Around 1984, during my last year in high school, I was working at an Italian restaurant called Piero’s on a small island enclave in Miami Beach, known as Bay Harbor. Owned by a handsome and gregarious Sicilian named Piero Filpi who had been running another restaurant only a year before called Tiberio at the Bal Harbour Shops, Piero’s became the in spot to be in the mid-80s. Before then, I had been working at Tiberio’s with Piero for some time. But Piero and Tiberio’s owner Giulio Santillo had a rift, as I don’t think Santillo appreciated Piero’s talent enough to give him a share of his restaurant that Piero had wanted. After all, Piero had practically built Tiberio into a popular dining destination himself. So, Piero did the next best thing and opened his own restaurant over the bridge, and with him came all the Tiberio customers that he had cultivated during his tenure there. It was a mass exodus that caught Santillo by surprise and a business decision that he would later regret.
On Piero’s opening night, we had a private event for a Tiberio regular who was a high-ranking mobster. I think it was his daughter’s wedding reception. I had never seen so many short Italians with no necks, and raspy voices gathered in one place. It was pretty frightening. But they were all there to have fun, and they were very generous too, as I had a pocket full of the 20s when the night ended. During one part of the evening, a bunch of these bad boys—with their Cognac snifters in hand—had gone over to the pianist who had been providing music all night and started requesting songs. I had never seen a musician that nervous because these guys were all packing pistols. When one of these guys had requested a song that the pianist didn’t know, the guy got upset and took out his pistol and placed it on the piano. Suddenly, the pianist’s memory improved, and he fumbled through the song while these drunks sang along. After he got through that song, he excused himself, as I think he peed in his pants. I’m not shitting you. I was just as nervous, too. Anyhow, after that party, Piero’s became the hottest restaurant in Miami. We were always packed with an enviable list of clientele that only The Forge (a place where I would later work) could match.
After working in the dining room for several months, I asked Piero if I could run the valet parking concession, as I wanted to earn more money, as I would soon be leaving for college in Boston. He resisted my entreaties for a while as he wanted me in the dining room, as he felt I was of better use to him there. But after a while, he relented, which excited me to no end as I would now be driving some of my favorite cars—Maseratis, Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, and Lamborghinis.
One evening, one of our regular customers pulled up in his Silver Shadow Rolls-Royce with a familiar face on the passenger side. It was the Yankee Clipper himself, Joe DiMaggio. I was thrilled as anyone could be, as I had an extensive baseball card collection, attended many games when I wasn’t working, and had always wanted to meet this sports legend, even if he was from a way back era. When he got out of the car, he shook my hand, gave me a $50 note, and said, “Please leave the car parked out front if you don’t mind, young man.” I said, ”Sure thing, Mr. DiMaggio.” And he said, “Call me Joe.”
DiMaggio was a legend. Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, he took his New York Yankees team to the World Series ten times, leading them to nine championships. But his most famous achievement is his record-breaking 56-game hitting streak in 1941 that one writer would describe as the “most extraordinary thing that ever happened in American sports.” He was perhaps at the time the game’s most perfect player, having achieved a lifetime batting average of .325 and slugging 361 home runs in his career. In 1954, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And just when it couldn’t get any better for Joe, he married the sexiest woman of all time, Marilyn Monroe, that same year. But it would be a short-lived marriage ending nine months later. Still, they remained friends—some say on and off lovers—until her untimely death in 1962.
As Joe was inside dining, I took the Rolls for a spin around the Island. I would do that from time to time as I figured that if I was going to drive these cars around the block to park them in the back lot, I might as well drive them for a few more blocks to get the feel of driving in a luxurious car. Anyhow, when I returned to the restaurant, I felt the car sputtering as if the battery was dying. And that’s just what happened. I got out of the car, pushed it into the front slot where it had been parked, and tried to see if I could get it started again. But it was dead. In a panic, I tried to find some jumper cables to restart the Rolls, using another vehicle I had parked in the front, but I couldn’t find where the fucking battery was placed. I was in a cold sweat.
I ran to the Police Station as I knew a few of the guys there. I asked the Captain for help and told him that Joe DiMaggio was dining at the restaurant and his car battery had died. Incredulously he said, “Joe DiMaggio is at Piero’s?” I said, “Yeah.” So he jumped from behind his desk with two other officers and we ran to get Joe’s car working while another officer drove around the block to help jump it. When we got to the car, we looked for the mystery battery, so that the police officer could jump it with his squad car. Like me, they were stumped too. After some time scratching our heads, one officer said, I think the battery may be in the trunk where none of us had imagined it to be. Sure enough, there it was, tucked under a hidden compartment. At that point, I was nervous that DiMaggio would come out soon. So I went inside, approached his table, and told him what had happened. I just whispered in his ear so his guests wouldn’t get nervous. Then Joe handed me another $50 and said, “Do you think can you get the car ready before we head out?” I said, “Absolutely.”
From there, I ran outside to see how the officers were doing and as I approached them, the car had miraculously restarted. I released a big sigh of relief, thanked the officers profusely, and left the car running for fear it would stall on me again. When Joe finally came out, he looked at me, wondering if everything was in order. I winked at him approvingly, and he got in the car and rode off with none of his guests, suspecting that anything unusual had occurred moments earlier.
Former restauranteur, musician, concert promoter, producer, publisher, manager, and impresario, Charles Carlini has synthesized these roles to become a dynamic force in the music industry–noted for his ability to bring diverse talent together to create innovative concerts and recordings that reach and move music-lovers everywhere.