Wednesday, October 9, 2013


One of the famous old landmarks in Miami was a drive-in theater. It was famous in later years as the only drive-in theater in Miami with air-conditioning! Really, they had flexible hoses you stuck in your vent window to cool off, or to defog the windows, depending on the level of activity inside the car. The 27th Avenue Drive-In theater was known as make-out central. With spaces for well over 500 cars, the drive-in was one of the most popular spots for submarine watchers and one-arm bandits in the northwest part of Miami. Cats from Hialeah and Miami Springs showed off their cool cars while the bunch from nearby North Miami and North Miami Beach, which, by the way, isn't on Miami Beach, did the same. Great place to go if you had a date, but if you were with a bunch of guys, looking for some action, Funland just up the road at the corner of NW 79th Street and 27th avenue, was supposed to be the place to go. That was also where the bad-asses hung out and gang rumbles had caused problems all summer long. But they had neat chicks, too, so we thought we'd see what it was all about. So, one summer night in 1960, we did just that.

Driving my dad's two-tone grey '56 Ford sedan, my brother Dean and I headed out to Westwood Lake on Miami's southwest border with the glades to pick up Jim Coleman and Wayne Horstkamp. Jim and Wayne were Civil Air Patrol cadets as were Dean and I, so we were pretty tight as friends. We were all on the squadron drill team, and had all flown together many, many times in the C-119 Flying Boxcars out of the old Air Force Reserve depot at Miami International Airport. We just loved to fly in those things, often making entire flights sitting in the cockpits. We thought we were cool.

We had all goofed off many times together, sitting at drive-ins along Bird Road, ordering as little as possible as we didn't have a lot of money. We didn't drive much either as we couldn't afford to buy gas. The car-hops always stayed away from cars filled with jerk guys, even though we were never foul mouthed or rude. We were just stupid kids having fun. One evening Horstkamp, sitting in the back seat, tried to throw a firecracker out the window at the car next to us, but the window wasn't down far enough and the lit firecracker hit the glass and dropped into his lap. It went off as he scrambled up the back of the car seat trying to get away. He didn't make it.

The night we decided to go to Funland was special. I had graduated from high school and was leaving for the Air Force soon, and we were in a reckless, adventurous mood. Jim, Wayne and I had been fishing on the Bear Cut bridge on the Rickenbacker Causeway earlier in the day, using a couple of pounds of shrimp my mom had in the freezer. We caught a few grunts and a couple of small snappers, nothing to keep, but it was fun. It was the last time I would fish for ten years or so.

The trip to distant Funland from southwest Miami was a long trip in those pre-expressway days, but this was going to be a special trip. Hey, we might meet some girls! Girls who didn't know us.

Funland was kind of a dump. More like a permanently mounted carnival than an amusement park, but they had a wild-mouse and bumper cars, even a Ferris wheel. It wasn't a big enough park to have a real roller-coaster, so the wild mouse was it. Arcades were spread around the park to give it the carnival atmosphere. The guys on dates all rode on the merry-go-round with their sweeties, eating cotton candy just like in the movies. Most of the juvenile delinquents just wandered around just looking for a fight. Wayne turned his collar up and started acting tough. We immediately reminded him he was the smallest one of us and would be the first one they jumped on if he started something. We ended up wandering around like everyone else, just watching the crowd. The crowd included some extravagantly dressed, apparently single, older women. Most of them just looked at us and smiled.

It didn't take long until shouting and fighting started on the far end of the park. A rumble was under way. We decided we weren't any kind of a match for zip-guns and switchblade knives, so we decided to leave before things got nasty. Too late. Sheriff's deputies had already set up a barricade at the entrance to the parking lot. We were stopped by several deputies and a tall, lanky older fellow in a grey suit and a white shirt and tie.

ID's were shown, names were taken, and then we were asked to take them to our car. They had several groups of boys waiting, but they were letting couples leave without stopping them. I guess we looked like trouble. Jim told Wayne they stopped us because he had his collar up. Jim was probably right, it certainly didn't help.

Just what I needed! I was supposed to report for induction in a few weeks, what if I got arrested! I hadn't done anything, but the cops weren't having any fun and they certainly didn't like us. They were downright nasty.

We walked to the old Ford and opened all four doors. The cops went through the glove box and looked under the seat.

“Open the trunk!,” the detective growled.

Obediently, I walked to the rear of the car and opened the trunk.

He reached in and grabbed the white-paper wrapped package, and I let out a grunt as I recognized what he had in his hands.

They all stopped and looked me as if I had given away the big secret.

He ripped open the package of dead, smelly, thawed out-shrimp, warm from having spent the day locked in the hot trunk of the car. He looked up at the deputy who had leaned over to see what they had found and started laughing. I told him I forgot they were there from our fishing trip.

“Get out of here!” He said, as the one cop told the others about their find. We could hear them still laughing as we quickly pulled out of the parking lot and started our long trip home.