On July 25th, 1971 My mom took us to Astroworld in Houston- for our summer vacation.
Dad died in Nam just two years before– And Mom wanted to make great memories for us kids. Like all Great Army Wives/Mom’s did back then… They just took over!
Anyway I was 12 years old- (The same age as my son is today) we stayed in the Astroworld Hotel!
At that time it was listed in the Guinness Book of world records as the Most Expensive Hotel “room” in the world! – Trust me I know, I read the book every year and all the way to Houston on that summer drive!
Apparently, the TOP floor was a giant Penthouse for the rich and famous!
The rest was the normal – but “Pretty darn fancy” to me!
So we arrived and the place was Beautiful! (in 1971 Stucky’s and Howard Johnson’s was more our Speed!) So this place was Stunning!
“Exploring the Hotel”!
One of my Favorite things to do in Hotels as a kid (after we checked in and went to the room) was to ask mom if I could go explore… (like go to the Vending machines to buy confederate money and souvenirs with the $20 she gave each of us kids for vacation!)– or just sit in the lobby and be “Fancy”!
“Can we please” We all said in Harmony!?
She was glad to get rid of me and my 3 sisters, while she put her feet up/took a nap- And we all left together on her command- “Stay Together Kids” — Yes ma’am was answered by her kid choir!
And we all went our separate ways…
The Astroworld Hotel!
This place was so nice that “Every” hallway had carpet from end to end,
And Mirrors as the walls in the elevators!
Fancy – And at age 12 I discovered that – “I like Fancy”!
Did you know that $20 back then is equal to over $100 today?
I ran into my sister Peggy twice in the gift store – she was looking at Leather “Hippy” Shirts (You know, with the dangling frills on the sleeves) In 1971 $20 bucks was a lot of money and I thought she was CRAZY! (But she was older and knew the word COOL) As for me I was gonna make my Money last!
I rode the elevators up and down to the many floors and ran to look out of the glass windows that were at every end of every floor! And I saw every window – on every floor.
I was on the 11th floor looking out – felt like the 100th floor – And I could see Astroworld, the rollercoasters, water rides, and people the size of ants.
My hands and face pressed against glass window – I felt the Cold AC (a Luxury in 1971) – for a moment I stopped breathing- to feel the cold air on my face and the Air- When the view got blurry and felt like passing out…
I turned my 13 yr old self around and I saw… I squinted – and saw my daddy, in Full Uniform walking down the hall – toward me –
“DADDY” I yelled
And ran after him as fast as I could!
Just like you see kids run into their father’s arm when they return today!
“Daddy” as I hurled myself into his Arms…
Only to find me in the ARMS of a Security Officer – and the sound of metal KEYS scatter- when I knocked him down!
I just ran past him – all the way to the elevators – back down room 207, Bam Bam Bam, Mom answers, I run (Past her) to the bed- jump in and cover my head and start crying…
MY MOTHER in her wisdom or Clairvoyance said… “I know how you feel Willy, Take a break!”
I fell asleep before sunset (9pm in Texas July)and they went to Eat dinner without me – And I dreamed about that Hallway encounter with Daddy!
The next morning everyone is asleep at 5AM,
I WAS wide awake… Mom says yes – You can go exploring…ZZZZzzz
I went down to the pool- the most beautiful pool I had ever seen- It had a tiled waterfall that I would swim under and drink from!
…I sat there reflecting (with my feet in the water) about the Beauty and the Fun I was going to have at Astroworld that day.
I got up and ran to an OUTSIDE elevator and ducked into a small group of people getting on…
The doors close and I look up and I see Mohammad Ali with 2 beautiful women and another man…
“Where are you going, young man?” (Ali asked)
“What’s your name”? Willy- I said!
“Willy, you are on the wrong elevator, but this man (he pointed to) will get you there”
Apparently, I was on the outside elevator that went to the Private Penthouse on the top floor. The most expensive Hotel room in the world- the one I read about the whole way there.
They talked to each other – can’t remember a word… but when they got off Mohamad Ali got off he said to me- “Nice meeting you Willy” and got off the elevator …
As his assistant escorted me down to where I was “supposed” to be- my young mind was reeling – thinking wow- That was Mohammad Ali!
Knock knock… just in time for breakfast… I told MOM (and sisters) this story and they said “Sure/Lier”… So Mom pulled me into the bathroom and quizzed me… I swear Mom…
Starving for Breakfast and the BEAUTIFUL Lobby Buffet!
We all went to the BEAUTIFUL lobby/restaurant and sat there drinking ice water in a Fancy wine glass- I remembered I ordered pancakes with Blueberry syrup – (a new thing in 1971) –
My Mom was reading a Time magazine at the table – and the front page was Mohammad Ali- Who was fighting at the Astrodome THAT VERY day- July 26th, 1971!
I glanced to my right to a table across from us and there HE WAS!
I reached up and tore the front cover off her magazine and walked to his table eating breakfast and asked him for an autograph- He signed it and said – ” I’d be glad to Willy” – He remembered my name! OMG, I felt dizzy- He remembered my name…
I went back to mom and sisters with a prized signature that they never knew how much it meant to me… I’m not even sure they believed it “with their own eyes”!
Mohammad Ali, my Mom, nor my sisters, never knew how important this was to me.
It was a vacation of healing – for all of us- in our own way.
But on that long drive back home – I did!
I got to spend the best “Fancy” Vacation with my widowed mom and sisters – oh and my Dad!
AND Mohammad Ali – RIP
…just an Army Brat memory… Willy!
PS – I still have that Autograph!