Island Issues

NJ Storm, Romance, And Orphan Bartender Put Six-Degrees Theory To A Positive Test

NJ Storm, Romance, And Orphan Bartender Put Six-Degrees Theory To A Positive Test

Ed and Michele Johnston with Artie officiatingThe six degrees of separation theory that proclaims that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, was somewhat proven about five years ago on a blustery winter night at the Newark Airport by four people, three who are now full times residents of the Amelia Island area.

A severe winter storm that struck the Newark Airport dramatically altered the lives of this quartet of diverse personalities and resulted in all of them coming together at Amelia Island’s Chem Cell Club on Riverside Drive for a reunion and celebration in mid-August.

On February 24, 2010 Charleston, SC businessman Ed Johnston; Pennsylvania catering business owner and social worker Michele Fox; Continental Airlines Newark, NJ Gate Attendant Ruth Roman; and Sandy Bottoms Bartender Artie Steinig were all total strangers to each other…or so they thought.

On that blustery February evening Ed was booked on Continental Flight 1618 for a brief business trip to meet with a Tampa client. So was Michele, who was planning to visit her mother.

As the weather worsened their plane’s scheduled take off was pushed ahead further and further. Adding to the bleak outlook was the fact that the flight was over booked by 30 people and the gate attendant indicted that there was a good chance neither Ed or Michele would get a seat on that plane to Tampa.

Ed overheard Ms. Fox, a pretty, bubbly blonde, say that she had missed her morning flight to Tampa by ten minutes and had been at the airport all day waiting for another. He suggested they have a drink together while they waited. She initially declined but eventually gave in and the two ended up having dinner at an airport restaurant while waiting for ANY flight to Florida with no luck.

In a futile burst of generosity Ed offer Michele his confirmed seat so she could make the flight to see her mom but the gate attendant at that time said they couldn’t do that due to company policy so the duo headed to an airport bar and waited.

Returning to the gate they found Ms. Roman now in charge and Ed, still gallantly trying to give up his confirmed seat for Ms. Fox, lied and said: “I have a seat but my wife doesn’t and I don’t want to leave her here. Can you help?” Ms. Roman came through for the couple but in an unexpected and surprising way. She provided them a voucher for ONE hotel room and seats on the first morning flight to Orlando where they could rent a car and then drive to Tampa.

At that point Ed leveled with Ms. Roman, but she already suspected a hoax, and spun around and said: “You two just met didn’t you?” Nonetheless, the two performed a modern-day version of the Academy Award winning 1934 “It Happened One Night”  movie motel scene staring Clark Gable and, Claudette Colbert, who met on a bus and stayed in a single room, sleeping in separate beds.

They made it to Tampa the next day where Ed’s one-hour meeting turned into a five-day stay where romance bloomed. The couple (pictured above), who now live on Amelia Island, were married this past August 16 by Sandy Bottoms bartender and ordained minister Artie Steinig (above right), who was born in the Scranton, PA area St. Joseph Orphanage where Michele worked with the same folks  that helped Artie track down his birth mother and learn that his father was the late actor Nick Adams, who starred as Johnny Yuma  in the 1959-1961 TV series “The Rebel” and later acted in several film and other TV roles but died at 36 in 1968.

Ms. Roman, who the couple say was the catalyst for their romance and wedding, was flown down for the ceremony as an honored guest. And, as they say in the fairy tales, they are all living “happily ever after.”


There Is A Really Huge Elephant In Our Room: The LeRoy Collins Institute, a think tank located at Florida State University, issued a report card on the fiscal soundness of more than 150 Florida municipal pension funds last week and Fernandina Beach flunked out getting a bottom-of-the-class “F” in grades for both general employees and police/firefighters pension plans. The city’s general employees plan stands at 57 percent funded with the unfunded portion at $9.6 million while the police/firefighters plan is 55 percent funded with an $11.8 million liability. City Manager Joe Gerrity was quoted in the Florida Times-Union saying “We’re moving forward with at least doing a study….” Really? Another study. How original. City hall’s shelves are full of studies. Maybe he should just take a look at some of the previous ones or ask David Lott, the interim city manager before him. Lott explained a solution to me once that sounded logical and in my mind would appease all factions. But maybe that’s too obvious for this group. If we added up the cost of all the studies and plans that taxpayers have funded that sit on dusty city hall shelves, I’m betting we’d have enough money to fund a whole bunch of city programs the current commission is wringing its hands over. And why hasn’t this been a topic of discussion during the current campaign for city commission? Good grief!


Times-Union Editorial Clap Trap: Tonyaa Weathersbee, a Florida Times-Union columnist whose opinions appear every Friday, protested in her space last week that African-Americans are unfairly arrested for marijuana possession more often than white folks mainly, she says, because black communities are more heavily policed than white ones. Would she prefer that the Jacksonville police scale back their patrols of a predominately African-American area of the city so rife with killings, shootings, stabbings , assaults, etc. that they have dubbed their surveillance program “Operation Ceasefire?” When areas are patrolled more often and heavier than others the objective is to root out criminals and lower the crime rate, and no crime is overlooked, including possessing and dealing illegal drugs that include marijuana. This zero-tolerance policy worked in New York City under former mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg bringing that city’s crime levels to record lows. White populated low crime areas she referenced don’t get the same kind of scrutiny, otherwise police would be assigning officers of an already overextended police force into areas where they aren’t as necessary. This is the same woman who this past January wrote that a 600-person Christmas Eve “brawl” at the Hollywood River City 14 movie theater that took some 60 cops to control was a “cry for help” by youths who have “never learned the difference between activism and acting out” and that essentially this “acting out” (translation: near riot) could have been prevented “if they learn to confront the police or theatre owner over a policy they think is unfair and work to get it changed.” Apparently she thinks that having to pay for a movie ticket is an unfair policy that needs changing and that police patrols in certain high crime areas of the city should be scaled back so its residents can smoke and deal pot in peace. What Ms. Weathersbee and other likeminded folks need to do is to concentrate on a culture that is dominated by single-parent households, holds vile gansta rappers up as role models, and shuns education as something that “white folks do.”


“Are you still forgetting things?” “I don’t know, I can’t remember,” I said.” — Stephen King, “Duma Key:” The five candidates running for Fernandina Beach City Commission seats were provided a series of four questions by the online newspaper Fernandina Observer and all managed to meet the paper’s deadline but incumbent Commissioner Sarah Pelican, who is being challenged by local educator Robin Lentz, a lapse I find puzzling since each candidate had ample time to respond and the questions gave them further opportunities to explain their positions on key issues and weren’t exactly brain teasers. Ms. Pelican eventually provided her answers, which the Observer graciously printed despite her apparently “forgetting” the deadline despite being reminded by the paper.


The New Home Of The Whopper:  In a letter mailed this week to potential Fernandina Beach voters City Commission Candidate Charlie Corbett took credit for a number of projects that were initiated by the last commission that included his opponent Tim Poynter, but the most outrageous was his statement saying “I also worked on the Fireworks Fund to help guarantee the Annual Independence Day Fireworks Celebration (after the fireworks were removed from the city budget by my opponent.). We now have a corporate sponsor to help with these expenses.” WOW! Burger King may have to relinquish its tag line “Home of the Whopper” to Corbett as his claim is so outrageous it falls into the old propaganda category of “stating a lie so colossal that no one would believe that someone could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Here are the facts: Because former commissioner and current candidate Poynter was concerned that the city was not going to be able to fund a variety of beneficial local charitable causes he recommended the city use the $16,000 in fireworks funds for them, and that the business community fund the July 4 fireworks display. Poynter coughed up the first $1,000, held a fund raiser at his downtown Karibo restaurant to collect more money, and along with the Downtown Historical Businesses Association, helped spearhead a group that not only raised the money, but had enough left over to fund part of the next year’s display. The private fireworks fund raising continues successfully to this day. Poynter rightfully claimed that local charities could fiscally direct the use of funds far better than a government entity and that businesses that financially benefit from the July 4 extravaganza should fund it. It turns out he was 100 percent on target. During the election three years ago Corbett called Poynter “unpatriotic” for removing the fireworks funding item from the city’s budget and vowed to get it back in if elected, but now is taking credit for just the opposite. Huh? I also went to a number of fund raisers for the fireworks and never saw Corbett at any of them. Stay tuned for more of Corbett’s whoppers!


This & That: According to Lou Lambert an Austin, Texas BBQ expert and owner of that city’s Lambert’s Downtown Barbeque, the most important thing in grilling is the grate, which should be cast iron and nothing else, because he says a heavier grate holds the heat better and makes better grill marks, which he claims is where all the flavor comes from. *** Flipping thought the latest edition of The American Legion magazine I happened upon the following statistics: Five percent of all immigrants to the US today come from China while in 1910 some 11 percent came from the future USSR and 18 percent from Germany and these days Mexico is responsible for 29 percent of all immigrants, but it didn’t say if those were legal or illegal or a combination. *** I’ve heard from very reliable sources that we have another celebrity moving to the island as Clayton Kershaw, the 26-year-old, Texas-born, Cy Young Award winning L.A. Dodgers pitcher is said to have bought a house hereabouts. I like the fact that the island is attracting clean-cut athletes, authors, and editors, and not small-minded, full-of-themselves actors and actresses or dog-killing, child-abusing, wife-beating NFL footballers as residents or am I making an outlandish generalization here? *** During last week’s city commission candidate forum at Amelia Park’s Holy Trinity Church, Commissioner Charlie Corbett told the crowd that he was a “physical conservative.” I’m not sure what that means other than he leans toward the Arnold Schwarzenegger wing of GOP politics. *** Following the Amelia Park session Lynn Williams, who was given $8,000 that I’ve yet to see accounted for, approached me saying my reporting of those activities in this blog about that controversial “gift” of eight grand for his dredging concept was “bonkers.” I told Mr. Williams to explain why he feels that way but so far have heard nothing. Address your concerns in the commentary section provided at the end of this column or send me an email at Mr. Williams. *** City commission candidate and local educator Robin Lentz completed marathons in New Hampshire and Maine this past weekend making those states the 32nd and 33rd this speedy young lady has run races in to date, leaving her just 17 short of a nation-wide grand slam. *** Speaking in Joplin, Missouri last week Vice President Joe Biden told his audience: “161,000 brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents were lost,” referring to the 2011 tornado that hit that town and citing a number that, had it been accurate, would still be in the headlines today. The actual death toll in that tragedy was 161. After listening to Biden the past six years I can understand why members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, are so upset about the Secret Service’s lapses in their presidential protection efforts. *** Politicians from the national to local level love using the phrase “kick the can down the road” as they blame their incumbent opponents for failing to act on various key issues so how about at the next political rally we have a contest where the candidates actually kick cans down the road with the loser declared the winner.


Drinking, Dining & Dancing: I understand that a new barbeque restaurant — Willie Jewell’s Old School Bar-B-Q — will be opening in Yulee at the intersection of Highway 17 and A1A and from what I saw of the menu it features barbeque brisket in addition to the old southern standbys of pork and chicken. Folks, the best barbeque I’ve ever eaten anywhere is at the Luling City Market, a Houston, TX joint run by friend Ron Craig whose crew makes brisket and sausage links, with the traditional Texas sides of pinto beans, slaw and potato salad but also tosses in whole jalapeno peppers and huge slices of raw onions, served up on butcher paper. When visiting our Houston-based son I always make it a point to load up on LCM’s sauce, that is as tasty today as it was when I was first introduced to it at Ron’s BBQ and tavern in the early 1990s by a group of oil traders from the Coastal Corporation where I ran PR and advertising for several years. The trading screen Ron installed on the bar for the Coastal trading crew is long gone as is Coastal, but we can still order BBQ to be shipped from LCM. Check it out at or call ’em in Houston at 713/871-1903 and find out how real barbeque is supposed to taste. Last Friday during the packed house Crescendo Big Band session at Sandy Bottoms I tried Chef Nick Hartley’s Cubano sandwich with a side of rice and black beans and declare it well worth the meager $10 price. Nick makes his own specialty breads and will soon feature another one on a Saturday Italian sub special. He  tells me that diners can also look forward to a variety of $10 homemade soup and sandwich specials as the weather cools and that  he’s going to try his hand at making a muffuletta, the sandwich made famous by New Orleans’ downtown Central Grocery. I’ll be there for that. Call ’em at 904/310-6904. Gourmet Gourmet announced that it has hired Ace French, former owner of Atlantic Beach’s Two Dudes restaurant as its new executive chef. I’m told that  French, who comes with a long list of impressive credentials, recently filmed a pilot for the Food Network, and if it is picked up, will be shot on location at Gourmet Gourmet. With a name like Ace French, shouldn’t he dealing baccarat in Monte Carlo, not making Crème Brule on Amelia Island? Call ’em at 904/ 261-8973.  


David Scott - 16. Oct, 2014 -

Darryl, I have no idea why they stopped. Simply subscribe again to the left of the column. If that doesn’t work please let me know and I’ll talk to the technical folks who handle the behind the scenes stuff that I am clueless about.

Darryl Aldridge - 16. Oct, 2014 -

Used to get your weekly updates,but they stopped coming. Put me back on your list.