This is the first installment in an occasional series about the people who keep returning to old South Florida motels.
For decades, U.S. 1 in South Florida has been dotted with small, colorful motels. For some families, the motels have become nostalgic destinations they return to year after year.
One such place is Richard's Motel in Hollywood. It caters to the French-Canadian community from Quebec.
It feels more hidden than the rest of Hollywood — less like the parts of the city that are growing up with tall apartment buildings, and more like the Old Florida that you see on vintage postcards.
Richard's Motel is on U.S. 1 just south of Young Circle in Hollywood, and its design is eclectic. There's tropical plants everywhere, a parrot named Mango, koi fish. Statues of an elephant and a soldier guard the entrance. Little paths take you deeper into the place.
In the courtyard, people barbecue hot dogs and play cornhole at the weekly Friday night happy hour during winter, peak tourist season. Old friends catch up on their year while they're children run around with paper plates full of pizza.
It's a relaxed, loud atmosphere full of people in plastic lawn chairs, speaking French.
And it's the kind of place that proprietor Richard Clavet wishes he'd had when he first moved to the U.S. from Quebec and only spoke French. He struggled with the language barrier.
"You know, how free are you if you go to a motel and you're having a hard time to even ask for toilet paper? Or if you get sick and nobody's going to be able to help you in your language?" Clavet says.
Now, he vows to create a culturally comfortable place for his guests. They're at ease to speak French, eat French-Canadian foods, including poutine, and they watch French TV in their rooms.
Clavet bought Richard's Motel in 1990, 30 years ago. Now he has a Richard's empire – Richard's Hotel, Richard's Motel Studios, Richard's Pet Friendly Motel. And he lives with his family across the street.
"Every year, he puts more and more," said Kyra Ford, a regular vacationer at Richard's Motel. Her uncle was the person in her family who heard of Richard's Motel, and recommended it when she looked for a last-minute place to stay.
"He said, 'It's French,' so you're gonna be alright," Ford remembers.
That was New Year's Eve six years ago.
"There was all kinds of fireworks all around, so we had a 360 view of all the fireworks at Fort Lauderdale," she said. "That's the first, first, first memory we had and that's the coolest one."
Part of the appeal of coming back to Richard's is the consistency year after year, and seeing Clavet's familiar face. He's become extended family to many of his regulars.
"When we want to stop somewhere, we stop somewhere and we visit, like a real local,” Ford said.
The Quebec-to-Hollywood travel goes the other way, too. Last summer, Richard and his family visited Ford's family up north for a month.
Ford is 22. She's been coming here since her first year of university — and feels like Richard's has been a constant between some of life's major milestones.
"I have my work now, I have my stuff, my car," she said. "I need to take off work to come but I always try to do it.
She teaches high school chemistry and math, and she's studying for her masters in education. Much of the days she can take off around the Christmas holiday coincide with her school's calendar.
Last year, she and two sisters and their mom spent 23 days at Richard's Motel. It was the third year Ford's grandmother wasn't able to travel with them.
"She has a stroke. So she cannot come anymore," Ford said, becoming emotional. "She's home, she's OK now. That's the best we can wish."
Ford envisions keeping alive her family's tradition of visiting South Florida when she has children someday.
"I would come when I have my family," she said. "Yeah, in a couple of years when I have my stuff or my friends, or whatever, my boyfriend (I don't have one right now) but we would come back here for sure."
While here, her family loves to take long walks around Hollywood. They have a tradition to walk to Walmart.
"It's an hour walk to go and to come back, so that's a must for us," Ford said. "My best thing to buy at store, it's the bananas dipped in the chocolate. We don't have that in Canada so that's my favorite thing here."
For Jacques Girard, visiting the Texas Roadhouse in Miramar is his family's tradition while they stay at Richard's Motel in the winter.
Another French-Canadian regular at Richard's Motel empire, Gerard has been coming here for 16 holiday seasons, and helps Clavet organize the happy-hour gatherings for Christmas and New Years Day, too.
Girard also loves to drive his motorcycle around — he brings it from Quebec — and likes to cook out and watch boats go by at Haulover Park.
He said vacation starts for him, "when I don't look at my watch anymore and I don't know what day we're at."
To get exactly the room he wants every winter — the one with "the right amount of sun" — Girard books his family's vacations with Clavet two years ahead of time.
"So we can sit outside in the sun even if there's a little bit of wind,” he said. "That's the room I want all the rest of my life that I come here.”