Cuban Boatlift Part 1

Cuban Boatlift - Key WestRoad Warriorette Jan and Son Matt nagged at me this morning to dig out some of my Cuban Boatlift photos to go along with the big news that President Obama was going to thaw the Cold War that had been going on since about 1959 or thereabouts.

I protested that I hadn’t even THOUGHT about dipping into my Florida years, but they were persuasive. After about nine boxes, I hit one containing outtakes from the month (minus one day) I spent in Key West watching a flood of people who would change the face of Florida and parts of the United States.

Palm Beach Post May 6

The Post's Cuban Boatlift coverage 05-06-1980I’ll go into more detail and publish more photos after I’ve had a chance to see what I can find. To be honest, my stomach has been a bit iffy today, and I haven’t felt like spending time in front of the scanner.

We sent a team to Mariel Harbor

The Post's Cuban Boatlift coverage 05-06-1980We sent ¬†photographer George Millener and reporter Edgar Sanchez down to Key West to try to talk their way onto a boat going over to pick up relatives. The word was that it didn’t take long to make the 180-mile round trip. They made a quick call saying they were getting ready to depart and that they’d check in as soon as they got back.

We didn’t hear from that day, nor the next. I was director of photography and was working on a project that was going to take me all over the state, so I decided to use that leeway to check on our team since I needed to go to Key West at some point anyway.

As soon as I hit U.S. 1 south of Miami, I was in a convoy of trailered boats. Every boat that wasn’t on a trailer heading south was parked on the roadside with a For Sale sign on it.

At the Key West city marina, boats were being launched two abreast as quickly as inexperienced mariners could back the trailers up. I saw at least one Cadillac go in up to the windows when the driver backed up too far.

I called the office and said this was a bigger story than the wires were reporting and that I needed a reporter to back me up.

Dick Donovan

The Post's Cuban Boatlift coverage 05-06-1980They couldn’t have sent a better guy: Dick Donovan was an old-time Chicago cop reporter who had a reputation for getting to the meat of a story. He would stand next to you, then, just before he asked the zinger question that was going to get the subject to react, he’d give you an elbow in the ribs to tell you to get ready.

I’ll go into more detail about the photo at the top left, but I’ll just say that this was the only time I saw Dick with tears in his eyes.

I had to walk away

It didn’t produce as many memorable photos as I would have liked, but it made some memories I’ll never forget.

I was photographing a little boy about the age of Son Matt playing with a little plastic truck just like Matt had at home. Suddenly I realized what a big change was happening in that boy’s life and wondered what the future held for him. I had to walk away for a few minutes.

A little Cuban nun who might have been stacked 4’8″ at best, put her hand on my shoulder and said in broken English, “I’ve been watching you. You don’t just take pictures. You have a big heart.”

That comment meant more to me than any award I ever won.