Missy, age 22, hangs out with the gang in front of Gulf Stream Texaco. Photos by Tim Stepien
By Ron Hayes
Palm Beach has the Everglades Club. Ocean Ridge has its Ocean Club. Gulf Stream has a classy Little Club, Delray Beach the lovely St. Andrew’s Club.
And then there’s the unincorporated county pocket, which can boast a gentlemen’s club so private you might mistake it for a gas station.
Drive by Gulfstream Texaco about four o’clock any afternoon and you’ll see them starting to gather, gentlemen of a certain age, seated in a row of lawn chairs against the office window, maybe sipping a beer or three, smoking, chatting, joking, cursing — lying about all those fish that got away. Look closely and you’ll note a small sign behind them in the window. Do Not Feed The Seated.
On one of the chairs, an embroidered throw pillow warns, At The Mention Of My Name, Fish Tremble.
There is no No Loitering sign.
“This is the only place in town where the guys can come and sit down and relax,” says Vinny Dinaneth.
Dinaneth, 56, is the president of this exclusive group, a former cop from Trinidad who also owns and runs the station, when not busy presiding.
All together, the club’s membership is limited to about 20 (mostly) men — residents of the county pocket, former residents of the county pocket, ex-cops turned fishermen, retirees. And one dog.
When Sam Malloy got out of the Army, he spent a year in the long-gone Pelican Apartments across the road, working for the station’s former owners. That was in 1981. He still drives over from Boynton Beach.
“It’s Mayberry here,” he says. “We’re just hanging out watching the day go by, but it sure beats sitting home watching the news.”
Bill Kendi, 37, used to live in the pocket. Now he, too, travels from the mainland to attend the meetings.
“I come for the wealth of wisdom that Vinny has to offer,” he explains.
The dress code is casual, the behavior code strict.
“The main rule is, no drugs,” says Vinny. “If you’re a druggie, you don’t hang out here.”
Also, no idiots.
“We had one guy that was an idiot, so he got a 99-year ban.”
Actually, the club has one genuine claim to exclusivity. Gulf Stream Texaco is the only gas station on A1A between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. A Marathon station that begat a Gulf station that begat the Texaco, it opened in 1948. The pumps do not accept credit cards, but drive over the bellringer hose and Vinny will rouse himself to provide full service while the others watch approvingly.
There are no dues, but members must be able to take a joke. Endless jokes. Taunts and teases.
“Why you smoking?” Bob Osceola calls to a familiar customer. “I thought you quit.”
“I did,” the customer grins, inhaling deeply.
Osceola, 68, is a former parole officer who claims to be a great-, great-, great-grandson of Chief Osceola, the famed Seminole warrior.
“I come here for the fishing lessons,” he says. “The only problem is, the information’s all wrong.”
At the Texaco, Osceola is best known as the human partner of Missy, a black Lab retriever and the club’s “official greeter.”
“She’s 22,” he says proudly. “That’s 150 in dog years. I had her mother, Martha, for 22 years.”
These days, Missy presides beside a bowl of water. Her greetings consist of the occasional wag and a friendly disposition. Offered free food, she may deign to rise and lick a hand. At this private club, she is granted the respect owed its oldest member.
“You hungry, Missy?” asks Gehrig Dergo. He crosses to his apartment in the Blue Ocean Lodge and returns shortly bearing a hotdog sandwich slathered with Hellman’s mayonnaise. “There you go, girl.”
Dergo, 53, retired Dec. 1 as a deputy with the Grundy County, Ill., Sheriff’s Department.
On his first venture into ocean fishing, he arrived on the dock with a bass rod. Grundy County has no ocean, but Dergo will not be allowed to forget his mistake. He can take a joke.
Hanging out one afternoon, he spots an SUV pulling out of Cordova Avenue.
“Failure to signal,” he announces. “Failure to stop at a stop sign. No seatbelt and he’s hanging on a cell phone.”
Let the teasing begin.
“Hey,” Dergo shouts, “I’m only retired nine months!”
Finally, Gulf Stream royalty arrives. Vern Oldham, 57, has been the chef at that other private paradise, The Little Club, for 30 years. He cooks there, but he socializes here, and when Vinny has a good day fishing, Oldham smokes the catch, no charge.
“I had a couple old Corvettes and had Vinny work on them for me. He knows his trade. I don’t hang out here,” he says. “I live here.”
They don’t really live here, of course. The station closes at seven o’clock. But they come alive here. The language may be rough, but the mood is mellow.
“It’s a pretty eclectic group,” says Dergo. “We’ve got a plumber, an Indian, an ex-cop from Trinidad, and a 150-year-old dog.”
And no idiots. Say something even mildly idiotic and they pounce. A burst of laughter, followed by a blizzard of profanity.
Seated by Missy, Bob Osceola takes in the latest outburst with amused detachment, then passes judgment.
“The love around here,” he says, “is just amazing.”
In Coasting Along, our writers stop to reflect on life along the shore.