Orange & Blue

It’s been a quarter of a century since I last visited the sprawling campus of my alma mater. As I embarked on my sentimental jog along Stadium Road passing historic General Van Fleet Hall, I was elated with fond memories of the happiest days of my life.

Student-life taught me more about cooperation and diversity than 20+ years in the Navy ever did.  I tell this to my son – cherish it – you’ll never experience this type of freedom and flexibility again.

There were challenges, too. I remember sitting through boring lectures, the long hours toiling over class projects.

I remember the all nighters because I had procrastinated writing my essay until the last bitter minute, then sitting through boring lectures the next day, surviving on no doz and infrequent power naps.

As I walked past Rhines Hall, the school for Material Science and Engineering memories of linear equations started popping through my head. What I liked about Materials Science is the fact that it combines engineering, physics and chemistry to solve real-world problems. That’s why I switched my major from Public Relations to MSE.

As a tireless engineering student, resident assistant and community activist, I wore many hats – all of them fit, but never too snugly. But despite the heavy course-load and a wide-range of extracurricular activities, I couldn’t be more content.

I loved the hustle and bustle of student life, the spirited sporting events, and uplifting social scene. Gator Growl was a welcomed annual ritual, the swamp with the cacophony of cheering fans and blistering heat was according to the legendary coach Steve Spurrier, “the place where only Gators got out alive.” And hawking ice-cold cokes in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium made me enough pocket change to sustain me until the next home game.

Two Bits, Four Bits, Six Bits, a Dollar; All for the Gators, stand up and holler! That chant played back mindlessly when I should have been focusing on Ohm’s Law and the Pythagoras’s Theorem – Emmitt Smith was my idol, and I definitely bled Orange and Blue. And when I returned to visit the Gainesville campus after been absent for a quarter of a century I embarked on a lengthy nostalgic trip.

If it wasn’t for my first assignment to Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, R.I., I probably never would have never left.

On this particular chilly, blustery day, the campus resembled a ghost town or a city on lock down. Thousands of students were relaxing and enjoying the early spring sunshine in Daytona, Miami, Bahamas and all points south and both the central HUB and Reitz Union were eerily quiet.

There were many advantages to visiting during spring break. In many ways, I had the whole place to myself. I got to run around my old stomping grounds with abandon without running into countless bikes and skateboards. For a long, mindless stretch, I was the only soul within earshot, just me, the wood ducks and the feisty alligator sunning in Lake Wauberg.

Although I was an RA in my third year, I stayed at a co-op the first three years:

I was surprised how much Cooperative Living Organization (CLO) looked the same.  I met two CLOnes and was happy to swap stories.  They told me about the retreat at Lake Wauberg, and how it brought everyone together.   I’m glad I stayed at CLO – it was where I spent my first 3 formative years at UF.

CLO was formed in 1931 by four students from Tallahassee who sought to live inexpensively by sharing common duties. In 1940 a UF professor placed the property on 117 N.W. 15th Street in trust with CLO which later incorporated as the Collegiate Living Organization, Inc.

Since then hundreds of thousands of financially disadvantaged students are provided an opportunity to afford college at UF.

I enjoyed CLO because I had just served three years in the Navy and was accustomed to cleaning and maintenance duties. I’ll never forget my cranking duties in the chief’s mess, which was actually the highlight of my tour on the USS Francis Hammond.

CLO reinforced my maintenance and cooperative skills and helped me grow. If something to be fixed, painted or cleaned, we would delegate chores and get it done. If there were any major challenges, we would put our heads together to solve the problem. We came from all over the world from a wide variety of background. It’s amazing what duct tape and crazy glue can do.

Since then, CLO has experienced many challenges such as an embezzling scandal by student leaders and a move by the University to close its doors in 2006. UF claimed that the building was too run down to maintain and filed a lawsuit to take over the property.

During that time, the alumni stepped in and raised enough funds to keep the building maintenance alive. 90 years later, the CLO dream is still alive and well.

It was Fat Tuesday and I was in the mood for jumbalaya and andouille sausage. Harry’s Bar and Grill in downtown Gainesville was the perfect venue to celebrate the Cajun festival. I sat down at the bar and immediately ordered an Abita on draft.

“What are you eating?” I asked a dead-sexy attractive middle-aged lady sitting next to me who was enjoying her seafood gumbo and was in the mood for a chat.

We immediately started a conversation and connected about life in Gainesville. She was not connected to the university, but she had lived here for a few years and her adult daughter lived here, too.

“Thinking about going bar-hopping after this. Wanna come?” she asked.

That’s all she needed to say. I was ready to go visit some of the bars that had opened long after I had left.

We then visited this club down the street called Midnight. The club was an open patio that didn’t open till late and stayed open till the wee hours.

The next day we visited Chopstix Cafe,a Gainesville local staple that offers an amazing lakefront view.  We met Titi, the owner who shared with us her Vietnamese heritage. She told us about the time,  Hurricane Irma barreled through north central Florida.  Lots of places had shuttered, but Chopstix Cafe stayed open 

 

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