Working at the hotel during the days gone by were always full of adventure. Sometimes there was more adventure than anyone could want. Sometimes the adventure was scary.
Of course, the hotel at the time was the Marco Beach Hotel and Villas—now the JW Marriott, but still the same property on our very own Marco Beach.
Traditions and trends on Marco, Goodland, and the Isles of Capri, are always ruled by the seasons. In winter, our islands are filled with Midwesterners escaping the cold weather and snow, but when summer arrives, we have obstacles of a different kind.
By mid-June, summer on our islands is in full swing. The humidity is like a solid wall whenever leaving air-conditioning and the clientele that arrives on our beach are not always the kind and gracious Midwesterners that make Marco and the Isles of Capri so friendly.
During the first decade of working at the hotel, we all were very proud to be part of something wonderful. There was true pride and ownership for any us that worked at one of the most beautiful beachfront properties in Florida and we all felt like a big family. The Mackle Brothers and the leadership made it that way. Everyone cared about each other. Everyone mattered.
The challenge for summer, however, was to adapt to the offseason, the heat and the heavy thunderstorms, and whatever else happened to roll up on our unsuspecting doorstep.
One day in late June, pandemonium arrived in the form of a rough and tumble motorcycle gang. Every one of the rough riders looked violent and scary. The image was complete with chopper motorcycles, long dirty hair, and riders with bristling beards that looked like the beginning scene in the movie: “The Wild One.”
The gangsters pulled up about lunchtime with skulls and crossbones tattooed on everything from leather jackets, to weathered skin, to the paint jobs on the motorcycles.
There were about twenty bikers, and when they arrived amid the thunderous sounds of their revving engines, everyone knew—at least at the front door and desk—that our resort was in for some trouble.
When all of the motorcycle engines shut down at once, it was obvious an alpha male was leading the pack. The leader was much like his compatriots with the wild hair, unkempt beard and skull and crossbones leather, but he announced his authority when he unsaddled from his chopper and walked up to one of the hotel doormen. “Nobody had better touch these bikes,” he barked, “and nobody better call the Sherriff.”
After the introduction, the South Florida version of Hell’s Angels started through the lobby with heavy boots kicking out at any furniture within reach. The sounds of a few breaking ashtrays preceded the march down the stairs leading to the pool deck and Quinn’s pool. The bikers knew where they were going but when they emerged on the pool deck, what guests we had scampered—as did every girl or woman in a swimsuit. With everyone fleeing before the invasion, the black-clad-gang kicked any chaise lounge within reach of the heavy boots. In seconds, the pool deck was deserted, and the outlaws were at the outside bar at Quinn’s on the Beach.
This was when Jim Martin, our boss and our friend, who was much more than a mentor, came up behind us at the beach hut and spoke urgently. “Okay boys,” he began, “we’ve some trouble up at Quinn’s and we need to show Big John some support.”
Big John was John Russell—the director of security for our hotel and he earned his name not by his size but by his steadfast presence in any situation. Before his life on Marco, John was a 20-year veteran of the New York State Police.
When the Marco Beach Boys arrived, there were three of us. Jim Martin, Phil Ridge, and myself. With Jim in the lead, Phil next, and me following, we came upon the overwhelming scene at Quinn’s bar.
The twenty bikers were all standing and leaning up against the bar drinking beers that the alpha male leader demanded from a bartender.
John was unusually dressed for summer. He was wearing his winter blue blazer, complete with the hotel logo even in the heat of June. When we approached—me last and looking over Phil’s shoulder, the biker leader walked up to Big John who was first in our line of defense.
“Well,” the confident sneer began, “I bet I know who you are,” the leading biker offered a glance to his cronies. “You’re the guy that’s going to ask us to leave.” The leader then looked over to the beach boys, “It don’t look like you got much back up.”
With that spoken, the rest of the bikers started laughing—and not in a nice way.
The leather-clad leader continued. “Look at you.” he spat on the ground. “You and your fancy jacket out here in this heat.” He then added to more laughs from his troops, “I bet I scare the Sh—out of you.”
Big John moved in and stopped at arm’s length from the leader. His gaze was rock steady when he pulled his blazer open. Inside the jacket in plain sight was an automatic pistol in a police shoulder holster. “Nobody scares the Sh—out of me.” Big John’s words were calm and collected.
“Well I guess you might be right,” the biker nodded with a new smile that came from admiration, “Look here boys, this guy’s got more than underarm deodorant inside that jacket.”
The bikers laughed, but the hostility was gone.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Big John explained. “You and your boys are going to finish your beers—on the house—and then you’re going back out the way you came. You’re going to mind your manners and you’re not coming back.”
The leader nodded and looked over to his gang. “Fair enough,” he said with a nod, “Okay boys, let’s drink up and hit the road.”
As if on cue, all the bikers drained their beer, slammed the bottles down on the bar, and started back to the lobby with Big John in their wake. The bikes nosily fired up and the bikers, without incident, headed north onto Collier Boulevard and never came back.
“Wow,” was all I could say before Jim explained about John Russell being a career captain in the New York State Police.
Big John might have been Big John before the bikers, but as word raced around the hotel, he became bigger and more respected than ever.
Please keep watching for more Beach Boy Chronicles.
Tom Williams 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 through Kindle and Nook.