date on Tom McGill, who retired early in New Jersey after a successful career in marketing. Tom became a valued shareholder in our magazine, and we saw him when he spent part of winter months in the Naples area.

On one of his visits to Fort Lauderdale, we decided to have some fun. We arranged through Marvin's girlfriend, our editor, to go to dinner with a visiting couple. Neither couple knew who they were about to meet. That meeting was in the lobby of Bahia Cabana. I simply said, "You people know each other, don't you?" The couples looked at me strangely. "Don't you know each other?" I repeated. Marvin Chane broke the awkwardness by extending his hand to Tom McGill. "I"m Marvin Chane," he said, and I heard Tom, almost beneath his breath, slowly drawl "M a r v i n  C h a n e," and then introduced himself with a great smile. 

There followed a fun dinner with a lot of reminiscing about the old Philadelphia neighborhood and both men telling stories about their respective careers. Toward the end of the dinner, after a few drinks, Tom brought up the subject of his leaving the soda jerk job in 1952 when Marvin wouldn't give him a 20-cent raise. To our amazement, something of an argument broke out, with Marvin making the same arguments about the time and carfare involved with Tom taking the suburban job. This did not rise to the level of a lawsuit when both men realized the absurdity of rehashing an incident from almost 50 years ago. A happy good night was had by all.

The incident does illustrate, however, the quality that made Marvin Chane such a success in two very different careers a thousand miles apart. Once a businessman...


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, March 17, 2021 No Comment(s)

The Declaration of Independence had 45 signers. Only two had distinctly Irish names: Charles Carroll of Maryland and Thomas Lynch of South Carolina. And, there was not a single signer with the first name of Sean, Patrick, Kelly or Ryan. Such was the Irish influence (or lack of it) at the nation's birth date. Four score years later, there was a huge wave of Irish immigration prompted by the famine of the 1840s. Multitudes of half-starved Irish arrived in the U.S. determined to become good Americans. They proved it by volunteering in huge numbers for the Civil War and gave history a record of valor exemplified by the legendary Irish Brigade.

Now, a century and a half later, they celebrate St. Patrick's Day with the knowledge that they have not only become Americans, they have made America Irish. At least that's the impression one gets if you go by the names Americans proudly wear. Unique among the various nationalities who compose the American mix, the Irish have their traditional names adopted by other blood lines. For some reason, not too many babies are being named Cuomo, Brezenski or Spoelstra.

Part of the reason is that many Irish last names have been adopted as first names. Of the top 10 Irish family names in the U.S., six of them have served as first names. Among the most common are Kelly, Ryan, Brian and Neil, the last two variations of O'Brien and O'Neil. Less frequently found are Murphy and Conner. Going deeper on the list of Irish surnames produces an abundance of names which have appeared as first names. Riley, Quinn, Brady, Donovan, Nolan, Duffy, Carroll, Casey - the list goes on.

This is a fairly recent trend. Growing up in a neighborhood and going to schools with a number of Irish families, we knew only one person with the first name Ryan. It appears the name came into common use when Ryan O'Neal became a well known actor in the 1960s. Today, it is popular with both sexes. You hear it every day.

A newcomer to the last-to-first names club is one familiar to our family. Cormac is beginning to appear as a first name, partly thanks to Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy. He actually changed his name from Charles to Cormac. The name illustrates the full-circle trend of Irish names. Cormac is derived from medieval Irish kings and prominent clergy. In that time, Irish only had one name. When second names were introduced, many Irish who had taken a royal name became McCormick. That happened with all the Irish names beginning with Mc or O. Those prefixes simply mean "son of" or words suggesting a family lineage.

This is only half the story. Traditional Irish first names have become so common among other ethnic groups that some of the most popular, such as Sean, Kevin and Barry, have lost their brogue. But, there seem to be new ones waiting in the wings. Liam, the Irish form of William, owes increasing use to the actor Liam Neeson. And rarer names, such as Colin, Aidan, Eamon, Dillon, Seamus and Shane, are gaining in numbers.

Irish names for women are also common. We already mentioned Kelly and Ryan. Then there's Caitlin, Cara, Maeve, Shannon, Deirdre, Fiona and Shauna, all beginning to creep into common use.

These rarer names are often Irish versions of English names. Sean is John, Seamus is James, for instance. Those names normally emigrate to the U.S. with Irish families anxious to preserve their heritage. But once they are attached to a prominent person, they tend to go mainstream. We find no research explaining this, but our theory is that ethnic groups with surnames that are difficult to pronounce pick Irish first names, not because they are Irish, but because the names strike them as solidly American.

The irony is that original Gaelic names were at least as difficult to the Yankee ear as any European or Asian name. For example, Kennedy is the English translation of Ó Ceannéidigh. For reasons lost to history, emigrants from the Emerald Isle had the good sense to translate them to English spellings as they found their way across the seas. If they hadn't, maybe today we would be naming babies DiMaggio.