The Busted Flush has gone bust. The bronze plaque commemorating Fort Lauderdale’s most famous resident, however fictional, no longer marks Slip F18 where Travis McGee once moored the city’s most famous vessel — also fictitious.
Hey, it’s not as if South Florida has so many historic sites that we can afford to fritter them away. Even our fake history ought to be regarded as a precious commodity.
But the plaque, dedicated with considerable ceremony back in 1987 at the Bahia Mar Marina’s Slip F18 (actually Slip F602, renamed in honor of Travis), has been relegated to the harbormaster’s office. Literary pilgrims, coming to pay homage to mystery writer John D. MacDonald’s great protagonist, no longer have a marker telling them where McGee kept his 52-foot houseboat.
Thousands of MacDonald’s readers know that McGee lived aboard the Busted Flush in the Bahia Mar marina. That he had won his houseboat in a poker game. That he was fond of Plymouth gin. (A rare bottle of Plymouth was presented to the Bahia Mar in the 1987 dedication, to be kept at the bar until Travis claims it.)
The readers know that clients, maybe recognizing McGee’s 1936 Rolls-Royce (converted to a pickup truck) in the marina parking lot, would make their way down the dock to find the detective (a self-described “salvage consultant”). And another mystery would begin.
MacDonald, who died in 1986, wrote 21 McGee mysteries (along with 57 other books), all best sellers known for their color-laden titles, like The Turquoise Lament, Bright Orange for the Shroud, The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper. And his writing was beloved. Other writers paid homage to MacDonald. Jimmy Buffet referenced him in lyrics. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “To diggers a thousand years from now, the works of John D. MacDonald would be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamun.”
Archaeologists need not bother digging around the Bahia Mar. MacDonald and McGee have slipped away from Slip F18.
The relegation seems particularly poignant in 2016, McDonald’s centennial birthday year. Sarasota, where MacDonald lived, will be staging a big celebration in July. But there’s nothing going on in Fort Lauderdale.
“I had tried to contact the Bahia Mar offices to see if anything would be done to celebrate the 100th Birthday of JDM but I received no answer,” Calvin Branche told me via email. Branche, who runs the John D. MacDonald website and will be staging slideshow presentations in Sarasota this summer, suggested that the marina place the plaque somewhere more conspicuous. “But nothing came of it.”
Bahia Mar’s owners have other matters on their mind. They’re wrestling with the city over plans for a $400 million redevelopment project with 600 condos, retail space, new hotels rooms and two overbearing 39-story towers. They also plan to spiffy up the marina.
Truth is, the snazzy yachts moored at the Bahia Mar lately more closely resemble cruise ships than the old Busted Flush.
“One thing is for sure,” Branche told me. “Travis McGee would never have been able to afford to dock there.”