Keeping A Date withThe Supremes
(Published in The Record of Hackensack, NJ. on July 7, 2000)
It was a New Year's Eve in the late Sixties and there we were, three Cuban refugee teenagers, wearing cheap suits and pretending to be able to mingle with the rich tourists who rushed through the lobby of the fancy Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach.
Everyone seemed to be heading somewhere in a hurry. After all, the clock was ticking and they all wanted to be somewhere else before midnight.
That's everyone except us, of course. We were on standby, waiting for a signal. We had given up a lot to be there, and by God, we were going to act like we belonged with the rich tourists who could really afford to be there.
During the previous few weeks, we had scraped every penny we could find to buy new shoes and clothes, and to save for that evening's expenses. We also had given up invitations to New Year's fiestas in our own neighborhood in Miami's Little Havana.
Our friends, especially our girlfriends, had questioned the "crazy" motives that drove us to plan such an unusual evening, away from them, in Miami Beach, on New Year's Eve.
But we felt we were on a mission, a quest to realize an impossible dream. In spite of our friends' skepticism, we felt we had a date with Diana Ross and The Supremes.
Our friend Manny, who worked at the Deauville, had told us that he knew a guy who knew a guy who could sneak us in to see the three goddesses of Motown music. And somehow, in ways that are incomprehensible to me now, we told ourselves this was doable.
The friend of Manny's friend wanted an enormous amount of money, at least it seemed that way to three young guys from Little Havana — I think it was $20 apiece — but it was worth the sacrifice, we told ourselves. We idolized The Supremes. In spite of the odds against us, that New Year's Eve was going to be different, we told ourselves. At the very least, it would be "an adventure."
And so there we were, in the Deauville's lobby, watching midnight approach and waiting for Manny to give us a signal.
It has been more than 30 years since that night, but it all came rushing back to me Thursday, as I sat in Madison Square Garden listening to a concert by Diana Ross and The Supremes.
Their new tour has been controversial because two of the three original Supremes are missing, but I was fulfilling a date with destiny — and my mind kept flashing back to the night in the Sixties when I was daring enough to go see them perform.
Our Miami Beach adventure is the kind of stuff movies are made of, I kept telling myself. In "Stand By Me," kids set out to find a dead body. In "Saturday Night Fever," teens set out to win a dance contest. In "Keeping a Date With The Supremes," I thought, who knows. . . .
Close to midnight, the lobby was almost deserted, and we were in danger of being spotted as intruders, when Manny finally came out to give us the bad news. There were no seats available. Apparently a rich Americano who also needed a table had offered a better bribe to the friend of Manny's friend.
But Manny was our buddy. He knew how much we had sacrificed for this adventure and he was as mad as we were. He had promised that we would see The Supremes and, by God, we were going to do it.
"You don't have to give me any money, and you are going to see The Supremes," he swore. "Wherever I take you, just act like you belong there," he added. "Follow me."
Soon, we found ourselves in a huge hotel kitchen, following Manny as he rushed through a maze of utensils and workers. I had never seen anything like it. Obviously, this kitchen was serving various New Year's parties in the hotel ballrooms that night. The place was so busy that no one noticed us.
At least not until Manny popped a door wide open and we all stepped into a pitch-dark room where the only lights were shining on The Supremes.
"My world is empty without you, babe," they sang as they pointed their fingers right into the audience — right at us.
We were star struck — dumbfounded — but we had to keep moving, pretending to be heading for seats that were not there for us. The whole thing lasted less than a minute, long enough for the waiters to realize we did not belong there — and long enough for us to realize our impossible dream.
We were ushered back into the kitchen, and not knowing which exit to take, we ended up in another ballroom, where we were welcomed by a group of elderly tourists who took us in as if we were their grandchildren. They even introduced us to their granddaughters.
That was the only part of our adventure we couldn't share with our girlfriends when we returned to Little Havana.
As I laughed alone, with my memories, at The Garden on Thursday, I couldn't help seeing how many other people were doing the same thing. Some knew all the lyrics, others had tears running down their cheeks. Diana Ross and the reconstituted Supremes were taking us on a tour of 40 years of wonderful music and memories. As long and Ross was there, no one seemed to care whether or not the others were the originals.
I spoke to my friend Manny on Tuesday. He still lives in Miami. I told him that this time I had a valid ticket, that I heard the whole concert, and that it was no match to the 30 seconds we shared with The Supremes in the Sixties. The sacrifice was much bigger back then. We had a good laugh.
Now it turns out that lagging ticket sales may force the promoters to cancel the rest of the tour and that Thursday's was perhaps the last concert by The Supremes. They waited long enough for me to keep my date with destiny.