Home with New Eyes

This past weekend Aimee and I went to my homeland of Orlando for my friend Nate's wedding. It was a beautiful affair with a Spanish bride, bilingual service held in the chapel of my alma mater Rollins College, and a party at the Citrus Club 70 stories up with a 360 view of downtown Orlando. Three weeks earlier Aimee and I stood 96 stories high over Chicago in the Sky Lounge of the Hancock Tower, and while Orlando's three big towers and urban sprawl glitter and impress, they appear like logs and embers next to the burning forest of Chicago at night.

The next morning, the city imploded the old Amway Center and Aimee and I drove by to see the piles of rubble. My mouth dropped and I laughed huh huh at sight of the fallen ruins where I saw Dylan twice, Springsteen once, several Magic games and the Solar Bears too. The rubble looked like a portent of the apocalypse. Wind swept and ashy, it lay in great heaps like dismantled dreams, broken communities. Against the shocking blue sky great banners read future home of the Creative Village, a vestige of hope stamped onto the fresh desolation of the demolition.

From there we drove up Edgewater Drive, through swanky College Park where my parents once ran Chef Haney's Cafe when I was 5, over to the Kerouac House whose door was open and which looked like every other home in the neighborhood, modestly built in the 40's or so, except that I had been there before on Google maps, steering my cursor up and down those streets, setting my mental me down on that bench in the front yard and sitting on that front stoop where Kerouac once ate a million tangerines and collapsed in the grass with Mexican fever. Then up to Edgewater proper with its quaint mainstreet and centrally located high school, its historic golf course Dubsdred and we ate at Tijuana Flats and had Dos Equis for lunch on the patio in the beautiful sunny 75-degree weater with the wind whipping down from the northeast. I feared that our beers would blow over (is there a greater fear in life? If there is, you're not doing it right) as people's empty plates set sail on the gusts, leftover chips and jalapenos falling down while the styrofoam lifted into into the tree's highest branch and sailed over the roof. The restaurant manager chuckled heh heh and us patrons marvelled whoa at the commingling of man and natural forces and the organic unity therein.

We drove further northeast into the no man's land of northeast Orlando and finally found Eatonville, its sad downtrodden main drag all run over with weeds and shacks for buildings. The oldest black incorporated municipality in the U.S. and signs for Zora Neale Hurston hanging everywhere. I told Aimee about Alice Walker's famous essay "Looking for Zora" in which the author hunts for Hurston's grave, staying mainly in this impoverished town interviewing its residents to get the low-down on its most recognizable denizen. And Aimee with thumbs flying over her smart phone in the passenger seat researched a faint memory from grade school about another black town in Florida where the white boys came in and killed six black boys on allegations that one had accosted their sister. They burned the whole town down and now no one lives there and no one talks about it despite the culture of oral transmission among African Americans (this according to Wikipedia, you see).

Aimee said humph. I said humph and we kept driving into Maitland where immediately the property value went up--fancy boutiques, french restaurants, curlicues on the rooftops--and down to Don Reid Ford by whose profits I've traveled the world (thanks always Bob) and through the monument of commercialism Winter Park Village, again by the municipal golf course and down Park Avenue, the heart of Winter Park, over to the antique district and the final fancy drags of North Orlando.

We ended up at Orlando Brewery where a choir group sat outside singing parody renditions of oldies a cappella with the words replaced by paeans to beer. A group of seven carolers sat on the windy patio in their jeans and beer-themed t-shirts singing my favorite "I'm Having Another" to the tune of the Turtles' "So Happy Together," talking about having to go home to "wax the dog, and walk the car"; "cut the floor, and mop the yard," but instead they insisted, "I'm having anotherrrrrr," and for the chorus: "beer beer beer beer beer beer-beer beer beer-beer beer, beer beer-beer beeeeeer."

"Look at us," Aimee said. "Middle class tourists taking in the sights in our Chrysler Sebring." Old Orlando, looking new to me.

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