Every picture tells a story or at least reminds you of one.
“The night of the Red Nova” or “Stan’s Restaurant and Lounge, the best thing to happen to me.”
This picture was on Facebook yesterday and reminded me of my days in the parking lot business.
Roger Maris was my favorite Yankee growing up that is until I started pitching in Little League and it became Whitey Ford.
My family is from Brooklyn and they were Brooklyn Dodgers fans and then Mets Fans. I stayed a Yankees fan.
I frequently write about music, the Funky Biscuit, Woodstock, and my golf experiences. But I have lots more to tell. I am sharing my stories for now on my website and the book is just getting started. We will see what feedback or encouragement I get to keep me telling these personal stories. Pictures like this just make me think of other stories that lead to other stories and so on. I hope you will indulge me.
As I transitioned from a hippie concert photographer, construction worker, to back to school, working at night, I became a valet parking attendant. I eventually became the manager always being super responsible and rising to the top quickly. Ultimately I went into the business myself sometime later. This was the mid-seventies to the middle eighties. I ended up being the largest valet parking attendant company in South Florida before eventually following my mentor into the stock market.
In the stock market, I worked with Larry Turel. Larry was married to Penny Rizzuto (daughter of Yankees legend Phil Rizzuto). I remember opening Whitey’s brokerage account and when I asked him his name he responded “Charles – but they call me Whitey” I almost dropped the phone. I got to hear loads of great stories and got to chat with Scooter, Roy White, Lou Piniella, and others during those years and it was certainly cool. But I had met these guys earlier through the “parking lot” years.
I worked at Stan’s on Commercial Blvd in Ft Lauderdale. This was during the heyday of the cocaine cowboys, and wild times in Miami. Stan’s was the hottest Nightclub/Restaurant/Piano Lounge in Fort Lauderdale. It was the place for the “over 30 crowd”. None of my friends would be caught dead in the place. But Stan liked music and his “piano bar” had a following and he brought in a lot of musicians over the years so it wasn’t always like a “Saturday Night Live parody”. Jamie King Colton played there for goodness sakes.
There was Namath’s Bachelors III, Le Club International, and Stan’s. Stan came from a family of successful car dealers in Illinois. He was looking for a place to buy and had some info that a bridge would be built over the Intracoastal waterway at Commercial Blvd. He bought the property along the water there by the bridge, cheap, as no one knew about the plans yet. Most people thought he was nuts as the area wasn’t developed yet. He started as a small burger joint and when the bridge was built he expanded and then “voila” – the spot was gold!
The crowd would visit these three places going back and forth on given nights and at any time there were famous entertainers, wise guys, the rich and famous, and the athletes all wanting to be seen there. The Yankees loved the place and spent a lot of spring training there. Namath and his crew would pop in and the movie stars and Tennis players would be there after big tennis events as well. It was a really busy place.
Running that parking lot meant dealing with an endless stream of cars coming and going. The notables shaking my hand and slipping a 20 in it to be right upfront “I got you”. You had to have a good memory and a good system for making all these people feel like the big shots they were and get them in and out WITH a big production. “Hold up, I am backing up Namath’s car, everyone stop!” etc etc. It was fun.
I witnessed crazy drug deals with cash and duffle bags being exchanged between cars, wise guy meetings/family sit-downs, and many other crazy incidents and shenanigans. The parking lot guys got to see it all.
Big Jim used to come in, his bodyguard coming in first, and then he would roll in, in his Cadillac. “Hey Big Jim, great to see you.” One night Jim came in and asked if we had the lot at Studio 51 the big disco mob hangout. He used to keep a gun on the door of his car, slipped through the handle. Of course, I never let anyone touch his car. I always parked it and backed it up. The guy at Studio 51 wasn’t as smart as me. He let one of the kids handle it. He told me they brought his car up and the gun was missing. He said he got out and pointed a gun at the valets and said “where’s my gun?” One starts running and according to Jim, “I won’t be around for a while, have to leave town for a bit cause I shot that little bastard in the leg – what does he think I only have one gun?”
Another time Big Jim was pissed about how someone disrespected his sister. He comes out of Stan’s pushing a guy half his size down to the ground. We all stood still – his bodyguard held the two big front doors closed so the bouncers couldn’t come out to stop it. We could see the doors being pushed. He proceeded to beat the living shit out of the guy. He kept at it for a while. It was like Sonny in the Godfather movie, although Big Jim was not quite as nimble and good looking as James Caan. But he did pick up the garbage pail and crush it over the guy a few times. And like Sonny, he said something like “touch my sister again and I’ll kill ya”
I wonder which came first: the lines in the movies or the lines remembered by the writers of incidences they actually witnessed. Anyway, Stan’s was way more than a wise guy hangout. They were just a small part of the crowd that wanted to be at the most happening place in town. There are still great stories from those colorful guys nonetheless.
The FM radio station WSHE was still going strong then and it was cool that Stan advertised with them. I listened to that station for years, all the hippies and concert-goers did. The owner and some DJ’s had a deal to eat and drink at Stan’s like a trade-off for advertising. Tommy Judge, the most colorful DJ would come in looking out of place, like a cross between Howard Stern and Frank Zappa, in jeans and a t-shirt (and a jacket to get in upstairs). Stan’s was where men wore jackets for the most part and women dressed up. The DJ would get high and go in and have dinner. Tommy was so cool that he could do what he wanted there. He always chatted with the guys in the parking lot and handed me promotional cassettes, posters, and albums as well as concert tickets which I distributed to the guys. I was still a concert photographer then and it was cool to use his name when I needed to.
Another music-related story comes to mind. When Chris Squier was in town with Yes and decided to come to have dinner upstairs at the high-end restaurant rolling in, in a limo with a small entourage. A Maitre D’ was in charge upstairs. Reservations, jackets, and ties were required, there were very strict rules to get into the fine dining room. He didn’t have a jacket. He had some kind of sparkly T-Shirt that probably cost $500 and a flock of longhair that said I don’t belong here. They would give you a tie if you had a jacket but he looked like a rock star hippie and; no jacket? Sorry dude, you and your friends and your money are not welcome here.
What? This is Chris Squire, a famous rock star and he wants to eat here and I could do nothing to help get him in.
“F U Stan’s” the rock star and his entourage shouted as his limo sped away. I was appalled.
Ronald Regan did a fundraiser lunch at Stan’s and we had to supply all the parking attendant’s ID’s a week in advance. Some of my questionable employees, drifters, immigrants, or maybe ex-cons were crossed off and we had a small core group allowed to work the event. More security than I have ever seen in my life! More trouble than it was worth for me but a cool memory nonetheless. Somehow I passed. But that’s another story.
Another night fugitive financier Bebe Rebozo came in after hours to meet his good friend – Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon. This would have been a big problem if anyone got wind of this meeting, like the FBI. That Rebozo was here in the U.S. would have been all hands on deck. But Stan was very good with clandestine meetings and they came in after the upstairs restaurant closed and were ushered up there. 2 am. They had a private party up there, girls, drinks, food.
I had to stay to “watch the cars” until they left which wasn’t until around 4 am. Nixon was smaller than I imagined and looked kind of frail. I wanted to go up and shake his hand on behalf of all the boys aged 18 on the same birthday as me. We avoided going to Nam because he ended the draft that year right before we were supposed to report for duty. There was a lottery back then and you watched TV as they drew the numbers and your birthdate was assigned a number and the lower the number the more certain you were to be shipped to the jungles. My number was 17. Bye-bye. I wanted to hug him. Everyone has an opinion on the guy but you know mine now.
Then there were the two brothers who came out of nowhere to own the biggest gold bullion dealership/bank in the country the International Gold Bullion Exchange. It was a place where average people could participate and buy gold which was going crazy at the time. You could go visit your gold and see the massive vault stacked with gold bars. “There Mrs. Schwartz, row 12, there’s your brick.” They were rich and traveled around all the hot spots promoting. They came to Stan’s to be seen and stalk victims of their “Ponzi” scheme, always shitfaced. I didn’t understand how people could fall for this stuff. Of course, we didn’t know it was all a big rip off until they were busted and it made national news. The perp walk was great and the cops showed us those bricks Mrs. Schwartz was looking at. Cardboard painted gold! Sometimes criminals come up with such simple schemes. Yes, Ft. Lauderdale was known for a lot back then and top of the list was the rip off capital of the country.
Then there was a cool guy named Roger Stone who used to have meetings at Stan’s loved hanging with us telling us about his ideas for TV game shows He was the son of the founder King World productions and when he took over from his father he had meetings with Merv Griffin ultimately getting the rights to Wheel of Fortune, The Merv Griffin Show and Jeopardy. Jackpot! He was a nice guy and we were happy for him.
Then there was the Mob boss of Philly who had a condo right next door to Stan’s and used to walk over. Lots of tense nights as there was trouble in Philly and organized crime detectives and others were always looking for him. How were they always one step behind him, showing us pictures and asking if we saw the guy a few nights before? More about this stuff in the next story.
Stan was a very quirky guy. I learned a lot from him. He had the top place in Ft Lauderdale yet many nights he would visit the competition. He would spend money at the rival places. He was not at war with these places. Some restaurateurs believe they are at war and want to crush their competition or criticize and ridicule them. Stan was not like that. He believed it was better to show respect and embrace the competition. A lot of people would do well to learn this philosophy. Stan and his girlfriend dressed like the successful people they were and they loved dogs. For a period I brought my dog to work. Tasha was a giant Husky Malamute mix. She would lie under my jeep most of the night. When she got restless I would let her hang in the grass area near where Stan’s car was parked. As they went to get in their car one night, her in a white dress, him in a light tan suit, they saw Tasha and looked over asking if it was ok to pet her. Why didn’t I say no! In a second Tasha who had been digging in the dirt all night jumped on both of them covering them in dirt and ruining their clothes. I thought, I am getting an ass whooping, or fired, or Tasha was in for it. But no, they laughed about it and drove away. I didn’t take any chances, Tasha was banned. There are so many Stan stories this was one with a happy ending. He had a habit of snapping his fingers when the shit was about to hit the fan and if he walked upstairs and down snapping someone was getting fired. One night he had me fire my manager simply because he was snapping like crazy and just had to fire someone! He fired the doorman and head Bartender countless times and hired them back after some penance. He was Steinbrenner before Steinbrenner.
The most important thing to come from my years at Stan’s was evolving into an adult and wanting to own my own business. My mentor Mark Parnass taught me the “parking lot” business and I had a blueprint. When he wanted to sell me his business as he was going back to the business he initially made his millions in “the Stock market” I turned him down. Maybe I was insulted that he didn’t just give it to me, we were close, or because he didn’t offer to take me with him to the mysterious “Stock market” world (he did later). I went back to work construction and to find my way on my own.
I was driving a bulldozer at a job run by a family friend. The job was to move this dirt from here to there. And then when you’re done tomorrow move it all back. “Why would I do that, Rich?” “I have to get a draw to pay us and keep the job alive so this dozer needs to be moving all day.” Well after some weeks of this I quit and decided to go into the parking lot business myself. I always do things the hard way. Parnass was flabbergasted when I asked for some guidance. “I gave up or sold off all my lots and now you want to go into the business?” “I can’t help you. You should have jumped on my offer.” He pondered for another minute in between stock trades which fascinated me and the scene made me see my ultimate future. “Wait, I will give you some tips but only after you get your first two parking lots.”
I had a challenge. I made business cards, started a corporation, leased a car, and started going out to all the restaurants and bars that had parking services selling myself. I had a couple of roommates but no employees. I had a goal and was on a mission. Be bigger and better than he was in his time. I was getting nowhere though except lots of hangovers for months.
I had a leather jacket that had the Woodstock logo on it and was my prized possession from those days. I drove from Florida to New York to get it back from an old girlfriend who absconded with it. I went to Bachelors one night and was drinking at the bar for longer than I should have. My friend worked there and lived across the street. When I went to leave they wouldn’t give me my car (“no way you are driving”) and I walked across the street to Dan’s and crashed. The next afternoon I went back to get my car and my jacket was gone. Stolen! I was pissed. I went to the guy running the parking concession and ranted and raved for a while. I told him I was in the business (I had no parking lots but I had business cards) he couldn’t do this to me. I needed compensation, I needed my jacket. The guy sized up the situation and came up with an idea. “Listen Jay I can’t get that jacket back, I know how much it means to you but it’s gone. I have a problem maybe you can help me with though. We have a parking lot down near Davie Blvd. It’s a pain in the ass. Open till 4 and you have the restaurant and the hotel in two different ends of the place so it is hard to run. How about I give you that place? I will make sure the transition is perfect and we will be square. Yes?” And just like that I was in business and had my first two lots. It was one but I always counted them as two. I made my first employee my roommate Walt. You can’t park the cars yourself and build the business, my first lesson.
Parnass then started giving me some tips and I did the rest. If I got a meeting with a place he formerly had he would tell me oh yes at that place they care about uniforms, make that your pitch. At another place it would be, they care about how often you come by so make that your pitch, etc.
I was determined, worked hard and in less than 2 years I had all the parking lots he had and many more to become the biggest guy in that business in South Florida. Eventually, I measured success as landing Stan’s, the premier place of all. I had to make it my base, just like Mark did. After countless nights of seeing me there spending my money, chatting with the employees, my friends, and saying hello, Stan knew what I wanted. He asked Mark if I was “ready” for his place, and then he fired the crew that was there, and I was home.
Why was this place the most important thing to happen to me?
Darla, my wife, had been a waitress there some years back when I was a parking attendant. I noticed her but I wasn’t on her radar. She returned to Florida years later and became a bartender there, and it by now was my main place and served as my “office”. I found myself spending my nights there overseeing my guys and using it as home base to travel to all the other lots or to be found when needed.
I always got up early to work on new business no matter how late I was out. I started going to Stan’s to have a late breakfast during her day shift, and then would have some drinks at happy hour at her bar, and then would take her across the street for dinner and drinks. I was smitten.
Well 35 plus years and two wonderful daughters later, I would say Stan’s was the most important thing to happen to us.
Stan’s also allowed me the opportunity to convince my brother who I left up north on so many occasions after our parents divorced when we were little. I would run away promising we would be together one day leaving him to grow up with Grandma in that small upstate New York town that I hated so much. Left him my record collection and other prized possessions each time I left. In time he came with his family to take over the business as I eventually followed Parnass to the stock market. Our families have been together ever since. Even my Dad who I hadn’t seen in years, when in town once, came to Stan’s to see me. We had dinner and drinks. When Dad ordered a Dewars they brought my drink, Stoli on the rocks without me ordering it. He remarked, impressed, “they know your drink here?” “Yes, they know me here.” I thought wow this is the first time I ever actually had a drink in a bar with my Dad. I’m a grownup now!
Yes, Stan’s had a big effect on my family.
Many more memories like the time – the head bartender Don Dewallet had a fight with his fiancé and she threw the super expensive engagement ring in the Intracoastal off the famous Stan’s patio in the back. Many drunken nights there some crazed idiot would hear the story and dive in for a shot at finding the treasure. It was a lost cause but funny every time. I am sure it’s still there if you want to try.
Another night a couple walked across the parking lot to the front door. She was naked and carrying her dress. They walked in and sat at the Piano bar and ordered a drink. After the drink came she went into the ladies’ room and got dressed. The man handed her 300 dollars, apparently, she won the bet, and she left walking out the front door flashing the money now instead of her boobs.
As I mentioned before the place had a constant stream of cars coming and going meaning lots of people waiting for their cars too. There was a system to move this traffic efficiently and the co-manager and I worked well together in the early days and kept that place humming and open. Over the years we handled the heavy hitters and the famous and the super fancy cars. Sometimes people would get out of their cars and instinctively lock the door as they closed them before the valet could grab the door and get in. That would mean a door locked with the car running and the keys in it right in front of the door. That would gum up everything. Terry and I would practice breaking into cars so we could handle these situations. I bought burglary tools or as they called them back then lock pick kits. We practiced on all types of cars in the lot till we got fast with the “slim jim”. Unlike TV and the movies, it is not as easy as they make it look and one wrong push and you break the locking mechanism and have now caused a different problem in someone’s car. I can’t tell you how many times I was summoned to get into a car with 50 or 60 people out front all chiming in on what to do. That is pressure. Once a guy was so impatient he said here’s a $100 just break the window and get me out of here. I said make it two and as he was handing me the two bills I got it open. Everyone clapped no broken window. Some cars could not be done and other measures would be taken. I got pretty fast and taught my brother but nowadays it is almost impossible to “slimjim” modern cars.
Once on a trip to upstate New York, I stopped at the rest stop on the thruway. A young mother and her daughter were standing around their car doors locked with keys inside. I didn’t have my tools. She didn’t have AAA and I don’t think we had cell phones yet. I offered to help. They were crying. I opened the hood, took out the oil dipstick, and cleaned it off, and slim-jimmed the door open with that skinny little piece of metal in 30 seconds. They couldn’t believe it and neither could I. Some good comes from learning, breaking, and entering.
The Yankees made Stan’s there home away from home during spring training those years. They were always in Stan’s, sometimes as a group and sometimes in twos and threes.
Billy Martin was the coolest of them. He traveled alone a lot and would hang with us in the parking lot telling stories and joking with us. He had a reputation as a hothead and he didn’t disappoint. He got in a lot of fights. I will say though, most of the time it was the other guys’ fault. He defended women being disrespected most of the time otherwise he didn’t instigate anything. I liked him a lot. Mickey came in occasionally but he wasn’t well and it was hard to watch. Then the rest of the musketeers were Yogi, Whitey, Lou Piniella, and Roy White. White Sox manager Tony LaRussa would join them too. Yogi was great and people loved him.
One night there were 3 parties in Stan’s all driving red Nova’s two rentals and one regular owned. The thing about these cars back then is that some of them would start with a different car’s key. That was not good. So one party comes out and says they lost their ticket. (Never lose your ticket). A valet thinking he was smart asked what kind of car they had. “Red Nova” and he brought them the first red Nova he could find. It was in front and was Yogi’s car with the guys’ luggage in it. Next, hours later, out comes a couple who also lost their ticket and they point out their keys on the board we send the valet to get the next red Nova with those keys. It is not their red Nova but they don’t know it, all 4door red Chevy Novas look alike, and they leave. Now I have a red Nova left that is not Yogis and the keys are not the ones for this car either but they work. Yikes. So Yogi wants to leave and I convince the guys to stick around until it’s like1am buying some time. The people who have the wrong car are going to get home and not be able to get into their house. However, they did have their keys which started the wrong car so I was screwed. They will have to come back to straighten it out if they notice it’s not their car. I called the Hertz rental car company but at 1 am there was no help. So closing time and the Yankees are restless. Whitey, Yogi, Lou, and I don’t remember the 4th. After some disparaging comments and a feeling that I may get my ass beat, I sent them off to the Galt Ocean Mile with my last red Nova. And I waited. At about 3 am the couple shows up and wants their car. They figured it out thank God when a package they had wasn’t in the car. But I gave the car to Yogi. Arghhh.
I headed to the Galt with their car and them and made the doorman call upstairs to get Yogi to bring down the keys. It’s 3:30 am and Yogi sent the doorman out with the keys. I had to explain I am swapping cars but I have no idea where his car is. He relays to Yogi on his walkie talkie and a bunch of expletives ensued. Again this is the pre cell phone, google, internet days. Quarters and payphones are very important tools. The couple drops me off back at Stan’s and I wait. At 4:30 am the cleaning crew is there and they get the phone call. The people who have Yogi’s car figured it out and wanted their car. They figured it out only because they were staying at a hotel and their stuff wasn’t in the trunk. I now had to drive to their hotel in Plantation to take their/Yogi’s car to him and return theirs to Plantation. And then I had to get Yogi up once more, this time it took a while as the doorman was gone and I had to wait for someone to come out to get in and find the directory and so on. After an ungodly amount of time, Yogi came down in some kind of weird bathrobe all disheveled with Lou Piniella or Whitey in tow I can’t remember which. I had their stuff. They were not happy, it was 5:30 am. We made the switch after I got an earful of Yogi Isms I don’t think anybody else has ever heard. I couldn’t help but smile as the madder Yogi was, the funnier he got, and the more I liked him. I felt a great bond with him and all the Yankees after our early morning “discussions.” I headed out to Plantation to end this insane saga of the three red Novas.
From then on when they came to Stan’s I handled their car personally and kept the keys with me at all times.
Months later on a trip to New York, I went to pick up my rental car and of course, it was a red Nova. “NO WAY SIR, how much to upgrade? I will pay any amount!”
More Stan’s stories to come