By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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A few minutes later Planas calls the general meeting to order and about 50 members recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Then Graciela Botero, a neighbor from the nearby Miami Yacht Club, walks up to a microphone and thanks MOC members for helping out at a recent fundraiser.
Sanchez sidles to the mike and invites everyone to compete in the Mahi-Mahi Classic, an annual fishing contest founded by policemen and hosted by the MOC. "It's a great fishing tournament because it allows us to open up our hearts and provide for those who are less fortunate," he intones. The proceeds go to five local charities, most of them Cuban American. After his spiel Sanchez heads for the Happy Room.
Planas quickly moves through the agenda. Two new members are nominated and unanimously approved. Clemente Gonzalez presents Planas with the cash he raised. A man in a black T-shirt emblazoned with wings, a motorcycle, and the words "Ride Free" tells the group that a 45-year-old man he works with has tumors on his larynx from smoking cigarettes. "Just a little thing I thought I would share with you," he says earnestly and walks back to his seat.
The meeting is adjourned. Some head for the domino tables, a few meander into the billiards parlor, and others move to the Happy Room, where Sanchez is enjoying his dinner. "Hey, want a beer?" he asks New Times. He and Eileen Taulbee wonder what story the paper is working on. "Don't write anything bad," Taulbee pleads, with a big grin. "This is a good place."
Sanchez and Taulbee return two weeks later for the June 5 fishing tournament. One of the other competitors: Mayor Carollo.
It is about 2:00 on a sunny Sunday afternoon in June. A man and woman are fastening a small fishing boat to a trailer at one edge of the MOC grounds, which are packed with vessels of all sizes and styles. Out on the club's main dock two men have just returned from a half-day of fishing and are hosing down the deck of a large white sport-fishing craft. A few slips away, Edgar Lendian stands in the stern of Blue Eyes, his 31-foot Tiara fly-bridge fishing cruiser. He and his wife Diana, who heads the promotions office at Bacardi-Martini USA, are about to cruise over to Key Biscayne. "We'll go for a dip, have a few drinks," Lendian says, sporting a black Bacardi cap. One of his two friends onboard Blue Eyes is Mariano Senti, a 43-year-old construction worker who was granted political asylum in the United States a month ago after spending twelve years in a Cuban prison. "We just like to get out on the water, get away from town," Lendian says. Since joining the club in the early Sixties he's owned ten boats.
"This is a workingman's club," insists Andy Antelo, who joined in 1969. Today the bilingual 45-year-old sales manager owns a 25-foot open fishing vessel. But he rarely uses it because his job frequently requires him to leave Miami. "There are people here who make five dollars an hour and people who make a lot more than that. But when we walk through that door we're all equal."
Indeed a working stiff can afford the rates, though they have risen substantially in recent years. The MOC's 350 regular members each pay $450 per year to belong. About 100 people have limited memberships, which cost $100 and allow them to use the bar and dining facilities. Monthly storage fees and an assessment for improvements add a few hundred dollars per year.
Although some Anglo members have left over the past few years, Jack McGovern thinks the MOC is in good hands. "The advent of the Hispanics has been a boon," he concludes. "We used to have to twist people's arms to get them to run for office." Then he adds a jocular caveat: "But basically I would say that if you don't know how to play dominoes you're not going to meet very many people."
Besides flooding caused by the Parrot Jungle construction, commodore Planas must deal with restoring the membership rolls. "I'm trying to bring new blood here," he says. "We've got the new millennium coming."
Planas recently has managed to lure a few new members, including Frank Falestra, a 42-year-old Miami native of Italian-American extraction. Falestra, who runs a small recording studio and performs rock music under the alias Rat Bastard, stores his twenty-foot vessel at MOC. "They're really nice," he says. "They gave me a plaque." He joined the club mainly because it is an affordable place to keep his boat, not for the domino sessions or talent-show boleros.