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Ike Selig's CFN 50's 

& Panama Tales

Part 1



Menu of Stories
USOJWB  Coffee
Meeting Sarita Tickets
Sarita Cooking by Radio Roads
Jewish Food styles Panama Foods
Red Beans, Rice & Plantains CFN Memories
Seviche & Mangos Panama Modernization
Instantanio Coffee CFN Barracks Inspection
Suspension Bridge Curios
CFN Wall Mural Perks, San Blas & Tourism
Payroll Panama Neighborhood Politics




UNITED SERVICE ORGANIZATION JEWISH WELFARE BOARD.    USOJWB  =  THE "J".    The "J" was where the SINGLE  Jewish GI went to meet the local girls.  Back around 1955 I had a brother in law, NAVY  stationed at whatever they called that Navy place to the left as you entered Ft Amador.  It was a WEATHER STATION  and he was a Navy Weatherman.  Well HE went to the jay and met my wife Sarita's next younger sister Rebecca, they subsequently married and moved back to the states.  Well after that, every time my Mother In Law heard of a single girl she would say:  "SEND HER TO THE "J"  years later it always cracked us up.  But another guy Bill Segal, also at CFN, a copy writer, arrived on the same boat as I did along with George Rossi, all of us going to CFNGeorge was an experienced Radio and TV person from Buffalo N.Y.  George passed away about two years ago... also met his wife Raquel, and they got married and lived in a suburb of NYC. He recently passed away.

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Meeting Sarita

Here is the long winded version of my meeting my wife.  Bill and I were told, the first day we walked into CFN to make sure we go to the "J"  which, of course we said   WHAT'S THE "J".  Well Sunday we went to the J, had bagels and lox and met some of the local girls.  They told us to bring a camera the following Sunday and they would take us sightseeing, which we did.  They drove us around showing us the high points and we wound up at the PRESIDENTIA   (panama white house),  Down on the point in Casco Viejo. The guards were standing around outside, guarding and one of them came up to the girls and said   "The president and his wife are away for the week-end, would you like to come in and look around?   Well the girls mouths dropped open in awe.  He took us on a complete tour of the place except the third floor which was their living quarters.  We sat behind the Presidents desk, he showed us the machine gun bullet holes in one of the pillars on the balcony where they attempted to assassinate President Ramon (1955).  There was a cute little thing that was not with them the week before and I could not take my eyes off her.  They never introduced us but Bill got Raquel's phone number to ask her out on a date and through Raquel I asked her what the girls name was and did she have her phone number.  She said her name was Sarita and she gave me  (A PHONE NUMBER)  I called and made a date, went to pick her up... wrong Sarita.  BUT being a gentleman we went out and had a nice time but on Monday I called Raquel and asked for the number again.  Now apparently I am not the sharpest tool in the shed as, she gave me the same number, which I called again and made ANOTHER DATE  to find out that it  WAS STILL  the wrong Sarita.  Finally I got the right number and we went out on a date.   She spoke English well so I asked her where she learned and she told me in school and I asked what school and she told me   ST FRANCIS.   OH!!!!!  I thought you were Jewish.  She said I AM Jewish so again I asked WHERE did you go to school?   and again she told me   ST FRANCIS.   Well back in the 1950's and probably the 60"s and 70"s in the United States the only children what went to Catholic Parochial School were Catholic, but not so in Panama,  these were the best schools around and that is where the Jewish parents sent their children for a good education.   This was in August 1957, we were married the following March.  Now Sarita passed away in 2013 but this coming March we would have been married 57 years.    THANKS TO THE "J"  The OTHER Sarita is still in Panama, she has a condo the floor above one of our nieces so we would see her every time we went to visit.  She never go married.  Don't know why, she is a very nice person.

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Sarita Cooking

Sarita and I got an apartment in Panama, but it took three weeks to get a phone BUT we did have a radio AND Sarita did not know how to cook,  she was the youngest of five sisters and simply was not allowed in the kitchen SO.  coming from a restaurant background, at around 4:00 when the "EASY LISTENING" went on, an hour before Panorama, she would turn on the radio and I would give her instruction on what to cook for supper.  For days afterward when we were either at the movies or in the commissary woman would come up to her and ask her how the chicken and rice came out or whatever else it was that I was coaching her about. Gary indicated that TV started when he got there.  We received the fist ever TV remote truck while I was there.

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Jewish Food Styles

OKAY!! Panama food, you are now entering a different arena.   My experiences were different due to the fact that Sarita was from a Jewish family, as am I, and the foods crossed over between Panamanian food and middle eastern food.   Her Mother was from Greece, her Father was born in Turkey but when he was about 14 years old they moved to Cairo.  My parents, although they were born here, my grandparents on my paternal side were from Poland and my Mother's side. Austria.  NOW   there are two areas of Judaism.  The SEPHARDIC  Jews are from the middle east  and the  ASHKENAZI Jews are from Europe.  This made Sarita and I a "MIXED MARRIAGE"  So the food that I was exposed to was a conglomeration. 

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Red Beans & Rice

So lets start with  RED BEANS AND RICE   a staple. You can buy, at almost any supermarket, Empanada dough already in circles ready to fill with whatever you want to use.  I cooked ground beef, drain all the fat, season with salt, pepper, cumin, onion and garlic.. There are two kinds of dough,  one that you bake and one that you fry.  I have only used the one that you fry.  They are usually in the freezer area with "ethnic" foods.  Real easy to make.  Likewise the PLATANOS  (plantain).  Buy them, unlike bananas, already black and slightly soft.  peel them, slice them on the diagonal maybe 3/4" thick and fry in about 1" of oil until brown, turn them over and do it again.  Drain on paper towels.  I don't put ANYTHING on them.  Sometimes they will be real sweet with a slight tangy flavor, if you're lucky.  And I have bought them and cooked them and they tasted like fried cardboard.  ALTHOUGH  anytime I have bought them from a LATIN market  they have been good.  

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Seviche & Mangos

How about SEVICHE.  Right, it IS raw fish but not really.  I have never really found a fish here in the states that works as well as the CORVINA  that they have in Panama.  And my son Joseph and I were talking about that the other day.  Here we have a country literally surrounded by water and the selection of seafood is, in my opinion, limited.  Interesting that you mention mangos.  I never realized that I was allergic to the pollen, not the tree or the fruit.  Sarita and I were on our honeymoon at Santa Clara Beach.  We rented a WOW I wouldn't call it a cottage, how about a SLUM.  The place was falling down.  I ran outside to sneeze.  The shower was a soup can with a bunch of holes punched in the bottom, tied to a pipe coming out of the wall.  Well, the second day there some of my "fans" found us,  they rode up on horseback.  We started to talk about mangos and the one girl said that they had a really big tree in the front yard so I took one of the horses and rode back to the girls house,  rode UNDER the tree and proceeded to fill my T shirt with mangos.   THE NEXT MORNING I COULDN'T OPEN MY EYES.  In Florida the number one rule in regard to citrus is NEVER PICK IT UP FROM THE GROUND  if you don't take it from the tree, don't eat it.  You can get something called, if I can spell it... AMOEBIC DYSENTERY. like... serious diarrhea.  But not so with mangos. 

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Instantanio Coffee & Snakes

About six years ago Sarita and I were visiting family,  we took a walk to a  'SUPER 99" supermarket and there was a young woman giving out samples of the " NEW"  Duran instantanio.  We brought home about three jars.  Far exceeds the coffee that we can get in Florida.  So I am planning a return trip in either June or July with my oldest son Joseph and his family and will bring back more "INSTANTANIO" and some beans so that I can grind and brew my own.    SEVERAL  years ago we were up in EL VALLE for the day visiting and I was up on the side of a hill fascinated by the orange trees, since I AM from Florida,  and the coffee bean bushes in between the orange trees and some local tells Sarita to let me know that there are a lot of snakes hiding in the tall grass.  YES, THAT BLUR WAS ME RETURNING TO THE ROAD.  

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Suspension Bridge

One of my Brother in Laws brother had a hotel up there  THE DOS RIOS HOTEL.  probably dated back to the early 1920's.  it sat in a location where two small rivers joined to form one and then continued down the mountain.  The patio in the back was natural rock and sat not more than two feet from where the rivers joined.  The funny part was the SUSPENSION BRIDGE  that crossed the river, that we had to use to get to the hotel.  The river at that point could not have been more than 40 yards across but that bridge was hilarious.  It was a single lane wooden bridge and we had to wait for a small pickup to pass, and then I waited for about three minutes to wait for all the swaying to stop.

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Wall Mural

Giampaoli's wall mural was painted during my tenure so that would have been between 1957
and late 1959.it was painted on a sheet of plywood so it was 4' x 8'/   It was located on a wall in what became our lounge.  If you came in the front door, passed the steps, took a right the first things that were apparent were our mailboxes, if you kept going there was a lounge and after that a carpenters area where the sets were constructed.  The subject of the mural
were the "characters" on our staff.  I am going to attach a photo, it is very poor.  Everything was done in caricature.  A plane can be seen with Sergeant "Hap" Milhouser, he was our mail clerk.  An old model "A" which belongs to a sailor by the name of Bruce Neale,  me wearing a montuno's outfit including a local Panama hat since I was the ONLY ONE  at that time
married to a local girl.

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The army was summoned to Ft Amador once a month for payday.  Seems like, Gary, you're
right or close to the amount although after Sarita and I got married she used to get a check for $135.00  as the spouses allotment. Anyway, in military fashion you would line up, the Lt called your name, you approached the officer and " spc Selig reporting for pay sir" and that time they would count the cash into your hand and you were on the way.
WELLLLL  one month we all decided to grow beards. After about the fourth CFN er  walked up to the desk, the paying officer blew his stack and turned to the Lt and said.  I NEVER WANT TO SEE ANY OF THESE GUYS AGAIN... and from that time until, at least, when I left, we received a check in our mailbox.

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There was only one coffee.  DURAN.  now I'm not necessarily a coffee drinker, I have my morning coffee. Sometimes for desert I will brew something my Panama Family makes,
since they are all descendants of the Middle East.  CAFE TURKO. This is turkish coffee. served in a demitasse cup, VERY sweet and  VERY strong.  (I'll get back to the DURAN story in a minute)  it's made by using something akin to espresso coffee.  I take regular ground coffee, put it my coffee grinder and run it until it's nothing more than powder.   Then I use a special pot called a  IBRIK.  One HEAPING teaspoonful of coffee for EACH serving  AND a
teaspoon of sugar for each serving.  NEVER bring the water to a boil and DO NOT stir it until the first foam appears.  then take it off the fire, and always use medium heat as you DO NOT want the water to boil. Stir and bring it up to a foam two more times.  NOW you can leave the mud on the top, or skim it off, stir wait a couple of minutes, pour into a suitable cup and
enjoy.  BUT  watch the mouth it IS going to be hot.  WOW!!! what a caffeine rush.  

Okay back to the coffee.  I was driving somewhere, don't remember, listening to one of the many Panamanian radio stations OH! WAIT   about 40 years ago another coffee grower and marketeer came on to the scene.  CAFE SITTON.  okay, so the slogan of cafe DURAN is  "NO DIGA CAFE... DIGA CAFE DURAN"  and back to back an announcer announces   "DIGA QUE TO QIERE PERO TOMA CAFE SITTON"   in other words    "DON'T SAY COFFEE, SAY DURAN COFFEE"  followed with.... "SAY WHAT EVER YOU WANT BUT DRINK SITTON
COFFEE.   I was laughing so hard I had to pull off the road.  You know that somebody got some payola for that one.   Were any of you ever approached by the local bars and restaurants and asked to HYPE their place?  Because this happened to me often.

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Since my in laws lived in Colon, we visited very often, at least once a week, mostly on the week ends if I was not on duty.  If you ever traveled the Transisthmian, it was treacherous, as in no safety railings while driving in the mountains, no lights, only two way lanes so passing was exciting, and all the PUEBLOCITOS along the way where the speed limit was 10 mph and there was always a local La guardia to make sure you obeyed, BUT on those occasions when I did get stopped, the protocol was,  issue the ticket and confiscate your license which was returned upon paying your fine.  WELL  Colon was a small city and we had lots of cousins who knew lots of people so the ticket usually cost me the cost of a sport shirt which one of our cousins supplied to the proper authorities usually about $5.00.  I remember a story of one of my gringo brother in laws hit a chicken going through one of the little towns.  He thought that they were going to hang him.

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I had a neighbor here in Lakeland,  he passed away a couple of years ago.  He was stationed in Panama in the early 50's.  worked in one of the motor pools, I think it was Clayton, and also occasionally drove a fuel truck from a terminal in Colon back to Panama.  One day, and if any of you ever drove this road you will know the location.   He was coming down a hill heading for a bridge that went over the Chagres river when he saw a truck tire roll out in front of him.  It didn't take him long to recognize the tire,  yep, it was his.  he simply coasted over the bridge and up the hill on the other side until the truck slowed down enough for him to pull off to the shoulder and stop. SCARY!!  

Now they have beautiful toll roads that cover about 80% of that trip.  The roads are wide, clean, scenic beautiful. BUT you miss all the little towns along the way. There was a back way to go, took you through a section of jungle. Don't remember the name of the road.  If you took a right our of Ft Clayton, drove past Pedro Miguel Locks, a few miles down the road there was a right turn that took you through  a section of the jungle, it was in the zone and well paved and maintained and during certain times of year when the "BLUE BUTTERFLIES" swarmed it was fantastic.  It ultimately came out on the transisthmian right about where the road to MADDEN DAM was.  For years I thought a good business would be to get a tow truck and cruise the transisthmian for all the rusted wrecks which were simply abandoned along the side of the road. 

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Panama Food

Over the years we have brought back a plethora of odd stuff.  I can just see the customs declaration.  "ROCKS"    A couple of decades ago we were at Coronado beach.  I was fascinated by the black lava sand, AND also at the fact that you DO NOT walk on the beach without sandals,  HOT, HOT, HOT.  so I took a ziploc bag down to the beach and filled it up with black lava sand. Still have it in an apothecary jar on one of the living room lamp tables.  People are fascinated by it, how soft it is and you think that it's going to leave your hands or fingers black and it doesn't.  

One year we brought back a case of  "PANAMA" brand beer.  and the guy at customs says to me,   How come your bringing back this stuff, why didn't you bring back HEINEKEN.  and I told him .   After I pass your desk it's imported.  OH!!!! you're right.  Over the years we have brought back lots of food stuffs.  For those of you who spent any time in Panama city.   Seviche was one of the favorite things to bring back.  We froze it and always took along a small styrofoam cooler to bring it back with.   PIVAS.   Anyone know what they are?  Sometimes refered to by the Columbians as  PALM FRUIT.  It grows on a particular palm tree, they are boiled in salt water, have the consistency of chestnuts.  I would call it an acquired taste,  then there are BOLLOS.  A corn product,  The cooked corn is ground and mixed with some flour I would guess and then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed.  MMMMM GOOD.  All of these foods are cooked so they are permitted into our country.   One year I brought back the stalk of a YUCA plant.   They did not find it in my suitcase so I have been growing my own YUCA for years now.  

Oddly enough, my youngest daughter always wanted me to bring back Coca Cola.  and I always asked her why and she said it tasted better.   WELL   IT DOES, because it's made with SUGAR not high fructose corn syrup.  AND of course Chagres river water .  All these foods were nostalgic.  We used to love the bread in Panama,  locally baked small rolls called  MEECHAS.  2 for a nickel back in the days.  WELL my wife loved those, so one year, the morning we were leaving we sent the maid to the panaderia to buy $5.00 worth.  This was like a black garbage bag full.  I packed it in a corrugated box and checked it with the luggage.  WELLLLLL   we get to Miami and we always declared  EVERYTHING  it was easier than making excuses  AND  we always go in the line that asked if you were bringing back food stuffs.  So the officer says.   What does this say on your declaration?  and I said.  BREAD.   and he asked if I would mind opening the box and of course I said  NO PROBLEM.  He looks in the bag and says.   THAT'S BREAD!!!   And I said  YES!!  why are you bringing back bread.  and I said because my wife loves the Panama bread, it freezes real well and it you put a piece in the toaster oven it tastes like you just came back from the Panaderia.

The panderia that we used to buy it from is in Colon  STILL and nobody in the family wants us walking around Colon anymore, but I remember about 15 years ago we were in  EL VALLE and went to a panaderia there and bought some meechas, but they never made it back to the beach house.

Did any of you ever shop Avenida Central?  Sarita was a shopper, and she LOVED to go to Avenida Central.  There was  a pizza place called   HANCOCKS. They made a garlic pizza to die for and if you ate one before you went to the Central Ave movie theatre you never had a problem having at least one empty seat on either side of you.

There was a Hindu, well I guess you would call it a  CURIO shop. They sold lots of brass items, carved cedar chests, embroidered tablecloths and an odd assortment of knives and so forth.  It was called. CHARLIE'S AND SOHLIES. We bought a lot of stuff from them and dealt with a sales girl named Edna.  But when we wanted a "deal" she would have to call over one of the owners and Sarita would always say,  you know we're not tourists, we live here, we shop here all the time, we're friends.  and he would always say  "YEA, MAKE FRIENDS LOSE MONEY"  but also, always gave us a better deal.  I always had a problem when we were in there and some tourists from the states would be shopping and they would ask how much a tablecloth was, Edna would tell them and they would say,  fine, we'll take two,  WITHOUT ANY BARGAINING.  and Sarita was poking me in the ribs to keep my mouth shut.   

I did, as a gringo, have to learn the bargaining thing.  I remember the first time it happened we were on the way to see my in laws in Colon and we stopped on the road to pick up a couple of pineapples  and there aren't any pineapples in the world better than Panama pineapples.  the guy wanted 50 cents and Sarita was bargaining I told her,  give the poor guy the 50 cents but NO she kept bargaining and bought two for 50 cents.  She told me later, in the car, that if he didn't want to sell them for that, he didn't have to.  and so I learned.  NOW  you see that kind of bargaining going on all over the place HERE.  The first time I had a taste of Panama Pineapples was at one of my sister in laws.  The maid brought out a plate with pineapple pieces and when I tasted them I asked her.  (boy was I a gringo)  this is really good, what brand are they?  And asked me what I meant and I said,  are they DOLE, OR DELMONTE?   and she said NO!! they are fresh pineapple, so I asked her if she soaked them in sugar and she said,  go into the kitchen, the maid is cutting another one up and taste it.  UNBELEIVABLE. 

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CFN memories

Please do not say anything disparaging about the drapes.  I was responsible for making them in 1957.  I had experience with sewing machines since one of my talents was that I was a sewing machine mechanic.  

It was also in 1957 that the front openings looking out the front of the building, which were screened, were closed in and a wall which created the studio was removed to increase the size of the studio by about 15 feet.  The barracks were, or course, on the third floor and we were told several times that the air conditioning was for the equipment not for us, so the offices, film library, carpenters area and lounge WERE NOT  air conditioned.   

That mural was in the carpenters area, which became something called the SCROUNGED LOUNGE because we scrounged all kinds of furniture, a bar and stuff like that to make it a lounge, the mural was painted by Jim Giampoli staff artist. I really didn't hang with the guys to much as I met my wife the second week that I was there so all my spare time was spent with her.  

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Panama Modernization

Today PUNTA PIATILLA is all condos, when Sarita and I were dating the only thing in that area was that small airport, which is gone now, actually moved to Albrook.  Also there is an enormous mall at Albrook now.  

For those of you who have not been back, the "causeway" is not what it used to me.   Nice sidewalks, bike rentals, quaint streetlights, benches and lots of palm trees.  AND  many restaurants past the aria that was once the officers beach, which had a shark net.  The water was not nice, it was muddy but NOT SHARKS.  At point in time the area past the beach was off limits due to gun emplacements, ammunition storage and radar facilities and now a yacht club, a cruise ship terminal, lots of shops for the tourists to browse through and plenty of places to eat.  Unique places that are typical of Panama, like Beef o bradys, Kentucky fried chicken, and like that.  I'll see if I can attach some photos of the causeway.

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That is exactly where we all lived,  on the third floor.  I remember my first time going upstairs and trying to figure out why the clothes were hanging from the ceiling. I remember we had an inspector General come through, we were all standing in front of our bunks, with the lockers in perfect order.  He stops in front of me and asks me what the serial number of my weapon is.  WTF??????  what weapon?  I stammered for a moment and told him it was a GATES TURNTABLE MODEL.  whatever the hell it was.  Thought the captain was going to faint.  Never heard anything else about it but, as I have said before, some months later we had to qualify on the rifle range, I mean  WE WERE SOLDIERS AFTER ALL. weren't we??  It was at that time that we were informed that we all had a 30ca carbines signed out to us.  Would have loved to take one of those home.

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I arrived in Panama in August of 1957 and left in October 1959.  Got married in Panama March of 1958. My Mom and Dad came down for the wedding.  Even though we were from Florida the heat was killing my Mom,  My Dad seemed to just take it is stride.

For the first few months we lived in vacation quarters but then my sister in law found us a really nice apartment in Panama.  Calle 48th.  A four apartment building.  We lived on the right side upstairs,  Not a new building but nice and clean and cheap even for that era.  I loved the little balcony.

I walked around my house and looked at ALL the stuff we have from Panama hanging around on every wall.  At least 8 Molas.  One or our nieces thought that this would be a nice anniversary gift,  she had a jewelry store across the street from the El Panama Hilton Hotel and this older San Blas woman would sit on the sidewalk in front of her store and make beaded jewelry and the occasional Mola so our niece asked her to make us this one.  

Another item we liked to bring home were things called TAGUA. They were not around when we lived there that I can recollect but have become popular art items in the past few years.  The Tagua is a nut, found in a large pod about the size of a basketball. The nuts are clustered together like brazil nuts.  When the  "cabeza"  (head) falls from the tree the nuts are edible, but after a few months they turn to, what is called,  VEGETABLE IVORY; and as such can be carved into various shapes and then many are painted. 

Going back to Panama certainly evokes many memories for ME.  The changes are mind boggling.  My son has not been back since he worked there and that was back in the 70's.  I told him that the changes will blow him away.  We will most likely either barrow a van, or rent one and get one our nieces or nephews drivers to take us where we want to go. 

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Perks, San Blas & Tourism

First.  I arrived at "CFN" a private and left an SP3.  AND we were an all service group.  We were a military entity, We were, basically, assigned or ordered to be there.  Even though it was the best gig in the world.  I remember receiving perks.  We were, after all, just following orders right?  SO why did we seem to get preferential treatment on occasion.  

EXAMPLES:  A deep sea fishing trip on a "J" boat, out to the PERLAS ISLANDS.  Free movie passes.  A trip to SAN BLAS ISLANDS. I remember this one vividly.  We left Tocumen on a COPA AIRLINES  DC3, my wife was with me, we flew out and landed on a grassy landing strip called  "MANDINGA"  we walked a mile through the brush, came out on the water and there was a  (and I use this term VERY loosely) launch waiting for us to take us to at least three islands, lunched was supplied. I know I wasn't dreaming because I have various items including some really beautiful MOLAS that we purchased while we were there and 8mm movies as well.  

What got me thinking is that this summer my oldest son and his family and I will travel back to Panama.  We will visit with family and then act  like a bunch of tourists so that my daughter in law and my grandsons can see what the country is like.  My son lived and worked in Panama for about a year in the 70"s.  He learned the ropes really quickly.  You know,  go somewhere, no parking, so you park on the grass, there are a half a dozen kids hanging around so you promise them a quarter each to watch your car and while they are at it they could wash it.   You come back an hour later to a guarded and clean car and it costs you a buck and a half.   

GET STOPPED THE LAW.   Okay  officer how much is the ticket?  $10.00  okay, all I have is $5.00 can I give you that and then come back and find you tomorrow to give you the other $5.00?    YEH RIGHT.  As I have already found out there are more than a couple of you that married locals girls and the family that I married into has been unbelievably supportive.  Out of five daughters that my in laws had, I was married to the youngest,  three are still left, my wife NOT among them.  I am the only brother in law still alive. Time marches on, Friday is my birthday I will be 80.  These five daughters produced 24 grandchildren and of course the family has grown exponentially since then so we cannot possibly visit everyone but we will visit many.  Then on to the sights.  

You know it's like I asked a friend of mine, who lives in NYC  when was the last time you visited the STATUE OF LIBERTY?  and he said  WHAT?????   So many of my relatives have never seen the canal operating, or gone to Ft San Lorenzo, or seen the CHURCH OF THE GOLDEN ALTAR.  But my son and I want his family to see these things.

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Panama Neighborhood Politics

I thought that my love for Panama was because my wife was Panamanian, but I see that there are more of me out there.  More married to Panamanians and more who seem to have a love for the country.  The one constant is that, IT IS NOT THE UNITED STATES.  If you want the garbage picked up on time   (another story coming up), a fast in and out in a government office,  constant maintenance on public buildings, traffic control, etc.  DON'T move to Panama, stay wherever you are.

As I, and many of you experienced, I did not have enough rank to enjoy on base housing so we had an apartment on Calle 39 in Panama City.  It was, at that time, a dead end in a middle class neighborhood.  Of course I must have thought that I was living in Florida as, the first night in our new apartment, on the second floor of a four apartment building, I parked at the curb,  I came out in the morning, walked out on the balcony  and noticed that my hood was ajar. I will finish that story in a minute. 

ANYWAY...   there was a garbage strike and the garbage was starting to pile up at the curb.  Lots of flies and we let our daughter spend some time on the balcony in the sun everyday.  BUT  the flies started to be a problem.  SO, I took the garbage from our four apartments, piled in the middle of the street, poured gasoline on it and set it on fire.  Well, about three minutes later the Guardia were there and wanted to know who set the fire, of course, I was the only gringo in the neighborhood but it WAS me after all and I was the one who the police came to look for.  I told them that all the flies were unacceptable and if the garbage was not picked up I would be doing that everyday.   WELL a garbage truck was there in fifteen minutes and picked up ALL the garbage on our street.  WELL GUESS WHAT.   THE GRINGO WAS THE HERO OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD.  

I would offer other help as well,  automobile help, broken kitchen  appliance.  After a short time I found out the my name in the neighborhood was ACE, ACE, DE TODO.  translation.......duz does everything.  

Back to the hood being ajar...  upon going downstairs I noticed that the MIDNIGHT AUTO REQUISITION  had visited my neighborhood.  Well I figured it was because I had canal zone plates on the car, but the next morning the guy across the street came out and found his car up on cement blocks and the wheels and tires were missing.   ANYWAY,  I called a buddy back on base, asked him to go to the PX and pick up a battery for me. THEN  since I was off for the day, I went to a junk yard and picked up the following items; an ignition switch, a button from a refrigerator door, then to the hardware store where I bough a long hasp lock, and a small butterfly switch. One of the door locks on the car was inoperative. The ignition switch was installed on the fender,  the refrigerator door button was installed on the firewall where the hood comes down, the butterfly switch was installed in the glove box and the lock was installed in the grillwork.  They were all hooked to the horn system so if there was attempt at either opening any of the car doors or lifting the hood, the horns would start to blow.  WELL  a couple of days later  the neighbor across the hall was visited by her brother, he parked his car on the street.  GUESS WHAT WAS MISSING IN THE MORNING  and HE was a Panamanian.  Well his sister told him about my alarm system so he said,   HEY  park your car on the street tonight,  I'll sleep on the balcony with my shotgun and when the horns go off we'll get the bastard.  Well they never came back but he had an idea.  If we could sell these systems to citizens and install them on their cars maybe he could convince the Minister of Insurance to give these people a better deal on their premiums.  OKAY, he tells me, tomorrow could you pick me up in the alley behind the Bella Vista Movie Theatre and we'll go visit some people.  

So I pick him up, we drive through the back alleys to a government building, go inside and I am introduced to the Minister of Finance   AND the Minister of insurance.  "Carlos" spells out the idea and they are pretty receptive, and I'm looking at, perhaps, a financial windfall.   Well the next few days I'm picking him up in  off the beaten track locations and going to visit various officials.   Sunday rolls around and my brother in  law Woody, an attorney says to me.   Did I see you driving around with some Panamanian? Yes!  Who is he?   The brother of the lady who lives across the hall.  And says...  Do you know who he isand I say YEA!! His name is Carlos Miro, the brother of the lady who lives across the hall.  NO!!!!! do you know who he is POLITICALLY?  No.  Well, he tells me. that Carlos's brother is wanted for the assassination of President Ramon, and there is a contract out on him. Well, I apparently turned white as a sheet, that night when Carlos called I told him that the army found out what I was trying to do and it was against military regulations and that I left the plans with his sister and he could do whatever he wanted with him.

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