Monday, November 9, 2009

Starting a New Life While Illegally Parked on Las Olas Boulevard: Fort Lauderdale 1995

We had driven down from Champaign, IL to south Florida. To Fort Lauderdale. I had decided that we'd be moving there. In the car was my wife, Fru, First Daughter (4 yrs old) and Second Daughter (2 yrs old). We had made reservations at the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale. It was one of the oldest hotels in the city. It was about the only hotel located downtown. I had picked it out because of those two things but otherwise knew nothing about it.
So, we--my family of four--pulled off Interstate 95, found our way into downtown, found our way to Las Olas and found the hotel. But, I didn't know where to park. Sure, we saw the hotel's entrance, but there was no way to pull up and get in there--unless you were a pedestrian. Huh. So, not knowing what else to do, I simply pulled over to the curb in the only place there was space--across the divided boulevard, in front of the bus stop and at the corner of a light. Okay, it was essentially an illegal parking job but I and the kids remained in the car while Fru got out, crossed the street and disappeared into the hotel to check in and see where the heck we were supposed to park our car.
Sitting there, exhausted and a bit discombobulated from the long drive, from being in a place foreign to me, with my girls being good in the back seat, I expected trouble. I figured people would start honking at me, or a cop would come and tell me to move along. But, no one did. I mean, we had lived in the midwest for the last six years or so, where rules were rules. But, people didn't even look at us, they just went around us and about their business.
And as I sat there, windows open, the sounds and smells of south Florida coming in my window, I looked around and realized that this was it, this was where we were going to live. I looked at the buildings--though Fort Lauderdale was not a big city, especially in 1995--those buildings were much bigger and denser than old Champaign/Urbana. I looked at the trees: many trees with drooping foliage, palms and their fronds, flowering and creeping stuff everywhere; the sun streamed down and down and the shadows of the plants were heavy. And the smells. Sure, there was the smell of traffic and concrete and dust, but the whole texture of the air was different, thick and redolent of plantlife and decay, of water and salt and musky mustiness. Hard to explain, but everything was thick and heavy and sweet--slow--which was both pleasant and unpleasant. And I thought, this is it, this is where we will indeed be, what we will get used to, what my little girls will grow up with for the next two, three, five, ten years--I had no idea how long we would live in Florida.
I had lived in north Florida for a number of years, knew it quite well. I'd spent a lot of time in the Keys and Key West. But, I'd never really stopped in Miami or in Ft. Lauderdale or Palm Beach. I knew little about it or what it held--knew little of the urban Florida environment.
So, there we sat, illegally parked on Las Olas, me contemplating a new life, my girls happy and basically unaware of the changes coming . . . and then Fru came out of the Riverside Hotel, back to the car. She had our room keys. She said we had to pull in back, that's where the check-in entrance was.
Okay. I pulled in back.
Now I at least knew that much about Fort Lauderdale.

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