Original post, 2013
The taxi took off in the light night rain beginning to fall over Havana. I felt fortunate to have snagged a cab and negotiated an eight-peso ride back to my hotel on the Paseo. Even in the soft nighttime light I could glimpse the cab’s bright blue and white exterior and nifty silhouette. Sliding into the back seat my eyes quickly hooked onto the shiny, duo-toned leathery upholstery, feeling thankful for my second lucky break of the day — catching another ride in one of Havana’s timeless beauties, often used for taxis in Cuba’s capital. Earlier in the afternoon I rode in a hot pink, 1957 Chevy convertible, sharing the classic kid with two new friends as we headed east along the city’s famed Malecon, humming along to recorded Bee Gees sounds drifting from the car cd.
Now, scanning the inside cab, I saw the classy Bel Aire script logo emblazoned on the dashboard and tried to guess the precise year of the car, although that was never a skill I had mastered. At most I knew the car was from the late 1950’s, thanks to the likes of Laverne and Shirley.
The nighttime rain had cooled off the still lingering heat of the day; temperatures were high and humid in spite of it being November. The darkened sky seemed nearly transparent as an array of nocturnal wonders half-filled the atmosphere, while sparkling dots flickered above my roaming cab.
The taxi stopped in front of my hotel — too soon for me — and the driver quickly got out of the cab to open the side passenger door, as Havana taxi drivers always seem to do.
“Esto carro, que ano lo es?” I asked in my beginner level Spanish, just hoping the driver would understand me. He did. I knew enough of the language to understand “1956.” Ah, just what I thought, give or take a year. Gracias y buenas noches señor, y buenas noches la Habana.
Original posting, Oct 2014
When I turned 16 my parents threw a big party for me, called a “sweet sixteen” party at the time. The fact that my parents selected the party site without discussing it with me, or at minimum asking my opinion on a party location, was a curious thing. But that they booked my party in a nightclub called the African Room, a place they had never visited and knew very little about was even stranger. I just accepted that my party would be at a nightclub that at the time seemed a pretty inappropriate location for a girl’s sixteenth birthday party. And it was.
The African Room billed itself as “New York’s most Exciting Restaurant-Nite-Club,” and with its “Ubangi Supper” menu was not the typical teenager's food choice at the time. Considering that all my friends were below legal drinking age it was a wonder the restaurant owners would even consider hosting such a party, with no chance for revenue from alcoholic drinks, but they did.
My parents and I arrived at the African Room a bit early, before my friends arrived. Inside the place was lit up, but the lights went low once the nightclub part of the evening went into full swing, and seeing became difficult then. My friends complained that they couldn’t see what they were eating, and the food was different enough to begin with. Although tasty, the piles of food on the plates were a combination of various meats, vegetables and spices, none of which were recognizable, so we referred back to our menus to recall what we had ordered. Adequate lighting would have been helpful, but it was a nightclub first, second and third — a teen party venue, not so much.
The place was business as usual that night, though a long table was set up for my party with a clear view of the stage; other patrons would come in and be seated at tables, as on a typical Saturday evening. Adults, mainly couples at the small nightclub tables who were sitting close together, surrounded us.
At one point in the evening during our dinner the club manager went onstage. To my surprise he announced it was my birthday, which was followed by shouts of “Happy Birthday,” and applause from the nightclubbers around us. Then with the wave of a welcoming arm, the manager introduced Otis Blackwell, who was seated in the audience, telling us Mr. Blackwell wrote and composed the song “Fever,” made famous by ’50s singer Peggy Lee.
Mr. Blackwell stood up, or tried to, as he obviously had had two or three too many and swayed to keep his balance. He then wobbled from his seat to the stage and stumbled on his way up the few steps. Taking the manager’s microphone, Mr. Blackwell looked straight at me sitting before him, and still swaying to keep his balance sang “Fever” to me and then said, “Happy Birthday.” I had recalled hearing the song before, with its seductive beat and sexy lyrics, but mainly felt mildly uncomfortable with all eyes on me as the drunk onstage serenaded me. Not exactly an age-appropriate song for this older guy to be singing to a sixteen-year-old girl, but it certainly made an impression, and my sixteenth birthday party is forever a rock solid memory.
Thanks for the everlasting memories Mr. Otis Blackwell; eternally R.I.P dear man.
Who is she, this person writing about the arts of her life, the passions, the learning? Notice how learning something is at the core of everything she writes — a different perspective perhaps from what other creative types write about, but it is real for this writer — this eagerness to learn and grow with new knowledge.