In 1952 when I was a mere lad of 18, I flew off to Florida for the first time. I traveled with two pals and it was an adventure of a lifetime.
We booked a flight on Eastern Airlines (now defunct) and a room at the Seacomber Surfcomber Hotel on Collins Avenue and 17th Street. We were just three "wild and crazy guys," looking for adventure and girls, girls, girls.
The trip on Eastern was about four hours compared to today's 2-1/2 hours. They supplied us with a box lunch. It's funny, because today's airlines serve no food and make you buy sustenance if you can't subsist on blue and purple potato chips. In the box was a white bread sandwich of one slice of ham and one slice of cheese (American or Swiss - I forget). Mayonnaise was lightly applied to the bread. Since we were headed for Florida, a large, juicy orange was present. A candy bar completed the gourmet meal. For three boys from the Bronx, this box lunch was more than we expected.
- Water fountains and toilets were marked for a separation of the races (no longer true today).
- Air conditioning was not everywhere, but in most places.
- The winds from the Everglades blew in a ton of mosquitoes and other bugs.
- Collins Avenue flooded after a rainstorm and the water was curb high to curb high. I remember we rolled up our pants to cross the street, holding our shoes in our hands.
- There were no hotels or condominiums above 90th St. and Collins Ave.
- Lincoln Road was a major shopping area and attraction.
- Wolfie's restaurant served bagels and lox (also a major attraction).
- Pre-Castro (1957) Cuban Revolution - sparse Cuban population.
- Very few cultural opportunities.
- Many Long Islanders have a dual allegiance. They are citizens of the Sunshine State, but spend summer and early fall in New York. Many have returned permanently to life on Long Island.
- Condominiums have been extended to the north and west of the Old Florida. Palm Beach to the north and Boca Raton to the west have blossomed and prospered.
- South Beach is now a world-famous location for the rich and famous and their wannabe followers. The old Jewish pensioners have been replaced by chic restaurants and nightclubs. Many Cuban restaurants have opened in South Beach.
- The older hotels (The Fountainbleau and the Eden Roc) are matrons to the newer more modern hotels (The Breakers, The Ritz Carlton, etc.).
- Culture abounds (You will be attacked violently by Florida residents if you insinuate "Florida has fewer cultural opportunities than New York." People are taking varied educational courses and museums have sprung up.
- Florida is still hurricane susceptible (2005), but the sun soon rises and all is forgotten.
Long Island is still my home but now and then I dream of "sun and sand" and my thoughts drift back to 1952 and my first trip to Florida.