Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm Just here to pick up the chicks

I could have sworn that I had typed up this story and posted it on the blog before, but I could not find it on here anywhere.  And so I typed it all up to post tonight.  My apologies if I  did post it earlier.   I guess I need to work on  better tagging to find things on here. 

This is an interesting story....a lot of information here about the guys during their break in Key West, Florida.   It is also a look into the gage of America in 1964 as well as how cultural differences can make communication  difficult at times. 

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/98608
Photo taken by Robert Knowles 

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/98608
photo by Robert Knowles

I’m Just here to pick up the chicks!
By John M. Trusy
Beatleology Magazine  Nov/Dec 2006

I had just walked into the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Chicago in August of 2003 during the Fest for Beatles Fans, when I heard Larry Kane, who was on the stage discussing his book, Ticket to Ride say, “Brian Epstein asked me, ‘Larry, you’re from Florida, is there any place the Beatles can go, relax and wait out the hurricane before we go to Jacksonville?”  Larry told him “Key West.”  I rushed to get into the question line and thank the man who was responsible for one of the most memorable times in my life.

When I approached the stage I told Larry that I had partied with the Beatles in Key West and I recounted for Larry and the audience a brief summary of that night in Key West.  It was quite well received.  His reply was, “Where the heck were you when I wrote the book?”  “Larry, there’s always book two!” I said.

I am very pleased to say that Larry credited me for contributions I made in his second book Lennon Revealed where you will find my name in the acknowledgment section.  The following is an amplified version of that night at the Key Wester motel with the Beatles

The word was all over the chow hall at the noon meal.  The Beatles had come to Key West before breakfast and the bikini clad woman that came from all over south Florida to get a glimpse of the mop-topped rockers should have given it away.  I was aware of their music and I had recently seen “A Hard Day’s Night” but to be honest about it, I was more interested in domestic offerings, like Budweiser and the Florida gals than the British imports.

The Beatles flew into KWest at 4am in a Lockheed Electra.  The plane was a very large 4-engine turbo prop which made quite a lot of noise with its distinctive propeller whine which woke a lot of people up as it landed.  It looked gigantic as it sat parked on the runway compared to the normal traffic that landed there, almost like a 727 vs. a Learjet sizewise.  The wingspan of the American Flyers charter was 99 feet across and the runway in KWest is only 100 feet wide and 5,000 feet long.  I thought the pilot had to be really good to drop that baby in there without any problems.

According to Larry Kane in his book Ticket to Ride, it was a very rough flight inbounds to KWest because of the close proximity to hurricane Dora’s outer winds.  By this time, Dora was headed north in the Gulf of Mexico and would leave damage in the millions in her wake.  Everyone aboard was glad they finally landed safely after the very bumpy flight.

The Beatles stayed at the Key Wester motel which was adjacent to the airport and less than one mile around the bend from the Naval Hospital on Roosevelt Blvd.   I was a Corpsman stationed at the Naval Hospital from January 1964 until June 1967 and I was about to experience one of the more memorable times in my life.

The Key Wester consisted of three separate areas.  The first and nearest to the boulevard was the villas – there were seven total, three on each side of the office located in the middle villa.  The Beatles stayed in the first villa on the right of the office.  The next area directly behind the villas was the main 2-storey motel area.  The last structures from left to right were the cabana, pool, Carousel lounge, a larger bar and then the restaurant.  The airport runway was adjacent to the motel property.  The Key Wester motel was torn down a few years ago and replaced by the Hyatt Windward Point.  I have not seen it but there is supposed to be a “Beatles hut” left there to commemorate the villa where the Beatles stayed in 1964.

It was between paydays and I was finally able to scrounge enough money from some of the guys in the barracks for drinks.  By then it was late in the evening when I and another Corpsman walked the three-quarters of a mile around the curve and saw a spectacular and wonderful sight unfolding before our eyes.  There were girls in bikinis everywhere and the cops were doing their best to control them.  The police tried to keep the girls out of the cordoned off area around the villas.  It was like trying to keep a colony of ants from getting to a sugar cube.  This was no easy job and early on I bet the cops might have enjoyed putting their arms around some of those gals, I know I would have.  We went to the back of the property and approached the entrance to the restaurant, where security stopped us rather quickly.  After showing our ID cards, we were recognized by someone from the motel as Corpsmen from the Naval Hospital and since we were frequent guests at the motel, we were patted down and they let us in.  The jam session was already going on in the lounge.  Security gave us one very emphatic warning:  “NO CAMERA and NO PICTURES.”  To this day I still cringe when I hear those words because of what happened later that night.

The lounge was packed with people as I threaded my way to the bar to get a drink.  When I turned around the very first Beatle I saw that night was Paul.  We literally bumped into each other, nearly spilling our drinks. Paul gave me that patented wink of his (but no thumbs up) as if to say, ‘There are more than enough women here tonight for the both of us.”  Paul could really work the room as it were and I had to admire his technique.  He was magnificent in action as he went around chatting up one girl after another looking for that right combination of looks, willingness and response.
The small stage (one riser, if that) the band played on was in the cramped corner of the lounge near the sliding doors to the pool area.  The music lasted until the police shut the bar down because of the 4am curfew.  I did not see Paul play but the guys who were playing were great musicians.  The Bill Black Combo was there; they were also one of the acts on the 1964 American tour.  I recently found out that Reggie Young was there and jammed that night (He helped found the Bill Black Combo and also was in a band for some guy named Elvis.  He has since played with everyone in Nashville.)  A local musician, Coffee Butler, from the Bamboo Room sat in.  I can’t remember what they played but the house was rocking all night.

I was told by someone in the lounge during the night that Jackie DeShannon was out by the pool.  She looked like the type of blonde I was into back in those days and I didn’t waste any time getting outside.  Jackie was not by the pool but if I hadn’t been looking for her, I would not have seen Ringo.  After a number of dives into the pool, Ringo certainly gave credence to the moniker of “Mop Top” and his skin was so bleached white he looked almost fluorescent.  I didn’t see him play although I understand he did later that night.  What I did see was Ringo having a great time in the pool, just him and a female black vocal group, the Exciters  I am telling you the sight was very avant-garde given race relations in the U.S. and Florida in 1964.  I came from the Midwest (a northern man like the Beatles) but I had never seen a black woman in a bathing suit in my life, let alone three of them in the same pool.  Here, in the segregated South, this was even more shocking.  They were sitting near the diving board dangling their feet in the water while Ringo repeatedly dove off the board to everyone’s delight.  Ringo would waddle down the diving board like Charlie Chaplin and then dive in.  He was acting as crazy as he did in the movie, “A hard Day’s Night.”  Looked back on that night the scene was very surreal to me, given the racial climate of America at the time.  The Beatles were way ahead of the curve as it pertained to integration.  In fact, it is well documented that their next concert in Jacksonville was almost cancelled because the Beatles refused to play in front of a segregated audience.  That issue was cleared up before they left KWest.

I did not see John play but I had an amazing exchange with him that to this day makes me say “What was I thinking?!”  John and I seemed to gravitate to the bar at the same time and as I recall he was wearing jeans and white long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up.  At 6’2” and 195 lbs. I towered over John and I was thinking his was an unusual style of dress here in the Keys.   The customary clothes everyone wore at the time were madras plaid shorts and some sort of t-shirt.  Our clothing was only one of the many disparaging differences between the two of us.  I looked at his hair and jokingly wanted to say to him, “Get a haircut” but I didn’t.  For some strange reason, I kept my mouth shut.  John probably thought I looked like a “mod” from Liverpool.  We were so out of touch with each other and from vastly different worlds; we were opposites in many visible ways.
We began to check each other out as we approached the bar, just like two guys when they are about to use the urinal at a sports event.  We nodded at each other, then stood shoulder to shoulder and looked toward the mirror in the back bar.  It was at this time I started to stare at his hands because I was fascinated with what I saw.  In one hand he was holding a lit, very long filter cigarette (Lark’s I think) with the burning end palm side.  When he took a drag, he turned his hand over as he brought the cigarette to his mouth to inhale.  I had just witnessed the European style of smoking, “very, very strange” to me indeed.  In John’s other hand was a very large glass of Scotch and Coke, a combination favored by the Beatles while on the 1964 tour.  This was no ordinary bar glass he was holding.  Just as I was amazed at the size of the drink, I want to tell you, he didn’t just politely sip it either.  I thought how could this guy, who is a lot smaller than I am, be a big hitter with booze than I was.  For the uninformed a Scotch and Coke is a fairly terrible drink, you really have to acquire a taste for it.  I still have a penchant for Scotch (without the Coke) to this day, thanks to John and a local Key West girl who became very compliant after she drank what John and the rest of the Beatles did.

Lennon could not help but notice my staring at his hands and to his credit he tried to be cordial and break the ice.  He turned to me and said, “Would you like a fag?”  I was totally unprepared for the question.  In this country especially in Key West, even back then, to me there was only one meaning.  In the U.K. it meant, “Would you like a cigarette?”  Not a world traveler, I was numbed and confused by the meaning of the offer.  I responded with a very lame, “No thanks man, I’m just here to pick up the chicks!” John, who was much more cosmopolitan and very quick to understand my interpretation, replied with a very terse, “Well, good luck to you then, man!”  He picked up his Scotch, Coke and fags and turned away to circulate.  Forty-two years later I still wonder what direction my life may  have taken if I just had said, “sure.”

Too many drinks later, just before curfew, the last Beatle I remember seeing was Paul as the night ended rather abruptly.  The Corpsman I was with reached down in his sock and pulled out one of those Kodak 126 Instamatic cameras and took a picture of Paul standing next to me.  I heard the words, “say cheese!” the flash barely went off and we were grabbed.  The camera was smashed and we were booted out of the lounge by security.  Sad to report, that memorable night was a bust because not only did we get tossed out but we never got lucky with the chicks either.

In retrospect we all second guess the things we do and I have at times wished for a better outcome on that night.  Maybe I could have blazed up with the Beatles or gotten that into to Jackie DeShannon I thought I needed, who knows.  One thing I can say is this.  Here I stood shoulder to shoulder with an absolute musical genius to whom I could not connect.  I, like so many people can recall specific images in their life linked to the Beatles or their songs.  The lyrics to Nowhere Man seem to sum up my lost opportunity.

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