When my editor asked me to cover a meeting of the Florida Skyliners, a congregation of Miami's tallest residents, at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, she told me it was because I live in Palm Beach County, where the gardens are located.
But I suspect the real reason I was sent into the fray has to do with my 5-foot, 11-inch apex. After all, at my height, I'm eligible for membership in this regional "tall club" myself.
But even among the miniature bonsai tree garden and the sky-high stalks of bamboo, I remained skeptical: Is tall solidarity really so important it needs its own club?
After debating whether or not to wear heels -- which usually isn't a debate at all because at my height, I never wear them -- I opted to proudly present myself au naturel and headed to the Morikami. We were set to meet for lunch at the museum's Cornell Cafe, after which we would leisurely jaunt the mile-long path through the Japanese Gardens.
I met my like-heighted comrades at a table on the patio. Disappointingly, everyone was sitting besides the late arrivals, so I didn't get a chance to measure up comparatively until after the lunch. In the meantime, I chatted with Bob Habenicht, club trustee.
"A trip to the Morikami is something we've all been meaning to do for years," he told me. "A great thing about the club is that it turns ideas into actual plans."
The club meets a couple times a month, Bob said, just to hang out, enjoy each others' company, and speak eye-level to eye-level with someone else for a change. Although only eight Skyliners made it to the Morikami event, the club boasts a 50-plus membership that pays yearly dues. Much to my disappointment, the club's tallest member to date, at 6'6", was not in attendance.
Bob and his wife, Jeri, started my visit with some history behind this Tall Club business. Apparently, it's a nationwide movement set in motion in 1938 by a statuesque cartoonist living in California. Kae Sumner had long been frustrated by the lack of leg room on public transportation and the meager length of mattresses.
When she was commissioned to help draw the Seven Dwarfs for the Disney classic Snow White (not a joke), she decided the short had been in the limelight long enough. After a few successful news columns, she organized the first meeting of what became the California Tip Toppers Club. The movement caught on like extremely tall wildfire, quickly going global with the establishment of umbrella organization Tall Clubs International.
These days, TCI devotes itself to championing tall rights in the social sector, supporting education through scholarships for the vertically gifted, and planning an extensive social calendar to help its 2,000-plus members connect. Height requirements are 5'10" for gals and 6'2" for guys.
There's romance in the air up there
Mary Wick joined the Miami Tall Club, whose members go by the nickname Skyliners, after she saw a listing in the paper. Mostly, she was just interested in the planned activity -- a full moon bike ride through the Loxahatchee Everglades. After the bike ride, she kept coming back. The schedule was diverse and company was good, she told me.
But if you want to be ordained in the Tall Club, you have to be officially measured. Mary was almost denied membership when she failed to meet the height requirement by just a few hairs.
"They offered to measure me in the morning, or to measure me laying down, which helps your height," said Mary. Turns out that you are actually at your tallest in the morning, because your body settles and stretches out while you lie horizontally... or something like that. She tried again, this time laying down, and narrowly made the cut.
Now, Mary has gotten more out of being a Skyliner than good ol' wholesome fun; she met her love interest through the Tall Club. In fact, romantic pairings are quite the trend among members. Of the eight people present, five were in relationships that were forged among their like-heighted peers.
"If it weren't for the club, we wouldn't be together right now," said Robert.
Jeri and Bob Habenicht met at a National Convention for TCI some 30 years ago. The convention was held in Miami, where Bob lived, while Jeri flew in from Cincinnati to attend. They hit it off, and started a long distance relationship. Jeri moved to Miami within six months, and shortly thereafter they were married. Maybe there is something to these tall clubs after all.
However, it isn't cookie-cutter romance for everyone. One anonymous member expressed concern that there weren't enough altitudinous males to go around.
"Everyone in this group is coupled off," she said "It's downright competitive."
She has been active in Tall Clubs in other counties, and said with frustration that a lot of the women seemed to have the same idea. She even went so far as to say that one woman in the West Palm Tall Club spread vicious rumors about her over a man. Let the claws come out.
I didn't have much advice regarding catty behavior, but I did offer a morsel of romantic wisdom. I patted her on the shoulder, divulged that my boyfriend is (gasp!) an inch shorter than me, and assured her that inter-height love can, indeed, be kindled.
Tall and small
Throughout the course of the afternoon, as we cruised past the rock gardens and bonsai, the Tall Club members and I bonded over the many advantages that come with being vertically-endowed:
You can always reach what you need on that top shelf.
When you gain weight, it's less noticeable because the fat spreads more evenly throughout your body.
Tall people are richer than short people.
That last one is a fact. Social scientists have proven that tall professionals earn a higher income than their minute peers, by an average of 3% higher wages per inch.
"Growing up tall can give young people a sense of confidence and authority, which they carry into their adult lives," offered Robert. So height = cash. Could this possibly shed light on why women flock to Tall Clubs in search of the perfect mate?
Now, you might be thinking that us lofty folks are just trying to exclude individuals that dwell a bit closer to the earth. But in fact, it's completely the opposite. The Skyliners actually used to get together with the South Florida Minigators, SoFla's faction of the Little People of America, Inc. Yes, short clubs exist, and the height maximum is 4'10". And yes, South Florida's faction is called the Minigators. Just let that sink in for a little bit. Minigators.
The Skyliners and the Minigators once scheduled visits to mini golf courses together, in what surely made for amusing eye candy to other golfers.
Jeri said that the two groups got along because, although resting on polar ends of the same plane, they shared the common factor of unique stature. "There was a camaraderie there," Jerie said. "We always had a great time together."
The Skyliners and the Minigators don't plan events together anymore; Bob said that the contact just gradually died out. Maybe they just didn't see eye to eye. (Har har.)
"Actually, we quit scheduling the mini golf because they would always beat us," he joked.
I suggested that perhaps a rematch challenge should be arranged, this time in a volleyball court.
To learn more about Skyliners of Miami events and membership, visit their Web site.
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