View Sidebar

A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Palm Coast

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 3/21/2023
Occurred: 4/5/1972
Page Views: 4936
Topics: #Autobiography #PalmCoast
My first job after the wedding.

So Mary and I, and our friend John, settled into our airy single-wide mobile home in Breezy Brae Trailer Park, in Florida. It was the middle of April, 1972. Mary and I had been married for two months. Now all we needed were jobs.

John got one almost immediately as a construction worker on a nearby job site. He was working on the housing development we now know as St. Augustine South. He was a natural for that kind of job; he was young, strong and fearless. I, on the other hand, was a walking insecurity case. I had no experience with hammers, heights, or the kind of haranguing I was sure construction workers do to each other. So it was with great reluctance than I took him up on his offer to "get me a job" at his site.

They immediately set me to work digging (with a shovel!) a foundation for one of the new homes. It was hot; it was humid. I sweat profusely, something I hate doing. There were mosquitoes and flies. They had "salt tablets" on site to stave off heat stroke. John recommended I take five every couple of hours. I could feel my arteries clogging as I dug.

It was supposed to be an eight-hour shift, but for the second time in history God bade the Sun to not move and the Moon to be still in the sky. I'm sure that shift lasted a week.

Finally, inevitably, I was allowed to go home. Which I did, with the intention to never, ever, work a construction site again.

The next day I went to the Florida Job Bank for work. They sent me to Palm Coast to apply for a job as a tour guide. Which job I got. (And it paid more than construction!) As a tour guide, I would simply drive people around and talk to them…the job I was born to do!

Palm Coast is now a city in Florida. But in 1972 it was swamp land owned by the incredibly well-funded ITT, an international telephone company. They had built models, filmed sophisticated commercials, and done their best to create the idea that Palm Coast was the next big boom town in Florida. They flew potential investors at ITT's expense to the property, and then we tour guides took over. There were about 20 of us; we took turns driving visitors around the property in one of the 10-passenger vans reserved for the purpose. The entire tour consisted of six model homes, a few miles of paved street, and the canals dredged out to provide "waterfront" property. We guides had a memorized script to recite. And, in between tours, we all sat in a group room, telling stories and jokes to each other, or just napping.

I will go to my grave remembering too much of that tour spiel. "A mile down that road is where our new sewer facility will be. It will be a gravity-flow type rather than pumped, so that your sewer will never back up. It's just one of the many ways we're making use of the latest technologies here at Palm Coast."

Waterfont property at Palm Coast: Made, not born.

We also made a big deal out of our proximity to Disney World, the ocean, and St. Augustine, "America's Oldest City".

Since we had a fairly high turnover of guides, I became sensitive to how scary our perfectly ordinary customers, I mean, "visitors", could seem to the new guide. I drew an example to help educate the newbies.

Of course, it was only fair to point out that we might seem as frightening to the visitors, as they were to us.

But the people the visitors really needed to fear were the "consultants". These men and women were high-pressure sales people and their only interest was in closing a sale, no matter what. Wearing expensive but loud plaids, lots of jewelry, and intense expressions, woe be to the young couple who really believed they were in for a "free Florida vacation" to visit the property, with no strings attached.

Not even the kids of visitors were safe from the hard-sell. While their parents were stretched on a financial rack in the consultant's office, the kids would be handed a copy of "The Palm Coast Coloring Book" which was just absolutely shameless. However, I discovered that, with one of the newly-available Flair fiber-tipped pens, I could, um, modify a copy of the coloring book to give it my special (and, I thought, more realistic) twist. Of course, we had to go to great pains to keep it hidden from the visitors. But now, thanks to the miracle of years of Xerox copies and digital scanning, you can peruse it for yourself.

Among the other guides was Louis Mariani, a classmate from St. Joseph Academy, our high school. Louis had always been nice to me, even though he was part of the "in crowd" and therefore my natural enemy. At Palm Coast we became better friends without the distraction of school to get in the way. He even showed me some of his poetry, which was somewhat dark but not without merit. And I showed off my cartoons, which I doodled while waiting for my turn in the tour bus. Although I gave (I was told) excellent tours and, apparently, convinced more than the average number of visitors to actually buy property, my cartoons definitely showed off my cynical side.

I also recall vividly the day a real film crew showed up to shoot what we would now call an "infomercial" about Palm Coast. A tour boat was tied up to the side of one of the canals, and a well-dressed actress, playing a potential homeowner, was asking questions of the Hollywood version of a tour guide. "And what," she asked as the cameras rolled, "is this water?" The problem was that she didn't look at the canal as she delivered her line, instead gesturing vaguely toward the parking lot. The director stopped the camera and spoke to her. Then he returned to his seat, and called, "Action!" The actress said, "And what is this water?" gesturing this time to my tour van. The director again stopped the camera; again spoke quietly to the actress, again resumed filming. "And what is this water?" the actress repeated, accenting different words but still gesturing in a direction that expansively included everything in sight except the canal. At the end of his rope, the director rose so rapidly his canvas director's chair fell over, charged over to the woman and cried, "What water are you pointing to? Where's the only goddamned fucking water in sight? Point to the canal, dammit!"

The actress turned toward the canal and started, as if it had just been built while she had her back turned. She then stared icily at the director and said, "All you had to do was direct me. That's your job, isn't it?" She then sniffed and would have gone into her trailer if she'd had one; but instead had to get into her car and then sit there glaring, a death grip on the steering wheel.

I guess it's true what they say: No small parts, only small actors.

One of the features I loved about Palm Coast was the cluster of model homes. These had been beautifully decorated. I even drove Mary to Palm Coast on one of my days off to see them.

The Model Homes cluster showed visitors what the properties would eventually look like. Mary, at home in a model home.

I knew the tour guide gig wouldn't last long. Our supervisors frequently mentioned this fact, though no actual deadline was ever mentioned. And so I began looking for other work…even though, for all I knew, in reality we'd just sell and sell forever, perhaps eventually giving tours on "Moon Coast".

I'd gone to college with the idea of becoming a film director. I loved the mass media and wanted to be a part of it. Now I had a taste of public performance (what else was I doing, when reciting a memorized script extolling the virtues of Florida swampland ownership?); and this led to my obtaining a job I'd always wanted, and hoped would become my life-long career: That of radio announcer.

Setting sun through sea oats, Palm Coast.