Last night I had to attend a networking event at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel. For the most part, it was a very pleasant event with a lot of really nice people.
The thing that most stood out to me about the entire evening was that in the bar were three or four very large windows on which the other side lays a huge aquarium.
This glass vivarium not only played host to some lovely underwater plant life but also housed a bevy of beautiful mermaids!
I know that it should not have rendered me quite as giddy as it did, but to be honest, since my early childhood I have been awaiting for just such an opportunity to come along.
Back in the early 1960’s the television airwaves were filled with commercials and promotional programing for Weeki Wachee Springs and the beautiful Weeki Wachee Mermaids. You can only imagine how two young children living in a Brooklyn tenement, were enthralled with the idea of one day traveling to see the magnificent park and its glamorous mermaid attraction!
Finally in 1975, my sister who was now married was planning a trip to Florida with her husband and I, now a teenager, was to accompany them.
Maureen and I were like children planning our big trip that was to include, Daytona Beach, Orlando with trips to Sea World and of course, Disney World. We knew however that we could not go all the way to Florida without taking the time to see two places that until this day we had only dreamed about; Cypress Garden’s (which back in the day, we had learned of through our 3D, GAF Viewmaster slides) and the famed Weeki Wachee Mermaids.
We drove down to Florida in my brother-on-law’s old, beat-up, powder blue station wagon.
I remember that we had to stop to replace oil in the car more times than we needed to stop for the trio of us to use a restroom, but we were young and had no fear.
Daytona Beach (then a new community) was absolutely wonderful. There were boardwalk shops that ran the length of the white sanded seashore and cars were allowed to drive right up onto the beach!
Orlando was also everything we could have wished it to be and more. Maureen and I had sat watching the Wonderful World of Disney Sunday after Sunday for two decades and this visit to Walt’s magic world was like our childhood dream come true.
Then came our opportunity to head north to see Cypress Garden’s and at long last, the fabulous Weeki Wachee Mermaids.
We quoted the TV advertisement from our childhood days verbatim, laughing as we drove along the deserted stretch of hightway.
That’s when it happened. It started rather subtly at first, but before we knew it, the ole’ station wagon was jerking and making sounds that could only be described as grasping for its last breath. Within moments, we were parked along the side of the road on a seldom used bit of highway with smoke rising up from under the hood of our motionless auto.
This was way before the days of cell phones, so there was really nothing for us to do but remain there until someone came along to help us.
Luckily in only a short time, a young man came riding along on a tractor… yes a tractor! After learning that we were from New York, he was first most curious to know if we were acquainted with a young woman he met in school who was also from New York. I do believe that he was actually surprise and disappointed that all of us New Yorkers did not know each other, but he was kind enough to take my brother-in-law off on the tractor to the nearest gas station.
Maureen and I had to be left behind with the car. We couldn’t sit inside it in the sweltering Florida sun and outside we were being swarmed by thousands of insects we came to learn later were affectionately known as “Skeeter Hogs!”
In the end, the car was towed and a make-shift repair was done on it that we were hoping would get us home. Needless to say, Weeki Wachee slipped back into our dream of places and things to “one day” see.
I have lived in South Florida now for over sixteen years and every time I asked about Weeki Wachee Springs, I was told that it had closed down. I know that Cypress Garden’s finally did, but not before I had made my pilgrimage.
I had all but forgotten if not given-up on the whole mermaid idea when last night quite by chance, I was enveloped in accidental mermaid mania.
Thank goodness for modern technology, as I did not have a camera with me but I did have my cell phone, which has a camera of its own. So I not only saw the beautiful mermaids swimming elegantly to their water ballet, but I was also able to get a photo for posterity.
It just goes to show that you never are too old to have a dream come true!
Until next time,