PhotoBike Tour 9: Biking the West Orange Trail

For Kay of the East and Kay of the West… 

I’ve always been a child who drifted. It was hard for me to stay focused and alert much of the time, as I would drift off into daydreams or fantasies while teachers and people were trying to teach or talk to me. I realize now that it was a progressive hearing loss that was affecting me– since I couldn’t actually hear what was going on around me, why should I pay attention? And I kind of got the reputation for being naive, and dopey. I sat through numberless Broadway plays and musicals, not hearing much of what was happening onstage, though it was fine meeting and hearing Gloria Swanson backstage because she was IN MY FACE. As I grew older, everything became muffled, like I was listening to the Universe through wads of cotton. When I got hearing devices a few years ago, the world opened up and I could suddenly hear a pin drop. And I could hear trucks and cars and thunder and explosions and screams and people people people all the time, everywhere, constantly. talking talking TALKING. It’s noisy out there! And, since I began hearing every word coming from people’s mouths, I realize that we really don’t have much to say to one another most of the time. Or, much of it sounds the same.

With all this new noise, I get headaches sometimes. My brain, which presumably had formed itself into completion by the time I was 21, suddenly had to deal with all the loud new stimuli which assaulted me beginning at age 50. It can’t handle it. It gets crazy sometimes, and I find myself retreating: I turn off the devices, get on the bike, and ride blissfully into the sun (keeping keen watch for traffic, of course, as well as my bad eyes can manage). Don’t misunderstand– I mean, I could always HEAR, just not very well at all. I was hearing things, but had to ask “WHAT?!?!” in order for things to be repeated.

My recent get-away-from-the-noise bike ride brought me to the West Orange Trail out in western Orange County, one of my favorite places to prowl around in. I load the bike onto the bike rack, an ingenious contraption which, so far, has served me well. It’s attached to the hatch of my red Ford Focus via a system of straps and clips and clamps, the bicycle nestled atop it securely with two plastic belts. Speeding along the 408 towards the Turnpike Extension, I admit I do worry that everything is going to go flying off the back of my car and into the windshield of a station wagon filled with lovely, delightful nuns, but so far it hasn’t happened.

Now that the 408 has been extended as far west as Killarney, a  confusing romp through the Fruit Loop (that’s where the 408, the 429, the Turnpike, and 50 all converge) most of the time deposits me onto West Colonial Drive, and then it’s just a short drive to the Trail stop in Killarney near the Lake County border. A couple of times I’ve overshot my exit and ended up further north along the Turnpike near a place called Minneola, but it’s a scenic error and not too bad.

That’s the bridge over the Turnpike. When you look below, you see cars heading towards Miami or Ocala.

Here’s part of the boardwalk through the new Oakland Nature Preserve, a wetlands adventure that brings you to the shores of storied Lake Apopka. That vast body of water (why are large bodies of water always referred to as vast?) stretches for miles in every direction, and has only in recent years been encouraged to recapture some of its former glory– polluting muck farms along its shores have been shut down and the land reclaimed by the lake.  At one time it was one of the most famous places in the country due to its excellent bass fishing.

Below is a shot of Trinity Missionary Baptist Church on Oakland’s traditionally African-American west side. It’s typical of the tens of thousands of country Baptist churches sprinkled across the Bible Belt.

Some of the Tilden resting places in the Oakland Cemetery. The Tildens were a pioneer family who arrived in Florida in 1876. This Tilden built Meadow Marsh in the community of Tildenville.

Here’s Meadow Marsh, the Luther W. Tilden house. Some years ago, when it was being renovated into a bed and breakfast, I ventured inside and asked the carpenters if I could take a few pictures. But of course! It’s no longer an inn; plans for its most recent incarnation would have it become a civic / community center for the new Oakland Park subdivision, but that project is on hold due to the economy’s collapse.

The pioneer Luther F. Tilden home on Avalon Drive in Tildenville- the second house he built on this site. There is speculation that this was a Sears pre-fab house.

The first house built by Luther F. Tilden, just north of and next to the second family homestead; this was moved so theathe big blue house could be built.

Oakland Park: streets and lampposts, but no houses in this photo… as of 2013, however, the development has been restarted. Lots of houses now.

Trees have grown up through the old railroad tracks going into Tildenville.

Just east of Oakland on 438 stands this gorgeous home, known as Oakland Arms, built by Charles H. Tilden in 1910. Its most recent resident was his granddaughter, Margaret McKinnon.

The avenue of oaks, known as the Sadler oaks,  on 438 between Oakland and Tildenville.

Down a road marked Private I merrily pedaled my bicycle, and found this picturesque old barn. I’m surprised I wasn’t beset by dogs, wild boar, or chickens, not to mention any angry locals. I think everybody was at work.

Here is the second pioneer Sadler home, built in 1906. It replaced the original 1880’s structure, which was divided into two parts and set behind this house. People did sensible things like that back then.

In beautiful downtown Oakland is this home, which– when the town was a thriving, busy railroad town featuring hotels, an opera house, and more– served to house workers for the different railway yards.This was built around 1875.

The Oakland Town Hall, right there on the bike trail.

At one time this  home (the Petris family built it) featured a sign that said “The 1879 House.” It’s on the northwest corner of Brock Street and Oakland Avenue (438).

Another dignified Oakland lady.

This home was once the dining annex for the Oakland Hotel, which was attached at the left. The hotel was built in 1910 but this house stood in 1890.

The tumble-down walls above, on Tubb Street, are all that remain of the Smith estate; they now front a new subdivision. Grace Mather Smith lived here with her husband at the turn of the twentieth century, and she was– compared to the rest of Oakland’s more sober Protestant citizens– somewhat of a hellion: she liked to give parties, dance, and play golf. There’s this story: Grace was speeding into Orlando one day for an item she needed for a party, and was stopped by the police and told she’d have to pay a speeding fine of ten dollars. She handed the officer a twenty dollar bill and said “keep the change, I’m coming back through here like hell in a few minutes!”

Grace and her husband built the West Orange Country Club south of Tildenville on Avalon Road. Up until some years ago, its labeled brick archway still stood, but it appears to be gone when I look on Google Earth. It was built to resemble Grace’s walls.

A closer look at Grace’s wall, a the side of a new house. And in the center of town near the Town Hall and post office is a small green called Grace Park, established by the Smiths near a hundred years ago.

The dock at the north end of  Tubb Street facing Lake Apopka. I had a nice chat with this guy about alligators.

These are piers which once supported a much larger dock that featured a bandshell.

Just south of the northernmost house on the east side of Tubb Street, this home’s front porch once collapsed to the ground due to overcrowding during  a boisterous party. Don’t you wish you could have been there? The Manhattans must have been REALLY good.

An orange grove in the center of Oakland.

Centennial Plaza in downtown Winter Garden. The trail goes right through the heart of this cool little town to the east of Tildenville.

Downtown Winter Garden.

Monolithic First Baptist.

Down one of the side streets in Winter Garden. I could live in this little apartment house!

City Hall in Winter Garden– a deco dream.

This beautiful little gem rests in downtown Winter Garden, right off the trail. many people would see this and think termites,mold, mildew, too many cats, and hornets. I look at it and dream of built-in bookshelves, enamel topped kitchen tables, rose gardens, and writing on the back porch. And cocktails in the evening light.

The Winter Garden Heritage Museum.

The east side of the bridge over the Turnpike, heading back to the Lake County line.

I’m writing this on Thursday. Tomorrow I have an appointment with historians in Winter Garden so that I can show them my photographs of the area that I’ve been taking since the 1980’s; a history of Oakland is being compiled and I’m beside myself with interest. I was originally going to drive to the outpost on the Lake line and then bicycle to my meeting, but my scrapbooks are sort of heavy and when I jam them into my basket for a test run, suddenly I’m off balance and wobbling into traffic. What I’ll do is drive to the trail post in Winter Garden– ah HA!– have my meeting, leave my books with the ladies, and then ride the bike for a couple of hours. There are some things I’ve missed, and I want to have a little lunch as well. And then Saturday is the Oakland Heritage Festival; there are going to be some history displays and guided tours of town and I hope that I won’t speak out of turn.

It’s kinda quiet and peaceful back here in the nineteenth century… !  Let me know if any of you ever want to take an escorted bicycle tour of the area with me.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL FROM Saturday, October 30, Oakland Heritage Festival

The town featured a pleasant little crafts / antiques fair, and offered driven tours through  town, and a pontoon boat ride on lake Apopka. We opted for the latter, as I’d never been on Lake Apopka, and it was time. They took us west over to Gourd Neck Springs, which were partially covered by a floating island of trees and debris blown into a clump during one of the 2005 hurricanes. The ride was great– knowledgeable environmentalist guides give you updates on the restoration of the lake (one had a charming Irish brogue), and it’s evident how passionate they are about their work. If you get a chance, and are experienced, see if you can arrange to rent a boat, and go out there.

Heading west on Lake Apopka

At Gourd Neck Springs, on the southwest side of the lake.

Here you can see part of the floating island of natural hurricane debris. We are right over the spring at this point; it’s almost 40 feet below.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dead Gay Teens– I Accuse

Yeah, it’s the big front page story right now, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Sarah Palin or reality shows or Dancing with the freaking Stars.  It’s about the fact that gay teenagers are killing themselves because they can’t take the horrible pressure anymore. And they’re getting it from:

Their churches

Their elected officials

Their fellow students

Their parents

It’s reached critical mass, people. I mean, kids under sixteen are hanging themselves. HANGING themselves. I can’t imagine the feeling of despair that would lead to such an act.

MANY people in the above quarters can be named, most especially those in high places: Pope Benedict XVI with his medieval take on reality, seemingly able to overlook the fact that he is acting about as un-Christ like as one possibly could. Boyd Packer of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints– and that’s another laugh– came out mere days after Tyler Clementi’s suicide with a diatribe against gay people. How tactful was that, Mr. Packer? Is that sort of behavior going to get you through the Temple veil and onto your own planet at your glorified death, where you will be able to procreate throughout eternity with your countless wives? (It’s the biggest part of your dogma, sir.) And don’t forget the rest of the leaders of organized religion, who pander fear to their flocks so as to fill their collection baskets. Horrible, disgusting people.

And elected officials? Don’t get me started. To my eternal chagrin, I am living during a time of history when much of the political body of the United States has been hijacked by the insane religious types who think that SELECTIVE sections of the Old Testament should be used to govern the people. SELECTIVE. If they ever tried to apply the complete letter of the law, women would be scourged for wearing red and the rest of us would be sent to concentration camps for enjoying clams on the half shell. And the horrifying latest: a gay teenager at the Norman, Oklahoma city council session deciding whether or not to declare October as Gay History Month in town kills himself after witnessing many of his fellow citizens basically saying that he and his ilk didn’t deserve to live in America in pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Way to go! Nice Christians, eh? (Yet the measure passed… ) 

The “bullies” we hear so much about– have they been taught that this is WRONG? Where are the parents? What have had to teach their kids about basic decency? In many cases, apparently NOTHING. So many of these parents are intent on acting like eighteen-year-olds themselves… so I’m not surprised. I’m sorry, but everyone seems to want to pas the bully blame onto the schools. But kids go FROM home TO school. They should be better prepared in how to treat their fellow men! But yes, schools should be held 100% responsible when action is NOT taken, even after one complaint.

(And not that she was gay, but that poor dead girl in Ohio who was STILL made fun of in her coffin by the girls who bullied her to death– I hope, somehow, she will be able to watch as the lot of them are horse-whipped in the town square.)

And what of parents who decide to throw their gay children out into the streets? It happens, over and over. Rather than love their children, they succumb to some crackpot religious or political theory, and their kids end up lost in so many ways: lost, helpless, on drugs, perhaps even dead. THIS is parenting? These parents need to be 100% culpable– this is child abuse at its most heinous. Parents like this need to be hauled in and made accountable.

And the rest of us… how many of us just watch? I’m thankful for those of us who love unconditionally: the people, gay and straight, who build the help centers and march in the parades and reach out and try to LEARN. These people are COOL. Those little fundamentalist congregations marching against their OWN children? Not cool. Major religions swimming in their own decadence, yet loudly proclaiming who is or isn’t going to heaven or hell? Not cool. There’s so much NOT cool… yet there’s a lot that IS cool. There is hope.

 Personally, I’ve tried. I don’t hand myself medals, but I’ve helped the gay community in many ways over the years. But besides helping to establish a community center in Orlando, and donating a lot of volunteer man hours, I’m proudest that I was able to help two young men with issues as they were teenagers. And it wasn’t anything extraordinary that I did– but I listened, and I coached when asked, and I tried to comfort. And I need to do more. I applaud Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign, because that is exactly the line I used years ago with these young people. And did you see Fort Worth councilman Joel Burns’ plea? You should not miss this:

Gay teens need more role models like him. I am grateful for people like Joel’s parents, who loved him unconditionally. I’m grateful to my Mom and family, and I’m sure my Dad would have been just as cool had we ever talked about it. (That’s another story.) I just wish– I wish– that there were a lot more people to be grateful to, and that these people voted and drove the haters and the religious crazies from office.

Innocent kids are dying, and I’m angrier than I’ve ever been. I am truly sick and tired of the “gay issues” mire that has engulfed the people of this country, when the real crimes are being committed by the very people who profess to be in charge of our spiritual and political welfare.

Things HAVE TO CHANGE. It’s time. No more. Enough with the dead kids, and enough with the rest of us standing idly by in shock when it happens. It’s time to hold people accountable for the deaths that are caused due to abuses by the churches, the politicians, the bullies, and the parents.

Enough is enough. Now, what do we have to do to stop this?—save-their-lives–a294775






Orlando Pride 2010

WHAT a beautiful, glorious day. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…



O'er the home of the brave and the land of the free... soon, I promise!



Martha Reeves and the Vandellas



Scotty Campbell ala Romanesca



Patty Sheehan and I go back thirty years... thanks, Patty !!



PFlag Mom!






Billy, respectably.




Miss Sammy



Doin' the Locomotion




Requiescat in pace


… and, lest we forget, here’s a link to a related item I have published on Suite 101:—save-their-lives–a294775


Cousin Nico in Paradise– Key West 2010

Can you hear that sound of stampeding feet? Welcome Lufthansa Flight 464 from Frankfurt am Main to Orlando International Airport!

As scheduled, and after looking forward to it for many months, Nicola– my 19-year-old Italian second cousin once removed– arrived for two weeks of relaxation before starting his sophomore year at the University of Pisa. Though he did bring his geography text to study for a September 20th. exam, I only saw it brought out on a couple of occasions. Good for him! He’s going to ace it anyway– he’s riding a 100% average after his first year. [He did.]

“Where do you want to go in Florida?” I asked him prior to his visit. The theme parks didn’t figure into his equation; he wanted nature, and giant bridges spanning endless expanses of ocean, and alligators; but no sharks and– of course– a visit to Miami. But not necessarily Miami Beach. And he wanted to see some American Protestant churches– not that he’s shopping for a new religion but, after living in Catholic-saturated Italy, he wanted to see how the other half worshiped. And if we could have gotten into the Mormon temple in Orlando, I’m sure it would have been on his list as well.

Once we had a travel agenda in place, I was able to start worrying about what to feed him. I knew what Italians generally ate after spending time there in the past, but I naturally worried about what he might find unappetizing. We did well, however; corn stayed untouched on his plate, either cobbed or loose, but most vegetables and poultry and meat were duly appreciated. Corn, it seems, is fed to livestock. Polenta? Don’t get me started; that’s what peasants ate if there was any corn left over after throwing it to the pigs. And one night I hand-made pappardelle noodles and a wonderful pesto, which was actually a bonus because the women in his family don’t make pasta by hand anymore. (“The ones that do are all dead.”) And he enjoyed the Mexican fare we had in South Florida, as well as a Chinese meal here at Jum Bo in Winter Park. But Italian fare in Key West was not entirely authentic, he decided. Sorry! And they mispronounced bruschetta.  It’s broo-SKET-ta, not broo-SHET-ta. (Note to self: load car with prosciutto e melone prior to any long drives involving Italian relatives. And keep a ready baked ziti warming on the manifold, just in case. A translating dictionary, too.)

Nico got to meet my mother and sisters and brother-in-law for the first time, immersing himself in a saturation dose of my family. When together, we’re loud… and he loved it. Here we are– yours truly, Nico, and Kirk, posing dutifully by Lois and Mike’s pool in Port St. Lucie, a small fishing village wedged between the Atlantic and the Everglades.

Nico was VERY taken by how wide and far everything is here in America. We drove down through the center of the state along US-27 when we headed to Key West; I love that route because it’s wide and empty and scenic. By the time we got to the Everglades entrance in Homestead, which is about 209 miles from my house here in Winter Park, we could have driven from his house in Lucca all the way to Rome– a whole other region and a whole other dialect. And we STILL had hours to go until we reached Key West.

I’d never been to the Everglades, and we were both impressed. An alligator showed up, as anticipated, and we posed my cousin next to a sign fraught with warnings:


A primeval killer.

We drove further into the park after spending some time at this hammock, but the road grew grungier and the sky blacker, convincing us to head back to town and some Mexican food. There’s such a sense of vastness in the Everglades. The sky and the flatness stretch out before you, and when you’re the only ones on the road like we were it feels like Earth has been evacuated. Where are the souvenir stands, your mind cries out!  There’s nothing but swamp! “It’s all very green,” Nico said. “From Orlando to here has been nothing but green.” “We are one of the nation’s vegetable baskets,” I replied, sounding like my third grade nun. “See all those plants that look like corn? That’s sugar cane! This is where we get the sugar for all those Snickers bars we ate on the way down here.”


The next morning we headed for Key West along U.S. Highway 1, which is the only road into the Keys. There are some stretches where you just don’t drive faster than ten miles above the posted speed limit, yet there is always one bozo behind you who wants to go even faster. “Bozo,” I explained to Nicola, “was a television clown here in America.”  “I hate clowns… I am afraid of them!”  “Me too.”

He was very taken with the palette of blues and greens which color the water on the way down through the island chain. And even though it was six thousand degrees outside the car, he gamely posed in the sun while wearing his mosquito suit. (Jeans and long sleeves.)

“I think I’ll sleep,” he said at one point while I drove us through the endless miles of azure and teal. “Please do,” I replied, which he interpreted ironically, a Tuscan trait which, incidentally, had the both of us raising amused eyebrows for the two weeks he was in Florida. As when I attempted to tell him, in Italian, something about bringing along a duffel bag:  “Don’t even try,” he replied. Had there been a dueling oak in Winter Park, I’m sure we would have met beneath it one fine morning– linguistically, of course.  Neapolitans or Sicilians would simply throw knives at one another and be done with it but, being Tuscans, we duel with eyebrows. (Admittedly, I am half Neapolitan, and Nico and I are both descended from a Sicilian woman. But that’s a state secret) And I had the pleasure of explaining to him the subtle differences among underneathunder, and below.  Being a scholar of languages, his fluency in Latin and Ancient Greek allows him to grasp the subtleties of our barbaric language in a trice; it was like driving with Homer.

We stopped at this church on Key Largo just to prowl around inside and visit the Sacrament. Nico was impressed by how modern and suburban most Florida churches are.

After a few hours, we arrived in Key West. To me, it always feels like I’ve come home. To Nico, it was his first slice of urban paradise, and he loved it immediately. We drove in via the southern entrance, past the forts along the Atlantic, and he could not get over the fact that here was this vast, spreading ocean nestled against this charming little city. And the air is always so fresh… it was a pleasure to see the look on his face: another convert!

Here’s Nico on Elizabeth Street, which we decided was named for Jack’s male secretary on Will & Grace. Remember?  “Elizabeth!!!”  He loves that show, and we watched a lot of episodes in Italian on my computer. They are just as crazy, Karen even more so.

One of my favorite spots in Key West is atop La Concha Hotel, where you have views of the entire town. Here’s my cousin backed by St. Paul’s Episcopal, which he was very impressed with. I am too– the figural stained glass alone is worth the trip. And it’s one of those Episcopal sanctuaries that is just a hair’s breadth away from being entirely Roman Catholic; sometimes they’ll tell you “we have everything but the Pope,” which doesn’t seem like such a bad idea these days.

And, of course, here’s Bonnie Albury’s house, which I’ve written about recently. I am ready to move in here. Where’s the contract?

We stayed at Oasis, one of those guest houses for men, which was a first for him. I felt like the old geezer trailing his young companion along with him: “This is my Italian cousin,” I felt compelled to tell the desk clerk and any guests we spoke with. And then I would get the gay male version of the raised eyebrows look. So what! Believe what you want.

We swam in the pool and were able to splash around at will, because the joint was deserted. “It’s the slow time of year,” everyone kept telling us, which was fine with me. We did notice a lot of lesbian couples strolling through town, holding hands, and then we realized it was Women’s Week, or close to it. Nico was amazed at the freedom, and stunned at the look of a housewife– there could be no other word– who shot THE filthiest look at a female couple as she passed by them on the sidewalk. Why even bother dragging your husband and kids to Key West if you’re going to come with THAT attitude? Honestly.

We stopped in at the 801 one night so Nico could get his first look at a gay club. Filled with carousing locals, it was a pleasant introduction. I had a beer, he had a soda, and we found ourselves seated next to a couple who happened to be staying at our guest house. When my cousin got up to find the facilities, I got the eyebrows from one of them, but then I entered into a conversation with the bartender and told him about Nico visiting from Italy. “He’s my cousin,” I said in their direction. “My second cousin once removed.” It turns out the bartender’s  people are from Italy as well, and so he and Nico had a chat about the old country when my cousin found his way back to his bar stool.

The gay community center on Truman Avenue was enlightening for him– there’s just nothing like it in rural Italy. Here was an entire structure devoted to tolerance, with a great display about Tennessee Williams. (Hi Susan!)

We stayed two days and then drove back to downtown Miami, where my second cousin Steven on my father’s side owns an Italian restaurant named Perricone’s. What a meal! We arrived halfway between lunch and dinner, and so had everyone’s attention. The place is amazing, and Steven was on the premises and able to hang out for a while. And Nico loved the food.

He had a great time here, and I truly miss his company. Now he’s back in Italy, totally immersed in his sophomore year at the University, and dying to come back to America. I’m dying to go back to Italy, so it’s been decided that Kirk and I will be visiting there next year, because Nico’s entire family wants to meet us as a couple. And that’s a whole other story. There were plenty of issues when my cousin came out to his people, and lots of eMails back and forth between him and Cousin Jimmy, beseeching advice and help during what turned out to be a rather emotional and trying time, but eventually everybody saw reason. I feel like I’ve accomplished something good and lasting in my life regarding HIS life, but I’m mostly thankful for his family’s understanding and support. It was a stretch for a gang of rural Italians to come to grips with such a concept as a gay son / grandson / nephew.

Now summer’s over, and we can all start looking forward to the next.