Down & Out in the Fontainebleau…Nixon Sells Out the Party…Goldwater on the Comeback Trail…Agnew in ’76
“The summer is over, the harvest is in, and we are not saved.”
—Isaiah, circa 8:21
MIAMI BEACH, August 28, 1972—
Earlier tonight I drove down the beach to a place called Dixie’s Doll House, for two six-packs of Ballantine ale. The place was full of old winos, middle-aged hookers and aging young hustlers who looked like either junkies or Merchant Marine rejects; bearded geeks in grey T-shirts staggering back and forth along the bar, six nasty-looking pimps around a blue-lit pool table in the rear, and right next to me at the bar a ruined platinum-blonde Cuban dazzler snarling drunkenly at her nervous escort for the night: “Don’t gimmie that horseshit, baby! I don’t want a goddamn ONE DOLLAR dinner! I want a TEN DOLLAR dinner!”
Life gets heavy here on the Beach from time to time. So I paid $2.70 each for my six-packs and then wheeled my big red Chevy Impala convertible back home to the Fontainebleau, about 40 blocks north through the balmy southern night to the edge of the fashionable section.
“Bobo,” the master pimp and carmeister who runs what they call “the front door” here in these showplace beachfront hotels, eyed me curiously as I got out of the car and started dragging wet brown bags full of beer bottles out of the back seat. “You gonna need the car again tonight?” he asked.
“Probably,” I said. “But not for a while. I’ll be up in the room until about midnight.” I looked at my watch. “The Rams-Kansas City game is on in three minutes. After that, I’ll work for a while and then go out for something to eat.”
He jerked the car door open, sliding fast behind the wheel to take it down to the underground garage. With his hand on the shift lever he looked up at me: “You in the mood for some company?”
“No,” I said. “I’m way behind. I’ll be up all night with that goddamn typewriter. I shouldn’t even take time to watch the game on TV.” He rolled his eyes and looked up at what should have been the sky, but which was actually the gold-glazed portico roof above the entrance driveway: “Jesus, what kind of work do you do? Hump typewriters for a living? I thought the convention was over!”
I paused, tucking the wet beer bags under the arm of my crusty brown leather jacket. Inside the lobby door about 20 feet away I could see what looked like a huge movie-set cocktail party for rich Venezuelans and high-style middle-aged Jews: My fellow guests in the Fontainebleau. I was not dressed properly to mingle with them, so my plan was to stride swiftly through the lobby to the elevators and then up to my hideout in the room.
The Nixon convention had finished on Thursday morning, and by Saturday the hundreds of national press/media people who had swarmed into this pompous monstrosity of a hotel for Convention Week were long gone. A few dozen stragglers had stayed on through Friday, but by Saturday afternoon the style and tone of the place had changed drastically, and on Sunday I felt like the only nigger in the Governor’s Box on Kentucky Derby Day.
Bobo had not paid much attention to me during the convention, but now he seemed interested. “I know you’re a reporter,” he said. “They put ‘press’ on your house-car tag. But all the rest of those guys took off yesterday. What keeps you here?”
I smiled. “Christ, am I the only one left?”
He thought for a moment, then shook his head. “No, there’s you and two others. One guy has that white Lincoln Continental—”
“He’s not press,” I said quickly. “Probably one of the GOP advance men, getting things settled with the hotel.” He nodded. “Yeah, he acted like he was part of the show. Not like a reporter.” He laughed. “You guys are pretty easy to spot, you know that?”
“Balls,” I said. “Not me. Everybody else says I look like a cop.”
He looked at me for a moment, tapping his foot on the accelerator to keep the engine up. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess so. You could pass for a cop as long as you kept your mouth shut.”
“I’m usually pretty discreet,” I said.
He smiled. “Sure you are. We’ve all noticed it. That other press guy that’s still here asked me who you were the other day, when you were bad-mouthing Nixon … “
“What’s his name?” I was curious to know who else in the press corps would endure this kind of shame and isolation.
“I can’t remember now,” Bobo said. “He’s a tall guy with grey hair and glasses. He drives a blue Ford station wagon.”
I wondered who it could be. It would have to be somebody with a very compelling reason to stay on, in this place. Everybody with good sense or a reasonable excuse had left as soon as possible. Some of the TV network technicians had stayed until Saturday, dismantling the maze of wires and cables they’d set up in the Fontainebleau before the convention started. They were easy to spot because they wore things like Levis and sweatshirts—but by Sunday I was the only guest in the hotel not dressed like a PR man for Hialeah Racetrack on a Saturday night in mid-season.
It is not enough, in the Fontainebleau, to look like some kind of a weird and sinister cop; to fit in here, you want to look like somebody who just paid a scalper $200 for a front row seat at the Johnny Carson show.
Bobo put the car in gear, but kept his foot on the brake pedal and asked: “What are you writing? What did all that bullshit come down to?”