For a number of months I’ve been hearing about something to be built at the local airport that is supposed to look like an airplane, but maybe it won’t and will be a welcome center, unless it isn’t.
Depending on who you talk to or what you read this structure will be a “welcome center” or a “terminal” or maybe it won’t. And it’ll cost $1 million unless it costs $4 million or much more, unless it doesn’t.
Those approving, planning, discussing , evaluating, designing and reporting on this project say it will resemble an airplane. In fact, they say it will look like the FU4 Corsair, a plane that flew out of the Fernandina Beach airport during World War II. However, Passero Associates, the company in charge of designing this thing, said the nose will have to be scaled back because of expense. And City Commissioner Len Kreger said that the tail section may not be built because of something to do with bids. So the building will look exactly like an airplane if an airplane looked exactly like a box. And it might be a welcome center unless it’s a terminal. And it will cost somewhere around $1 million or well over $4 million.
Articles in the local News-Leader newspaper and online publications The Observer and Independent have never fully explained this mysterious building. Not because they don’t want to I don’t think. But I believe, because they have no idea what the hell is going on and maybe don’t want to appear “uninformed” by asking questions that they think would have those in charge of this confusion intimidating them by pointing, rolling their eyes, and snickering. Editors and reporters want readers to think they know what’s happening. For example an Observer article Thursday, Feb. 9 had a story headlined “Airport Welcome Center preparing for takeoff” while the next day, Feb. 10, the News-Leader had a front page article headlined: “Airport terminal plans hit turbulence.” Well, those reports should certainly clear things up. When challenged our local crack editors and reporters are known to confidently fire back with a cocky sneer and a: “YEH! Well, oh YEH!”
I don’t want to come across as a rumormonger, naysayer or nitpicker but I’m beginning to think that the folks involved in whatever this airport caper is may have come here from Area 51 in Nevada or someone is in the process of successfully pulling off one of the biggest and most expensive practical jokes in Amelia Island’s aviation history.
As background here’s everything I know about terminals and welcome centers.
I became an adolescent expert on welcome centers as an expatriate Canadian growing up in Tampa and making frequent summer car trips from Tampa to St. Thomas, Ontario and back with my widowed mom in the days before there was an Interstate Highway System.
Welcome centers were those buildings located just inside the state line or in “historic downtowns” such as Fernandina Beach. On the Florida state line they resembled giant oranges where pretty girls dressed up like kumquats would greet you with big smiles, cups of free orange juice (which everybody wanted) and grapefruit juice (which nobody wanted), Florida maps, and brochures describing Silver Springs, Cypress Gardens, and Booger’s Reptile Ranch. Those were also the days when you could buy a gross of cherry bombs and M-80s the minute you crossed into Georgia, a purchase impossible today unless you have a federal explosives license. Because of their waterproof fuses and the fact they sank, my Canadian cousins and our friends discovered it was much more expedient catching perch and smelt in Lake Erie using these miniature explosives than an old fashioned rod and reel or net.
Oh, speaking of Georgia and airports, folks there brag that the Atlanta airport is the busiest in the world, which to me is like boasting that you have the nation’s most severe case of hemorrhoids. NEWS ALERT: People are prohibited from taking alligators or other wild animals from reptile ranches and alligator farms like Booger’s. That’s because of incidents of them being used as deadly weapons like the one reported last week by Jacksonville’s Action News where a Florida man was charged with aggravated assault after he threw an alligator through a drive-through window at Wendy’s. Now back to the airport mystery building report.
If you want to see what Fernandina’s old welcome center looked like take a peek over piano man John Springer’s shoulder the next time you’re at the downtown Alley Cat on a Thursday or Saturday evening. The large glass pyramid-like building painted in the wall mural behind John was the city welcome center where native women in their colorful kumquat costumes handed out cups of free orange juice and locks of David Yulee’s hair to tourists. Today you have to go to the old train station, walk past a bronze statue of Yulee, Florida’s most notorious slave-owning scallywag, and into the depot to get a handful of brochures from a cheery volunteer who, disappointingly, is not dressed as a kumquat. The free orange juice went the way of the hand painted signs advertising “Gator Rasslin Just Ahed” and “Gud Smoked Mulet 100 Yards.”
As for terminals, during my corporate communications and PR agency days I probably spent more time in airport terminals than I did in an office. In the early days it was great, because there were no cell phones or Internet so once you were at the airport terminal nobody could pester you with “just one more thing to change to the presentation.” It worked the other way around too when you realized that once airborne, just after lowering your tray table and opening your brief case that you left the presentation at home and are taking your kid’s 9th grade science fair project to Schenectady.
Airport terminals that I frequented had restaurants, bars, gift shops, book stores, newsstands, fast food joints, shoe shine stands, rental car desks; bald-headed, very annoying Hare Krishna followers in orange robes (kumquat wannabe’s?); ashtrays and smokers everywhere; banks of pay phones and people waiting for you at your gate when you got off the plane. In an airport bar beers comes in two sizes: A 12 ounce draught for $18 or $72 for a 83 ounce one. Airport bars also don’t have clocks, forcing you to wander all over the airport looking for a pretty girl without a wedding ring to ask what time it is. Oh, and I’ve never seen a “welcome center” at an airport or a sign directing me to one.
The airports I’ve flown in and out of also had control towers. Ours doesn’t. Does that matter? I heard that Fernandina just fired the airport manager. So who do I ask? The local “Smoke ‘n’ Da Cockpit” barbeque team (most all are area air traffic controllers) is probably better informed than our city commissioners, city officials, news outlets, airport experts, etc. and if they don’t have the answers, at least you’ll get a tasty pulled pork sandwich with a side of beans, cole slaw and a drink. The City Commission doesn’t even offer mints.
Will we soon be picking up visitors from commercial flights here? Will air traffic increase? If so what kind of noise can we expect? Will this thing have restaurants? Bars? A community meeting room? Free orange juice? Kumquat girls? Or will it just be for private planes? And if so how does that benefit the majority of residents? If it’s just for private planes let the Ritz Carlton, The Omni Resort and the handful of local’s who have private planes build their own terminal or welcome center and squeeze their own orange juice. What is this thing and how does it benefit the residents? Do we need it? Who wants it?
I understand a lot of the construction money is coming from the federal government (our federal tax dollars) and local city government doesn’t want to let it slip away, but that a big chunk is coming from Fernandina Beach’s general fund and the airport enterprise fund…in other words our local tax money. I’ve seen architectural renderings, heard it would look like an airplane or a cube, read about construction issues, heard the city commission debate construction obstacles, costs, and more.
The only thing I have not heard is what the hell this thing is supposed to be and how local tax paying residents will benefit. Anybody?
Here’s an idea. Put a note in a time capsule in the cornerstone of this mystery building and hundreds of years from now when future inhabitants of the area uncover it and stand there scratching their heads, they’ll read a message that says: “We didn’t know what it was for either. P.S. If you find a huge chest stuffed with cash, it’s impact fee extortion money, another way we figured out how to screw the local tax payers.”
Speaking Of Those Stinkin’ Impact Fees: If Mel Brooks lived in Fernandina Beach he would have produced and directed “Impact Fees! We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Impact Fees!” a crazed grab bag of a video that does everything to keep you laughing except smack you over the head with a whoopee cushion. And it succeeds.
Unlike a movie theatre, viewers don’t pay to watch the film. But there is a monetary angle, sort of a Jerry Lewis-like fundraiser gone haywire, revealed at the end.
It doesn’t have the refined luster of a Hollywood production and its structure is a total mess. But what does that matter when bearded and pot-bellied local eccentric Pajamadave Voorhees is dressed as a Julie Roberts “Pretty Woman” hooker leaning against Fernandina Beach’s City Hall sign soliciting prospective Johns driving down Ash Street. The only problem viewers will have is that it’s too short at seven minutes. They’ll definitely want more.
Viewers will also have fun trying to identify a variety of locals who make cameo appearances. The casting call from Zan Maddox, PJ Dave’s fiancé, the film’s producer, director, grip, script writer, gopher, beer-holder, camera-person, etc., resembled Hedley Lamarr’s request to Taggart in Blazing Saddles when he said to him: “I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, and Methodists!”
The only thing missing is Mongo riding down Centre Street on an ox knocking a bronze David Yulee sky-high off of his train depot bench with a undercut right hook to the jaw? And there’s no black railroad workers singing “I Get A Kick Out Of You” on CSX’s Front Street rail line. For that we’ll have to wait for “Impact Fees – The Stinkin’ Sequel.”
The video, which makes a statement, is very funny. (Full disclosure here: I make my silent movie debut in this talkie film as a non-verbal sheriff).
The story line involves Fernandina Beach’s shady public works department intent on squeezing prospective bar owner PJ Dave for $7,632 ($318 for each of the 24 seats) in extorted impact fees and Dave’s bizarre and frantic attempts to raise the funds. It involves Dave realizing that he must raise the requested money or his life-long dream of opening his Cheers-like PJD’s bar on South 2nd Street will abruptly end with Public Utilities Director John Mandrick cackling as he twirls his Snidely Whiplash moustache. Will he tie the buxom, blonde beauty, Zan, to the CSX railroad tracks, Nell Fenfick style, if the extorted funds aren’t secured? Watch the video to find out.
Folks who have seen the 1965 film Cat Ballou will also appreciate the unique role local musician Dan Voll plays as he appears in the background and in between scenes brilliantly strumming tunes appropriate to each episode on his guitar. His role is similar to Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye in Cat Ballou who play a couple of ballad singers, and move into the picture at intervals to sing about what’s going on.
The film, which probably cost $11.99, the price of a case of Bud Light on sale at Winn Dixie, was shot locally on an iPhone. Its purpose is to help Dave & Zan raise funds to pay the outrageous impact fees demanded by the city’s Snidely Whiplash-like public works director Mandrick through a Kickstarter campaign and to promote the new PJD tavern.
To watch the film click on the link https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/537958096/pjds-beer-and-wine-garden and then if so inclined follow directions at the end of the video. Or you can go to Kickstarter.com and type in PJD’s. If none of that works call ’em at 904/310-9314 and ask where you went wrong.
In my opinion, Zan and Dave did a terrific job of creating a very funny video on a shoestring, going beyond slapstick, poking fun at people who deserve it, and embracing excess.
(Patrick Keogh, a friend, long-time Fernandina Beach resident, entrepreneur, attorney, out spoken city critic and business owner who took his capital and fled Amelia Island for Austin, Texas because of the city’s unfair and extortionist impact fees, offered this serious and thought-provoking commentary as the country celebrates Black History Month.)
February is Black History Month and we reflect on the costs to and contributions from African Americans throughout our history. I also think it is important for us to reflect on the contributions made by those 646,000 Union casualties in preserving our Union and redeeming America’s original sin of slavery.
The cost to preserve the Union and end America’s original sin was high. Abraham Lincoln has earned much of the credit for that and with the war won he soon paid for it with his life. Although Lincoln’s abhorrence of slavery was clear he famously wrote “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it… What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union”. So it might be said that emancipation was an incidental result of Lincoln’s primary objective.
Alexis de Tocqueville saw the impending American conflict in his two volume Democracy in America when he wrote in the 1830s that “Slavery in the Southern states cannot survive. By the act of the master, or by the will of the slave, it will cease; and in either case great calamities may be expected to ensue”. And that calamity came to pass a generation later in our Civil War.
The American Civil War remains our most costly war in terms of lives lost. It is estimated the Union alone sustained over 364,000 deaths and suffered about 282,000 wounded in the course of the war. When you include the families and communities affected by these 646,000 casualties the cost to the nation was enormous. For a long time I have believed the price paid by these 646,000 has not been fully recognized in our country.
In a little known way, our Civil War was an international conflict. No fewer than one in four Union soldiers were foreign born. Some 543,000 of the total two million who took up Union arms were immigrants. Some 43% of the Union force were immigrants or sons of immigrants. Relatively few fought for the Confederacy.
It’s interesting to note that of the 543,000 immigrant Union soldiers some 200,000 are believed to have migrated from what is now Germany and another 150,000 came from Ireland. No doubt some came here for economic reasons. I doubt they came to preserve the Union. I like to think they fought and died here to secure a freedom for themselves and their fellow man in the new world that they had been unable to achieve under Europe’s autocracies.
Drinking, Dancing & Dining: If you want a fun evening, cold beer, great mixed drinks, and a more than convivial atmosphere then head for the 31 North 2nd Street Crab Trap where the folks that run this iconic tavern and restaurant are as fun and friendly as the group of regulars that frequent the downstairs bar every Wednesday from 5 p.m. till just after happy hour munching wing specials and two buck drafts. Owner Choo Choo Germano, his general manager daughter Holly and manager Brandi Kendrick stay busier than one armed paper hangers but still find time to kick back and chat with customers, making each one feel special. They also don’t forget their regulars when they’re in an “I’ve fallen over and can’t get up” mode even though they didn’t get that way at the Trap. Try the Trap’s all-day ’til 6 p.m. $10 Saturday fried shrimp special (hushpuppies, slaw and fries included) with $1 margaritas and their $19 Sunday two-for-the-price-of-one lobsters, possibly the best weekend restaurant deals on the island. Call ’em at 904/261-4749.