Backstage in South Florida: Political Pratfalls

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week, Tricky Dickie and Lester the Lunatic.

Now that the primaries are past, it's time to get serious about the midterm elections! (Pause for collective yawns here.) If you've been reading this column for any length of time, you know that the big names I've been lucky enough to meet have mostly

been of the entertainment variety. However, being that we're about to

dive headfirst into the crucial campaign season, it occurred to me that

a couple of political anecdotes might be somewhat timely.

My earliest encounter of a politico nature took place when I sneaked into a

Richard Nixon rally that took place at Southern Methodist University's

Moody Coliseum during his 1972 presidential campaign. I was a kid living

in Dallas, Texas, at the time, and a scruffy-looking lad at that --

long-haired and wearing tie-dye and tattered bell-bottoms, as was the

fashion of that era. Suffice it to say, I didn't look like a young

Republican and certainly didn't resemble the kind of person that

Nixon's campaign team would welcome to one of his rallies.

The scene outside the coliseum was pretty hectic, and as the swarms descended on the building, there was an army of security types, boasting the stereotypical black suits and shades, with earpieces dangling from their ears. There they were, grabbing anyone who looked threatening, forcing those intent on gaining entrance to run a gauntlet between them before they could reach the doors. It seems strange today in this high-tech era, when terrorism is a constant threat, to imagine that the attempt to thwart gatecrashers was down to a couple of dozen or so Secret Service men frantically trying to grab people at random. In fact, one of those guards lunged at me and grabbed my arm, but I managed to slip out of his grip. While one or two others might have stood in my way, they were apparently too busy subduing people who must have looked more menacing than me. Consequently, I actually made it inside and up to a balcony where I got an ideal view of Nixon, who gave his stump speech and capped it with his famous victory wave. It was an iconic image. Be assured that I wasn't a Nixon supporter per se, but being a history buff, it is kind of cool to say I was actually witness to Tricky Dick in full frenzy.

Truth be told, that wasn't my first encounter with politicos, nor was it my first time I found myself up-close and personal with elected officials boasting a less-than-stellar reputation. When I resided in St. Thomas Virgin Islands in the late '60s, I attended a private school that was located adjacent to the docks where the cruise-ship passengers would disembark. It was there that the attendees of the National Governors Conference had their first encounter with the islands when they arrived for their annual meeting in 1969. My fellow students and I scurried down to the docks to witness their arrival, not out of any sense of civic duty, mind you, but more out of curiosity and because we were given an excuse to escape our classes. Being up on current events, I recognized some of the governors as they stepped off the ship and onto the dock as they made their way to their limousines.

The governor who was most auspicious at the time was none other than Lester Maddox of Georgia, a staunch segregationist whose main claim to fame was the fact that he once owned a chicken restaurant and passed out ax handles to customers in an effort to encourage them to dissuade African-Americans from entering his establishment. Of course, anyone who was enough of an idiot to pass out ax handles couldn't be counted on to prepare the best cuisine, but still, that stupid stunt gained him national notoriety.

But I felt duty-bound to be a good greeter, and I took it upon myself to welcome each arrival. So when Maddox made an appearance, I duly said, "Welcome to the Islands, Governor." I was surprised when he actually acknowledged me by grabbing my hand and replying, "Why thank you, son!" I'm not sure that he was all that aware of the demographics of the islands, which was populated almost entirely by people of West Indian descent, most of whom were black. Throughout the motorcade, he insisted on hoisting himself up in the back of the limo campaign-style and waving enthusiastically to the crowds along the motorcade route. Now I'm not sure if the islanders knew who the guy was or, if they did, if they knew of his history, but most returned his waves with a look of sheer indifference. Frankly, I think Maddox was feigning friendship to make up for the sheer fear of being in the midst of people whom he obviously had little love for. After all, finding himself in a multiracial community like St. Thomas was likely his vision of hell. I simply found it ironic... and most amusing.


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