A Change in Perspective by Betzi Simons
I had lived in the area for 16 years and other than thinking it was cool to see it out of my home’s back glass doors, I honestly never gave much thought to the Citrus Tower.
In May of last year, I found myself looking for part-time work at the end of homeschooling my sons for 17 years. Among many of the doubts plaguing my mind was one where I was asking myself, “Who would hire a 47 year-old woman with nothing but an A.A. degree to her name, few marketable skills, and little to very “rusty” experience?” I don’t know, I mean, does putting together lesson plans and weekly menus count as marketable? Not the best thoughts I realize, but this is where I was mentally when I received a text from my son letting me know his friend, Scott Homan, was looking for a cashier at the Citrus Tower. My son asked me if I would be interested, to which I hesitantly responded, “Yes”. So I was put in touch with Scott, showed up for my interview and, lo and behold, I was hired. I was on my way to my journey with the Citrus Tower by the end of that month.
One of my first memories upon entering the Citrus Tower is the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting throughout the lobby as I walked in. Can I just say, they had me at coffee. I was oblivious to the fact that a coffee shop had been there for just over a month and was most pleasantly surprised to see it there. To top it off, about a week into my employment at the tower I had my first taste of Mountaineer’s homemade toaster pastry. Now, if you’ve had one of those babies you know what I’m talking about.
Sweets and coffee aside, I did find it somewhat nerve-wracking to ride up a sixty-something year-old Otis elevator those first few weeks. For someone with a bit of claustrophobia, well, let’s just say I was keeping my phone on me at all times. (Scott reassured me it is their top priority to keep the elevator well maintained and in the time I have worked there I have seen evidence of that). Once the elevator doors open, the view you get to witness makes that ride totally worth it. You might think it gets boring seeing the same view over and over, but the thing is, it’s not the same every time. The view is a constantly changing canvas containing our picturesque Clermont Chain of Lakes and the surrounding landscape overlooked by our ever-changing Florida sky as far as your eyes can see on the clearest day.
In July, I had the privilege of snagging what I think were the last tickets to enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks viewing from the top, something I understand had not been open to the public before. You couldn’t ask for a more spectacular, bug-free and air-conditioned location in Central Florida for viewing the local celebrations with friends and family. The rain that day seemed to stop just in time for us to be able to enjoy the festivities.
By mid-July the Tower got ready to celebrate its 63rd birthday. Our social media presence brought many of our local families to the lobby filled with bright orange balloons where a photo booth for guests was set up over the week-long celebration. Meanwhile, a lot of effort was going into completing the much needed renovations at the top. By August we were all impressed by the amazing face lift the top had undergone, complete with a fresh paint job, roof repairs, new insulation, countertops all around and new stools. It truly was brought into the here and now.
Then in August, as a way to add a more personal touch to the experiences of our guests, guided tours to the top were reintroduced. Being able to interact with guests in this personal way was a game-changer, not only for our guests, but also for us at the tower. Sure we were giving them the tour (about our history, pointing out the landmarks and answering questions), but at the same time we were enriched by some of the most interesting conversations about places people came from, their cultures and their experiences. In some cases, locals who had never visited us ventured out to see us; some of them even excited to give us pointers about the local history and area. By early this year, it was inspiring seeing an increase in the number of regulars visiting either to chat with friends over coffee, visit the arcade with family, use the community room or simply popping in for their treasures from the Amazon locker or the Treasure Truck.
Fast forward to March of this year…after the tower had to be closed for safety because of the global pandemic, my husband and I visited the parking lot of the Citrus Tower the night before Florida’s mandated stay-at-home order. We went to see Christmas lights on the tower, placed there to give our community a beacon of hope during this time. I felt so emotional because to me the heart of this tower has been to be a place of community and now we were all being told we couldn’t be together. So many memories flooded my mind that reminded me of the specialness of this place. To name a few: the fun paper airplane throwing competition; the beautiful Christmas season; making freshly squeezed orange juice with the kiddos of this community; painting the Community Art Wall with our friends late into the night; the myriad of lobby transformations (all to make us cozy, of course); and seeing a community banding together to bring back the Christmas Spectacular (okay, so there were free Chick-Fil-A cards, but it’s back!!!).
Frankly, I want it all to be back because to me, this is no longer a tall building with orange stripes that I glance at from my door every now and again. I don’t think it’s like that anymore for a lot of us locals either. I can’t see this place as just an old Florida attraction anymore. You see, for the past 10 months I feel like I‘ve had a front-row seat to one of the most amazing transformations, but most significantly, it was a transformation to my perspective of this community and its beautiful people. For so many years I had taken for granted how blessed I have been to get to do life here. I cannot wait to return to the Citrus Tower and see the familiar faces I have missed so much and I hope you all will come in and say “hi” to us when you do.