After a cruise to Key West then down to the Bahamas I returned to the ship’s martini bar to read a few pages from a Travis McGee novel “Pale Gray For Guilt” that I brought with me to ruminate about old Florida and prepare for my pilgrimage to the Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale dock F18, where Travis McGee once lived.
The Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale was home to Travis McGee from the early 1960s when John D. MacDonald first wrote the mystery fiction thriller series which comprised of 21 books from 1964 – 1985. Travis, his invention, is a vagabond tough-guy who works in boat salvage and lives alone on his houseboat the Busted Flush – a poker term.
I listened for the roar of applause, fanfare of trumpets, for the speech and the medal. I heard the lisping flap of water against the hull, the soft mutter of the traffic on the smooth asphalt that divides the big marina from the public beach, bits of music blending into nonsense, boat laughter, the slurred harmony of alcohol, and a mosquito song vectoring in on my neck. ~ Travis McGee
I discovered John D. Macdonald through Stephen King who devoured his books, John lived and breathed Florida and it came across in his writing and his character Travis – fitting I was vacationing in Florida when I learned about him. I was at the Driftwood Inn Resort which I wrote an article about in 2013, being in Florida and discovering an author who was one of the first famed Floridian mystery writers at the time was a perfect mix.
Not only was John D. a resident of Florida but he was also and philosopher and environmentalist speaking out on the overpopulation and construction of resorts along the coast, the destruction of Florida’s natural coastline and swampland, these views were expressed in the way Travis McGee lived and philosophized. The ship arrives in Fort Lauderdale, they rope the behemoth to the pier and we get off load our bags and drive north up A1A in search of the Bahia Mar.
Florida was second rate, flashy and cheap, tacky and noisy. The water supply was failing. The developers were moving in on the marshlands and estuaries, pleading new economic growth. The commercial fishermen were an endangered species. Miami was the world’s murder capital… Wary folks stayed off the unlighted beaches and dimly lighted streets at night, fearing the minority knife, the ethnic club, the bullet from the stolen gun.” ~ Travis in CINNAMON SKIN
Since the 60s the hotel and marina’s ownership had changed several times, not to mention the world had changed, Florida was not the same as John D. would have remembered it. I spot the tower up ahead and enter the front gate of the Mar plucking a ticket from the parking machine then drive towards the back lot behind the hotel to find the docks, park and stare up at the big blue canopy that reads “F pier”.
In the 1980s there was a plaque erected in honor of John D. Macdonald and his character Travis McGee at F18 where the houseboat was moored. Since the docks had undergone construction the plaque was removed and placed inside the marina store for safe keeping. I take a deep breath of tropical air and start snooping around.
The docks are now home to million-dollar-yachts that roll in, and rich women who walk little dogs. As I pass alongside these floating giants I’m dwarfed by polished wood railings, one way glass and chromed portholes. The perfect gangways that lead up to each of them are carpeted with little lights that illuminate them at night for the rich women to take the little dogs for walks in their slippers I suppose. I walk up and down both sides of the F docks and can’t find the slip and I’m not surprised.
I find the marina and see two women behind a desk are helping a boat owner arrange a slip for the night. He’s pretty excited when they issue him the same dock he had the last time. I look around and see beside me the plaque marking the end of my journey. It’s sad that it’s not still bolted to the dock and it’s temporary home inside the glass office certainly denigrates the work of a literary hero.
I snap a photo of it and one of the girls says “We removed it from the dock when it was under construction, we didn’t want anyone to steal it” she said. I’m not exactly sure how one would steal a huge metal plaque with it’s base bolted to cement but I thank her for the information anyway and head back to the car.
On the way out I take another photo of where I figured the Busted Flush was docked based on a photo I found online and from behind the veil of these floating palaces I can still get the sense that Travis is alive and well in the book mixing a gin cocktail for himself and a special lady.
UP WITH LIFE. STAMP OUT ALL SMALL AND LARGE INDIGNITIES. LEAVE EVERYONE ALONE TO MAKE IT WITHOUT PRESSURE. DOWN WITH HURTING. LOWER THE STANDARD OF LIVING. DO WITHOUT PLASTICS. SMASH THE SERVO-MECHANISMS. STOP GRABBING. SNUFF THE BREEZE AND HUG THE KIDS. LOVE ALL LOVE. HATE ALL HATE.'” ~ Travis’s credo from A TAN AND SANDY SILENCE, p.83.