Living and working on Marco in the 1980’s was a challenge in many ways. As Beach Boys at the Marco Beach Hotel and Villas, we were very fortunate to have Jim Martin as our boss, mentor, and role model. Despite all the sunshine, healthy tan bodies, and wonderful winter weather, there was a secret dark side to life on our islands that was omnipresent and lurking just below the surface of paradise.
About once a week, Jim would find a slow part in the day to have a chat with his Beach Boys. “Of course, you guys know how we work on the beach,” Jim would remind us. “We don’t make a lot of money, but we take very good care of each other and we have a lot of fun. Remember, if we’re not having fun, we’re not doing a good job.”
One day, after Jim finished with his reminder of the Beach Boy Mantra and Code of Ethics, he paused long enough to make eye contact with everyone watching.
“Alright you guys,” Jim’s tone turned serious. “I want you all to listen up and listen good. I don’t want any of my Beach Boys playing with dope. These dopers that are sneaking around can be scary.”
Everyone did listen up. Jim Martin was always playful, fun, and ever ready to teach us something helpful and entertaining, but this was a warning about something different. Jim was worried. He was worried about his Beach Boys.
“Most everyone knows what’s going on,” Jim continued in the same somber voice. “There’s a lot of dope floating around these islands and I want none of my Beach Boys having anything to do with smuggling dope.”
After receiving blank and unknowing looks from all of us, Jim was apparently satisfied, and we all went back to work.
The following week, Mike Burger calls up on a day off. “Hey man,” he began, “lets drive into Naples and have lunch. I’ve met some new friends I want you to meet.”
This is how an innocent Marco Beach Boy accepted an invitation to lunch that turned into a nightmare and a lesson not to forget.
Burger was always impressed with anything flashy, extravagant, and expensive. On the way into Naples, Burger expounded on his new friends from out of town.
“Yeah,” Burger began, “I can’t wait for you to meet these guys. They’re really cool. They rented this giant house on the water in Naples. They have a big back yard, a huge dock, and the biggest garage ever. They all drive Mercedes and they even have a big panel van they keep in the garage. Sometimes they have girls over,” Burger arched an eyebrow from his position at the steering wheel. “You should see some of these girls!”
As the drive into Naples continued and we turned into one of the direct access waterfront communities, Burger was clearly impressed. “This is what it is all about man,” The Burger continued, “Look at these homes. You’ve really got to be at the top of the world to make it into this neighborhood. These guys we’re going to visit, they’ve got real money!”
Just about that time, the Beach Boy in the car started to feel very uncomfortable but did not know why. Burger whipped his flashy new ride into a big, long driveway lined with coconut palms. At the end of the curving pavement, two new Mercedes–Benz sedans were waiting beside the formal entrance to an extravagant house. The garage door was open and inside a large white panel van was stationed next to several industrial hand truck dollies. On the shining white side of the panel van was a clip art sketch of a smiling chef holding a loaf of bread on a tray. Beneath the chef were the words: “Fresh Bread—Baked Daily,” and a phone number.
After nodding with appreciation and envy toward the two luxury cars, Burger winked and said, “We’ll go in through the garage. I do it all the time. Man, you are going to be impressed.”
When Burger placed his hand on the door leading from the garage into the house, time slowed down. The sights and sounds of what happened in the next few seconds will remain crystal clear in the Beach Boy Chronicles forever.
When Burger opened the door, he walked right in and the Beach Boy that was with him stupidly followed at the same pace.
The door from the garage led into an oversized breakfast nook and kitchen where four men in their late thirties were sitting around a large round table. On the table were multiple stacks of cash wrapped with rubber bands, along with a sizable pile of cash in the center of the table. Next to every man counting money at the table was an automatic pistol at arm’s reach. Beyond the table and on the tile floor of the kitchen was a bale of marijuana that had been broken open. The piles of damp marijuana on the kitchen floor were the sole focus of two glamorous, but hard-looking, women who were busy drying the weed with hairdryers as they sat cross-legged on the floor. Leaning against the nearest wall to the money-counting table was some type of machine gun loaded with a long banana clip.
In the instant it took for the smugglers to realize their security had been breached was the same instant that everyone panicked. Every one of the smugglers went for their pistols, just like in a card cheating episode in a Western, until Burger raised his hands and began shouting, “It’s ok! Don’t worry! We’re cool! Don’t worry, it’s ok!”
The glamorous smuggling girls did not panic immediately because the droning noise of the two hairdryers covered the sound of our entrance. They remained oblivious until Burger started shouting. Then, they too jumped up to panic.
After the automatic pistols were lowered and time began to move at a normal pace once again, it seemed that the cool guys with the Mercedes–Benz sedans and the panel truck were not so cool after all.
Burger was shoved against the wall and chastised for arriving unexpectedly, and for the audacity to bring a stranger into the smuggler’s private domain. Immediately after Burger was released from his awkward position on the wall, one of the lesser smugglers was roughly chastised for leaving the garage door open and the kitchen door unlocked. Before we could quickly withdraw, there was a grave warning. “No one is to speak of this house or what you saw here to anyone!” We both solemnly agreed before walking out to Burger’s car with shaking knees.
On the ride back to Marco, Burger was very quiet and embarrassed, while I contemplated the value of being a simple Marco Beach Boy with a quiet but happy life. Apparently, Burger did not know he was being recruited for nefarious smuggling duties involving midnight boat arrivals at the big dock or rolling bales of marijuana with hand trucks to the bakery truck for distribution.
When the day of meeting the nefarious smugglers was finally over, the words of our leader and mentor, Jim Martin, echoed again and again: “I don’t want any of my Beach Boys playing with dope. Dopers can be scary.”
Once again, Jim was right. The dopers were scary!
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books: Lost and Found and Surrounded by Thunder—The Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men. Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.