As any veteran islander will know, the 4th of July just might be the biggest holiday on Marco and Capri. The beaches are filled with sunbathers, swimmers, and adventure seekers. Apart from the food, boaters, bikers, fisher-folk, complete the image, but sometimes, the circumstances surrounding the holiday can be far more memorable than any celebration.
Our adventure begins on the beach at the Marco Beach Hotel—now the JW Marriott. When summer arrives and the 4th of July is approaching, the tradition to hire new help is always vital.
The Marco Beach Boys at the time numbered five. There were five of us to take care of all of the swimming pools. We also cleaned and groomed the beach daily. We offered sailing lessons and rentals, and we distributed the hundreds of chaise lounge chairs that go in and out every day.
With the heat of early summer upon us, we all knew we needed help. Jim, our boss, kept asking us if we knew anyone that would like a beach boy job. We did not. After mid-June and the heat was pilling up along with the afternoon thunderstorms, Jim came down to the beach hut and made the announcement.
“Well boys,” he said. “I’ve hired a new beach boy and he starts tomorrow.”
Before we could respond to this invasion of our turf, Jim continued. “The new guy is not like anyone we have here now.”
At this point one of us must have spoken up. “What do you mean, not like us?”
Jim smiled. “I hired a country boy,” he said. “He’s a real Florida Cracker and a country boy from La Belle.”
“Oh no!” we all exclaimed, “Not that! We need somebody cool; someone like us.”
Jim Smiled again. “Don’t worry. After all, I hired you guys and all of you turned out alright.”
As usual, Jim was right. Timmy L was a hard worker. He really fell into place. He loved our Ford tractor, and he learned to sail within days. In no time, Timmy had found a new home and we accepted him into the coveted realm of the Marco Beach Boys.
After a few weeks of training Timmy L, the July holiday weekend was upon us. When the 4th arrives mid-week, our beach is busy. When the 4th arrives on a weekend, our beach at the hotel is crazy.
On this particular Saturday, the beach was crazy. There were tourists spread out everywhere. At the time, our sailing fleet numbered about 12 Hobie Cats and Sunfish, and with all the sails up at the water’s edge, this was one boundary that was about to be pushed to the limit. The other boundary was where the sand stops, and the grass starts at the beachside entrance to the hotel.
The time was early afternoon and the Marco Sailboat Parade with all flags flying had just cruised past. Jim came down after lunch and handed me the pager-beeper. This was the official communication device for the leadership at the hotel. When you had the classic-black Motorola pager clipped to your shorts, you were in charge. Everyone knew it.
“Okay,” Jim said. “Glenn and Bobby will be back from lunch soon, and Tom, you’re the boss. Have a great night!”
After Jim left, for the moment, there was just our new hire—Timmy L the country boy and me. We were sitting in the shade of our tiny beach hut and looking out over our turf—the sand, the water and the waves, the hotel guests were everywhere. They were sitting in lounge chairs and the chairs were everywhere. There were guests in chairs in front of Quinn’s and there were guests in chairs all the way down to the pitch and put golf course—where the luxury condominium Madera now stands.
The beach was busy and there were clusters of chairs and guests close together. There were also guests walking between the chair clusters.
This was the setting when we first saw the trouble coming. It began as a cloud of dust that seemed to start from Tigertail, but by the time the dust cloud had passed Residents Beach, it was obvious whatever was coming was coming fast. When the dust cloud and the dune buggy that was in front of it came onto our property, pandemonium erupted.
At first, the invading dune buggy easily steered around the first of our guests and lounge chairs, but as the crowd became more congested the buggy slowed and began to shower sand over everyone who was still in a chair watching with their mouths open. Some of the guests that heard the buggy coming were women who were face down on lounge chairs. When the natural reaction was to jump up, some of the girls forgot their bikini tops were not fastened.
With everything flying everywhere, the driver and passenger of the dune buggy each lifted a Budweiser tallboy and toasted Timmy L and me with the beer and a very loud rebel yell. After the salute, the contraption that was now obviously a homemade dune buggy once again began barreling on down the beach.
When the spectacle was over, I looked over to Timmy L, our newly hired country boy from La Belle, and I spoke with authority, “Timmy, I want you to go up to the nearest telephone and call the Sherriff. You tell them what happened here and explain that the dune buggy was headed south on Marco Beach. There are no vehicles allowed on the beach!”
Timmy looked up at me with puppy dog eyes. “I can’t, Tom,” he said, “I can’t call the Sherriff. That was my daddy. You wouldn’t want me to call the law on my daddy?”
“Oh my God,” was all that came out.
In a few minutes, all the guests were back in their chairs, bikini tops were retied, and the savory scent of grilling burgers and bratwursts was drifting on the breeze. The incident apparently already forgotten.
When Glen and Bobby came down after lunch, they asked, “Anything gone on?”
Timmy L perked up as he answered, “My daddy came to see us.”
Please be on the lookout for more of the 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 on Kindle and Nook.