R.I.P. Speedbump — Harry’s in tears after dive bar’s beloved stray cat struts across rainbow bridge
Updated: Jul 27, 2021
HE WAS A FRIENDLY STRAY who strutted into a neighborhood dive bar 12 years ago and never left.
From the day he first showed up at Harry’s Banana Farm in 2009, a frightened alley kitten in search of his own cradle, he was pampered with a silver spoon of treats, handouts and head scratches from the regulars at the popular Lake Worth Beach watering hole.
Everyone called him Speedbump, a not-necessarily-affectionate nod to the black cat’s propensity for lounging across, and blending in with, the black mats on the floor behind the bar.
“He would just sit there,'' bartender Ray Carbone recalled. "One time Sal, the bartender at the time, tripped over him and yelled, ‘Goddamn speedbump!’ And that was it. His name became Speedbump.''
Don’t be misled by the hand-written sign at the end of the bar, the one with the cartoon of a grinning cat warning patrons, “Please do not leave drinks unattended (‘the cat is an asshole’).’’
Sure, Speedbump had a mean streak every now and then, but only when provoked by such infractions as unwanted pettings and belly scratches.
He loved everyone (most of the time) and the Harry’s regulars loved him back, even when he'd interrupt their pool games for cat naps by the corner pocket.
He could be gentle, affectionate when the mood struck. And his regal presence, with that splash of white fur on his chest, commanded respect.
Perhaps his most memorable attribute for regulars: There was nothing quite as satisfying as sipping a cold one on a crowded Saturday night and watching the laid-back stray casually strut around bottles, mugs and shot glasses along the bartop.
“His favorite thing to do, he would just get up and just walk down the bar, around the drinks, all the way down the bar like he owned the place,’’ said Harry’s manager, Lou De Stout, his laugh trailing off.
“Everybody loved that cat.''
SPEEDBUMP, AN ORIGINAL COOL cat who held court at Harry’s Banana Farm for 12 years, imbibing on the affection of customers and occasionally knocking over their drinks, passed away earlier this month.
He was 14, according to most estimates.
When he was last seen around June 30, he wasn’t himself. His strut was slower. He lacked his usual voracious appetite.
By the first weekend in July, as his absence started casting a pall over Harry's, his admirers held out hope that maybe he was on another one of his extended vacations to the Chinese restaurant down the street or some cat-friendly house flowing with handouts.
By July 11, Harry’s went into crisis mode.
De Stout climbed a ladder outside his bar and sent out an SOS on the bar’s famous (or infamous) marquee, known for its eyebrow-raising quips that slow motorists passing by on U.S. 1 in the city's north end.
“IF JACKSONVILLE CUTS TEBOW DOES THAT MAKE HIM A JAG OFF?’’ was replaced with the same desperate question racing though everyone’s heads: “WHERE THE HELL IS SPEEDBUMP?”
As late as Sunday, a day before the cat’s body was found, his biggest admirers were still holding out hope he’d come strutting through the door again. Many insisted on referring to him in the present tense, hoping to tap some positive cat karma.
“I don't see a body. So that's the way I'm gonna talk to you about him,’’ Carbone, Speedbump’s adopted dad, said over the weekend.
“I don't want to accept the fact that he’s gone. I just don't really accept it because I know how stray cats are. They go away, they come back, whatever. I’m just hoping that someday he walks back into the bar.’’
Then came a call on Monday from Lauren Dively, who lives across the alley behind Harry’s.
She’d been out of town for more than a week when she found Speedbump in her backyard, curled up and lifeless between the RV and the shed.
She remembered he’d been moving really slow the last time she saw him.
“I think he passed away peacefully from old age,’’ she wrote in a Facebook thread where concerned regulars had been weighing in about the cat’s fate.
IT WAS A COLD winter day in 2009 when Speedbump first wandered in from the alley behind Harry’s, his black fur wet from the rain.
“He was looking around. He was scared and hungry,’’ said Roger Fain, one of the many regulars who started putting out paper plates of cat food on the side patio.
Before long, the wayward stray was making himself at home, easing into a life of luxury and laughter.
“I’d come in in the morning and he'd be laying against the curb, sometimes in the middle of the parking lot,” De Stout said.
“I talked to Speedbump all the time, even though he’s smarter than me. ‘Why are you sleeping under my Jeep? You’re going to get run over!’’’
The sights and sounds of arriving customers signaled two perks for Speedbump: New shade spots beneath the cars in the back parking lot and treats.
Lots of treats.
“Do you remember Judy, who used to be the bartender for more than 25 years and ran the place?’’ De Stout asks, referring to the late Judy “Queen Bee” Fischer who passed away in 2019.
“Judy always had treats in her purse. And as soon as she got out of the car that cat would come out of nowhere and be headed out to the parking lot. He loved her.’’
But there was perhaps no greater bond than the one Speedbump shared with Carbone, the longtime bartender who once ran the Ray’s Downtown Blues club in West Palm Beach.
“I never get attached to animals, but this cat adopted me,’’ Carbone said.
“When I first started working here, it was either ‘08 or in ‘09, that cat just showed up. I’ve never seen a stray cat just come into a bar and just decide to be there every day,’’ he said.
Carbone took the cat to the vet to get shots. He brought blankets to the bar for the cat to use as a bed. But Speedbump’s master bedroom was the pool table, where he was able to catch afternoon cat naps no matter how loud the jukebox blared.
“If he was walking down the bar and people were playing pool, he would jump onto the pool table and move the balls out of the way and just lay there,’’ Carbone said.
“Customers would say, ‘Hey, the cats on the pool table. Can I move him?' And I’d say, ‘I wouldn't try that.’ He could be mean. And, believe me, those claws hurt.’’
When the cat started taking over the joint, De Stout laid down the law for his staff and customers.
One: It’s OK to keep the Friskies and Fancy Feast in the cabinet beneath the register, as long as the cat eats outside.
“They used to put food inside here,’’ he said. “I'm like, ‘Guys! During the day it’s cat food but when we're closed at night it's rat food!”
Which brings up his other rule: Speedbump was free to roam Harry’s during business hours, but when the bar closed the cat stayed outside.
That rule wasn’t always followed.
“I’ll tell you what has happened on more than one occasion. The cat’s in here, they lock up and they leave, and then the cat would get up from where he was sleeping on the pool table and move and the motion sensor would go off and set off the alarm,’’ De Stout says, laughing.
“I’d get a call at 4 in the morning. I’d have to meet the police here. One time I’m telling them ‘I’m sure, I’m sure it’s just the cat.’ The cops follow me to the back door. I opened it and he’s sitting right there looking up at me. And the cops are behind me looking over my shoulder!”
Before long, Speedbump became as popular at Harry's as the cheap draft beer and the witty signs on the outside marquee.
A favorite gag was to pose the cat for portraits, usually with a bottle of Corona or half-empty mug. It never bothered Speedbump; he always had a knack for making customers smile.
“Some customers, like Roger, he lives around the corner, he came in every night at 9 and fed him. Put a can out back,’’ De Stout said.
When the cat went missing early this month, everyone suspected the worst but few came out and said it.
“He's got to be dead,’’ bartender Megan Harris said on Sunday. “He would never be gone this long. He's here and he's at Sneakers (bar) and Sneakers hasn't seen him in a while, either.’’
She rejected speculation that the cat had found a more generous home.
“That cat’s not going anywhere else to be fed,’ she said.
De Stout agreed. “More people fed him here.’’
“He wasn’t super healthy,’’ Harris added. “He was older. Cats leave when they know they’re going to die.’’
“Roger said the last couple of weeks he wasn’t eating,’’ De Stout said.
“He hasn't looked good for a while,’’ Harris said.
After a long silence, De Stout tried to change the subject. He started talking about Harry’s Christmas in July Back to School charity party this coming Saturday when the bar and patrons raise money to buy school supplies for students at four elementary schools.
The event will be lots of fun, De Stout said, but it won't be the same without Speedbump.
“People are going to be saying, ‘Where’s the cat?’’’
Carbone held out hope until the end, too, trying to rationalize the chances of a positive outcome.
“I'm also a realist,’’ he said Sunday night. “He’s got to be 14 (years old), at least. He wasn't looking good at the end. But he went through the whole pandemic and we would come in when we couldn't open and give him food to make sure he was all right and he survived through that. So who knows?’’
When he learned the next day that Speedbump’s body had been found, Carbone wasn’t surprised. But that didn’t stop him from shedding a few tears.
“It’s difficult for me, as tough a guy as I am, running bars all my adult life, to accept the fact that he's dead,’’ he said.
“I've lost two fellow bartenders and a manager in the last four years and that breaks my heart. But losing him,’’ he said, choking up, “it's up there. Don't make me out to be a sap, but I am a little sappy about this one.’’
Saturday’s school supply charity event will double as a wake of sorts for the popular cat. Everyone is being asked to bring their favorite Speedbump photos for display in a makeshift shrine.
“I thought about having him stuffed and put up on one of the shelves, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that,’’ De Stout said.
Speedbump came home to Harry’s for the last time on Tuesday morning.
De Stout said he canceled his morning golf outing so he could give the cat a proper burial.
He collected the cat’s body, sealed it in a plastic container and brought it to a worn but peaceful patch of grass next to one of Speedbump’s favorite lounging spots, the picnic tables on the bar's side patio.
He dug a hole and, with help from Fain, laid the cat to rest in front of a wooden fence decorated with a makeshift gravestone made of posterboard:
“RIP SPEEDBUMP — He lived longer than most of our customers, and smelled better too!”
After shoveling dirt over the Tupperware coffin, Fain went home. But De Stout had one more job.
He pulled out the step ladder, a box of plastic letters and climbed up to the marquee where he bestowed the late, great cat with the perhaps the ultimate Harry’s Banana Farm honor:
“SPEEDBUMP’S DEEPER THAN MOST PEOPLE, & COLDER TOO!”
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