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.


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, February 24, 2021 No Comment(s)

Organized crime has a long and colorful history in South Florida.

Going back to the 1920s, the archives are filled with stories on which mobsters lived or vacationed here, where they chose their homes, what restaurants they favored and with whom they associated. But one of the most interesting stories about the wise guys in South Florida is one that never happened. It is how police prevented one of the most violent mob families from setting up their deadly business in Broward County.

If it remains a largely untold story today, it is because it got very little publicity when it happened more than 30 years ago. That lack of public knowledge goes to the essence of the tale. The investigation that has a unique place in American law enforcement - resulting in the take down of an entire Mafia family - succeeded largely because of its secrecy.

It began in 1983. Police agencies were aware of a growing organized crime presence in South Florida. A number of Mafia families were active here, but their activity was largely non-violent and there were no territorial disputes which periodically bred violence in northern markets. Florida was considered open territory. Mobsters came here for the same reason as everybody else - sun and fun. They did not choose to bring attention to themselves by killing each other here.

Local police departments wanted to keep it that way and were concerned that they needed a better method to monitor the various Mafia families who had a presence here. One of the problems is that local forces did not communicate well, either with each other or northern jurisdictions, whose organized crime units sometimes knew more about what was going on in Florida than local police. Thus, the Metropolitan Intelligence Unit was born.

It consisted of representatives of four local police agencies, plus the State Attorney, Justice Department, the Broward Sheriff. It had close contacts with several departments from northern states. The man who headed it was Douglas Haas, who had been a Fort Lauderdale homicide detective. The affable, articulate Haas was better known for the few years he had done off-duty security work at the popular Bahia Cabana Hotel than he ever was as MIU head. But that was no accident. He wanted it that way.  A rare Sun-Sentinel story about MIU in 1987 quoted former Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Ron Cochran:

"It's not a glamor group going out to make arrests," says Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Ron Cochran, a member of MIU's board of directors. "It has always been behind-the-scenes work. The arrests go to other agencies."

That story was written by Michael Connelly, who had a fascination with police work. That interest shortly led to his move into writing crime story fiction, at which he has become a widely known best seller. Connelly also wrote one of only two stories about MIU's biggest score - the investigation which brought down the dangerous crime family.

In 1985, MIU was just getting its bearings when Doug Haas picked up a tip from a Pennsylvania organized crime source that the Nicky Scarfo was setting up business in Fort Lauderdale. That was not just news; it was alarming information. Scarfo headed the Philadelphia/South Jersey crime family, which had built a reputation as one of the most violent in Mafia history.

Scarfo testifies at a Congressional subcommittee in Philadelphia, 1982. (Image source: The Mob Museum)

For decades, Philadelphia's Cosa Nostra had been conspicuously low key. Philadelphia magazine called the organization headed by Angelo Bruno "the nicest family." Bruno, unlike gang leaders elsewhere, lived modestly and there was little violence in his family. That ended when he was murdered in 1980.

A new generation of Mafios had taken him out and replaced him with men exactly the opposite. In just a few years, there were 17 murders associated with the leadership of Nicky Scarfo, whose small size led to the nickname "Little Nicky." Most of the victims were fellow mobsters. Scarfo would kill on a whim. He seemed to take pride in his ruthlessness. When Doug Haas heard Scarfo's name associated with Fort Lauderdale, he knew big trouble could be coming.

Scarfo was expansion-minded. He had taken his Philadelphia organization to Atlantic City when gambling was approved. Through strong arm tactics, including killings, he worked his way into various businesses, including casino ownership. He imposed a tax on anyone who had a business his organization could influence. That history suggested his move to Florida would break the long-standing open territory tradition, and that would lead to mob warfare. It was a situation made to order for MIU.

Although the Pennsylvania source knew Scarfo was becoming active in Fort Lauderdale, he had no further information, including where he was living. There was no record of his name on any real estate. Haas, through an Atlantic City connection, discovered that Scarfo had a house in Coral Ridge listed in a local businessman's name, and it was already a hotbed of Mafia activity. Thus began a surveillance that has gone down as an historic intelligence coup.

MIU rented a unit in a condominium across the canal from Scarfo's house. For almost two years it had a birds eye view of constant mob activity, whose openness amazed both local and out of state authorities, including the FBI, who had a squad assigned to the investigation. Scarfo assumed he was free from the scrutiny he experienced in the north.

In fact, every move he made, along with numerous associates, was closely followed. Haas was quoted in a 1990 piece we wrote for the Sun Sentinel's Sunday magazine, Sunshine. It was rare publicity for the secretive MIU.

"At times we had so many people on the case that Scarfo's car was the only car on the road that wasn't one of ours," says Haas. "We had cars behind him, in front of him and beside him. We were the traffic."

Chuck Drago, the lead detective of some 20 MIU agents assigned to the case, was in the same 1990 article.

"One time Scarfo had 29 people at the house for a party," Drago recalls. "They were all men, all documented mobsters. And they did things they would never do up north. For instance, we got pictures of them lining up to kiss Nicky. Usually they do those rituals in the clubs where they meet. But they did this right out on his patio. You had to kiss Nicky, because you were in deep s--- if you didn't."

Drago actually sat beside Scarfo's breakfast table at a oceanfront hotel and heard him plan to knock off one of his supposed Mafia rivals.

MIU supplied Pennsylvania authorities with that dramatic information, along with numerous photos and tape recordings, for Scarfo's eventual trial. The evidence was so compelling that several of his mob flipped and testified against their leader. Drago was one of several MIU agents who were star witnesses at the trial. The trial was one reason MIU got so little ink. It was held in Philadelphia, and Scarfo and 16 mob associates were convicted. It represented the heart of the Philadelphia/South Jersey mob, dismantling an entire organization in a way unmatched by anything before or since.

Nicky Scarfo, sentenced to life, died in prison in 2017. By then Doug Haas, who rose from sergeant to captain during his MIU service, was long retired from the Fort Lauderdale PD, and had worked a few years heading organized crime units for the Broward Sheriff and State Attorney's office. He now lives in New Hampshire where he continues a 20-year career as a private investigator.

MIU was always tricky to hold together with different entities and their changing leadership. It was dissolved when Ken Jenne became Broward County Sheriff in the mid-90s.

This memoir is occasioned by a visit recently from Doug Haas. He reminisced with understandable pride about the MIU era 35 years ago,​ especially the Scarfo investigation.

"It's the only time an entire organized crime family went down," says Haas. "MIU got them before they could become entrenched down here. And if it hadn't happened, it would have been a blood bath."


by Bernard McCormick Friday, February 19, 2021 No Comment(s)

This may be a little late for full effect, but considering that only two percent of the U.S. population has been vaccinated, it may save some people valuable time. We got our second dose of the vaccine (the Pfizer variety) at exactly the same place and almost the same time as our first. But it took four hours less.

Even with vaccination outlets increasing rapidly, there will likely be long lines as younger people become qualified for their shots. We therefore draw upon our recent experience to offer some insider advice as to how to jump the line. It is: don't get in line, at least not at the same time everybody else shows up. Be patient. Don't show up early.

Getting ready for our second dose recently, we heard from a neighbor that the worst time to show up was first thing in the morning. He said people figured the earlier they checked in, the faster the service. The result was lines starting to form an hour or more before sites open. The result was usually a longer wait than if people came later in the day when the morning rush subsided.

We decided to check this out. The day before our second dose, we showed up at our site - Fort Lauderdale's Central Broward Park on Sunrise Blvd. near the Swap Shot, a little after 8 a.m. It had just opened and the line to enter the park was more than five blocks on Sunrise Blvd. and then turned north on 31st Ave. God only knows how far north it extended. Based on our first experience, we figured it would take at least an hour to even enter the park and join the serpentine line crawling to the vaccination tents on the other side of the park.

We came back around noon and noted that the line, while still backed up on Sunrise Blvd. was only about a block long. We wondered what it might look like in another hour or so. Anyway, our decision was made to show up about 12:30 p.m. We quickly realized we were right. There was no line on Sunrise Blvd. and the column in the park was notably shorter than it had been three weeks earlier.  Furthermore, relatively few cars arrived soon behind us. On our first dose, dozens of cars came in right after us.

Good fortune bred good fortune. It was clear the line was not only shorter, it was moving much faster. On our first visit, delays between cars moving were often several minutes; drivers were shutting down engines during long pauses. People left their standing vehicles to make quick trips to the portapottys along the route. This time the stops were much briefer. The whole operation was improved. Kids checked to make sure everybody in line was scheduled for that date, and that everybody was over 65. But when we reached the end of the line, the big reason was apparent. We had not counted the tents administering the vaccine on our first visit, but this time there were obviously more. We counted 11.

The bottom line. We were in and out in just over an hour and a half. The first visit took five hours. Going late might not be as effective as younger people sign up. Our group was largely retirees who could make their hours. Working people might not have such flexibility.

For some, going early may be the only option.

But for many, we are confident the last will be fastest.


by Bernard McCormick Thursday, January 28, 2021 No Comment(s)

Larry King. It was a name we heard in 1970 a few times before we left Philadelphia. People who knew South Florida said he was a media celebrity we should get to know. He was a radio star, something that did not exist in Philadelphia, where only TV personalities rated top billing. It took some time, but we did get to meet Larry King. Frankly, we had not been listening to his radio work. He was identified with Miami, and our magazine's circulation was Fort Lauderdale and north.

That changed, however, in late 1971 when we had a chance to acquire Miami Magazine for a song. That book was barely alive, and the chap who ran it suggested we meet Larry King, who might prove useful. King had just made news by being fired from his broadcasting jobs after he was arrested, accused of stealing money from an influential friend. The situation was blurry at the time, but it related to large gambling debts King had incurred and using money intended for other purposes to handle that debt. He needed work, and we met at lunch to discuss it.

We had no money to pay him, but that did not seem to matter. He wanted exposure to keep his name alive. We recall that for a man possibly facing jail time, he seemed relaxed. You had to like him. He may have actually written a piece for our new magazine. Copies of that early issue do not exist, but we recall reading a chatty, inoffensive column that he submitted. If we did use it, he is a member of an elite club - men who wrote for obscure Miami Magazine before they became national figures. The other man was Bill O'Reilly.

It appeared Larry King was finished, but over the next few years, we were vaguely aware that he was still around. His legal problems were settled, and he was back on radio and doing writing for local publications. But it was not until the mid-80s when he began appearing on national TV for Ted Turner's rising CNN cable station, that we realized the extent of his recovery. It seemed overnight that his interviewing skills had translated perfectly to live television, complete with his memorable suspenders and hunched forward on-air posture. He had risen from near obscurity to become the number one attraction on cable and a national figure.

Our own fortunes had taken a nose dive. A reorganization effort in 1982 resulted in a 10-year lawsuit over control of the magazine. During that time, we freelanced for anybody whose check would clear. Much of the work was for Sunshine, the Sunday magazine then published by the Sun Sentinel. By the spring of 1991, as King's popularity continued to grow, along with the years since he left Miami, we figured many of South Florida's new residents might not know of his tangled broadcasting roots here. We also figured it would be an easy story to do.

It was. We arranged to sit in on his nightly Washington-based one hour TV show, followed by several more hours of radio work at the Mutual Broadcasting station just across the Potomac River. It was sort of a "day in the life of" story, and Larry King made it easy. We met about an hour before his 9 p.m. television show and chatted as he went through make-up and prepared for upcoming interviews. His principal guest that night was reporter Bob Woodward of Watergate fame. He was promoting a new book and was not at the CNN studio behind Union Station. "Nice to do another book with you" was the first thing Woodward said when he appeared on the remote TV screen.

King had not read the book. He never did, preferring to let the author tell what it was about. There was little remarkable about his quotes in our story, at least not today. In fact the wording of some of his recent obituaries in the national press was so similar to stuff in our piece that we wonder if it was not part of files news organizations accumulate for death watches. Anyway, the Woodward interview went smoothly and as usual, King made his subject look good, with interesting but non-confrontational questions. He was criticized for asking mostly softball questions, but it was that quality that made figures as important as U.S. presidents want to appear with him.

"I've always considered myself a conduit,"  he expained while driving to his radio site. "I leave myself out of it. I never use the word I. I ask the beat questions I can, and I let the viewers ask their questions."

Larry King, having interviewed so many people on so many subjects, literally interviewed himself, answering questions he had not yet been asked. He exuded confidence and candor. He did not know who that night's radio guests would be and wasn't worried about it. His range was so broad that a mere hint of a topic would quickly be enough for him to wing it.

He showed that late in his three-hour radio gig, which consisted of several interviews and numerous phone calls. King loved sports (he was on the Dolphins originally broadcast team) and between breaks that night was checking baseball scores. It was apparent that his gambling habit was still alive, but now he could afford it. At one point he asked where we had gone to school, and the word "La Salle" was barely out of our mouth when he exclaimed, "I can see Tom Gola now in the Garden. What a ball player! LaSalle had sleeves on their uniform."

This was 40 years after Gola's college days. He was player of the year and led La Salle to the NCAA championship, but after four decades, outside of Philadelphia his name had begun to fade. But King not only recalled him instantly, he added that trivia about the classy uniforms. You got the impression he could easily go on for an hour recalling teams that played in Madison Square Garden and the uniforms they wore.

Asked about his comeback from the dark days in Miami, King said: "Did I foresee all this? Jesus Christ, no. I always knew I'd come back. But national? Never." Later he discussed his income, about $2 miilion a year from TV, radio and books he wrote. "I really started making major money at 55. That's not young to start making money. It's kind of a hoot."

He shared that hoot as a unique broadcasting figure for the next 20 years.


by Bernard McCormick Friday, January 15, 2021 No Comment(s)

The Pope hadn't gotten it. The Queen of England hadn't gotten it. But the McCormicks of Fort Lauderdale got their vaccine shots last week. This is because we are extremely important and politically connected people. We also know how to jump a line.

So does Rosemary O'Hara, the highly respected editorial page editor for the Sun Sentinel. It turns out we jumped the same line, several hours apart. She wrote about it for the paper last Thursday - the day after she waited in a slow-moving caravan for three hours at a Broward County park just a day after it began offering the shots. We waited longer, about four hours, but that had to do with the timing of our appointment. And her account of how she got there at all is very similar to ours. Neither had anything to do with influence, and everything to do with timing. And luck. We both lucked onto a website that had just been blessed with access to a new vaccine outlet.

Her luck had to do with persistence, constantly trying up and down the website until it finally responded and got her appointments for her and her husband. She qualified by age, having just turned 65. Her husband qualified on stronger grounds. He suffered the effects of agent orange in Vietnam and is a cancer survivor.

Our claim is largely based on seniority, although we both have the normal abnormalities associated with vintage. But, like Ms. O'Hara, we did feel some guilt getting in line before the Pope and thousands of workers whose jobs prevent them from enjoying the isolation from human contact which is advised for those who want to survive this pandemic. We had made little effort to sign up, figuring it would be at least a month before our turn came.

But that was before our daughter-in-law went dog walking at 7 a.m. last week. She bumped into a neighbor who told her he had just gotten an appointment at a site that had just opened up and was not yet booked solid. She told our son who got on the hook, and after several calls, got through and made appointments for us both.

Our first appointment date was at 3:35 Tuesday. We were 15 minutes early and were told all vaccinations for the rest of the day were cancelled. No explanation. Our second appointment was the next day, but earlier - 12:32. If that sounds like a program timed to the minute, it isn't. We were in the line for almost two hours before a young man even checked our paperwork. When he saw we had been turned away the day before, he okayed both of us.

It was a long wait. We didn't leave the site until almost 5 p.m. But the wait was leavened by two things. First, the serpentine line of cars wound around an interesting modern looking stadium. We had never seen it, and it turned out to be the boondoggle cricket stadium which has proved almost useless. We spent time googling that history. Second, the invasion of the capitol building broke out in mid-afternoon and diverted us, and we think many of those in the long line. We started getting phone calls and emails, asking if we knew the world was ending. It made the last hour seem to go fast.

Through all this the behavior of the people in our caravan, almost all of whom seemed to qualify as 65 plus, was admirably patient. And the staff, from the kids directing traffic to the people actual sticking the needles, was uniformly cordial and helpful, even after a long day. In sum, not a bad experience, and we look forward to our second dose. But this time our experience in line jumping will be put to good use. We will figure out how to be first in line.

Meanwhile, our advice to all those trying to get an appointment: First, find an alert daughter-in-law. Second, get her a dog.


by Bernard McCormick Monday, December 21, 2020 No Comment(s)

The Postal Service is under fire this holiday season, partly due to political meddling, which has screwed up established systems. As one who was once a minor part of that system, we sympathize with the little people who from the earliest days of this country have kept us in touch with each other, reliable couriers making their swift appointed rounds through rain or snow or gloom of night. It isn't their fault that Christmas cards are not moving at the usual speed. We have noted that first class local delivery, which used to be overnight, has been taking two days, and we understand out-of-town mail is even more delayed.

It makes us nostalgic for the 1950s, when almost every late teenage kid we knew counted on temporary post office work during the Christmas rush to give us the cash for family presents. We understand that temps are still used, although we haven't seen any personally. But there sure were a lot of us in those days.

USPS carriers in 1950s New York City leaving to deliver mail during the Christmas season. (Source: Vecchio / Three Lions / Getty Images)

We worked the last year or so of high school and through our first years of college, and by the time we were finished, we had perfected the art of gaming the system. Our first year, probably senior year of high school, we just delivered mail. We clocked on in the morning when it was still gloom of night. The sorters had worked through the night, packing bags of mail in such a way that it was organized top to bottom in the order of the homes' addresses. We were leaving with a full bag just as dawn broke.

The bags were often heavy, but we were young healthy guys. We took a trolley car to the neighborhood our route served. It happened to be near our house. It took a few hours for the first delivery, and there was no need to return to the station because a second delivery was made to a mail box, already bagged. We usually went home to wait for it, sometimes catching an hour or two of sleep. Arrival time of the afternoon shipment varied, but we were usually working again by early afternoon and finished in a few hours.

We quickly learned the tricks of our beat, such as avoiding nasty dogs. You just left the mail outside a guard fence in boxes provided by the owners. Apartments were easy because you served a half dozen families at a single stop. You quickly got to know some recipients' names. In a few cases, you delivered Christmas cards you had sent yourself. People we met on the route were almost always pleasant. They considered our work important. And we felt the same way.

By late afternoon, we returned to the post office and clocked off, ending what was about a 10-hour day. That was the first year or two. But by then, we discovered that it was possible to join the night shift, sorting the mail that arrived around the clock from the main post office in center city. The main Philadelphia post office was located practically on top of Pennsylvania Railroad tracks where cars of mail from all over arrived by rail. There it was sorted by postal zones and quickly trucked to neighborhood stations. The U.S. Postal Service was a well-functioning machine.

Sorting began in the late afternoon and went on through much of the night as trucks arrived with fresh deliveries. You got a bundle of mail earmarked for the same neighborhood and put it in slots for each address. When you had it all sorted, it was wrapped in small bundles tied up by a machine. It was fun to work.

On the night shift you got to know other temporary workers. Some had been doing it for years and were friendly with the full-time workers. They were often teachers or coaches who, like the students, had free time over the holidays. They were all pleasant fellows to spend time sorting mail with.

Working both day and night shifts permitted you to be on the clock most of the day.  That was why the hours spent between day deliveries became necessary nap time. There were pauses, often brief, between clocking off and then back on. It depended on the supervisor and how strict he was. It became an understandable goal to be on the clock for a full 24 hours.

We never quite made it. Our post office had a basement where night workers often went to rest between truck deliveries. The place was pitch black, and it was easy to fall asleep there. We tried to stay on the clock during those lulls, but the supervisor used to barge in and tell everybody to get off the clock. On one occasion, we had been on the clock almost 23 hours and, hiding in the basement, thought we would finally reach the 24-hour goal. But the super came in, woke everybody up and told us to get off the clock. We did, but not more than 45 minutes later he was back and telling to get up to work.

So, postal workers, from a former colleague, we appreciate your dedication during this time of politically-inspired duress. Keep up your Yuletide morale. And stay on the clock.


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, December 02, 2020 No Comment(s)

The 57th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy passed quietly last week, all but forgotten amid the health crisis and election turmoil gripping the nation. This year, however, was not without events important to the ongoing mystery of JFK's death.  Two men died to whom that death was not such a great mystery. They pretty much knew who did it, and why. And both had connections to our former Gold Coast Magazine.

Vincent Salandria (left) and Gaeton Fonzi (right), circa the 1960s.

One of them, Vince Salandria, a Philadelphia lawyer and former teacher, died in August at the age of 92. He spent much of that long life convincing people that the official Warren Commission conclusion, that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone, was absurd. In fact, it was a carefully planned campaign to cover up the conspiracy between the CIA and other government leaders, including the military, to remove a troublesome president.

Among the first people he convinced was this writer, and our former magazine partner, Gaeton Fonzi. It happened in a motel in Wildwood, N.J. in the summer of 1966. Fonzi and I were working for Philadelphia magazine and were teamed up on a light story about Wildwood, a popular summer vacation spot for Philadelphia's blue collar set. Fonzi had read a piece by Salandria in a legal newspaper, in which Salandria questioned the Warren Commission's conclusion about Oswald and particularly the role of Arlen Specter, who was running for D.A. in Philadelphia. Specter had gained national attention as the inventor of "the magic bullet" theory, which held that a single bullet caused wounds to both Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally, and somehow wound up in pristine condition on a hospital stretcher. One bullet doing so much damage was crucial to the case of a lone gunman. Fonzi had contacted Salandria, and the latter was so anxious to talk that he drove down to Wildwood the next weekend. We had developed an interest in the case, so Fonzi suggested we sit in. He warned that Salandria might be crazy.

And at first, that's what we thought. Salandria was a thin, gaunt-faced man with an almost unnerving intensity. He seemed like a fanatic. But over the next hour, he went through the evidence so methodically that we were both convinced that on an analysis of JFK's wounds alone, the Warren Commission was wrong. Furthermore, Salandria alleged the investigation had been rigged, and he knew by whom.

"Don't you see it boys, don't you see it," he said, "There's only one outfit who could have pulled this off." He meant the CIA, and if Fonzi had any doubt about that, it was dispelled in a follow-up interview with Arlen Specter.

Despite his key role, Specter had faced no hard questions about his "magic bullet" theory. He had not expected Fonzi to be so prepared to ask them, and he fumbled all over the place trying to explain his theory. Fonzi's subsequent article and other follow-up pieces in Philadelphia magazine created quite a local stir. Nobody knew it at the time, but one magazine reader who was impressed was Richard Schweiker, soon to be elected to the U.S. Senate. For purposes of this narrative, Vince Salandria makes an exit, but over the next 50 years, he grew to iconic stature, influencing the growing number of JFK conspiracy researchers. And he had laid the groundwork for what follows.

Fast forward nearly a decade. Richard Schweiker, now a U.S. Senator, was co-chairman of a committee looking into CIA abuses, including its role in the Kennedy investigation. By then it had been discovered that Chief Justice Earl Warren had had little to do with the investigation that bore his name, and it had been controlled by elements associated with the CIA. Schweiker was convinced Lee Harvey Oswald was much more than the official Warren Commission version of a lone gunman. "He has the fingerprints of intelligence all over him," Schweiker said.

He told that to Gaeton Fonzi, who he had hired as a special investigator in 1975. He remembered Fonzi's Philadelphia magazine articles and contacted him when he learned Fonzi was now in Florida, a place Schweiker suspected could prove fertile ground for research. He especially wanted to probe anti-Castro Cuban sources because Oswald had been portrayed as a Communist Castro supporter, even though he seemed to have links to CIA sources in New Orleans.

We were able to give Fonzi some help getting started, introducing him to Martin Casey, who grew up on the same block in Philadelphia. Marty had been in the Marine Corps before moving to Florida, marrying a Cuban woman and becoming fluent in Spanish. Seeking adventure, he was active in training anti-Castro Cuban-Americans and took part in some daring activities. He was trusted by the Cuban community. He was also one of the few who knew that Fonzi was working on the Kennedy assassination. Most people Fonzi interviewed thought he was part of another highly publicized probe of more recent CIA misdeeds. Many Cubans resented President Kennedy for abandoning the CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba, which ended disastrously. They might be reluctant to cooperate.

Fonzi credited Marty with connecting him to some of the most important anti-Castro fighters. One was Antonio Veciana who had led Alpha 66, the most important group trying to kill Castro. Veciana revealed his long association with his mysterious CIA handler who used the name Maurice Bishop.  Then, not knowing at the time what Fonzi was up to, stunned Fonzi by casually mentioning that he had seen Bishop with Oswald in Dallas shortly before the assassination.

It was a brief sighting. Oswald was leaving when Veciana showed up for a scheduled meeting in a bank lobby. They were not introduced, but he recognized Oswald when he saw his photos after the killing. It would have been obviously dangerous for Veciana to reveal that at the time of the assassination. Besides, his goal was to eliminate Castro, not solve a president's murder. Also, he admitted to Fonzi, people who killed a president would not have qualms about silencing him. But now, 13 years later, he helped Fonzi by working with a police artist for a sketch of Maurice Bishop. It was accurate enough that Senator Schweiker himself recognized it as David Atlee Phillips, a high ranking CIA officer who had appeared before a Senate committee.

Thus began a chain of events which has evolved over five decades. They could make a book; eventually, in fact, they did. The investigation Fonzi worked on went nowhere. Political figures close to the CIA sabotaged the House Select Committee on Assassinations. The first general counsel, a highly respected prosecutor from Philadelphia (another Philly connection) was forced out when he insisted on keeping the CIA one of his targets. Senator Schweiker, Fonzi's patron, was no longer on the committee, which was now dominated by conservative legislators friendly to the intelligence community. Several congressmen pushed to cut its funding and demanded a fast conclusion.  The original counsel's replacement was an organized crime expert who did not believe the CIA would lie about such an important matter. He wanted to pin blame on the Mafia. Fonzi wasted time checking leads on the latter and wrote most of the final report which said there had likely been a conspiracy but was inconclusive as to the identity of the assassins.

Fonzi was disgusted and wrote in effect a dissenting opinion to the report he had helped write. It first appeared in three long articles in Gold Coast Magazine in 1980. It also ran in Washingtonian magazine, a somewhat sensational form that got it sued by Phillips, the CIA man it associated with the crime. The magazine won after an expensive legal fight.

Cover of Gold Coast Magazine's November 1980 issue.

Fonzi continued with his research for years, and in 1993, those articles appeared in book form titled, "The Last Investigation." He revised the work in subsequent editions. It built an impact among other researchers who cited the book as a primary source. When Fonzi died in 2012, the New York Times, in a flattering obit, called it one of the best books on the assassination.

Antonio Veciana lived longer, until this past June. He was 91. As time separated him from his CIA days, he grew more candid. At the time he told Fonzi about Maurice Bishop, Veciana would not identify him publicly - even after they met face to face at a surprise confrontation Fonzi set up in Washington. But later in life, he said Maurice Bishop was indeed David Atlee Phillips. Fonzi knew that all along and had convinced thousands that the CIA engineered the assassination.

The title "The Last Investigation" reflected Fonzi's conviction that there would not be another serious government attempt to solve the murder. But thanks to his work, and the persistent research by Vince Salandria and courageous witnesses like Antonio Veciana, that may not be the case. Last year, a group organized to pressure Congress to take a fresh look at the JFK murder, along with those those of Robert Kennedy, Macolm X and Martin Luther King.

The members of this group relating to the Kennedy's cases is a virtual who's who of the Kennedy Assassination critics. Unlike the Warren Commission and the House committee Fonzi worked for, there is no danger of CIA infiltration. The Truth and Reconcilliation Committee will present the decades of compelling evidence to a new generation of Congress. Among the members are Hollywood names such as Oliver Stone, Rob Reiner, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin. G. Robert Blakey, the head of the committee Fonzi worked for, is there because he regrets that he trusted the CIA. Virtually every living writer who has contributed important research is among the group.

Most infuential may be the names Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Bobby Kennedy's children. Back in the 1960s, Bobby Kennedy and his brother Ted were largely silent on the subject of their brother's assassination, although it has been learned that Bobby Kennedy quietly followed the work of researchers and may have been waiting until he became president to reopen the investigation. Having Kennedys involved is meaningful.

It is too late to punish those who designed and perpetrated JFK's murder. They are all long gone. But it is not too late to correct a massive distortion of history.


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, November 18, 2020 No Comment(s)

The office of vice president of the United States, long considered a job without a job, has taken on more importance in this century. President Obama called on his vice president Joe Biden's long experience in the U.S Senate in giving him work dealing with other legislators on important matters. Apparently President-elect Biden handled them well. More recently, President Trump assigned Mike Pence the job of managing the Covid 19 response team, in which the VP did not cover himself with glory. He proved much better in his secondary role of figuring how to praise President Trump at least 10 times in a 12-minute speech.

Now, however, we have found a true responsibility for Kamala Harris, President-elect Biden's vice president. It is a role the world will embrace, and likely go down as the standard for future vice presidential performance. It is a decidedly simple task - make sure that no presidential function ever competes with Notre Dame football.

That was what happened two weekends ago when one of the more epic games in college football was interrupted by NBC to bring us the acceptance speeches of Biden and Harris. It may be the only serious mistake Biden made in his campaign. Fortunately for him, the election was over and won; had this happened earlier, it could have cost him the election. The game, of course, was ND's thrilling 47-40 win over Clemson.

Clemson, a talent heavy team, was ranked number one. The gritty Irish were number four. The game was exciting from the opening kickoff, and was being hotly contested midway in the second quarter when NBC switched to coverage of the acceptance speeches. This was after NBC had promoted the classic match up all week.

There followed about a half hour of Harris thanking everybody who moves, and Biden, in a somewhat shorter appearance, mouthing the usual banalities associated with such events. The interruption was particularly irritating because of all the promo NBC had given the game. Also, the speeches were carried on several cable channels. Anyone whose distorted sense of values would prioritize a political event over a great college football game had no trouble finding a station. Not so with the football game. It is doubtful that the protest heard around the land was any louder than in South Florida, especially Fort Lauderdale. Notre Dame has an extraordinary presence here. Clemson is a big school (20,000 undergrads) and so dominant in its neck of the woods that Clemson, South Carolina was renamed (from Calhoun) to recognize it. The school undoubtedly has its own local fan base, but it can't compare locally to the Irish following.

A general view of the Administration Building with the Golden Dome on the Campus of Notre Dame. (CNBC)
The University of Notre Dame's famous Golden Dome, which inspired the alumni nickname "Domers."  (Robin Alam | Icon SMI | Corbis | Getty Images)

The Notre Dame-Fort Lauderdale connection goes back almost 100 years. It began with Governor R.H. Gore, a self-made Indiana native, who built the Fort Lauderdale News (now the Sun-Sentinel) into a remarkably successful paper. He was a big ND fan and sent six of his family to the school. One of them was a founder of the very strong local Notre Dame alumni club.

The media connection lived on until recent years. Not long ago, the three dominant magazines on the Gold Coast were owned by Notre Dame grads - Palm Beach Illustrated (Ron Woods), Boca Raton Magazine (John Shuff), and Gold Coast and its related magazines (Mark McCormick).

Another big Notre Dame family is the Mauses of the Maus & Hoffman clothing stores. The three brothers who ran the company for years - the late Bill Jr. and Tom, and John, who still runs the Palm Beach store - were all Domers. There were a number of relatives and spouses who headed for South Bend at ND, or attending ND's sister school, St. Mary's College.

Another brothers combination from Fort Lauderdale are the Zlochs. William Zloch, now the senior judge of U.S. Southern District of Florida, quarterbacked the Irish in the 1960s. He was followed by his brothers Chuck and Jim, both football players out of Central Catholic High, now Saint Thomas Aquinas.

A more recent Irish influential figure is three-term Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler. He also is vice-chair of the Orange Bowl Committee. His grandfather, Earnie Seiler, was the founder of the Orange Bowl back in 1935.

There are a few professions in which a Notre Dame grad is not prominent. In the restaurant field, Paul Flanigan founded the chain of Quarterdeck restaurants. He started out working for his late uncle, Joe Flanigan, of Flanigans restaurant fame.

The Zlochs are one of a number of Irish athletes who either grew up here or played in South Florida as pros. Jimmy Evert, father of tennis champion Chris Evert, ran the tennis program at Holiday Park for decades. He was captain of ND's tennis team in 1947.

The late Nick Buoniconti and Bob Kuechenberg were star linemen on the Miami Dolphins' legendary undefeated 1972 team. Both had distinguished Florida careers after football - Buoniconti as a philanthropic attorney and Kuechenberg as an art dealer.

Notre Dame's all-time rushing leader, Autry Denson, has deep Broward County roots. He played for Nova High and later in a brief pro career with the Dolphins. He is now head coach at Charleston Southern University.

A less well-known athlete is retired attorney Harry Durkin, who played minor league baseball. He's locally known as the former president of the large and influential Fort Lauderdale Notre Dame Club. He also has the distinction, for which he was honored by the university, of having been president of an ND alumni club in his native New Jersey.

More recently, Anthony Fasano served two stints as a tight end for the Miami Dolphins. In retirement, he founded Next Treatment Addiction in Delray Beach.

Craig Counsell had a brief but distinguished career as part of the Marlins' 1997 World Series-winning team. He now manages the Milwaukee Brewers.

Brady Quinn, who holds several Irish passing records, is now an analyst for CBS and Fox News. He is just one of many former athletes who now call South Florida home. He lives in Fort Lauderdale's Rio Vista section. As a media figure, he is a good way to return to our original theme. Let's put him in charge of the new Veep's schedule to ensure this is the last column of its kind we have to write.