Performer: Jethro Tull
Songwriter: Ian Anderson
Original Release: Single
Definitive Version: None
The first time I was on a commercial airplane was in February 1973 when my family—minus Scott who was barely more than 1—went to Florida. My grandparents had just bought a condominium in New Smyrna Beach at a place called the Golden Arms, which was as good an excuse as any for a vacation.
We flew Delta to Atlanta, like everyone still does, I suppose, and then took the late, great Eastern Airlines to Daytona Beach. I was big into airplanes at the time, so it was a blast to be on a huge airliner—my fear of flying wouldn’t manifest itself for years—and back in those days, you used to get dressed up to be on a plane, so I’m pretty sure I had my suit on. I remember feeling very warm when we came down the steps on the tarmac at Daytona Beach. It was like summer. When you’re 8, it doesn’t get much better than that.
I don’t remember how we went from Daytona to New Smyrna, which was a bit of a drive. I want to say it was a taxi, but whatever, what I clearly remember is that this song was on the radio as we were driving and I could just make out the top of the Golden Arms over the palm trees. This song stood out because I didn’t know many songs that had a flute in them.
The Golden Arms was one of only two large condo buildings—both side by side—on that stretch of beach. My grandfather’s unit was the one next to the building manager’s unit on the first floor, and it had a little patio that opened down to the grass and was maybe 100 feet to the beach.
The first order of business when we got to the condominium was to rip off our fancy duds, get into bathing suits and get out to the beach and ocean, stat. It also was the first time I’d been to the ocean and a real beach. But that first taste of salt water … bleah! I’ll also never forget the first night and the sound of crashing waves outside our open windows, which lulled me and Jin to sleep in the back bedroom.
I fell in love with the place. Everything, it seemed, was new, and there were so many cool things to explore and do, I could go on for pages, but I’ll try to keep it as brief as I can. (I don’t know whether any future songs will relate to further Florida vacations.)
The Golden Arms was on a peninsula that opened to the north to the Indian River. The mouth was about a 2-mile hike from the Golden Arms, where a lighthouse guarded the point. One morning, I was going to hike to the point with my dad, but I overslept and he left without me. Frantically, I got up, got dressed and started out on my own. (This was about 7 in the morning.) I could see him off in the distance, and there was hardly anyone on the beach at that hour. If you hiked about a half-mile, you had walked past all of the buildings taller than two stories, and another half-mile after that, it was all open dunes. (It’s now a formal park, but I don’t recall that that was the case 40 years ago.)
It was cloudy and a bit windy but not cold—maybe windbreaker weather. I kept up as best I could, but, of course, I couldn’t match my Dad’s pace. Eventually, I figured, he’d have to turn around and then I’d meet up with him. I was never afraid until I reached the point and realized that my dad was nowhere around. I never saw him go by me, but there was no doubt I was the only one out there. I started to get upset but I don’t know that I got frantic. I figured I’d just go over to the lighthouse and have them call my parents or drive me home. (Kids were a lot more naïve in those days, of course.)
Suddenly I saw my dad coming over one of the dunes. He had hiked over to the lighthouse himself just to check it out. Boy was he surprised to see me! He couldn’t believe I had hiked all that way by myself. It was nothing, really, but the hike back home was a lot easier with my dad with me.
The other direction, south, about a quarter-mile, maybe even less was a strip shopping center that had a dime store and a grocery, but two other stores that were close to that beach community intersection (New Smyrna Beach, the city proper, was inland about 5 miles) were particularly memorable.
On one corner was a 7-Eleven, which we didn’t have in my neighborhood in those days. There, I was introduced to the joys of Slurpees that came in plastic cups that had pictures of football players on them. It soon became imperative to go to 7-Eleven almost every day to get a new player. (My sports-card collecting love had recently bloomed.)
But the best spot was catty corner to the 7-Eleven. It was an open-air arcade (it had two garage-style pull-down doors at nighttime) that had pinball, foosball, air hockey—and best of all—a putt-putt golf course on the roof of the building. My dad and I checked it out one day, and I’d never seen anything like it. I played pinball for the first time and was hooked. On subsequent trips to Florida, I hit the arcade as much as I could at night. Fortunately, there would be more trips.