My folks split in 1992 and shortly thereafter I moved with my dad to Orlando, Florida from North Carolina. My dad was in the Navy and had been transferred to the Naval Training Center.
I was thrilled about moving to Orlando. I was nine years old, and I was moving to the city of Nickelodeon Studios, Disney World, and Shaquille O’Neal. Life didn’t get much better than that.
Sadly, my dreams to going to Disney, Nickelodeon Studio, and seeing Shaq play, were never completed, but Orlando wasn’t all that bad. For two years, we lived on the base Annex where I made some great memories.
My father had remarried, but needed a place to watch my little brother and me during the summer and after school. So, we hung out at the Rec Center on base. The Rec Center was a large building attached to the skating rink that contained twenty or so arcade machines, pool tables, a huge rocket ship playground, a fenced in dining room, a TV with a NES hooked up, and a dozen of other rooms used for various activities such as arts and crafts.
The Rec Center used a repurposed school bus to transfer us from school to the center and on our field trips. The bus had been painted dark purple, so it was quickly deemed the “Barney Bus” and it was a bit embarrassing to get onto after school.
Looking back on it, the rec center staff of young twenty-somethings deserved a lot of credit for handling such a large group of kids and keeping us entertained. We played football, had pool tournaments, skating tournaments, made all sorts of arts and crafts, took field trips to see Jurassic Park, and to Waterland. Pretty much every day felt like an adventure.
The worse part of being at the rec center was the drinking situation. When you have that many kids, those large drinking coolers were used to mix up some massively underflavored Flavor-aid. It was terrible.
I find myself referring to memories at the Rec Center often. It was where I first tried to summon the Candyman and Bloody Mary. It was where I first played Mortal Kombat. I finally watched the terrible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III on the skating rink. Speaking of skating, I attempted to learn how to and you can read about that over at Retro-Daze.
I had my first crush at the Rec Center and met a really good friend Amira there as well. I caught my first huge football throw to the face, and broke my first bone after being pushed off a balance beam. I got to sit on a motorcycle for the first time and even watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for the first time. The Rec Center was my introduction to Mega Man, hangman, and bowling.
I wish I had some pictures from my time spent there or even better, a picture of inside the rec center, but sadly the Orlando Navy Base was closed in the mid 90’s and we moved off base for my dad’s final year in Orlando. Ironically enough, we rented a house from the lady who was in charge of the Rec Center, who had been transferred to Guam.
Now, where the Rec Center once stood, is a luxury neighborhood called Baldwin Park. I found myself in Orlando in 2019 and had hoped to see some glimpse of the base I grew up on, but nothing remains. Like so much in this world, it’s almost like it never existed.