|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 7/4/2022
|Topics/Keywords: #Autobiography #GulfLifeTower #WAPE #Rascals #UnionGap||Page Views: 2418|
|How I managed to make a spectacle of myself on two separate visits to the Big Coconut.|
Ah, to be young again, and to make ghastly mistakes out of well-meaning naïveté! Like the time I dragged my high school buddy to experience neighboring city Jacksonville, Florida, when I had no idea how to do that myself. And then, to compound the error, I repeated them with my date to the biggest monster concert so far. But perhaps I should start from the beginning.
As a high school senior in 1968, it seemed like the world was opening up for me. I had a driver's license and permission to drive my mom's car more than she did. I had friends, I had a job so a little spending money. I even had a girlfriend, or at least, a girl who would go out with me if I asked.
And it was she, Carla, who invited me to a rock concert being presented in Jacksonville, Florida, by the regional rock station, WAPE ("The Big Ape"). Although the primary performers were to be the group called The Young Rascals (later called, simply, The Rascals), practically everyone who was anyone would be there, including the Union Gap, the Lemon Pipers, Ike and Tina Turner, and many more. I hadn't even heard of half the groups scheduled to be there.
And I didn't even have to buy the tickets, since I was to be Carla's date (not something that happened often; in 1968, girls seldom asked boys out). But I didn't want to be a complete freeloader, and I decided I would treat us both to dinner. In Jacksonville. Where I'd never actually been without an adult.
But I realized I didn't know where to eat. And so I asked my friend, Dennis Petty, if he'd like to come with me for a dry run. That way I could find out where everything was without pressure, and be ready to appear suave and sophisticated when it came time for my date with Carla.
I even figured out a way to this on a weekday, by explaining to our home room teacher that I was going to take photos with Dennis for a class project she'd assigned. So, on a Tuesday, Dennis and I hopped into my mom's car and headed north to Jacksonville.
There were a few things I'd noticed in Jacksonville on previous trips, that I'd never been able convince my mother to explore. For example, there was a rotating restaurant on top of a skyscraper that I really wanted to go to. In fact, it was there that I'd thought to bring Carla for dinner.
It was at the top of the Marion Building (now the JEA Building), right on Main Street. It was about 2 o'clock, but Dennis and I had put off lunch so we could eat in its Embers Restaurant. We took the elevator to the top floor where we both froze at the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows. I had not brought my camera into the restaurant (this being decades before people began to find sharing photos of their meals to be a charming pasttime) and Embers no longer exists as a restaurant. (In fact, the building itself is going to be torn down, I understand.) But I was able to find a photo taken from there after the tables and chairs had been removed.
I allowed a waitress to seat us. (I worked at a restaurant, so I knew how to behave.) She went to bring menus as Dennis and I peered out. When I say this was a revolving restaurant, please don't imagine that it spun like a top. The movement was positively glacial. I think the waitress told us it took something like an hour to make one revolution.
However, it just took one look at the menu to take my mind off the view. The prices were outrageous, at least to a high school senior who worked as a busboy at a high-class restaurant in which the prices were much lower. I blushed furiously, knowing I had brought only about $5 for my lunch—and Dennis didn't carry any more; and, of course, this was long before consumer credit cards like MasterCharge and Visa were introduced. (Businessmen might carry a Diner's Club or American Express card, but we weren't businessmen. A check would have worked, but I didn't have a bank account, either.)
I explained the predicament to Dennis, since I'd never shared with him how much cash I was carrying. Now we were both blushing furiously, because we were teenagers who hadn't learned how to politely leave a restaurant after seeing the menu. Plus, we'd already ordered sodas.
I stared and stared at the menu, red-cheeked, trying to make the prices change by force of will. The waitress, who probably saw kids our age come up and be overwhelmed by the adult prices every week, took pity on me. "Our plate of ice cream is inexpensive," she pointed out. "And I can bring two plates."
So she did, and though the ice cream and Cokes cost us about all our money, I counted the visit as a win, especially since its purpose was to ascertain the viability of Embers for my date with Carla. And, now that I knew the prices, I could come prepared.
Now, if you look at the above photo of the former-Embers' interior, you can see several skyscrapers. In 1968, the only one was the building at the right, at the time called the Gulf Life Tower, and it was still under construction…and I desperately wanted a look from its top floor.
Being (at the time) the tallest building in Jacksonville, the Gulf Life Tower (now known as Riverplace Tower) was easy to steer towards without knowing its exact address. It was about 3 o'clock when Dennis and I pulled into its parking garage (something new for me; it was quite a thrill to be driving "indoors"). Having never been in a parking garage before, I paid no attention to whatever kiosk I now assume guarded the entrance and found a space in the sparsely-occupied facility.
The lobby of the building was like any such lobby I'd seen on TV. A guard at a podium asked our business, and I explained that we'd come up from high school in St. Augustine to take photos for the school newspaper of the top floor being completed. He seemed disinterested in the reason; as soon as I said we were "students" he waved us toward the elevator bank.
The tallest builing in St. Augustine was the Exchange Bank building, and it was only six floors high. The Gulf Life Tower consisted of 28 floors, and the elevator seemed to take forever to get to the top, though it was only 90 seconds. But finally the doors slid open and Dennis and I stepped into a construction wonderland. The floor was bare concrete (the building was the tallest precast, post-tensioned concrete structure in the world at the time) as were the columns supporting the bare concrete ceiling. There were no walls, either inner or outer. The outer walls would eventually be glass but for now the ocean breeze whipped through the cavernous space taking anything that wasn't tied down.
There were any number of construction men doing whatever it is they do, but paying zero attention to us. (This was before workplace safety laws mandated helmets for construction sites.) I did take some photos, but sadly none came out. Having done what we set out to do, we returned to the car intent on leaving the parking garage and returning home to St. Augustine.
However, when we got to the exit, we found an unattended kiosk with a box labelled
We had no "validated ticket". I hadn't known to ask for one. I hadn't seen anything indicating a price when we came in. We'd seen businessmen in the lobby (the lower floors had been completed and were in use) but I assumed the garage was there for their benefit and therefore free.
In any case, we had neither money nor ticket; and there was neither an attendent nor a gate. So we drove through, my Catholic guilt over the incident remaining with me to this day.
Nevertheless, Dennis and I made it home safely and I was glad that our few misadventures meant that my date with Carla would go perfectly, without a hitch.
When the day of the concert arrived, Carla called me to let me know she hadn't actually had to buy tickets, because the concert was free. However, there was a catch: It was only free if the gentleman wore a jacket. (Apparently, the Big Ape was trying to attract a classier crowd than would show up at Woodstock the following year.) However, I didn't own any jacket other than the one that was part of my Catholic school uniform.
"That's okay," Carla assured me. "My father has a double-breasted jacket I'm sure you can borrow."
However, that evening, when I showed up at Carla's in my tightest, coolest, striped bell-bottomed slacks and white shirt and tie, it turned out that it would be a jacket of Carla's, and not her father's, that I would be wearing…and, consequently, it was literally "double-breasted". However, I couldn't afford our dinner and the ticket, so I good-naturedly agreed to wear it "just to get in".
Our trip to Jacksonville was pleasant; Carla was always fun to talk with. I drove confidently to the Marion Building and escorted Carla up to the top floor and Embers restaurant. Dennis and I had arrived in early afternoon; it was now evening and there was a maître d', who politely asked if we had a reservation.
The restaurant that employed me back home took reservations, but they were never needed as the Posada Menendez never filled up. It had never occurred to me, therefore, to make one.
"I'm sorry, sir," the waiter said, apologetically. "We're completely full." And it was true, as I later told people who said I should have offered him a twenty (!) to seat us anyway. Every table in view was occupied.
I was humiliated, but Carla was cool. "I'd be happier with just a hot dog, anyway," she said. "But first, can we stop by a record store? The new Dave Clark 5 record came out today and I don't want to wait for it to reach St. Augustine."
Carla had to have been the Dave Clark 5's biggest fan. Grateful to be able to redeem myself from the restaurant debacle, I agreed. She described the location of the record store, and, referring to my street map (remember maps on paper?), I made a turn onto what seemed like the appropriate street. Immediately, everyone on that street, and they were all going the other way, started blowing their horns and waving at us. "Wow!" I exclaimed, smiling and waving back. "And they say city folk aren't friendly!" But of course, it turned out I was driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
But I hoped to redeem myself completely after getting our hot dogs at a diner, by showing Carla the top floor of the Gulf Life Tower. As amazing as the view had been by day, I was sure it would be utterly breathtaking at night, with the city lights far below and the stars above.
I parked in the garage (this time, carefully retrieving a ticket from the machine at the entrance) and escorted Carla to the lobby. It was now after 7 pm and, although the doors were unlocked, no one was there—no businessmen, no construction guys, and no guard. Confidently, I led Carla to the elevator bank and we rode in silent anticipation for the 1½ minute trip to the top.
The outer bell rung and the door opened…and Carla and I had barely stepped out when a guard materialized in front of us.
"The building is closed," he said, pressing the elevator button since the doors had already closed. Apparently the car was already on the way down, so it was three minutes at least before the doors re-opened. Since I'm by nature a chatterbox and was very uncomfortable with silences, I went on to the guard about how I'd been there with another friend a couple of days earlier and the guard had let us in, so I hadn't expected there would be a problem. The guard kept quiet, and when the door opened Carla and I stepped in and I said goodbye—and he entered with us.
"Oh! You're going down with us" I said, quite unneccessarily. I then repeated my tale of apology for the minute-and-a-half minute descent, and said goodbye again as Carla and I exited the elevator cab. But then he continued to walk with us, escorting us to the door.
"Oh! You're escorting us to the door" I said, even less neccessarily. When he opened the outer door and held it open, I asked, "Is this goodbye?" adding, freshly, "or will you be accompanying us to the concert?"
He still said nothing, and, of course, I had not gotten our ticket validated. This time, I drove past the "Honor Box" without slowing down.
The venue was already crowded by the time we reached the concert location. I went in wearing Carla's "double-breasted" jacket but the WAPE guy at the door didn't blink an eye. And he also allowed entry to other guys who were not wearing jackets. So the whole jacket thing turned out to be unneccessary, but I didn't want to trek all the way back to the car to store it so I kept it on.
The concert, my first ever, was amazing. I was not a huge rock-n-roll fan at the time so I didn't know most of the groups that performed. But the Union Gap, my first favorite band, played their hits, "Woman, Woman" and "Young Girl" Ike and Tina Turner performed "Proud Mary" and the Lemon Pipers played "Green Tambourine"
The Dave Clark 5 did not make an appearance. But the main attraction, the group that got to play a full set and not just a couple of songs, was British Invasion group The Young Rascals (who almost immediately changed their name to The Rascals, since The Old Rascals sounded more like a club for pedophiles). Their song, "Groovin'" had been a radio favorite for awhile, even though I had misunderstood the lyrics. The lines I thought I heard were,
That would be ecstasy,
You and me and Leslie,
I could never figure out who "Leslie" was, since she (or he) had not been previously mentioned in the song. The closest I could come to was that perhaps Leslie was the singer's baby girl, and he was singing to his wife.
But that didn't stop me from belting out the song along with the Rascals, live. Along with the rest of the audience, to be sure; but when the song was over, Carla leaned over and corrected, "That's 'you and me endlessly'."
I probably spent half my teen years blushing.
After the Rascals were done, the WAPE disc jockeys took the floor with goodies which they tossed into the crowd. Mostly these consisted of a new record format called the Hip Pocket Record. These played at 45 RPM, like regular singles, but were much smaller and were made of flexible vinyl that allowed the owner to cram a few into his or her pocket, take them to a friend's, and play them there. There were even special, smaller players that would play the little disks, but they weren't required.
The announcer distributing the disks would announce the name of each artist before pitching them into the crowd. At least some of the artists appearing at the concert were represented, including The Young Rascals. But when the man announced the next record would be by the Dave Clark 5, Carla got very excited and I determined I would get it for her. When the item was launched, I immediately headed in the direction I saw it was heading. Several people reached for it, but the item was so lightweight it actually spun back up in a random direction. I hurled myself at it, and when I saw that it had fallen to the floor I threw myself down and slid between the wide-spread legs of another attendee. I got the record, but now I had a tall, annoyed basketball player-type staring me down. He took a look at the double-breasted jacket and snarled, "Fag!" I had never before heard the word and had no idea what it meant but it was clearly an insult from a serious Dave Clark 5 fan.
I managed to melt into the crowd and returned to Carla, prize in hand. I was about to suggest we go (before the presumed basketball player caught up with me) when Carla, herself, made the suggestion. Clutching the minature Dave Clark 5 record to her heart (I think it was "Over and Over"), she exulted, "I've got what I came for! Let's go!"
Which we did. And Carla and I are still friends (on Facebook, at least) so I guess our date wasn't that catastrophic.
Neverthess, it was a decade before I tried to attend another concert.