A bagel store on every other block

The minute I landed at Palm Beach airport, my dad, Toby, hocked me about investments.

On the drive from the airport to his condo, Toby would expound on real estate growth in Florida. “This was a two-lane dirt road when we got here. Now it’s six lane.”

Glades Road, Boca Raton, 1980s. With a bagel store on every other block.

We have a Bagel Nosh in Cleveland too, Dad. And it’s crap.

My parents watched the kids for a week, while my wife and I zoned out and watched for golf cart X-ings.

Toby Stratton, 1984

Toby said, “Whatever you do, don’t kock the money away.” Also, did I need a new car? How about a bigger house? “You never ask for anything,” he said.

My kids asked for something: swimming noodles. No problem. Every grandparent had a storage closet full of flotation devices.

One grandpa — my dad’s friend — didn’t sleep very well, so he went midnight bowling. The man owned a furniture store in Cleveland and was into municipal bonds big-time, particularly since his son was destroying the store, the man claimed.

Another old-timer was Jackie Presser, who had a villa — a stand-alone house. Presser had been the national president of the Teamsters and tied in with the Mob. In his later years, he moonlighted as a snitch for the FBI. His wife drove an antique car around the condo development’s cul de sacs, like a Euclid Beach amusement park ride.

Toby met Mel, a low-level city worker who needed a “few presents” — as Mel put it — for his inspectors. Mel inspected commercial properties for the city of Sunrise, Florida, where my dad owned a small shopping-strip center. The shopping strip was a hobby of Toby’s — just a little something to keep him busy in in retirement in Florida. Toby was always in “let’s make a deal” mode.

Mel met Toby at Sambo’s, where Mel explained presents meant $100 for each of his inspectors. [$220 in today’s dollars.] Toby paid off Mel — in a car, not in the restaurant. Mel said, “This is not for me. This is strictly for my inspectors.”

Mel drove Toby to see vacant land. The city wanted a developer to put up a motel, and the city would take a cut.

Toby sold his Sunrise strip center shortly after that. He didn’t cotton to the Florida heat, so to speak. He returned to the simpler pleasures of golf and electric orange juice squeezers.

Toby told me his best years were his most recent, in Florida. He had financial security, grandchildren and decent health.

My dad died of leukemia three years later, in 1986, just shy of 69. My mother kept the Florida condo another 11 years, until she came down with Parkinson’s disease.

The condo association owes my sister and me $8,160.82. The association is slow in repaying the golf membership fee. Fifteen years slow.

I would like that 8K to glide in today from Glades Road. I’d knock 5K off the tab if the association included a round of golf with my dad. And I don’t even play golf.

Illustrations by Ralph Solonitz

About the Author
Bert Stratton is a musician and landlord in Cleveland, Ohio. He is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. Byliner chose his essay "The Landlord's Tale" as one of the best magazine articles of 2012. He blogs at "Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate."