When I produced radio shows for Boston’s Sports Radio WEEI, we traveled all over the country to broadcast from all types of premier sporting events: Super Bowl, World Series, Heavyweight Fights, Kentucky Derby, All-Star Games, Spring Training, etc. For these remote broadcasts, my job was to make sure we were set up and able to transmit signal back to the studios in Boston, as well as to book guests for the shows.
The first year the Red Sox moved spring training to Fort Myers from Winter Haven was built up pretty big, and the excitement for the move and new ballpark caused us to beef up our coverage. Our broadcasts began Monday afternoon, so we decided to fly out early Sunday morning in order to get in, get settled, and make sure we ready for broadcast. Normally, this would have been plenty of lead-time for our show. Eddie Andelman, the show’s host, and I took the 8am flight from Logan. The flight made a stop in Charlotte, but we were scheduled to get into Fort Myers in time for lunch.
As we were taking off, it began to snow in Boston and we were happy to be taking an early flight. But as we were landing in Charlotte, we noticed an accumulation of snow on the runway. We taxied to the terminal, deplaned and found out that the airport didn’t have proper plowing equipment, and the likelihood was that it would be shut down until Tuesday. We immediately darted for the rent-a-car counter, only to find out that every rental had been reserved. Come to find out, the ACC Basketball tournament was in town, and not only were there no rent-a-cars, but also no limos, private cars or hotels available. In fact, getting a cab was virtually impossible as well, as the line was at least two hundred people deep.
We stood outside the airport for a few minutes, perplexed. I was in my twenties at the time, but I did grow up in the city, so the wheels began turning. I didn’t know what to do; I just knew we had to get moving. Just then it hit me – I took the equipment and luggage to the where the taxis departed and said to Eddie, “Wait here, I’ve got an idea.”
As people loaded into cabs on the curbside of the vehicle, I hung out on the left side of the cabs. I saw this young couple, about my age, getting into the next taxi. I opened the door closest to me, and as they entered on one side, I entered on the other. I quickly began to speak, “Hi my name is Lou. I know this may sound strange, but can I share your cab with you? I produce a radio show in Boston and we have to get out of this airport so we can broadcast. We will take you to wherever you are going and pay for the taxi.” The couple told me they had just gotten married and didn’t have much money, so sharing the cab would be perfect for them. We loaded up and were on our way.
The couple was going to a hotel just a few miles away, but it took us forever to get there because even though there were only few inches on the ground, no one in Charlotte knew how to drive in the snow, and the roads were not plowed. We finally got to the hotel and said goodbye to the young couple, who thanked us a bunch for picking up the tab. I went into the hotel to see if we could grab a couple of hotel rooms, but there was not a room to be had. I went to the concierge and asked him how far we were from Fort Myers. He pulled out a map and said it was around 700 miles.
I headed back to the cab, jumped in, and explained to Eddie there were no rooms. I then asked him how much cash he had on him. I turned to the driver, John Thomas Murphy, and said, “How would you like to drive us to Florida? It’s 700 miles, we’ll give you a buck a mile.” JT thought for a second and replied, “Yea, I think I can do that.” And off we were, from Charlotte, North Carolina to Fort Myers, Florida in an old Crown Victoria with no power steering (I’ll get to why I know that fact later).
So we were on our way – slipping and sliding our way to the highway. As I recall, it wasn’t until we got to Alabama that the roads were clear and free of snow, but it was a while ago, and sometimes facts slide out of your brain. But Alabama sticks out in my mind as when we stopped worrying about John Thomas Murphy sliding on the ice and driving us off the road to our death. I’m being a bit dramatic, but let’s just say we were a bit skittish in the back seat of the Crown Vic.
We were about two hours into the trip when it was time for a pit stop. We pulled over to a McDonalds just off of the highway, and after we took care of restroom needs and washing up, we ordered some food and headed over to sit down. I was starving so I jumped right into my burger, when JTM cleared his throat with a purposeful, “AHEM!” Eddie, as quick as always, looked at John Thomas and said, “I tell him all the time.” JT Murphy looked at me and said, “Don’t be disrespectful, time to honor the Lord.” He made the sign of the cross, and proceeded to say Grace. Without missing a beat, Eddie did a makeshift sign of the cross (he’s Jewish), put his head down, and started giggling. I shook my head and did the same. Don’t get me wrong, I was an altar boy for 8 years, went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through college, and read the bible about 13 times; it just never dawned on me to say Grace when eating a Big Mac. My bad.
We got back on the road, and after a few hours of driving, coupled with the greasy food, John Thomas Murphy started to emit various sounds and smells, which were all very unpleasant, but hysterical just the same. Eddie and I were giggling like schoolgirls in the back seat of the Crown Vic. What I have failed to mention up to this point is that JTM weighed about 350 bills. The dude was an extremely large man, with a deep, deep voice. Yet, the sounds coming from him were quite mousey. Sorry for the “TMI”, but it is what we experienced and it was quite funny at the time. I have to be honest, I am giggling now, too.
So after a few more pit stops, an absurd amount of junk food, and driving for about 8 hours, Big John Thomas Murphy started swaying back and forth on the highway. He pulled over, looked back, and said he needed to sleep. The journey was already epic and we hadn’t yet reached the Florida state line. I didn’t want to lose any more time so I said, “John Thomas, why don’t you take a nap in the back, and I’ll drive for a while.” (This is how I know the Crown Vic had no power steering).
I took us across the Florida border, understanding how a truck driver feels, arms exhausted, while JTM and Eddie were composing a symphony of snoring and various other sounds. The boys awoke, we made yet another pit stop, and John Thomas Murphy was back at the helm. It was now early Monday morning, and we were cruising down I-95 in Florida with a radio show just hours away, zero prep time, and no confirmation of any guests. Eddie told me not to worry, because the cab ride had fueled him with enough discussion for multiple shows. While we were chatting, John Thomas started to nod and drift once again. Wanting to add to the story, Eddie told JTM to pull over, and that he would take over for a while.
Big John got in the back; I was torn. I wanted to make it to Fort Myers in time for the show, but I was dreading sitting next to the human Mt. Vesuvius for the next two hours. Nevertheless, Eddie started truckin’ down the highway with John Thomas Murphy and myself in tow. JTM began to settle in, and just before he got comfortable, a truck horn blared as we strayed into the other lane. John Thomas Murphy shouted, “STOP THE CAR!” Now I’m giggling because Eddie is not the best of drivers, and with no power steering, he was an absolute disaster. Not wanting to risk his life, Big John climbed back into the driver’s seat, now very awake.
We rolled into Fort Myers a few hours before show time; enough time to shower, set up the equipment, and make a few calls. A car ride that should have taken around 11 hours, took us about 15; no two people were happier to see Alligator Alley than Eddie and I. We bid farewell to our driver and new best bud. Eddie gave him $800 and some extra money for a room to get some sleep. Three o’clock soon arrived, and Eddie recanted the wild ride we had from Charlotte, NC to Fort Myers, FL in an old Crown Victoria cab, the two of us laughing the entire time.
I know this doesn’t fully capture how hysterically funny this adventure was. But you have to believe me when I tell you, there is reason why and no doubt this is one of my favorite stories from all my time in radio. In the near decade that I was in radio and television, there are some great stories, but none of them top our cab ride with John Thomas Murphy.