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The Misplaced Hoosier

New to Florida by way of Indiana

I May be Misplaced, but Orlando is My City

In the 10 months since we’ve left Indianapolis, Orlando has just been the town I moved to.

Indiana was home, and Indianapolis was my hometown. I was here with reservations, and my heart wasn’t in it.

But last night, after 49 people were killed and another 53 wounded at Pulse,  a local gay nightclub here in Orlando, this has become my city.

On Sunday morning, Omar Mateen took an AR-15 assault rifle and a pistol to Pulse at 2 a.m. and exchanged gunfire with a police officer outside. He then entered the club, opened fire on the people inside, and then took hostages. Fifty people were killed and 53 more were injured; many of them escaped through various exits and got to safety. At roughly 5 a.m., the SWAT team stormed the building, and Mateen was killed in a gunfight.

We’re all stunned. My Facebook feed has been flooded with shock, anger, tears. Prayers and messages of support are coming from friends all over the country.

Vigils are being planned in Orlando, although law enforcement is requesting they be rescheduled. One was held last night, and more are scheduled for tonight. Even more vigils were held around the country — Louisville, Indianapolis, New York, Atlanta, Denver, Austin, Las Vegas.

Allentown.

As in Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania. A city of 118,000 people held a vigil for my city, 1,038 miles away. That’s some wonderful support.

Stilt walkers from the 2015 Pride Parade.
Stilt walkers from the 2015 Pride Parade.

Pleas for blood donations turned into long lines. Followed by more pleas from the blood centers to stop coming, because they had too much, and the lines stretched for blocks.

One of my first weekends here, my good friend, Clay Rivers, invited me to the Orlando Gay Pride parade. I had always promised myself I would go to Indy’s Pride parade, but never had the chance. Since I know many gay people, including Clay, I wanted to be supportive. It was a great time. I got to see how Orlando supported its gay citizens, and I was never more proud to be an ally of the LGBT community.

Except now the worst has happened in this open and supportive city: someone, fueled by intolerance, bought an assault rifle despite being on a terror watchlist, killed 50 people, and wounded 53 more.

Here, just a few miles from where I live and work. Here, where my friends live and work. Here, where I’ve become part of different communities. That made it personal.

I may forever be a misplaced Hoosier living in the wrong state, but Orlando is My City, and I’ll stand with them.

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The Time I Had an Overnight Guest

I had an overnight guest last week at the Kerouac House.

His name was Adam, and he was traveling.

Not on vacation, not on a trip.

Just. . . traveling.

He didn’t have anywhere to be, he just wanted to keep moving.

So I took him in because he was living the Jack Kerouac life. And I knew if I didn’t, I’d kick myself for years to come.

I met Adam at the Short Attention Span Storytelling Hour. . . Or Thereabouts, a monthly literary reading event at Stardust Video & Coffee in Winter Park. He was one of the last readers of the evening, and he opened with a series of long wolf howls, which had us all looking at each other.

“Who is this weird dude?” we asked other telepathically. No one knew.

Then he said, “That’s the first track from my new album,” which made us all laugh. He was a short, skinny white guy with short hair, and wearing a bandana. He stood up and applauded for every performer. I liked that he did that.

Adam told us he liked to attend open mic nights, and perform pieces from a musical he had written. He recited the lyrics of a song he wrote, hummed another one, and encouraged us to hum with him. The theme of his recitation was to be alive in the moment. His performance was so unusual and captivating, the people who followed seemed a little. . . well, dead.

He also told us he had a heavy backpack, because it had a tent in it, and would anyone be willing to let him pitch his tent for the night in their backyard? That’s it. Just a place to camp for the night.

Adam Guthman and Erik DeckersWhenever I hear requests for help, my first instinct is usually to offer it. I’m a helper. I’ve also been told this is not always a good thing, and so I’m a little cautious when I do so. Especially when it involves my family.

But as I was spending the night at the Kerouac House, I figured I was the only one at risk. I met Adam after the night ended, while I was talking with a friend outside, and offered him a room.

He seemed to hem and haw a bit, so I said, “You have to stay! It’s the Jack Kerouac House! It’s where Jack stayed after he wrote On The Road, his book about an epic road trip. Since you’re on one, you can sleep in his bed, maybe pick up some of his mojo.”

He accepted and went off to get his guitar and his backpack with the tent in it. I turned to my friend, Jessica. “If I’m dead tomorrow, you know who did it.” I promised to text her in the morning to let her know I wasn’t actually dead.

(Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.)

The rest of the night was very meditative. Adam did what he could to stay in the moment, to avoid labels and defining things, and to avoid talking a lot. He thought carefully about his answers before he gave them. His plan was to head to Mobile, Alabama the next morning, but when I asked him where he was heading after that, he didn’t know.

“Are you waiting for something in Mobile to inspire you?”

(2 second pause) “Yes,” he said.

Later, I asked him what he used to do. He said (4 second pause) he had been an in-house copywriter, working at a corporation in New York.

“What made you stop?”

(2 seconds)”I had a transformative personal experience,” was all he said. He didn’t elaborate any further. I didn’t push.

“Have you been writing about your travel experiences, or putting them online?”

(5 seconds) “I’d rather focus on being in the moment than worrying about remembering everything to tell it later. That detracts from my focus.” It was the longest thing he said to me all night.

Truth be told, it was a bit frustrating. I practice brevity in my writing, but only after I have a lot of information to build a story on. But Adam had this brevity thing down like a boss! Talking with him was like hearing a story with a Magnetic Poetry kit with some of the words missing.

The next morning, I made us a big breakfast. I didn’t want him to be hungry, since he had said on stage that his credit card was nearly maxed out. So I filled him up with eggs, sausage, and toast to at least get him through the day.

After breakfast, he asked for directions to Infusion Tea. It’s only two blocks from the Kerouac House, so he walked there, contacted Kris, one of the other writers in last night’s event, and spent a good part of the day with her, before catching the bus to Mobile, and the rest of his journey.

I remember a story in Outside magazine in 1993, about Chris McCandless, the young man who died in Alaska, after an adventure very much like Adam’s. Chris would set out for a city, guided by a final destination, but never planned the actual route or schedule.

He entered each new city as a stranger, and was fed and sheltered by people he met along the way. Sometimes, he would work in a restaurant kitchen in exchange for some food. It was an amazing nomadic existence, relying on the goodness and trust of other people. I wondered if Adam was going to be another Chris McCandless — albeit without the depressing end — and I didn’t want that opportunity to pass me by.

McCandless seemed like such a magical guy, like people loved him the moment they met him. Adam had some of that fire, and I wanted to warm my hands on it, even if it was only for a short time. I’ll never live Adam’s spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants life — the closest I get is going to bed at 3:00 am and getting up when I feel like — but I wanted to see what it looked like.

I’ve looked Adam up online, trying to find him, but no luck. It’s like he either erased himself, or his name really isn’t Adam Guthman.

If you meet him on one of his travels — because I think he’s going to have many more — give him a place to stay. Fill him with food. Be prepared for the slowest conversation you’ve ever had. And stay in the moment with him for as long as you can.

In Which I Make My Workbench

My house isn’t a home without a place to work in the garage. In the last 20+ years of home ownership and renter-ship, I’ve always had a workbench. Whether it was a small work table I built out of 2x4s and plywood, or a large, complex bench built with 2x6s and bolted to the wall, I’ve always had “my place” in the house.

Moving to Orlando from Indianapolis meant leaving my old workbench behind. This one was the best I had ever built — 17 linear feet, L-shaped, and was so solid, I could stand on it. I built it with 2x6s, 2x8s, and 2x12s for the top. The top was lauan plywood, which had three coats of polyurethane on it for durability, and I wrapped the whole top in 1×3 pine. This is where I worked on my projects, stored my woodworking tools, and even kept my books.

I wasn’t too happy when I had to leave my bench behind.

My garage workbench in Indianapolis
You’d be sad if you had to leave this! I also built that desk, but took it with me. (See that shelf in the middle of the wall? You’ll see it again soon.)

When we moved into our new house in Oviedo, I knew I wanted another workbench, but because we’re in a rental, and will most likely move again someday, I didn’t want anything permanent. And because my days of standing on my workbench for no particular reason are behind me, I decided I didn’t need something massive and sturdy.

I remembered an old New Yankee Workshop episode where Norm Abram had built a work table completely out of plywood. He even made it so it could be rolled around, and then the wheels lifted out of place. I found the episode on YouTube and watched it several times for inspiration.

(I was also pleased to find other New Yankee Workshop episodes there, so I watched several of those. I miss NYW, and wish Norm would come back.)

After turning my plans over and over in my brain for a while, I finally settled on a design. But unlike my other workbenches, I actually sketched this one out. It had been a point of pride that I had designed my past workbenches and tables in my head, and didn’t make a single sketch. But this time, I needed some actual plans so I didn’t waste any wood or make expensive mistakes.

For one thing, I was going to use all plywood, at $48 per sheet, and I didn’t want to buy too much, or have a lot of waste. So I sketched out the bench and created a cutting diagram. I even looked at it several times, so there may be something to this whole “plan it out in advance” technique everyone keeps talking about.

I won’t go through all the construction details, except to say God bless the inventor of the square head screw. I’m a firm believer in this over the Philips-head screw. Also, the flathead screw was created by the devil himself.

My son Ben leaning on the initial stages of my workbench
My son Ben helped me out quite a bit on this project.

My son Ben helped me out a lot on this project too. I would explain the steps to him so he could see how things went together, how tools worked, and to get him interested in woodworking. (He has said he’d like to be a luthier, a maker of guitars, so I figured I might as well give him a taste of the woodworking life). I tried to get my daughters involved too, but they weren’t as interested.

In the end, it took about three weeks to build the project, because I could only work on it on weekends, grabbing a few hours here and there. My neighbor, Mike, would stop by to check on my progress, and when I was done, I showed it off to him, complete with 4′ x 8′ peg board, and the triple-coated polyurethane top.

Now, if we ever move again, I don’t have to leave anything behind. I can unscrew the peg board and shelves from the wall, and just cart everything onto the truck, where it can be reinstalled in my new garage.

The completed workbench and peg board.
The completed bench and peg board. See how shiny the top is?! And there’s the shelf again, upper right. I built that about 17 years ago.

And I’m already thinking of new ideas for my next workbench. But I probably won’t be building one of my own. So if anyone wants some helping building a new workbench for their garage, let me know. I’ll be happy to help.

That Time We Rescued a Dog, Sort Of

I’ve always wanted to have the kind of house where stray animals just showed up. Like they recognized it as a beacon of safety and love, and knew that no matter how bad their life had gotten, they could come here and be taken care of.

Alas, that’s never happened to me, even growing up.

I’ve known people who have helped numerous dogs and cats over the years, because a stray or abandoned animal just showed up at their house. It’s one thing when it’s in the middle of the country, on a cold autumn night. But these are people in the city, where the animals had literally hundreds of houses to choose from, and yet, they all chose the same one over and over.

Until last night. Last night was almost my moment. Almost.

My son and I are putting the garbage cans out for the morning’s pickup, when we see a dog, hobbling down the street. I call to her, and walk over. She doesn’t run away, doesn’t shy away. She’s about 20 pounds, tail tucked between her legs. She lets me pet her, and I talk to her. She doesn’t act afraid, but I can tell she’s in pain.

She’s not wearing a tag, so I don’t know who to call. I’m debating whether to bring her into the garage, when a neighbor, Melissa, and her daughter, Monica, come over. They heard about the dog from Melissa’s husband, and came to help.

Pretty soon, my wife and daughters come out, plus two other girls from across the street. We’re all around the dog, petting her, talking to her. Monica brings a blanket from home, and my daughter, Emma, brings some dog food. The dog eats it all, so Emma gets some more.

We start wondering where the dog is from. She doesn’t have any tags, is she abandoned or lost? She’s in pain, but doesn’t have any injuries, and she doesn’t act afraid of anyone. But her muzzle is really gray, so she’s clearly older. Toni is sitting next to the dog, who has a blanket around her by now, and she leans against Toni.

Melissa volunteers to take the dog home, while Toni contacts her friend, Jodi, who runs an animal rescue organization. As Toni goes back and forth between Jodi and Melissa making arrangements, there’s breaking news: the dog’s owner has been found.

Melissa was taking the dog outside for a pee, when a guy walks up and says that’s his dog. It turns out it’s my neighbor, Ramon, who lives two houses away. I met him earlier that day. The dog got out while he had some people over, and he was out looking for her.

We learn the dog is 14 years old, and has arthritis in her hips, hence the hobbling. And she’s well-loved, which is why she didn’t mind eight strangers clustering around and speaking sweetly to her. And what dog doesn’t want more food?

The dog returned home with happy endings all around.

Except me. I still haven’t properly rescued a dog.

In Which I Make My First Sugar Cream Pie

There are two foods distinct (or nearly so) to my home state of Indiana: the breaded pork tenderloin and the sugar cream pie. In fact, those are the official state sandwich and state pie. They were voted on by the legislature and everything!

And Thanksgiving has come and gone for me without a single sugar cream pie. I spend two weeks before Thanksgiving searching the local grocery stores, but they don’t carry sugar cream pies. Also, their pumpkin pies look a little dubious.

I check Google for anybody in the Orlando selling sugar cream pies, but no joy. None of the local bakeries make them either. Wicks can ship them, and it’s only $23 for a box of 6. Problem is, it costs another $75 to have them overnighted and refrigerated, so it’s nearly $100 for a box of 6. Still, that’s only $16.33 per pie, so it’s an option if we ever get a bunch of homesick Hoosiers together.

I’m down to my only option: I have to make one myself. I’ve never made a sugar cream pie — hell, I’ve never made a pie at all — so this will be a first. But I know my way around the kitchen, so this should be fairly easy. However, things that are relatively simple tend to be very difficult, so I’m a little nervous.

I ask my friend, Joe Shoemaker, if he’ll share his sugar cream pie (the best I’ve ever had), but he refuses to help.

“No can do,” he says. “Family recipe.”

He does give some guidance, however, and tells me to avoid anything that calls for eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, or anything but pure cream. There are dozens of sugar cream pie recipes online, and I read through several of them.

My biggest takeaway? I’m annoyed at the number of them that refer to people from our state as “Indianans.”

“Indianans?” What the what? I understand Oklahomans, Iowans, and Ohioans. I even get Oregonians, Rhode Islanders, and Michiganders. But what the hell is an Indianan?

(Speaking of the Hoosier state, it was our 199th birthday yesterday. That means we are in our 200th year as a state. Take that, Hawaii!)

I pick a recipe that claims it was based on the original recipe printed on the back of Wicks pie crusts many years ago. Also, because it’s on the Indiana Public Media website — Indianans, my ass! (Also, I know the author, Heather Tallman.)

The Baking of the Sugar Cream Pie

My family is worried about my cooking attempts, because they usually end up being loud and a little swear-y. They don’t understand that’s part of the fun of cooking for me. I get to vent my frustrations by banging pots and pans around, and swearing at the stove for being an unreliable piece of shit. I understand why people may worry, since I’m also armed with knives and fire, but I actually love to cook, and I have never stabbed or burned anything. Other than my own hands.

My first sugar cream pie
My first ever sugar cream pie
I study the instructions and follow them perfectly. I put the ingredients — cream, milk, flour, and sugar — in a large bowl and beat the hell out of the mixture.

This turns out to be a problem. The end result is a little bubbly because all that beating let in too much air. It turns out I’m supposed to slowly stir everything. I also miss Joe’s advice about the pure cream and used a mixture of cream and milk, because that’s what Heather Tallman’s recipe called for.

Oh well, next time I’ll just stir it and let the mixture sit for a bit.

(“Next time?” Yes, family, there will be a next time.)

I drop pats of unsalted butter on the mix, also as the recipe calls for. Another mistake, because the butter doesn’t melt and sink into the mixture. (Next time. . .)

I’m supposed to bake it at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, and then 350 degrees for 30 minutes. After the correct time, the pie is still very runny, so I leave it in for another 18 minutes or so. Our stove in our rental home is an unreliable piece of shit, but I’m surprisingly calm about it all. I don’t swear at my pie the entire day.

I also put nutmeg on the filling, despite Joe’s warning, because I’m hoping it will disguise any flaws — like giant squares of butter globbed onto the pie’s surface — and to give the pie a crème brûlée look. I decide to tell people that was intentional. (Next time. . .)

Tonight, the Kerouac House is holding a potluck dinner to welcome the winter writer-in-residence, Sarah Viren. Despite my not-quite-Shoemaker-esque pie, I’m going to bring it to dinner.

I liken my role of Hoosier to that of a missionary. I want to bring the gospel of the sugar cream pie to the lost souls of Florida and Texas. We’ll see how they like it, or whether I’ve ruined the chance to get them to try it again at my own potluck dinner in March.

Update: The pie turned out very well. It was very smooth, creamy, and sweet. Everyone who tried it seemed to like it, and no one died. I had a few ingredients left over, so I’m going to make it again and see if I can improve on it. I may take the pie into my office the next day and share with my office mates.

Day 61: In Which We Search for a Church

The hardest part of moving to a new city where you don’t know many people is searching for a new church. You can’t ask just anyone, because walking up to someone in the street and asking where they go to church is both awkward and impolite.

Er, or so I’m told.

We start our search a couple weeks after we arrive, trying one church after another. A good friend introduces us to his sister and brother-in-law, and we visit their church. It’s a nice church, very big, and everyone is very friendly. But we’re more liberal than this church, so we agree to keep looking. However, we also agree we may want to revisit this church once in a while. Sometimes there’s something cool about being in a big church.

The following Saturday, we Google “progressive church Orlando” and try to choose from the most liberal-sounding ones that don’t delve into the hippy-dippy.

That didn’t work.

If there was a church created specifically for hipsters, we find it the next morning. There are so many lumberjack beards and flannel shirts here, I think I’m in Portland, Oregon.

It’s also the first church I’ve ever been to that has its own hip hop dancers. I mean, I have friends who play in church bands, and Toni even got her start singing in church. But I have never, ever met a church hip hop dancer.

“Oh, so you’re a musician?”

“Well, no. I’m a hip hop dancer.”

“Wow, that’s—”

“For Jesus.”

We decided this particular church wasn’t for us when one of the singers began genuflecting on the stage. Sort of a Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy!” burying his face into the stage a couple times through the chorus.

Far be it from me to say how someone should praise Jesus, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do it when they weren’t backstage at an Alice Cooper concert. Still, the guy’s on fire for Jesus, so genuflect like the wind, man.

The following week, we try God’s House Orlando. A couple of our atheist friends speak highly of this place. If there’s one church they especially don’t go to, this one is their favorite. They know and love the pastor, who’s a long-time friend of theirs, and they’ve had many discussions with him. So they recommend we try this one.

It’s a small church whose goal is “to be the most loving church in Orlando.” And we get that love with both barrels. We walk in the door 15 minutes before the second service starts, and we’re met with wave after wave of smiles, handshakes, and hugs.

And not the pasted on smiles of people who have to be “on” for Sundays even though they fought all the way to church that morning. These are people who have fully embraced their mission of being the most loving church in Orlando, and they’re deliriously happy. It’s contagious.

We talk for several minutes before and 20 minutes after church. We’re among the last people to leave, because we’ve talked to so many of them. We talk to over half the people in the service (admittedly, it’s a small one this day), and hear a lot of interesting stories.

We go back the next week to the earlier service, and get more of the same.

We visit God’s House Orlando twice, which we have not done with any of the other churches. It ranks very highly on the family list, but there are a few more churches we want to visit.

A few weeks later, we’re at a satellite church near where our new house will be — about 15 – 20 minutes away, which is actually kind of close in Metro Orlando. Our new house is about 3.5 miles from the University of Central Florida, and the church is in a conference center on campus.

Satellite church often means “TV church,” and this one is no exception. There are 30 or so of us in a large meeting room, complete with folding chairs, a small stage, and a large projection screen. And there are roughly 7 or 8 other satellites around central Florida.

We sing to a live band, get a few announcements from the satellite pastor (who’s actually there with us), and then hear the message from the senior pastor in the — I don’t know what you’d call it — mother ship(?). The camera angles are very tight on Mother Ship Pastor, so I whisper to Toni that it’s either pre-recorded or there’s not actually anyone in the audience.

We learn the truth the following week, when we visit the Mother Ship Church in Clermont. It turns out to be a pretty big church, about as big as the very first one we visited, except it’s more liberal. We’re not sure how much more, although no one is dancing on stage. Still, there are a few hipsters in the church band, and I even catch a glimpse of a man bun or two. Also, one of the tech guys runs a sci-fi podcast I recently subscribed to. They even answer one of my Twitter questions about The Flash on the podcast, so they can’t be all bad.

The downside is that the mother ship is about 50 minutes away from our new house, and will cost around $8 – $10 in tolls just to go.

One way.

I like the church, I just don’t $20-in-highway-robbery like it. And Toni doesn’t like TV church. So this one is out.

This Sunday, we try a church in our hometown, excited that they’ve got something for everyone — middle school and high school youth groups, young adult groups — and it’s just a few miles from our house.

Except it ends up being a big disappointment. It’s not anything we can put our finger on. It seems very conservative, very strict in some of their teachings, and they don’t seem to expect (or allow) a lot of things from their women. I see a lot of suits and dresses. I’m glad I wore jeans and not shorts.

The pastor says a few things — he demonstrates a knowledge of world events and American pop culture history — that perk up my ears, but it’s not enough for us to get over the feeling that it’s really not for us.

Toni and I even discuss which church we liked better, the hippy-dippy church from week 2 or this church. We remember the Hip Hop Dancers for Jesus and the “we’re not worthy” singer and we agree that this church was at least better than that one. We’re mixed about where the rest rank for us, but we all agree that God’s House Orlando truly made us feel loved. It’s just far away (although not as far as the Mother Ship with all the satellites).

So the search continues. We go back to Google and Google Maps to begin a new search for a new church home.

The Israelites may have wandered the desert for 40 years, but they didn’t have Google Maps or Yelp, so hopefully we’ll solve our problem in 40 weeks.

Day 31: Creative City Project Orlando

We must have come to Orlando at the right time, because we’ve managed to catch a lot of art celebrations.

From the Third Thursday/Dio de la Muertas block party.
From the Third Thursday/Dio de la Muertas block party.
Whether it’s a mural painting party at Sam Flax, the local arts supply store, or Third Thursday Dio de la Muertas (Day of the Dead) celebration, we’ve done something arty every weekend.

Last Saturday the 17th was the Creative City Project Orlando, a multi-stage festival that shut down Orange Street right in the heart of downtown. It’s a four block stretch, the restaurants are open, there are a few food carts, but no food trucks. (I have yet to see a food truck downtown.)

If you time it right, you can park anywhere for CCPO. We arrive about an hour before the first performance, and park in the lot across from my office in The Exchange Building. It’s $1 per hour, which isn’t great, but it’s only 4 blocks from where we need to be. Down here, that’s pretty close.

I’ve got my two youngest, Emma and Ben, with me, and we go to my office where I jump on the wifi and download the CCPO app, complete with map and schedule. I also check Twitter, but they don’t have a great social media presence going. I briefly consider volunteering next year.

The event is free, with a little something for everyone. It’s mostly about performing arts. There are several Central Florida performing arts groups, each putting on a 10 – 15 minute performance, before switching out. They run on two hour cycles, and each group showcases their talents, before making way for the next group. They will all perform twice this evening, with cycles starting at 8:00 and 10:00.

The Orlando Ballet. Their principal dancer is the one in the front middle, I believe
The Orlando Ballet. Their principal dancer is the one in the front middle, I believe

The headliners and marquis performers are the big draws, so they’re placed at either end of the street, so as not to weigh one end of Orange Ave. down with too many people.

One the north end of the street, Stages 1 and 2 feature the Orlando Ballet, Orlando Aerial Arts, and the Cook Trio, with a performance of gypsy swing with performances by the Orlando Ballet.

On the south end, Stage 9 brings us The Mud Flappers folk-rock-cabaret band, USA Dance ballroom dancing, and a Cirque du Soleil/Orlando Ballet dance number. It was a brilliant performance, and my only disappointment was that they only did one number.

The Cirque du Soleil & Orlando Ballet collaboration
The Cirque du Soleil & Orlando Ballet collaboration

In between are performances by the Maitland Stage Band (big band songs), the Orange County High School Marching Band, the Central Florida Community Arts Orchestra, and the Bach Festival Society Youth Choir. (Seriously, there’s a Bach Festival youth choir?! Man, these people love their Bach!) The Mozart Festival Society Youth Choir apparently still has to get their shit together.

There are DJs and dancers, a mini skate park with skaters doing their thing, and smaller stages with smaller crowds. Somewhere in there, an artist is creating a live version of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. I take some pictures and send out a couple smartass tweets. Because sending out smartass tweets is my jam, apparently.

Klimt's The Kiss 1

Klimt's The Kiss 2

Mayor Buddy Dyer is making the rounds — he’s up for re-election. I stop him in the street and Toni and I introduce ourselves. One of his aides snaps a picture of the three of us together, but Toni snaps a couple of me with the mayor first (see below). He seems like a nice guy, and was very approachable. Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard is a great supporter of the arts, which is unusual for a Republican mayor. And Orlando is a very artist-friendly city, so I have good feelings about Mayor Dyer.

Toni, Mayor Buddy Dyer, and me
Toni, Mayor Buddy Dyer, and me
I may or may not have accidentally goosed my new mayor.
I may or may not have accidentally goosed my new mayor.

The strategy at CCPO is to pick and choose which performances you want to see during the 8:00 cycle, and then race between stages. If you miss one, you skip it and catch it the next time around during the 10:00 cycle. I suppose you could also spend one half of the night on one end of the street, and the other half on the other end, but we only have a few must-see performances, and don’t feel like standing around for four hours.

The five of us go to our choice performances the first time, but Emma, Ben, Toni, and Toni’s mom (who’s visiting from Indy) are worn out by 9:00, so they leave. Maddie, my oldest daughter, and I still have some energy left. We decide to visit our favorites again, making sure to arrive at the stages early enough to get a better spot.

But first, we head to Gringos Locos on Washington Street for some tacos. I tweet that I’ve been there so many times in the last two weeks, I was named Employee Of The Month. Seriously, they need a frequent visitor card.

The menu board at Gringos Locos.
The menu board at Gringos Locos.

After fortifying ourselves with tacos — I have the Double Ds, which are hard shell tacos wrapped in soft shells — we head back to the Orlando Ballet stage, catch their performance, beat it up to the Orlando Aerial Arts performance. Then it’s all the way down to Stage 9 to catch Cirque du Soleil/Orlando Ballet one more time. The streets are crowded, and everyone is having a good time. After their number is done, we slowly walk back to the car. Our feet are aching, and my iPhone pedometer says I haven’t walked this far in weeks.

No T-Shirt Can Tell Me How to Live!

We make it home by 11:30, full of tacos and art, promising to do it again next year. All told, it’s been a very artful last five weeks, and we’ve seen and done a lot. I feel like we’re finally getting into the swing of things a little bit.

Day 24: In Which I See My First Pride Parade

I’ve been told by my gay friends and by people in the Orlando entertainment business, Orlando is a very gay friendly city. It has to do with the fact that Disney and Universal Studios hire more gay people than just about anywhere in the state. I would even wager just about anywhere in the country.

So the Orlando Come Out With Pride Festival, and Saturday’s Pride Parade, is a big deal.

The Pride Orlando organization
The Pride Orlando organization

My friend, Clay Rivers, invited me to watch the Pride Parade with him and a few friends. So I spent the day Saturday running errands and exploring — I’m really intrigued by the neighborhood called Mills 50 — before meeting him in front of his friends’ condo on Central.

We were on the south side of Lake Eola, which is a central area for a lot of gatherings and festivals. We stood on the south side of the lake, in the shade of the Waverly – Lake Eola condo tower.

The parade route itself was roughly a mile in length, and the parade lasted for about an hour, which we assumed meant the parade was a mile long.

This confirms why I'm a Walt Disney fan. I'm glad they support Orlando's gay community.
This confirms why I’m a Walt Disney fan. I’m glad they support Orlando’s gay community.

The parade was what you would expect — lots of floats, lots of people marching, a few horses, but only a few bands. There were a few notable groups: The Wells Fargo horse and carriage, NASA’s gay employees, the National Gay Pilots Association, Bank of America, and even Lockheed Martin had a (small) presence.

There were several universities with groups, and Tampa Pride even showed up. But I was pleased to see Walt Disney World’s entry, with a beautiful carriage drawn by a couple horses, with one guy standing in the back and waving.

“Disney was giving same sex partner benefits to its employees long before anyone else did,” said Clay. Clay used to be “in entertainment” at Disney World, which is the there-might-be-kids-around code word for “costumed character.” He spent a lot of years there, and even detailed some of his time in his book, Walking Tall. Clay is four feet tall, and often played Donald Duck; only people below a certain height are able to play Donald.

Thirty minutes later, we saw a group of people carrying a banner: Universal Studios.

“Ph-p-p-p,” I piffed. “At least Disney World sent a carriage. They couldn’t even be bothered to send a mode of transportation.”

Then more people from Universal came by.

And then a pair of people in colorful lamé on stilts went by.

Pride Parade 2015 - Stilt Walkers, Universal

And then another.

Pride Parade 2015 - Universal Studios

“Oh,” I said. “It looks like Universal beat Disney.”

And they kept on coming. In cars, on bikes, and on foot.

Betty Boop, part of the Universal Studios team.
Betty Boop, part of the Universal parade team.
Scooby Doo, part of the Universal parade team.
Scooby Doo, part of the Universal parade team.

After a while, Clay said, “Disney only sent one guy on a wagon?”

Still, it was an understated-yet-elegant presence. It was like the Queen acknowledging your specialness. It was a “We recognize and appreciate your presence, and it pleases us.” But in a cool, not condescending way.

But Universal was all “WE WILL CRUSH YOU WITH OUR LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE!!”

Hell, even Spider-Man showed up. And if Spider-Man supports gay pride, you know you’re on the right side of history.

Spider-Man stopped for a lot of selfies, I'm sure.
Spider-Man stopped for a lot of selfies, I’m sure.

But what was weird about the whole day, what really bothered me, were two people, about 50 feet to my left.

Two people, holding up signs. Protest signs. Not hateful signs, per se. But signs that were very anti that day. And I kept looking at them for the first 20 minutes.

Two Christian fundamentalists, holding signs that said, “Turn from pride to Jesus,” “Jesus saves from God’s wrath,” and “Humble yourself before God.”

Pride Parade 2015 - Christian protestors

On the one hand, I felt a little embarrassed for them. And I thought they should have been ashamed of themselves. They were literally outnumbered many-thousands to two.

Had they been at any other event, like two Colts fans at a Patriots game, wearing their jerseys and holding up signs that say, “Tom Brady is a cheater,” they would have had their asses kicked.

But other than a few people hollering “God loves everyone” at them, they were otherwise left alone.

And that’s what they should be ashamed about. The whole Pride festival was about gay people being proud of who they were, unashamed, and not made to feel afraid or wrong.

But here were two people who apparently aren’t satisfied with their own lives, so they have to make others’ lives miserable, holding up signs meant to rain on this parade. And people left them alone.

I can tell you, they were absolutely safe, they weren’t intimidated or picked on, and they stood their for the whole hour, holding up their tiny signs, and when it was over, they left, untouched.

Whatever else they may have thought, I hope those two recognized that even they were welcomed that day, because no one did anything to them.

Hell, if they wanted to condemn anyone, they should have gone after this guy. He's Scott Randolph, the Orange County tax collector!
Hell, if they wanted to condemn anyone, they should have gone after this guy. He’s Scott Randolph, the Orange County tax collector!

There were even plenty of churches who were in the parade. Those were the people who embodied the love of Jesus Christ. Not the haters with the signs.

St. Luke's Methodist Church in the Pride Parade
St. Luke’s Methodist Church in the Pride Parade
Christ Church Unity in the Pride Parade.
Christ Church Unity in the Pride Parade.

But my favorite moment, the moment that really teared me up, was when the PFLAG group walked by.

Throughout the entire parade, everyone was hooting and hollering and whistling. They were having a great time and a lot of fun.

But when PFLAG walked by, and moms and dads carrying signs that said “I’m proud of my trans son,” “I’m proud of my gay daughter,” the hooting stopped, and the applause began.

PFLAG - Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
PFLAG – Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

It was like a train approaching. The clapping got closer and closer, and the cheering got louder. When the people on the sidewalks saw the people in the street who loved and accepted them, they clapped and cheered.

As I watched, I wondered if the PFLAG group was experiencing this throughout the whole parade route. And I thought they probably assumed everyone was experiencing the clapping and cheering.

They weren’t. It was all for PFLAG.

(I hoped the sign holders were paying attention.)

After an hour, the parade finally ended and people began milling about there on Central. We all went upstairs for snacks and drinks, and had a good time.

It was my first Pride Parade, and it was a gigantic one. And it certainly won’t be my last.

Day 21: Five Things I Hate and Five Things I Like About Orlando

I’ve been in Orlando for roughly three weeks, and am figuring out the things I like and don’t like about my new city.

Five Things I Hate About Orlando

  1. The traffic: Everyone is so laid back here, they don’t drive much over the speed limit. They especially don’t drive much over the speed limit in the left lane.
  2. There’s no baseball. There’s the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, and that’s it. There are a gazillion Single-A minor league teams, and none of them are within an hour of Orlando.
  3. There’s one interstate highway for 2 million people: Come on, man! Indiana has five different interstates for 1 million people. Sure, there are plenty of parkways and state highways though, but most of them are tollways. They’re finishing a part of the parkway system so it runs around Orlando, but I think we’re a year or two from completion.
  4. The Jacksonville Jaguars are our “home team.” Seriously? Whatever happened to the Orlando Breakers? Coach Fox was awesome.
  5. What people think “cold” means. It was 72 degrees a few days ago, and we were walking around Downtown Disney Disney Springs. Someone was wearing a light jacket.

Five Things I Like About Orlando

Orlando_City_2014

  1. Everyone is gung-ho about the new MLS soccer team, Orlando City SC. I’ve never been to a professional soccer game, so hopefully we can go soon. But there are a lot of purple lions everywhere.
  2. Gods and Monsters: If you’re into geek and nerd collectibles, this is about the size of a small supermarket, and it’s filled with nearly every collectible you could imagine. Not a lot of Doctor Who stuff, but you can measure the amount of stuff they do have by the ton. Hundreds and hundreds of Pop head figures, anime and manga, and even retro games and collectibles.
  3. There’s a light rail commuter train. Indianapolis does NOT have one of these, and probably never will. But they have a Triple-A ball club.
  4. Winters in Orlando are like Autumns in Indiana: Fifty degrees, gray, and cloudy. And I’ll be wearing a t-shirt and shorts, while real Floridians are huddled inside their homes, chopping up their furniture for firewood, and eating their neighbors.
  5. The arts scene: There’s always something going on. This Saturday, it’s the Creative City Project, and it looks incredible. Last Saturday, the kids’ favorite art supply store repainted their mural and made a big party out of it.

From the Creative City Project website:

La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil, Orlando Ballet, Central Florida Community Arts Orchestra, Orlando City Soccer Club, a 1000 student marching band, the DowntownArts District, and dozens of other artists and performers bring the streets of Downtown Orlando to life on October 17, 2015.

Creative City Project 2014 from Sarah Espedido on Vimeo.

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