Note - This will likely be pretty long-winded and detailed.
I left out of snowy northeast Tennessee at about 7:30 AM on Thursday morning headed for sunny Jacksonville Florida. This is my first law school visit - to Florida Coastal School of Law. I am accompanied by my lovely wife who has applied to University of North Florida - she is on a similar recon mission.
The drive takes just about 8 hours on what becomes - the further south we go - a very beautiful day.
We arrive in Jacksonville around 4:00 PM and head downtown to cruise past Alltel Stadium and to get a closeup glimpse of the bigger buildings. A wrong turn thanks to my exceptional navigational capabilites led us to an upramp across the St. Johns River (which splits the city) and onto the Mathews Bridge (scroll to bottom) http://www.jacksonville.com/discover/2005/stories/011205/com_17624389.shtml
. This is definitely a big ol' bridge. It got our attention.
We were soon down on the other side and working our way through rush hour traffic. I thought that the first stop should be to locate Florida Coastal and try to gain my bearings. After a couple of wrong turns I finally stopped and purchased a street map of Jacksonville at a BP station. Note: This city is biiiiiiggggg. Large as in sprawling out all over god's creation. The map is big. Fold it up to the area you are looking at before getting back in the car, unless your SO can see to drive through street maps.
I found the school, and also discovered a key fact about navigating East Jacksonville.
The east side has 2 principal east-west roads, and 2 north-south roads. East/West are Beach Boulevard and Atlantic boulevard. North South are University and Southside. Start with that knowledge and work everything into a grid and that creates a pretty good starting point for getting your bearings.http://www.jacksonville.com/discover/2005/stories/011205/com_17624620.shtml
I saw the school and drove around the campus (description later - in chronological order) and then headed off to find my room at the Homestead Suites.
First of all, I don't recommend that you stay at the Homestead Suites Skinner. The room was small, clean and did not include any maid service. The bed was something akin to sleeping on a wooden pallet. It was cheap, but it sucked. I have grown spoiled from staying at nicer places, so it might not be that bad, but go somewhere that you can get a good night’s sleep. One odd story about this place – The queen bed only had 2 pillows, and I decided after the first night that 2 more pillows just might allow me to create the proper cushioning necessary to sleep more than 20 minutes at a time. I went over to the office and asked if I could have a couple more. The guy at the counter said yes and asked me to follow him. We walked around to the back of the hotel and went into the laundry room. I got to pick out my own pillows and pillow cases. Just a little bit strange.
One last note – there are other places that are closer to the school that seemed nicer – as in better. I am sure they are not that cheap (approx $30 or $40 per night via Travelocity) but you might find it makes for a better experience.
After checking in and unpacking we headed for the most important feature of the city – its beaches. From out hotel it was about a 20 minute drive in pretty abominable rush-hour traffic – it maybe should have taken 10 minutes – but I probably didn’t go the fastest route, and we were driving slower than most of the rest of the traffic due to our unfamiliarity – and of course our pitiful gayness that caused us to be intimidated by the traffic.
The beaches are publicly accessible – with ample parking at 6:00 on Thursday evening. Unlike say – Myrtle Beach, the hotels and properties along the coast don’t seem to own every available parking space. Pretty much anybody could find a spot to park if you were willing to walk across a street or two. In our case – we didn’t have to. I parked right beside the public entrance and walked right out to the ocean. It was really windy and cool. The sun was near to setting or already had set. The water had a choppy black look. It was incredibly pretty – contrasting the clean sandy beaches against the angry looking water. My wife got soaked playing chicken with the waves. I ended up dry, as I have always been wary of sea hags dragging me down to a watery grave, and never once let down my guard.
More on the beaches later.
The area around the beaches consists of private homes, restaurants, large – lovely hotels, incredible looking condominiums, a few business offices, older hotels that appear a tad rundown when compared against the new construction. My description is poor, but it seems like what it is, a little city. It is myrtle beach without the pavilion and bumper to bumper traffic. All of the touristy clubs and shops are not there. It is just a really neat collection of homes and businesses and bars that would be really cool to live around. That might not be so true at the peak of the summer season, but I don’t believe that you’d find this to be the typical tourist trap beach like Myrtle or Daytona.
After the beaches we headed back to better known territory. We found the large Regency Square Mall – and the food court for a quick bite to eat. This is where I noticed the first thing that caught my attention as being distinctly different from my home and other cities I am familiar with. The food court place we chose for dinner had the same food court staff that are everywhere else in every mall in the country. Only these teenagers provided great service and seemed to be actually interested in taking and cooking our orders. It might have been because I was tired and looked like the devil (as I tend to if I don’t keep horns sanded down) or it might be because they are just not the same slacker kids that work in other malls. I won’t spoil everything here – but I can only say that the people I met in Jacksonville – at the school – and everywhere else – were nice. Not phony nice or extremely nice. Just nice. They got my orders correct. They thanked me. They held doors for me. They seemed to not have a bad attitude about it, and it made every experience in Jacksonville better. It was civility at its most mundane and unpretentious and it was a joy to my heart that such a thing still exists.
We went back to our room and settled in for a long – if not good night’s sleep. 9:00 PM bedtime. I normally take Ambien, but decided not to bring it on this trip. I fell asleep immediately and woke up after what seemed to my internal clock to be about 6 hours. I looked at the clock and saw that I had actually been sleeping 2 hours. The rest of the night consisted of 20 minute naps where I would be confronted with dreams that went something like this.
Crazy Uncle – “Yer gonna borry how much munnie to go be a lawyer? That’s a terrible idea. What’s your bachelors degree in? Why don’t you go be a teacher?” I would wake up right before I would go hostile.
The other dream – if you are interested – is that I was outside a pretty apartment, well landscaped with tropical plants, but I can hear a lion coming for me, circling me and stalking me. In my arms I am holding my wife’s cat Molly who is the wedding present from our 1st Christmas together. The Lion would eat Molly – no doubt about it – so I have to figure how to run the 20 yards or so back to the apartment without getting killed or losing Molly. My strategy involved punching it in its nose, as it is impossible for any living creature to appreciate a punch to the nose. Thank goodness the dream ended before I had to try my hand at fighting the King of the Jungle. I am merely the Dork of the Discussion Board – but I’d make pretty good-eating.
Morning comes and we clean up nicely for an appointment at Leasing Jacksonville – a company committed to help find and meet the needs of future residents. Wanda was the person we spoke with and she was pretty helpful. – She came highly recommended. She established our needs and gave us a variety of locations that would meet both price and size range. We had time to visit one apartment complex prior to meeting at Florida Coastal.
We stopped at the very close-by Bentley Green which offers 1 bedroom apartments from $600 - $650 per month. The community was pretty, and had 3 or 4 pools and a fitness center. Bobby Moreno at this office is definitely a good resource at this property.904-731-8901 www.waldenmanagement.com
. This was a good place to look at for your first place. The guy was nice and he golfcarted us around to see the sites. We liked it and we liked him, but we have to make sure that we make the best decision possible. Took his card and advertisment (he really is very professional and good).
But alas we were running late for our visit to FCSL. We quickly found the right direction and managed to pull into campus 15 minutes early. The walk into campus took approximately 10 seconds, as I found parking just by the door – there was more than one spot, but not many more.