Notes on personal history

Whether events transpired 1,000 years ago or just 22, history is revealing. Overwhelming at times, certainly, but also generally interesting. While sitting at a bar in Tallahassee recently, I found myself reminded of some personal history. Granted, it took a minute or two (and perhaps a sip of beer) to appreciate the moment.

I had traveled to Tallahassee on the business of conducting a transaction with the Bureau of Archeological Research. It was a two-day trip — leave Islamorada in the morning and return the following day. After a long day on the road, I checked into a hotel. Tired of driving I walked across the hotel parking lot to the closest establishment serving both food and cold beer. Pulling the door open, I stepped inside and walked up to the bar of a T.G.I Friday’s.

Because I have a history with Friday’s, the experience proved bittersweet. Twenty-two years ago I was paying for my Bachelor’s degree at California State University Long Beach by tending bar at a Friday’s in Costa Mesa. 

What initially struck me was that the staff no longer wore those hideous red and white striped shirts my friends and I were forced to wear some 22 years ago. I ordered a Corona. “No lime, please,” I told the bartender. “Oh, and can I start with the bacon wrapped stuffed jalapenos?”

Rather than tend to customers, two young male bartenders flipped bottles back and forth to one another. The young lady who took my order stood at the computer screen and punched in my order; she ducked when a bottle nearly grazed the back of her head. 

It was at this point that circumstances got interesting, at least for me. Strategically placed above the bartenders’ heads were a series of television screens. Each television was playing a different channel. On one screen there was a friendly match between the U.S. women’s soccer team and Columbia while on another the Cleveland Cavaliers were losing to the Indian Pacers. A third television was showing an episode of the NBC supernatural thriller Grimm. What was particularly interesting about this screen was that my friend Sal suddenly appeared as a guest star on the show. We used to work at Friday’s together and once took an eventful houseboat vacation with several other friends. Though the lake was calm, the trip had not offered smooth sailing —though that is an entirely different story.

Sufficed it to say, I have worked with some really cool people in my 25 years serving in the hospitality industry. Sal was just one of them. Some of my longtime favorites are people I once worked with at T.G.I. Friday’s — hence the bittersweet component of my Tallahassee experience.

Heather and Erik, high school sweethearts, not only still love each other but are still throwing kick-ass Halloween parties (these days their two kids contribute to the festivities). Wolf, who once roadied for Motley Crue, is now dealing with arthritis in both his knuckles and knees. For the record, he swears by acupuncture in terms of pain relief. 

As for me, what I always suspected to be true (and the notion I basically bet everything on) was that hard work paid off. I was right. Not only am I working on my fifth book, one on Indian Key, and writing what I think is a pretty cool column for The Reporter, my efforts led to my landing the gig as curator at the Keys History & Discovery Center. 

In fact, it was on behalf of the museum that I was sitting at a Friday’s in Tallahassee reminiscing about old friends. 

In the morning I would be meeting the senior archaeologist at the Bureau of Archeological Research at 2100 W. Tennessee Street. The mission was to retrieve artifacts for our much anticipated Indian Key Exhibit, the highlight of which will be a model of the island as it likely would have appeared prior to the Seminole attack of August 7, 1840. 

Gratefully, the exhibit has been funded by a generous donation from Ken and Dee Meeks. Thank you Ken and Dee for being such fantastic supporters of our local history! It is one thing to go out to the island and try to picture how it might have looked based on the ruins visible on the island today. It will be another thing altogether to be able to see the model the Meeks’ have sponsored. It is an exciting time and my participation in the development of the model has been both a professional obligation and a personal pleasure.

In the meantime, back in Tallahassee I let myself drift back a couple of decades in time as I sipped on first one Corona and then another. The bacon wrapped stuffed jalapenos arrived and I used a knife and fork to take a bite. What was not lost on me was that on another television on the far side of the bar was an episode from one of Guy Fieri’s shows where he is standing in the kitchen of some restaurant tasting food that looks a whole lot more appetizing then what I was eating. 

Guy’s wife, Lori, is another friend from my days at Friday’s. In any case, I ordered another beer and drifted back to those days. The truth is, I probably ordered another and then, regrettably, a cheese burger. Frankly, I remember the food tasting a whole lot better. 

Brad Bertelli is a published author of four books on Florida and Florida Keys history. As well as operating Historic Upper Keys Walking Tours, he is s the curator of the Keys History & Discovery Center, located at the Islander Resort. His column will appear every other week in The Reporter. Reach Brad with comments and questions at