If it is still running, and it probably will be, we plan to take the Auto Train later in the summer for maybe the 30th time. We don’t know the exact count, but we started using it in the early 1970s when it was launched as a private company. Amtrak did not take over until 1983. Since the 1990s, somebody in the family has ridden it every year; some years we took several trips, up and back. And not always in the summer. We took at least one round trip up for the Christmas holidays.
We obviously like the idea, and we have written about it a number of times, wondering why the concept has remained limited to just one route from central Florida to northern Virginia, close to Washington. It seems like an idea that would work on most of Amtrak’s long-distance routes.
In fact, the original Auto-Train Corporation did attempt to run a second train, after it began to make money on the initial route. It ran from its station in Sanford, northeast of Orlando, to Louisville, Kentucky. The concept seemed sound, but its engines proved too heavy for the poorly maintained track on the old Louisville and Nashville Railroad. It had derailments, followed by lawsuits. The railroad had warned of the danger of the heavy engines. The poorly executed expansion put the original company out of business in 1981, and several years later Amtrak took over. The train has been a success. It was profitable for years, and may still be. If not, it doesn’t lose much money, at least not by Amtrak’s standards.
We revisit the subject in response to the new proposed Trump budget that would cancel many of Amtrak’s trains, including Auto Train and the two regular long-distance trains that serve Florida from the northeast. We propose, as we have before, that instead of eliminating those unprofitable, but still useful long-distance trains, Amtrak combine them with auto trains. This is not an original thought. The original private Auto-Train Corporation planned to do it years ago, combining its Midwest auto train with “The Floridian,” a regular train from Chicago to Miami. Veteran rail observers may recall seeing that train, pulled by distinctive brown and orange Illinois Central diesels, on what are now the CSX tracks along Interstate 95.
The first step would be to return to the Midwest, using the existing Sanford facility to run an auto train not just to Louisville, but closer to the big Chicago market. In addition to carrying people and their cars, it would also carry carless passengers. To keep it fast (Auto Train often runs ahead of schedule) the stops would be only at major markets. Current Amtrak trains serve many small towns, but this idea would stop at only busier destinations. En route to a terminal south of Chicago, (Lafayette, Indiana seems about right) you could stop at Jacksonville, Macon, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, Louisville and Indianapolis. At 10 minutes per stop, that might add an hour or two to the trip. But so what, people on a train are not in a big hurry.
Initially, the train need not be daily. Again, train riders are not in a hurry. As traffic grows, the schedule could increase. A super terminal not too far south of Chicago could then serve as the starting point for most of Amtrak’s current long-distance trains. Five established Amtrak routes leave the Chicago area for the south and west coast. All those routes are longer than the current Auto Train (855 miles). The California Zephyr, from Chicago to near San Francisco, covers more than 2,000 miles, much of it through the spectacular Rockies and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Its 30 plus station stops could be cut in half, but include the population centers of Omaha, Lincoln, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Reno and Sacramento, along with a few of the more scenic vacation spots along the way. The trip currently takes a little more than two days. A few extra hours would hardly affect ridership.
On those long routes there would be the opportunity to add facilities to load and unload vehicles at least once. It is surprising how fast Amtrak crews (shown above) can do that right now. It would not appreciably delay the train and greatly add to its usefulness.
Ultimately we could see the idea working on the shorter eastern routes, using the Lorton, Virginia Auto Train terminal as a starting point for cross country auto trains along existing Amtrak routes to New Orleans and Chicago.
Would these hybrid trains make money? Probably not, but they surely would lose a lot less than they do now and likely cease the clamor to destroy a valuable national asset.
This was a time when Larry King was still king of cable. We were doing a piece on the former Floridian for the Sun-Sentinel’s Sunday magazine. He had finished his TV show at the CNN headquarters in Washington and gone across the Potomac to Arlington, where he did a late night radio show. It was often about sports. During a commercial break he asked where we had gone to school. We told him, “La Salle.”
“I can see Tom Gola now in the Garden,” King blurted. “La Salle wore sleeves on their uniforms. What a ball player!”
Larry King was right on both counts. We mention him today for historical perspective on one of the great events in the history of modern sports. The Cleveland Cavaliers wore jerseys with sleeves in their NBA championship series with Golden State. The Cavs lost the series, but history will little note nor long remember that. What scholars centuries from now will record is that it marked the first time in anyone’s memory that a prominent basketball team dressed up to the occasion. LeBron James and his teammates brought back sleeves to basketball.
We predict that in the near future sleeves will make a comeback, taking us back to the glory days of the 1950s when Larry King was a teenager watching Tom Gola in Madison Square Garden. La Salle not only played better than almost any college team for several years; they also had everybody outdressed. With the sleeves, they won the National Invitational Tournament in 1952, when that was bigger than the NCAA Tournament. They won the NCAA in 1954, and were runner-up to San Francisco the next year. That loss wasn’t their uniforms' fault. They had San Francisco outdressed, but the Dons happened to have Bill Russell and K.C. Jones in the same lineup. Two future great pros. La Salle had only one. Sports Illustrated described La Salle as “four students and a basketball player.”
Outside of Philadelphia, where he was prominent as a coach and in politics (he was city controller) after his playing career, Tom Gola’s name may have faded. But he still holds the NCAA rebounding record more than 60 years after he played. He was just a tad under 6 feet 6 inches, although he seemed taller, and was reported as high as 6 feet 8 inches by those of us who exaggerate for a living. But he was that rare player who helped his team as much on defense as offense. They didn’t keep records of steals and pilfered passes in that era, but Gola was a master at that. He had great reflexes—both hand and foot speed. He was the Philadelphia high school 440 champion. It seemed on the basketball court that he moved faster running backward than other players did in forward motion. Those gifts made him a great rebounder. He just got to the ball faster.
The success of La Salle’s uniforms led a number of other teams to adopt that classy look in ensuing seasons. It wasn’t unusual to see a prominent team wearing sleeves in the latter ’50s and early 1960s. La Salle wore them for about 15 seasons. For a time Philadelphia rival St. Joseph's took up that look and did pretty well with it. Of course they had a great coach in Jack Ramsay. Why either team gave them up can only be explained by whoever let Notre Dame football dress like the GEICO gecko for a few novelty games in recent years.
One of the teams that adopted sleeves—in fact, a few years before La Salle—and kept them for decades, was Evansville. They got a lot of publicity out of their uniforms and wore them into the 1970s when their excuse for de-sleeving was that players complained they added weight. Their coach said they also hurt recruiting with some players who did not like them. The weight angle seems a little silly, considering at the same time basketball pants went from short-short to near wedding dress lengths.
If there is a drawback to sleeves, it is illustrated by the Cavaliers' recent presentation. Their uniforms were too tight fitting. It showed the muscular studs to good advantage, but LeBron James actually said he felt restricted. He only had 41 points and 13 rebounds in the final game. Back in La Salle’s day, the uniforms were a little less confining, and players not only were not turned off by the look, but also were delighted to look so pretty when they played in Penn’s Palestra.
It should be noted that as with everything else in modern sports, there is a mercantile component to this story. It has been reported that a uniform manufacturer is behind this throwback movement. It supplied not only the Cavaliers, but also some college teams in the NCAA Tournament with sleeved jerseys. The motive is obvious. We can expect to see all sorts of college, high school and even younger-age teams adopting the look of the pros they aspire to be. And there are always the fans who commit a large part of their gross income to acquiring every piece of apparel worn by their favorite teams. The jingle of the cash register can be heard around the world, or would be if we still had cash registers.
The sleeves, like everything else in modern sports, are controversial. Some fans think they look awful. But some fans have awful taste. Welcome back sleeves to basketball. Now if only they’d start bouncing the ball again.
The weight of a compliment is directly proportional to the weight of the person giving it. Thus one of the most valued comments in our 56 years in the magazine business came from the late Dr. Abraham Fischler. We bumped into him at a luncheon a few years back. It was probably for Nova Southeastern University.
“You are one of the few guys in your business I respect,” he said. We had known the man casually from almost his first years at Nova in the early 1970s, but that accolade came as a very pleasant surprise. And we were pretty sure what motivated it. It wasn’t the long 1973 piece we wrote for Gold Coast magazine, in which Dr. Fischler was already being credited with saving the young university from bankruptcy. More likely he recalled columns we wrote for the Hollywood Sun-Tattler in the late 1980s. By then Nova had a growing law school, had pioneered the off-campus degree program, which was widely imitated, and had begun developing medical programs, and other curricula that filled a community need. A school that had been viewed as an educational joke was turning into a real university.
But Dr. Fischler was upset that some of the new programs were being duplicated just across the road from Nova’s growing campus, at the satellite campus of Florida Atlantic University. As one who had been the key player in achieving the rare feat of making a new private university succeed in the 20th century, he naturally did not welcome such intimate competition from a state- supported institution.
We quoted him as saying there was no “educational” need for such state programs, at least not in South Florida, but there was an obvious “political” motive. Local legislators wanted to show the voters that they were doing something in Tallahassee. The Sun-Tattler, which expired in 1989, was little read outside of Hollywood. But it was an excellent little paper, and it was one of the few voices calling public attention to Nova’s legitimate complaint, and we gather our stuff had some influence. At least it mattered to Abe Fischler, who remembered it more than 20 years later.
Dr. Fischler died in April at 89, and to understand the importance of his luncheon compliment, one needs an appreciation of what Dr. Fischler achieved in his 50 years in South Florida. Among the dozens of people who contributed much to our economic and cultural development over the years, it is hard to think of anyone who took a more unlikely path to building something of such lasting value to the area.
In 1967 Abraham Fischler arrived at what was then called the Nova University of Advanced Technology. It was 300 acres of almost empty fields. He had a doctorate from Columbia and professorships at Harvard and the University of California at Berkley. He was attracted to a concept of a school exploring new ways of teaching science. But the school had blown through the money generously supplied by local families. At one time it had 17 professors and only four students. It still had dedicated supporters, including Hamilton Forman, whose family donated the land in Davie, James Farquhar, William Horvitz, Mary McCahill, Louis Parker, Abe Mailman, Edwin F. Rosenthal and Theresa Castro. But the average South Florida resident barely knew it existed. Some people mixed it up with Nova High School.
The founding president was a charming man, and great fun at a party, but he did not view part of his job as raising money he was freely spending. Nova had been launched with the support of both Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood leading families—two groups that previously had not often worked together. It had launched some promising programs—cancer research and oceanography among them— but it had very few paying customers. When its first students graduated in 1970, some thought it might be the last class. Dr. Fischler was asked to take over the Titanic that same year. He knew so little about business that he called on Hollywood’s Abe Mailman, to show him how to read a balance sheet. Money was so short he had to hold faculty checks. He had to innovate in ways he had never foreseen.
While cutting costs, he also cut a deal with New York Institute of Technology, whose wealthy founder, Dr. Alexander Schure, an education innovator himself, was able to fund the school. One of Fischler’s first moves was launching the law school and an off-campus program offering doctoral degrees for educators. Many, this writer included, considered that a cheap degree. Some of the school’s earliest supporters were turned off, both by the association with NYIT, a school they had never heard of, and by the off-campus programs, which they considered little more than correspondence courses. The idea, however, has since been imitated by major schools. And it saved NSU, which by 1973 was in the black. Cy Young, one of the school’s early trustees, summed up Dr. Fischler at the time:
“He’s a remarkable man. He’s a scholar, he’s a scientist, he’s an expert in education. And it turns out he’s also a damned fine administrator. And that’s very unusual, to find those qualities combined in one man.”
He displayed those versatile qualities until he retired in 1992, by which time the relationship with the New York school had ended, and NSU had 11,000 students and multiple campuses. The once empty field was now a busy and spectacular campus. He had attracted a second generation of benefactors. Their names are on the buildings and other facilities— Huizenga, Goodwin, DeSantis, Moran, Maltz, Case, Miniaci.
Dr. Abraham Fischler also has a building named for him. But his real monument is much larger. It is called Nova Southeastern University.
Peter Thornton, NSU's founding law school dean, posed on the future site of the school in 1983. Most of the now busy campus was still empty fields.
Photography by J. Schoonmaker
As Septembers go, that month in 1970 was pretty hectic. I had officially told my boss at Philadelphia magazine that I was leaving to get involved with a magazine in Florida. I was also helping Philadelphia magazine take over a chamber of commerce magazine in Boston.
Between trips to Florida, I spent several days in Boston to help my boss get started in what was to prove a long but ultimately successful effort to make Boston magazine the excellent publication it is today.
That same month I was also working on a major freelance piece for The New York Times Sunday magazine, an assignment I had taken on before knowing about events in Florida and Boston. I spent nights traveling the bad streets of West Philadelphia with the city’s elite highway patrol, following a weekend in which one police officer had been killed and three others wounded in what seemed like an organized assault on the cops by a group called the Black Panthers. It turned out that wasn’t the case, but that wasn't known until later. In the meantime, The New York Times wanted a piece on the war on cops. It was too good a credit to pass up.
And somehow in that memorable pinball September, there was time to go to New York to do a piece for Philadelphia on Roger Ailes. Ailes, who died last week in Palm Beach, was decades away from becoming one of the most powerful men in American media, but he already had serious visibility in Philadelphia. At a young age he had become a very successful producer of the popular “The Mike Douglas Show,” and had moved with it from Ohio to Philadelphia.
But what put him on the national map was his starring role in Joe McGinniss’ best-selling book, The Selling Of The President 1968. McGinniss had been a hot, young columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer when he quit to get an insider’s look at the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon. It was a gamble to give up an enviable newspaper job to follow the campaign, hoping for a unique book. It was a gamble that paid off richly, not only for McGinniss but also for Roger Ailes.
Ailes, at only 27, had met Nixon when he appeared on the "Douglas Show." He had brashly told Nixon, who considered television a “gimmick,” that he would never be president if he did not learn to use TV. Nixon took him seriously, hiring him as a media consultant, in the process inventing a new business. With Joe McGinniss lurking in the background, Ailes went on to produce a dramatic victory. As I wrote in 1970:
“The Selling of a President was the bombshell of the non-fiction season, heading the best-seller list for four months and earning Joe McGinniss an estimated $500,000. Revealing the callous Madison Avenue techniques behind the Nixon campaign, the book portrayed Richard Nixon as an image carefully constructed from the wreckage of the old Richard Nixon. It described how protectively his managers kept their candidate insulated from the public in a germ-proof tent, waging a television campaign with live, rigged audiences who did not expose Nixon to the turmoil and harangue that characterized the hapless campaigns of Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. If you disliked Richard Nixon to begin with, the book made you hate the man.”
But we added: “Not so Roger Ailes. If there was a hero in McGinniss’ book, it was Roger Ailes. Ailes came across as a driving, intelligent professional who ran the guts of the campaign, the television appearances, and provided moments of amusement with his irreverent and profane observations.”
Here’s one example. Keep in mind that Ailes is describing the man he was working for in the campaign, who by then had been elected president of the United States:
“Let’s face it,” Ailes is quoted in the book, “a lot of people think Nixon is dull. Think he’s a bore, a pain in the ass. They look at him as the kind of kid who always carried a bookbag. Who was 42 years old the day he was born. They figure other kids got footballs for Christmas, Nixon got a briefcase and he loved it. He’d always have his homework done and he’d never let you copy.”
Ailes was understandably surprised when he saw such quotes in the book.
“Oh, I laughed like hell the first time I read it,” he told me. “But I was also shocked. I thought, 'That dirty bastard. He really screwed me.'”
Nixon never commented to Ailes on the book. Instead, two months after its publication, he hired him again. Joe McGinniss turned out to have launched Roger Ailes’ ship of fame. The men became friendly; Ailes gave McGinniss some coaching for his TV appearances, even when they appeared jointly when McGinniss was promoting his book. Ailes realized McGinniss was also promoting himself. They remained in touch until McGinniss’ death in 2014. By then Ailes had 20 years experience as an expert political consultant, and another two decades as the celebrated and feared co-founder of Fox News.
His years of studying political figures and molding their television personas led him to make some savvy personnel choices. He hired Chris Matthews, who had little TV experience at the time, for the predecessor cable network to MSNBC. Ailes did not stay long after he could not control its programming. He had a lot more success at Fox, where he had total command. Among his hires was Bill O’Reilly.
I did not emphasize it in the 1970 story, but even then it was known that Ailes considered the media too liberal. He only worked for Republicans and it was known for years that his goal was to balance what he considered Democratic dominance of the media by establishing a Republican network. There was just a hint of that in my story.
“Ailes now goes out of his way to portray television as the most honest medium, the one in which the essential man comes through. He likes the phrase “truth television” and he insists that President Nixon’s 1968 successful television campaign was the real Nixon, expertly directed and counseled, of course."
We know now that that was an outrageous lie, and it foreshadowed his “fair and balanced” slogan for Fox News. That is only believed by those for whom Fox is the one true church.
In last week’s obituary, The Palm Beach Post summed up Fox News’ reputation among the rest of the lying media: “From its debut on Oct. 7, 1996, the network, under his (Ailes) tutelage, did its share of straightforward reporting but also unmistakably filtered major news stories through a conservative lens. Evening programming, which embodied the Fox News brand, was dominated by right-wing commentators like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, who hurled opinions and vented resentments with a pugnacity that reflected their boss’s own combativeness.”
That combativeness was not so obvious in 1970. Ailes at 30 looked nothing like the shambling corpulent tyrant of later years who has been described as crudely dominating, and who lost his powerful position when accused of sexual harassment. A pipe smoker in his early years, he came off more as a reflective professorial type, except for his self-description:
“I’d say that more people dislike me than like me,” he says with a trace of pride. “A lot of people think I’m a little bastard. I’m aggressive, I’m hard driving, I’m impatient. I’ve found that I work best with these qualities.”
It is the irony of ironies that in the week Roger Ailes died, Fox News had one of its worst weeks ever. It has always been a clear winner in the evening ratings, but for the first time in more than a decade both MSNBC and CNN led Fox in the prime time. The reason is that Fox was at its biased worst. When stories were breaking daily about President Trump firing an FBI director who was investigating his possible ties with Russia, Fox chose not only to downplay that major event, but actually to have its commentators and guests bemoaning the leaks in Washington and accusing its competing networks and prominent newspapers of a conspiracy to destroy President Trump with biased reporting.
Apparently, a number of its viewers abandoned Fox’s fair and balanced presentation to switch channels to the rival lying media, simply to find out what was going on in the real world. Roger Ailes must be turning over in his freshly dug grave.
For the inexplicable, it is hard to top what is going on in South Florida, unless you count Washington. There is little we can do about Washington, not since our fairest daughter stopped working in Congress, but at least we can offer a little support for those voices that are having a hard time being heard in the South Florida forest of high buildings.
The Sun-Sentinel, with fewer readers, and fewer resources (namely reporters) every year, has done some notable recent work on the subject everybody is complaining about—the sudden and infuriating increase in traffic throughout the area. Several weeks ago the newspaper had a strong Sunday editorial on the proposed mall in western Dade County. This is a sprawling development (the paper called it a “monster mall”), billed as a major tourist attraction even larger than Disney World, which seems to enjoy near-unanimous support of Dade County leadership.
The paper pointed out that its location promises to affect Broward more than Dade, and yet Broward’s government has no say in the matter. “American Dream Miami” is close to the Broward County line, and most of its traffic is likely to come from the north rather than south. But the Sun-Sentinel blames Gov. Rick Scott for killing the state’s growth management agency, leaving Broward without a say in the matter.
In supporting this project, Miami-Dade commissioners parrot our maniacal-looking governor who is obsessed with growth and jobs and doesn’t worry about the environment at all. What Broward officials can do something about, but don’t seem anxious to, is control the building going on in and around Fort Lauderdale. The traffic congestion, which civic associations warned about several years ago, became a reality this past season. Even as the snowbirds draft north, it doesn’t seem to make much difference as major intersections in the downtown are often gridlocked. It is hard to understate the anger this is producing in the neighborhoods surrounding the city’s business core and among workers moving in and out downtown offices. In many cases, the traffic jam begins in their parking lots and gets worse with every traffic light.
Our magazine company has employees traveling from northwest Broward and central Palm Beach County who come in early (one arrives at 6 a.m.) and leave in mid-afternoon. They effectively cut their travel time in half. Alas, most workers can’t do that, and they find themselves increasingly in the same situation that many of them left northern cities to escape.
That situation keeps getting worse. The building frenzy seems to intensify with every report (and they are getting frequent) that the ocean is rising even faster than the experts had predicted. It seems that the faster the ice cap melts, the faster it melts, and the faster the seas rise, and the faster developers rush to get new buildings up and sold—before people become aware that their Florida dream condo might be inaccessible, not a century from now, but possibly in their lifetimes.
The result, particularly obvious in Fort Lauderdale, is that instead of preserving open space and foliage to absorb water, the opposite is happening. Modest, single story houses with lawns and tree canopy are being knocked down for townhouses or apartments, often several stories high, enormously increasing the number of people, and their cars, in the same space. Worse are the increasingly taller buildings already built or approved, adding thousands of new residents (and vehicles) to streets that can’t handle the present demands.
University of Miami climate change expert Dr. Harold Wanless, among those predicting a water disaster sooner rather than later, has summed it up classically.
“They’re building like there’s no tomorrow,” he wrote. “And they’re right.”
The tone of the Sun-Sentinel’s editorials has been notably restrained, considering how upset their non-readers are. People find little comfort in the proposed solutions—a streetcar, which will make matters worse by blocking a lane of traffic on some of the busiest streets, and even narrowing some streets to make them more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. One official has been quoted as saying the city will force people to get out of their cars. Fat chance. You think people are going to walk or ride a bicycle a few miles on a humid August day? Not unless they have a locker room and shower at their workplace.
The one idea that will help, but not much, is moving some Tri-Rail trains to the far more convenient FEC Railway tracks. That corridor is positioned to become a very busy commuter line, much to the distress of the marine industry, which would be plagued with more drawbridge closings. But the number of riders abandoning cars would not offset the numbers of additional vehicles associated with new development. Those downtown residents aren’t traveling far enough to become rail commuters.
The good news is that the anger of residents is starting to have an effect. Two controversial developments are now stalled. The Bahia Mar redo and the Galleria Mall expansion have drawn fierce opposition from neighborhoods where a lot of influential people live. They just don’t want any more traffic. More recently, the proposal for a zoning change for a large property on Davie Boulevard, which already has some of the worst traffic in the county, faces similar opposition.
And it just isn’t moving vehicles creating stress. All the new residents are too much for parking lots. A restaurant owner complains that although new buildings generate business, “parking is a nightmare. People can’t get to us.” The situation at one shopping center is so bad that cars line up on streets waiting to get into parking lots. Some drivers have taken to parking in a bank’s drive-through lanes.
The simple fact is that the city’s oldest, and in most cases most pleasant neighborhoods, simply were not built to accommodate dramatic density increases. Restaurants and other businesses on Las Olas Boulevard have been allowed without adequate parking. Workers and customers have been parking on the quiet adjacent streets to the annoyance of homeowners who sometimes can’t park in front of their own houses. Many have planted trees or installed concrete spikes in swales to prevent people from parking. Still, the old oak-shaded Colee Hammock neighborhood has taken the extreme step of seeking permit parking on streets near Las Olas. That would bar everyone but residents and their guests. Businesses on that busy strip are naturally opposed. A hearing scheduled for this week was canceled by the city at the last minute. That tells you something by itself. Stay tuned. On your car radio.
In defense of Bill O’Reilly, we can say without fear of contradiction that never once during his brief association with our magazines in the early 1970s was he ever accused of sexual harassment. In truth, we had no female employees to harass, but even if we had, in those days it would more likely have been aggressive women harassing him, than the other way around. He was a charming, intelligent, good-looking young dude.
We use the word “association” in terms of O’Reilly because he was not an employee. For a brief time he freelanced for Miami Magazine, which we owned in 1972. He walked in unannounced to the Coconut Grove office and told our editor, Gaeton Fonzi, that he was our new film critic. Fonzi liked his brash style and took him on, probably for our usual freelance fee: nothing. O’Reilly’s time in Miami was brief, but long enough that he and Fonzi remained in touch for years. O’Reilly was teaching at Monsignor Edward Pace High School. We also had the impression, although it is not confirmed on his internet biography, that he was doing grad work at the University of Miami.
We only met him a few times and were surprised one night a few years ago when he mentioned us on his broadcast. He was coming to Palm Beach for an event, and we were a media sponsor. The man he really knew was Fonzi, with whom he kept in touch from his various stops along the way to national prominence. Fonzi got a note from him in Denver where he said the problem with being on TV is that he couldn’t even go to a dirty movie anymore. We might add that the Bill O’Reilly of those days hardly seemed like the moralizing conservative he degenerated into when he made the big time.
It was a stop in Dallas that reconnected O’Reilly and Fonzi in an interesting way. We had sold Miami Magazine in 1975, and Fonzi had gone to work for Congress in the reopened investigation of the President Kennedy assassination. In Dallas, O’Reilly was a rising star and took an interest in the assassination. He was following Fonzi’s work, which became increasingly dramatic when Fonzi discovered a link between Lee Harvey Oswald and a high-ranking CIA officer—a man very active in the anti-Castro movement in South Florida.
In 1977 Fonzi learned that a man named George de Mohrenschildt, who had been close to Oswald in Dallas, was visiting in the Palm Beach area. We now know de Mohrenschildt was a CIA operative who appears to have been Oswald’s “handler.” Fonzi wanted to reach him. Through the Palm Beach Social Register (in our office) he found the address of the family at whose Manalapan home de Mohrenschildt was staying.
He wasn’t home when Fonzi showed up the same day, but Fonzi left his card. When de Mohrenschildt returned and saw the card, he went upstairs and blew his brains out. That afternoon an excited O’Reilly called from Dallas and said he was flying in the next morning to cover the story. He wanted to know where Fonzi would be and Fonzi said to reach him at the magazine. That was our magazine office.
In retrospect, it is obvious de Mohrenschildt was tormented by the guilt of having been indirectly involved in the death of a president. He had been threatening suicide for some time. O’Reilly was in Dallas when it happened. The importance is that in his 2012 book, Killing Kennedy, O’Reilly wrote that he was at the Manalapan home and heard the gunshot when the man killed himself.
Fonzi was dead by the time O’Reilly published that claim, but his wife Marie, who never liked O’Reilly, was very much alive. Furious, she produced a tape of the phone call O’Reilly had made from Dallas. It attracted national attention and became just one more in a series of criticisms of O’Reilly’s tendency to enlarge his role by distorting events he covered, and misstatements about important subjects in his books. The respected columnist George Will excoriated him, writing that “his vast carelessness pollutes history.”
Fonzi remained friendly with O’Reilly for the rest of his life. He actually helped O’Reilly make contact with a TV executive in New York in 1980—the beginning of his rise as a cable news star. Fonzi admired O’Reilly’s success, but was disappointed in his work at Fox News, which he considered corrupt. He summed it up: “Bill took the money.”
We don’t know how much of the harassment stuff is true. Maybe there is some exaggeration, but obviously not on O’Reilly’s part. It may turn out taking the money was not a bad idea. It looks like he may need it.
The teaser on the Internet said only one in 50 people could pass this Civil War test. Thus challenged, we passed easily with 50 of 61 answers right. That was only fair, for we began studying the Civil War before we started grade school, looking at fat history books our late grandfather had owned that featured beautiful lithographs of battle scenes, with neat columns of Confederates all dressed in smart gray uniforms, and only a few fellows lying around wounded, none dressed like ragged scarecrows, which many Confederates were, or with their heads blown off, as actually happened in the real fight.
Some of the test questions were easy; others, such as “How much did a Union army private make a month?” were very difficult. A number were just tricky and took some guessing. They were multiple choice, and one question was to name the cause of the war. “Slavery” was the only answer that made sense. That, however, was only a partially correct answer. More on that to follow.
Anyway, our score qualifies us to an opinion on the ongoing fight in Hollywood to rename three streets bearing the names of Confederate generals—Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest (shown above in his riding outfit). Members of the black community tend to resent all three and don’t think they deserve the petty honor of a street name. It shows that 152 years next month after the Civil War ended, many people don’t understand it. It’s why the Confederate battle flag is regarded in some quarters as the equivalent of the Nazi swastika.
For starters, the Civil War had two causes. Slavery was obviously the economic cause. But the political cause, which applied to the great majority of southern soldiers, was states’ rights. So people on both sides of that old argument are right.
We forget over the years that until the Civil War there had been an ongoing debate over state government versus federal control. The states were not a true union. From the birth of the country, they were more a confederation of states with a common interest (independence from foreign powers and economic interdependence), but there were also many divisions. For instance, there were minor wars fought over boundaries.
Because so many religious groups settled in early communities, states took on sectarian complexions. Many, if not most people, considered their first loyalty to their home state, not to Washington, D.C. Laws were not uniform. At the time of the Revolutionary War, slavery was legal in the north, if not very common. Over the next three decades, the northern states one by one banned the practice. New Jersey did not abolish slavery until 1804. Slavery was much more part of the southern agrarian economy, and there was constant tension between the sections. The South simply did not think the North had a right to tell it what to do. The war settled that question. Historian Shelby Foote put it succinctly: He said before the Civil War it was “the United States are” but after, the expression became “the United States is.”
That the South believed that the states were independent was demonstrated throughout the war, as governors fought with Confederate president Jefferson Davis. They felt Davis was repeating what they had rebelled against. The governor of Georgia refused to let some of its militia fight, until Georgia itself was threatened. North Carolina hoarded uniforms and supplies for its own troops. Davis felt the lack of union and support caused the Southern defeat.
Ironically, we can appreciate that attitude right now, on a local scale. North and Central Florida interests dominate Florida, despite the fact that South Florida has the largest population and pays most of the taxes. Tallahassee is interfering with our lives on several fronts. Right now there is legislation proposed, which takes control of decisions affecting our cities away from county and city governments, giving it instead to the state. Local media and governments are uniformly upset over this possibility, which includes the potential to take vital zoning decisions away from local government. We face potential water problems because Tallahassee is interfering with efforts to acquire land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee. There is even a threat to local rail transportation, including the fast train from Miami to Orlando, and Tri-Rail’s promising future, because the state can spike funding efforts, and some legislators are trying to do just that. Efforts to deal with the epidemic of gun violence face similar obstacles from Florida’s redneck wing.
It won’t come to civil war, but you get the point. Why should people hundreds of miles removed from our problems have a say about efforts to cure them? On an infinitely larger scale, that was the attitude of the southern states in 1861. When war came, it was a neighborhood battle, and with few exceptions, men fought for their neighborhoods.
Which brings us to the generals. Robert E. Lee is considered by any serious historian to be an admirable American. He, and many in Virginia were reluctant rebels. Many opposed secession. Lee, in particular, had much to lose and did. His home, now part of Arlington National Cemetery, had a spectacular view looking down across the Potomac River toward the Capitol. He had plans to free his slaves. But he felt his first loyalty was to Virginia, which he served with honor and brilliance. His willingness to sign the oath of loyalty to the Union after his defeat helped heal the wounds of that epic conflict. Many other southern leaders followed his lead. He not only deserves a street in his name, but a college—and he has a distinguished one—Washington and Lee.
Lee was typical of almost all-important military figures. They stayed with their native states. A notable exception was Lee’s fellow Virginian, Gen. George Thomas, “the rock of Chickamauga.” He despised slavery and fought with the North and was considered a traitor by his own family. Gen. John Pemberton, the southern commander at the Siege of Vicksburg, was a Philadelphian who joined the southern cause because his wife was from Virginia, and he had served mostly in the south. He was never really trusted by many Confederates because of his Yankee background, and after the war when he moved back to Philadelphia, he was understandably unpopular, so much so that prominent citizens objected to his burial in a cemetery there.
John Bell Hood was a brave, bold but unfortunate general. He lost the battle of Atlanta. He made some foolishly aggressive moves with an outnumbered army, but he also had bad luck. On two occasions he almost became a hero but had near misses. He lost the use of an arm at Gettysburg, and had a leg amputated almost to the hip after being wounded at Chickamauga a year later. After the war, he lost his insurance business in New Orleans when a yellow fever epidemic hit. He and his wife also lost their lives in the process. Does the poor bloke really deserve another loss in a place that did not exist during his lifetime?
Nathan Bedford Forrest is the only one of the three generals who is truly controversial. A superb cavalry leader, he rose from private to general during the war, and only afterward was his military contribution fully appreciated. Shelby Foote wrote that the war produced two geniuses—Forrest and Abraham Lincoln.
The knock on him is that before the war he had been a slave trader (among other businesses), and his men were associated with one of the worst massacres of the war. Moreover, after the war, he was a founder of the Ku Klux Klan. What is often forgotten, however, is that he also helped shut down the Klan just a few years later when what was started as a political organization to combat excesses of the Reconstruction era became a violent movement. The KKK was to be reborn several times after his death, but that was not his fault. Indeed, some southerners criticized him after he made an 1875 speech to a black audience in which he spoke with affection toward blacks and urged harmony between the races. In short, he wasn’t as bad as he looks, especially to modern black leaders.
It all goes back to a misunderstanding of history. Our advice to Hollywood is to require all citizens who voice an opinion on street changes to take the Internet Civil War test. Anybody who scores 60 percent or better is entitled to an opinion. Wait, make that 50 percent. It's not an easy test, and everybody doesn't have the advantage of our grandfather's books.
I got a good break in 1962. I worked for a suburban Philadelphia newspaper and had covered the PGA golf tournament at Aronimink Golf Club outside of Philly. My soon-to-be wife was a stewardess for United Airlines, and I sent her the clips, which she chanced to show to a fellow she met on a flight, who chanced to be the sports editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, who promptly invited me out to audition for a job at his paper. I covered the American Golf Classic at Firestone Country Club. I apparently passed muster and was offered a job for 50 percent more than I was making in Pennsylvania. I accepted until I got home and my paper not only matched the money but also gave me another offer no young newspaper guy could refuse—my own daily column.
Shortly after I began the column, another reporter at the paper, Don Murdaugh, who spent his last years as a deskman at the Sun-Sentinel, dropped a paper on my coffee-stained desk and said, “This is how it’s done.” The paper was the New York Herald Tribune, of which I was only vaguely aware, and he wanted me to read Jimmy Breslin. From that day, until the day Jimmy Breslin passed away, which was Sunday—the feast of St. Joseph—I have appreciated Don Murdaugh’s advice.
Breslin used to joke that after he became famous—just about the time Don Murdaugh discovered him for me—papers around the country hired columnists with Irish names to imitate his style. It was hard not to, like a high school sophomore first discovering Ernest Hemingway or J.D. Salinger, but I tried not to slavishly mimic his words. What I did do, with mild success, was take advice I did not hear from his lips until years later. Breslin took justified pride in inventing the “news column” in which the writer follows the day’s big story, and takes a fiction writer’s liberties, including personal opinion, in bringing it to the gut of the reader.
“What you do is follow the news, interview real people, and you use real quotes,” he told me around 1987. “It begins with shoe leather. You can’t miss. Nobody does it.”
Breslin did it several times a week, and many of his pieces that were written on deadline could win prizes as short stories. They were complete with symbols and original phrases. He described the Asian invasion of New York: “Korean Airlines is flying in with planes so crowded people are sitting everywhere but on the wings.” On the Kennedys: “No drawing room pallor these Irish, truck driver red in their faces.”
He was funny, and half his words in private were not fit for a family newspaper, although he always cleaned up his language in his many TV appearances. He never tried to change his rich, vulgar everyman style. In fact, he cultivated it, although he sprinkled his conversation with words like “canard," which not too many bar characters use on a regular basis.
His range was immense. Covering the Vietnam War in the mid-60s, one day he would make your eyes glisten with descriptions of the body bags lined up at an airport for shipment home, and the next he’d describe 16 jockeys all trying to throw a race by turning their horses around in the home stretch. I can't find the exact quote, but he wrote that of all the qualities the Vietnamese have shown during their long ordeal, perhaps the most salient and least recognized was that they were “the greatest thieves who ever lived” and “the wust fightin’ in the Tet Offensive was around the Saigon race track—the Viet Cong were all disgruntled bettas.”
I got to know him a bit after a story that began with Gold Coast magazine wound up as one of Breslin’s biggest scores. In the mid-70s I wrote about a con man named Michael Raymond who was suspected in the disappearances of three people in South Florida. One of them was Adelaide Stiles, a newspaperwoman who had been romanced by Raymond. She was a friend of our associate editor, Margaret Walker. Gaeton Fonzi, our Gold Coast partner who is becoming famous as a man who revealed the truth about the Kennedy assassination, was already known for his investigative reporting. He got interested in the Stiles case in the early 1980s. Fonzi had become friendly with Doug Haas, a Fort Lauderdale detective familiar with Raymond’s background. Haas had information that Raymond may have killed more than a dozen people, but that he managed to stay out of jail by being an FBI informant.
Together, Fonzi and Haas discovered that Raymond had gotten out of prison at the request of the FBI. They further learned that he was being used in a sting operation in Chicago. The Justice Department was trying to nail major politicians suspected of taking bribes from people who got contracts for collecting parking tickets, a lucrative business. Justice thought Fonzi knew a lot more than he did, and to protect agents working the case, offered him the whole story if he would hold it for a few months. Fonzi eventually broke the story in the Chicago Tribune and Miami Magazine. By then, Fonzi had learned that Raymond might have been working with the Feds on a similar sting in New York.
He took the story to Gil Spencer, editor of the New York Daily News, whom Fonzi had known from our days in Philadelphia. Spencer ran with the story, and Jimmy Breslin, at the time working for the Daily News, jumped all over it. In short order a major New York political figure, Donald Manes, borough mayor of Queens, committed suicide. He had been deeply involved in bribery. Others went to jail. In his 1996 book, I Want To Thank My Brain For Remembering Me, Breslin called the episode the biggest scandal during his long New York writing career.
A few years later, I followed Breslin around his old neighborhood of Queens, New York, for a piece for Avenue magazine in Manhattan. He had just won the Pulitzer Prize and published a highly acclaimed novel, Table Money. We met outside his apartment in Central Park West. He came out half dressed, carrying his suit jacket, unbuttoned shirt hanging out and tie dangling over his shoulder. He introduced me to his wife, who was leaning out a window a few stories up. He was a gracious host, inviting me to spend time at the Daily News. He was writing a book on Damon Runyon and showed me a book written “by the guy I’m stealing from.” Breslin constantly threw away entertaining lines. I expected to see them in print the next day, but there was only one that showed up later in a book. He described working politically with Geraldine Ferraro, who ran for vice president. Her husband had gotten some bad ink, and when Breslin asked him if this would be a problem for the campaign, the husband assured him it would not be.
“I didn’t know he was talkin’ about the statue of limitations,” Breslin said.
I noticed at the time that Breslin, although he had a reputation as a hard drinker, took nothing stronger than a Coke. The bartender at Costello’s on 44th Street, at the time a Daily News hangout, joked with him about it. Much later I learned that Breslin had stopped the booze, and did not drink for the last 30 years of his 88-year life.
Breslin often pretended to not like his family. He described his first wife who died at age 50: "she uses knives." In reality, as anyone who knew him saw, he was devoted to his family of six kids. His own father had abandoned his family when Breslin was 6 years old. He had his son Christopher, at the time a college student, with him on one of our trips to Queens, and in his office he seemed to be on the phone with one of his children every five minutes. One of his great columns was about the death of his daughter Rosemary, a distinguished writer herself, in 2004. At the moment she took her last breath, Breslin imagined his late wife sitting by the bedside, as Rosemary had sat by her mother years before. "The mother took her hand, and walked her away, as if to the first day of school."
Jimmy Breslin knew that his parking collections story had begun with Gaeton Fonzi in Florida. I spoke to him occasionally over the years, and he always began the conversation the same way: “Boinie, how’s Fonzi?” He came to Florida a few times and Fonzi, Doug Haas and I had lunch with him. It had something to do with the ongoing saga of Michael Raymond, the murderous con man, who was to die in jail after finally being convicted of murdering a bank teller who was about the testify against him in a New York embezzlement case. It was then that one of Breslin’s many intellectual gifts became manifest. The man could hold several conversations with different people on different subjects, bouncing back and forth, and seemed to remain in command of each subject.
“He was a complex guy,” Doug Haas said Sunday after learning of Breslin’s death. Fonzi, no longer with us, phrased it differently at the time. “He’s a thousand guys.”
I knew where Fonzi got that line. He stole it from a Philadelphia civil rights leader who was only in it for the money and wound up in jail. Jimmy Breslin, who got famous remembering other people’s quotes, would appreciate a good thief.
It’s time for another density cap. Back in the mid-1970s, Perfect Town (also known as Boca Raton) got panicky when it saw tall buildings sprouting on Fort Lauderdale’s beach. Fearing contagion, it passed a law limiting the number of people who could live in Boca. Keep in mind that this was a time when the Royal Palm Polo Club, in the vicinity of what is now Town Center, was as far as Boca extended to the west. I-95 was not yet.
Developers were upset as the city downsized their plans, and the lawsuit that followed found the new law unconstitutional as hell. But the litigation gave Boca several years grace and enabled it to enact a variety of ordinances, including one affecting signs, that set the tone for what we like to call Perfect Town. Ironically, it also attracted new residents seeking to escape what they considered clutter and congestion in communities to the south. And Boca did not become another Fort Lauderdale.
Lately, however, it has been trying to do so. The anti-growth public officials slowly declined in numbers and influence. Now Boca has battles again between development interests and residents concerned about the traffic woes that go with it. Opponents of growth might even summon the old battle cry—“not another Fort Lauderdale,” and this time it is even more apt than 40 years ago. But the fact is even as Boca becomes a little more like Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale is widening the gap by becoming more like Miami and New York.
Anybody living in or around Fort Lauderdale, and the thousands of people who commute to work in the city, don’t need any explanation of the problem. Everybody is complaining about the absurdly rapid increase in traffic congestion over the last year or two, since the recession called a temporary halt to development. It seems as if overnight the main thoroughfare through downtown—Federal Highway—has been transformed from rows of low-rise businesses, some of them less than attractive, to blocks of closely packed apartment buildings. Imposing as they are, these new structures are dwarfed by the soaring towers just a few blocks away in the Las Olas Boulevard area.
It makes sense to have concentrations of housing near the new Brightline station being constructed on the FEC tracks just north of Broward Boulevard. That rail corridor is going to become very busy, especially when Tri-Rail trains are inevitably added to the fast Brightline train from Miami to West Palm Beach (and eventually to Orlando). Having residents within walking distance of the station is only realistic.
The downside of all this frantic building is that in welcoming new residents to an increasingly vibrant downtown, the city is destroying the quality of life in the nearby neighborhoods that are bearing the brunt of the exploding traffic. Those neighborhoods are some of the most pleasant and convenient locales in the state. Few cities have such suburban-like communities ringing their commercial district, within walking distance of shops and restaurants, and for many, even the beach.
But that is changing rapidly and the people are angry. The main thoroughfares are backing up to the point of gridlock. A traffic light changes and nobody can move because cross traffic blocks the intersection. Horns blare futilely. Tempers flare. And in frustration, drivers take to side streets, cutting through what were once quiet neighborhoods. Streets so narrow that they don’t even have posted speed limits, see cars racing through them. These are streets where people walk dogs, stroll with baby carriages and jog. At least they used to.
A cut through driver is often a dangerous driver, impatient, going much too fast, barely slowing for stop signs. All this new construction is more than an inconvenience. It is creating safety issues. The situation would be bad enough if all development near downtown were to stop today, but residents of the affected neighborhoods see nothing but more building on the horizon. There are many projects already approved. Lots that have been cleared await more apartments and even a few new hotels.
This is not an isolated problem. As we go to press, West Palm Beach announced a plan to control gridlock in its downtown. One idea is to get people out of cars, on to bicycles. Good luck with that. The real question: Is rampant growth inevitable? Does a community have an obligation to the concept of property rights to destroy itself in the process? The answer to that can be found north of Palm Beach. Stuart and Vero Beach made a decision decades ago not to become another Fort Lauderdale. Which is why so many people who used to be here are now there.
The president called a press conference. The room was filled with reporters, but when the president walked in, they all walked out. Surprised, he turned to his press secretary, but the man had left. When he tried to find out from the Secret Service what was going on, he found they had all gone to bed. He went out to the presidential limo, just in time to hear the driver say he was quitting.
The street was crowded, attracted by the presidential limousine, but when the people saw the president, they quickly disappeared—into doorways, up alleys, around corners, up chimneys. There was a restaurant nearby, but when the president went in, all of the people got up and left. He asked for coffee, but the waiter refused to serve him. In fact, he walked out. The president went to complain to the manager, but the manager locked his office door. When he walked into the kitchen, all the cooks raced out the back door.
The president walked to the White House. The crowded street emptied out; all the cars sped off. The president saw a figure peeking out a window, but as he came near, a curtain was drawn. When he got to the White House, no one was there. The staff had quit. The guards were gone. The door was locked. An airplane was overhead. But when the president waved to get attention, the plane made a sudden bank and disappeared. The president attempted to tweet, but his phone was dead. Some knave had hacked it.
In case you hadn’t guessed, this is a boycott. Or, to be historically precise, Boycott with a capital “B.” These are times when organizations threaten to boycott anything associated with President Trump, and Democrats boycott some hearings, and people threaten to boycott Starbucks because its CEO said he would hire refugees from the Muslim countries. Politics aside, some people weary of the traffic jams caused by cars lined up to enter busy Starbucks stores, may welcome that idea. In any event, it may be useful to recall where the term boycott comes from.
Like all great ideas, it began in Ireland. In the year 1880, as the Irish were making their annual attempt to escape English rule. A retired British military man, Capt. Charles Boycott, had the unenviable job of collecting rents, for an absentee landlord, from poor Irish tenant farmers in County Mayo on Ireland’s rugged west coast. He wasn’t a beloved figure to start with, and when a bad harvest made it tough for the tenants to pay, and farmers faced eviction, resentment against Boycott grew.
Instead of killing him, as the Irish sometimes handled such touchy problems, the people took the advice of the Irish politician/patriot Charles Stewart Parnell. He suggested they “shun” Boycott. That they did. Nobody would work for him or serve him in a restaurant or even talk to him. They turned from him on the streets. And some people actually drew curtains when they saw him walking by.
The situation quickly drew national and eventually, worldwide attention. Boycott could not stand it and was forced to leave Mayo. And even then, no carriage driver would accept the job of taking him to his train. He actually rode in an army ambulance.
When he arrived in Dublin, the situation was little better. People threatened the hotel where he stayed, and he soon left for England.
By then his name had provided a new noun and verb for the English language. Within months, boycott became a term for, well, boycott. The history of Capt. Boycott seems ironically applicable to the current political climate.
If what we read in the lying media is true, that psychologists suspect President Trump suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder bordering on mental illness, the idea of an Irish-style boycott would make him even crazier.
Imagine if a man who has an incurable craving for approval were to suffer the same fate as Capt. Boycott. Suppose nobody would talk to him, or do TV interviews, or even mention him in stupid columns like this. Suppose nobody whispered his name or made fun of him on “Saturday Night Live.” Suppose not even Fox News, which is a public relations arm of the Republican Party, would give him airtime. Suppose he could not get a room at his own hotels. And imagine if even his press secretary, Sean Spicer, stopped destroying his own reputation by his bumbling, petulant defense of every wacky thing the president tweets in the dead of night.
Does anyone doubt that the president would become completely unhinged and, like the original Capt. Boycott, flee to some country where people actually would talk to him?
But what sane country would take an illegal immigrant? Russia comes to mind.