Dunmore natives Brian McAndrew and Bill Ciccotti recently traveled on Norwegian Cruise Lines to Cuba for a book signing tour of local author Bill Ciccotti’s latest tropical action adventure, “Key West Reeling.”
It was their first landing on “Isle Juana,” as Christopher Columbus called it. The author was very excited about the trip, though he insists the cigars, rum and old cars had nothing to do with his enthusiasm.
Bill told us, “This Cuban tour was a tropical riot and I’m sure it will be the inspiration for numerous embellished tales.”
The lifelong friends have done many road trips over the years that have been the basis for several of the Key West Adventure books written by Ciccotti. But this trip needed no colorizing. It was the “Daddy-O” of them all. The book signing at the Hemingway house went off without a hitch.
Bill says, “It was intimate and full of spontaneous laughter, warmth and many grinning faces. I never expected such a welcoming. But we went with the flow, the Cohibas and the rum. You know, you can still get a pretty good cigar down there.”
Brian McAndrew added, “The Cuban people embraced the books and treated both of us great. I was surprised by the openness and friendliness, especially of the rural people. Old men sat playing dominos using pebbles and pop tops as betting chips.”
Pre-60s cars were everywhere, including Cadillac Coupe De Villes, Chevy Blairs, and Lincoln Premiums. Brian and Bill rave about those classic cars, noting, “The cars were pristine muscle. Heavy steel chariots with roaring engines covered in beautiful sparkling color. Mint green, orange, yellow, white and blue mismatched panel sections. We saw
1955 Buick Special Convertibles. Real wire wheels, rebuilt original V8s. Rebuilt automatic transmissions, rebuilt power steering, cloth tops and boots. And lots of chrome. Those cars had the same owner for over 43 years.”
Brian and Bill toured a cigar factory and several cantinas.
Bill talked of the cigar factory first. “You walk through the wide doorway with the tropical heat following you inside onto a cracked marble floor. You keep wondering just how many shoes walked along this weathered path. Then it hits you. The smell of unlit cigar tobacco, earthy and remarkably intoxicating. It pulls you closer to the factory’s heart, a siren song that can’t be ignored. There before you are scores of workers, each making cigars entirely by hand.”
Brian told us, “Unrushed, antique and personal hand rolling of those Cuban cigars hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. There’s nothing like the taste of fine hand-rolled tobacco and Havana is the birthplace of premium cigars.
As the hot tropical sun beat down it was finally time for a drive. “Well, our driver Alberto drove, at first.”
Bill said, “We rented classic Detroit muscle from the 1950’s, a glossy red Buick Electra convertible. We cruised past the Cuban baroque style Cathedral de San Cristobal and the bold Castillo de la Real Fuerza, an impressive military fortress. We drove the popular public squares of Plaza Vieja and Plaza de Armas.”
Then, in the rural areas the boys got behind the wheel.
Brian smiled, “That Electra ran and drove like new. I couldn’t believe the joy I got out of driving that classic GM rock solid car. No disappointments there, amigo.”
Bill shrugged, “Ok, we didn’t drive far but we got behind the wheel and it was good.” After regaining the steering wheel, Leo took them to a few spots of interest along the way.
Bill said, “El Floridita, Cuba’s most renowned bar, was one of Hemingway’s favorite places to drink. Photos of him with Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper and Ava Gardner cover the walls.”
Brian told us, “It is said to be the birthplace of the daiquiri and they do make really good ones there.” The boys sat next to a statue of Hemingway and toasted the legendary author. Then they toasted themselves, noting life is good. But only if you live it.
After the car tour the boys went back to the boat to change for a night on the town. Brian smiles, “Our guide, Leandro Coba liked us so much that later on, at night, he came back out to party with us. He even played in several of the bands we encountered at the cantinas along the evening.”
Brian grinned, “The evening belonged to El Malecon, Havana’s famous seafront boulevard. At sunset, the failing sun rivaled Key West for the beauty of its tropical twilight colors. As the sun neared the trees darkness was falling.”
Bill nodded, “Congo drums beat to the heartbeat of another Cuban night. Soon the fun stuff would start happening. But that’s another book.” The two amigos were out on the town with a local amigo who knew all the hot spots.
Bill says, “We hit Sloppy Joes. Havana’s pre-revolutionary bar.” There are two Sloppy Joes. One of them is in Key West and the other Hemingway hangout is in Cuba. The boys hit them both. They hit and highly recommended, El Dandy, Bill’s favorite Havana nightspot. Bar Dos Hermanos.
Bill said, “We partied late into the night. At two a.m. we were sitting on a second floor veranda watching the plaza and smiling contently. I asked Brian, “Do you speak Spanish?” He smiled back, “Fluently. Dos cervesa pro favor.”
Bill told us, “This was a trip of a lifetime. Exotic, wild and free.” Brian added, “Like us.”
Ciccotti is very excited about the progress that is being made on the Key West Redemption audio book. “Our fantastic narrator expresses the tropical vibe and excitement necessary to portray the quirky characters that explode from this story. Wait till you hear him do Elvis. Hopefully, the finished product will be released to the public in the coming year.”
A fifth, sixth and seventh Key West book has been signed up for and the story line for all four has been approved.
Bill told us, “I said the Key West Redemption series was going to be a pentagon but somehow, I still ended up with seven. Maybe I should call it “The Magnificent Seven”. These books were calling out to me.”
“Tropical Hit” has just been released in Kindle and is also available in paperback. Crime stories with a twist of lime, action and tropical sunsets. It is the first book of the “Tropical Hit Trilogy” series and is available on Amazon.
Are all these stories true? Bill laughs, “I’d be lying if I answered that question. But I’ve had a lifetime full of more than a few strange adventures. My books are overflowing with fine memories and true friendships.”
Brian said, “Success is getting what you want. But happiness is wanting what you have.”
Bill’s key to life is, “Remember to laugh all you can. Even if it’s at yourself. Because if you can’t laugh at yourself, somebody else will.”
Bill ended up with, “Life is full of wise decisions. Wise is overrated. Go make some mistakes. Live a little. Now get to hell down here to Key West and maybe we’ll all sneak back into Cuba one more time.”