Our small Amelia Island community is home to a variety of intriguing people who hail from all parts of the world and whose backgrounds include professional sports, art, literature, business, the military, journalism and more.
While most have excelled anonymously some local residents have achieved national and international celebrity for their accomplishments including retired Baseball Hall of Famer and retired Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox; actor John Travolta; Lewis Jordan, who co-founded AirTran, the predecessor of ValuJet; former Newsweek, Esquire, New York magazine and New York Daily News Editor and author Ed Kosner; author John Grisham; baseball Cy Young award winner and L.A. Dodgers pitching ace Clayton Kershaw; Cal Atwood, who fought his way across Iwo Jima before moving on to excel at prestigious university level positions; and many more. You might bump into any of them at Wines by Steve on the South end’s First Coast Highway, a local restaurant or pub, or sipping a cup of coffee downtown at Centre Street’s Amelia Coffee Shop and even if they are recognized by locals, a nod of the head rather than a pen for an autograph is about the only acknowledgment of their fame they suffer here.
While many residents have worked in glamorous fields in roles that didn’t provide the instant recognition of a Cox or Grisham, they have contributed behind the scenes. One of these is Rick Traum, (pictured above with his then boss Johnny Carson) whose background in television production enabled him to work closely with celebrities such as Carson, Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen, and their many famous guests on the Tonight Show from 1964-67. Rick’s stint at Saturday Night Live ran from 1976-1980 and enabled him to call Dan Aykroyd , John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin, and Chevy Chase, among others co-workers and friends while working with that show’s guests who were as diverse as Jack Nicholson and Mick Jaggar and Nelson Rockefeller and Hubert Humphrey.
Along the way Rick, who moved to Amelia Island in 2011, has managed to win a number of prestigious honors including being named an Emmy Award-winning producer and entertainment executive producer for an American Playhouse on PBS and produced many network television specials and theatrical events. He is a recipient of a Cine Golden Eagle Award, a Telly Award, and a Cable Ace Award. He was also Senior Vice President of Finance & Production for Radio City Music Hall Entertainment & Radio City Music Hall Productions, was CFO for Radio City Music Hall, and has been a consultant to Walt Disney World Entertainment.
As head of the corporate public relations functions for Fortune 50 companies IBM, ITT, and Coastal Corporation that in my day were mostly staffed with former creative and quirky newspaper and wire service reporters, I can appreciate Rick’s task when in 1976, NBC Executive Dick Ebersol made him Head of Late Night Programming, and NBC’s “Executive In Charge” of Saturday Night Live (SNL).
“My job was to approve and oversee the budget, iron out cast and staff negotiation issues and contract problems, soothe star egos, and to ‘put out the fires’ as they say,” recalls Rick. “I also served as the bridge between the Network and the creative folks. My biggest challenge in forming this bridge was to make the Network executives, i.e., the “suits”, understand the creative types on the 17th floor. The “suits” couldn’t understand why the writers and cast had pinball machines, Ping Pong tables, TV’s, boom boxes, etc. in their offices. I had to explain that when writers and cast members are up until 4 am or 5 am, or all night writing scripts for a show that’s just six days away, they need these games and diversions for exercise and for clearing minds. SNL (and the Tonight Show) were the only money makers at NBC at the time and I told them ‘If it weren’t for these guys, you wouldn’t have a job.’ On the other hand, the creative folks couldn’t understand why we needed departments like Standards & Practices, Legal, Station Relations, Affiliate Relations, etc . I had to explain that these people provided the platform for them to be able to do what they did, and if it weren’t for them, they would be relegated to performing on the corner of 50th Street and Sixth Avenue.”
I can empathize as my battles with corporate legal and business practice “suits” over what they perceived as the bizarre habits of my very effective PR staffs were very similar, although we didn’t have the luxury of pinball machines.
A graduate of New York University, Rick spent most of his life in Manhattan, about four years in Los Angeles, and has met and made friends with enough famous people to write a book about his experiences, which is exactly what he is doing. When not volunteering at the island’s Council on Aging, Rick is editing his “Journeys Through Special Events, Television, and Film” book that highlights his fascinating career and amusing stories about his experiences with folks you and I have seen on TV, in the movies or on stage.
He’ll let me know when it’s ready for publication and then I’ll tell you.
Main Beach BBQ Cook-Off : The Good, The Bad & The Tasteless: Jay Robertson of Fernandina Beach’s Parks and Recreation Department does a great job coordinating events and the BBQ rib cook-off at Main Beach last weekend, Saturday, March 14, is just one example. The event was enjoyed by many despite competition for bodies from the fancy Concours d’ Elegance and the child-friendly St. Michaels annual fair at Central Park. The only thing that Jay and his crew could have done better was the selection of judges. Many of the competitors are veterans of BBQ cook offs around the country with a whole bunch of them boasting national trophies and a majority of the some 53 BBQ experts very, very serious about their craft. In many BBQ events judges are tested veterans of barbeque contests who have know what to look for when tasting. But I heard some grumbling after last Saturday’s event and even talked with one young man who told me he was plucked from the crowd and asked if he wanted to be a judge as he passed through the set-up area. If the city wants to continue to attract first rate competitors in the future then it needs to assure them that their efforts will be judged by people who are as serious about BBQ as they are. Secure a panel of judges in advance with backups, all who have some kind of BBQ tasting credentials. I’m sure there are lots of barbeque lovers out there willing to volunteer their expert taste buds.
Canadian Comedy Department: As a native Canadian I’ve always been proud of the fact that my country of birth has produced some very funny comedians over the years including Jim Carrey, Dan Aykroyd, Leslie Nielsen, Martin Short and Rich Little to name a few. But one of the funniest may be an unknown working for Canada’s International Tourism website, who anonymously answers actual questions submitted by prospective visitors. Some of my favorites follow:
Q: Will I be able to see polar bears in the street? (USA)
A: Depends on how much you’ve been drinking.
Q: I want to walk from Vancouver to Toronto. Can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A: Sure, it’s only 4,000 miles. Take lots of water.
Q: Are there any ATM’s (cash machines in Canada? Can you send me a list of them in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Halifax? (England)
A: No, but you better bring a few extra furs for trading purposes.
Q: I have never seen it warm on Canadian TV, so how do the plants grow? (England)
A: We import all plants fully grown and just sit around and watch them die.
Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Canada? (USA)
A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe Ca-na-da is that big country to your North…oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Calgary. Come naked.
Q: Which direction is North in Canada? ( USA )
A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.
Q: Can I bring cutlery into Canada ? (England)
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.
Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (USA)
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is…oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Vancouver and in Calgary, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.
Q: Do you have perfume in Canada ? (Germany)
A: No, WE don’t stink.
Q: Can you tell me the regions in British Columbia where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.
Q: Are there supermarkets in Toronto and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gathers. Milk is illegal.
Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Canada , but I forget its name. It’s a kind of big horse with horns. (USA)
A: It’s called a Moose. They are tall and very violent, eating the brains of anyone close to them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.
Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)
A: Yes, but you will have to learn it first.
Things I Wish I’d Said: “I recently came upon the a word ‘ultracrepidarian,’ that describes a person who spouts opinions far beyond his area of expertise, assuming he or she has an area of expertise. What makes the word unique is that it allows you to describe Barack Obama without resorting to obscenities.” – Burt Prelutsky
Attention Race Card Players: Did you know that even though Guam is a territory of the United States and subject the US Constitution’s guarantees of non-discrimination, that Guam law permits only those who meet the definition of “Native Inhabitants of Guam” to vote in the plebiscite? Me either until I read about a suit brought by a US citizen and resident of Guam which complains that 36 percent of these native population folks are called “Chamorro” and voting excludes most Caucasian, black, Korean, Chinese and Filipino citizens of the United States on Guam. Where are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson when Guam needs them?
More Things I Wish I’d Said: “The welfare state is the oldest con game in the world. First you take people’s money away quietly and then you give some of it back to them flamboyantly.” – Thomas Sowell via Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
You Could See This Coming Department: Once the more than 2,000-year-old “marriage as a union between a man and a woman only” was redefined, it was inevitable that some unusual and odd combinations would attempt to tie their respective knots and three gay guys from Thailand did just that. In what is thought to be the world’s first three-way same-sex marriage, newlywed guys Joke, 29, Bell, 21 and Art, 26, were married under Buddhist Law since same-sex marriages aren’t recognized under Thai law. The trio took the plunge on Valentine’s Day after exchanging their vows in a “fairy-tale” (that’s what they called it folks) ceremony at their home in Uthai Thani Province, Thailand. What’s next? A guy, a toaster-oven, and a budgie?
Thinking Out Loud: Hillary Clinton’s eight years as First Lady and lack of accomplishments as a US Senator and Secretary of State make her as qualified to be President as the White House gardener. *** It appears to me that a Democrat’s definition of “workers” are people who have no jobs, don’t want jobs, and demand that the government take care of them. Maybe that’s why there are no Democrats on Mount Rushmore. *** Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and potential Republican candidate for President is coming under attack by Democrats because he is a semester short of a BS degree, but he has been elected governor three times in four years, a job that is most like the presidency whereas Barack Obama came from the US Senate and a state legislature, jobs that resemble service on a high school student council. *** There are only two things on my bucket list so far: ice and beer.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: GG’s Bistro, formerly Gourmet Gourmet, has closed its doors for good effective this past Monday. Despite his best efforts with menu changes, renovations, a name change and entertainment, Bill Mertens couldn’t attract a big enough crowd to keep the fun and cozy place going. It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the empty space on the south end’s First Coast Highway and Bill and his pretty wife Yamilka, who I hope stay on the island in some other capacity. Steve and Donna Raszkin of Wines by Steve have some interesting options planned including tonight’s (Friday, March 20) 4:30-6:30 pm wine tasting followed by a Sushi dinner, or you can do one or the other or both, but call ’em at 904/557-1506 to see if there is still room at the sushi table if that’s your choice. The Raszkin wine duo is also considering a wine cruise to France with special meals at various wineries sometime in the future. They’d like to gauge interest so let them know what you think by calling or stopping by the shop at 4924 First Coast Highway. According to Gerri Clare in the online Fernandina Observer the restaurant opening at the corner of Sadler and South 8th Street where Applebee’s used to be will become a Beach Diner which is run by the Adeeb family and has locations in San Marco, Mandarin, Atlantic Beach and Ponte Vedra, and recently opened Willie Jewell’s Old School Bar-B-Q at the corner of Route 17 and A1A SR 200 in Yulee. Ms. Clare says they hope to open in late April , Monday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for breakfast and lunch and when they are up and running, they will try some dinners on Fridays and Saturdays with beer and wine, possible expanding to a full bar. Darn, I was hoping for a Hooters!