Friday, November 20, 2009

Hotel Life: Fort Lauderdale 1996

In 1995 I'd been accepted at Florida International University for graduate school. I'd started my MFA at Iowa back in 1986--but dropped out. I'd gone to the University of Montana in 1988--but quit after they wouldn't give me a teaching assistantship. So, now I was ready to do it and finish it. But . . . though we'd come to Ft. lauderdale and Fru had been offered a job, when we got back to Champaign her bank offered her a great financial deal to stay for one more year, so, I deferred my enrollment at FIU for one year and we finally moved to South Florida in May of 1996.
As good luck would have it, by that time Fru had been offered a better job at Sun Trust Bank in downtown Fort Lauderdale--so our move and our first lodging was paid for by that company. And they put us up at the Riverside Hotel.
Ah. Hotel life.
We'd stayed at the Riverside before, by blind choice, when we first came as a family to visit the city. And we'd loved it. It was an old hotel right on Las Olas Boulevard right in the heart of downtown. Sun Trust Bank was almost across the street from the hotel, so when they put us up there we were very pleased.
And we lived there for over a month, in a single room with two queen beds, on the third floor. I watched the girls, who were five and three years old, respectively, and prepared for grad school at FIU (where I would teach as well). But that late spring into summer, Fru would get up and get ready for work and walk across the street and I would get the girls up and, usually, take them to the pool. And the Riverside had a fantastic pool. It was big and heated, it was across the small back street and along the river so that you'd see big boats go by as you swam. The girls would bring their toys and other stuff and we'd swim and play and lounge. Yes, a tough life, I know . . . Of course we did other things, but it's the pool I remember the most.
We had a small fridge in the room and there was a Hyde Park Market next door, so I'd go there to buy drinks and snacks and deli meat and cheeses for sandwiches. We ate out now and then, had room service once in a while, but mainly it was just the four of us ensconced in the Riverside. And it was fun. Sure, it got old, it was crowded, the girls became bored. There was one other family living there at the time who we became friends with, they had two daughters about the same age as ours, so the girls swan with them, etc. That family was prepping their sailboat to get ready to live on it (a typical Ft. lauderdale thing, as we discovered over the years).
There was a small Lebanese sandwich shop on Las Olas near the hotel which we frequented. The guy who ran it and owned it was a nice guy, his wife was Swedish and he was Lebanese. Fru and I thought we'd have to buy a house out in the west of Broward County because of schools and prices and such, but I talked to this guy one day and he said, nah, there were good schools right in town, one in a neighborhood just blocks from Las Olas. Hmmm. Fru and I had looked at some homes and condos out west, the realtor taking us into the nether-reaches of Broward to new home construction sites, but we didn't like them. We wanted to live in town. So, one day I took a walk over to the neighborhood the sandwich shop owner had told me about and I was delighted: small homes, small streets, heavenly vegetation and a cool public magnet school--Montessori--named Virginia Shuman Young.
The neighborhood was Victoria Park.
So, it ended up that we rented a house in Victoria Park, that First Daughter started kindergarten there. We loved it. And though we ended up buying a house south of downtown a year later, both daughters went to VSY and it was a great school, and we still have good friends in Victoria Park . . . but our first taste of living in South Florida was the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.
The hotel has changed quite a bit--it's grown, things have been redone and moved around. But it still looks pretty much the same from the front, it still has the Mexican tiled floors, the same garden and the same old-south subtropic vibe. And the pool is still there. We go to the hotel now and then, have even stayed there again and swam there agin.
You can still watch the boats motor by as you swim.

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