The Back Roads of Sorrento, Bay Ridge, and Mount Dora

The high N-R-G intersection of Brooklyn and Vine in downtown Sorrento.

Our friend Tyson is here on his annual visit from Philadelphia, and today we did some touring up through the more remote, rural areas of Orange and Lake Counties.

Why, you ask, did I not take him to Disney, Sea World, EPCOT, the Holy Land Experience? Been there, done that, and we have already memorized all sixty-three verses to It’s A Small World. And we won’t be going back to EPCOT until they come up with another country– Kreplachia deserves a pavilion, doesn’t it? The traditional nude folk dancing alone would draw crowds!

So, we set out for distant environs, mainly because I had to pick up the bag of clothes that we’d left in Jon and John’s car after our drive back from Key West this past Wednesday. They live up in Sorrento with horses, cats and a dog.

These are the horses:

We didn’t tarry long; we had places to go, and (dead) people to see. Who, you ask? Well, since Tyson is an expert on the Victorian-style cemetery embodied by such grandeur as The Green-Wood in Brooklyn and Laurel Hill in Philadelphia, he was open to traipsing with me through sand spurs, brush, thorn vines, and the like. Crumbling ruins, abandoned mental institutions, rusting industrial areas? He’s there! I like people who are game; I’m so often solo while making these jaunts that it was a nice change to have someone in the car who is as interested in the rotting and obscure as I am.

The Suttons– friends and lovers through all eternity, though she’s been waiting on him for over fifteen years so far. I picture her waiting at the Celestial Malt Shop, cradling an ice cream soda with two straws. The Sorrento Cemetery is nice: well kept, it contains a lot of the area’s early settlers. A lot of people think it’s morbid to have such a pleasant time in cemeteries, but people of Italian extraction think of them as way stations, a way to keep our departed loved ones in sight until we join them on the A Train to glory. Or Cleveland, if something goes awry.

“Let’s go down this road,” I would say to Tyson, and he would agree. As long as there’s no sign telling me NO TRESPASSING, or GUARD DOG ON DUTY, I march forward, thankful however for the safety of my car’s interior. The more rutted a road is, the more curious I grow. And this is what we saw around a bend. I believe this is situated in the John Puder Yard, but I have no idea what these buildings contain. Oats? Soylent Green? Taffeta? It’s very silent here and, it being a Saturday, there was nobody to chase us away. Still, there were no GET OUT NOW signs, so I went. This reminds me of First Avenue in Brooklyn, near Lutheran Medical Center; when visiting an uncle in that hospital in 2010, I became fascinated with the rusting infrastructure hugging the  waterfront.

As we continued through the back roads of Sorrento, Tyson spotted a railroad crossing sign on the south side of State Road 46, and his pulse raced; he’s a railroad man, having worked for Amtrak and Auto Train in the past, as well as working as a consultant regarding the restoration of old train cars.  So down the street we go, and we see this rusted set of cars parked along the tracks, practically hidden in the woods.

The string of cars spilts here; turning west, we found a path running alongside the rest of the train. Here there were chickens, and all sorts of flying bugs and, I figured, chiggers. (We were lucky.)

When I see a sign that says Church Street, I assume that, at one time or another, it led to a church; taking Church Street in Sorrento south took us to this little wooden gem…

On to Mount Dora. If you’ll recall, I blogged a day here with my sister and brother-in-law when they came up here from Port St. Lucie to look at wedding venues for his daughter. Today we made a quick tour of this little village, and it was rife with tourists buying things like calico cats stuffed with potpourri. That’s all good for the economy, but we did sniff around for some local history. We walked the mournful railroad tracks, sadly deteriorating since the little dinner tarin was discontinued; what a boon to light rail this line could be… but here’s Tyson, tracing a path back to the past.

We couldn’t decide if this house was a ruin or if was occupied; if it was occupied, it was occupied no doubt by a lot of cats.

On a hill outside of Mount Dora, just before you get back on U.S. Highway 441, is the Mount Zion Primitive Baptist Church, established in 1896. Apparently they still hold services, though we were at a loss as to exactly what it is that Primitive Baptists believe in. Today they had some screen doors lined up for sale, I know not why, and I can’t tell you what all the rocks are for either. Is the Bible set in stone? On this rock I will build My church? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone? Who can say?

Our next stop was the Bay Ridge Cemetery, east of Mount Dora and south of Sorrento. As most of you know, I grew up in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, though my block is considered part of Dyker Heights since they rammed the Interstate 278 expressway through the neighborhood. I was surprised, years ago, to discover Bay Ridge, Florida, which consists of a few concrete block homes and this cemetery. Overgrown and forgotten, it’s hidden from the road and bordered by properties containing rusted barns and barking dogs (thankfully behind fences).

This is the Goding plot:

This is a steel headstone from 1937, its legend formed with solder… W. T. Gunn was two days old.

Flush with history, nettles, and all manner of dust, we returned home as an approaching storm settled in over Lake Ola; this is a view from Tangerine.

There were hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles converging on nearby Zellwood as we drove past; was there some kind of Harley confab that I wasn’t aware of? And why wasn’t I contacted? I can ride with the best of them, after all.

PhotoBike Tour 14: Key West

Welcome to Key West!

We spent a couple of days here with friends this past week, driving down Sunday with two and driving back up Wednesday with two others. It’s good that everyone drives! Bill was generous in offering to drag my bicycle down so that I could roam at will, and roam I did. We also did a lot of walking.

Kirk took most of the foliage pictures; click on any of these to make them larger.

Here’s my bike– the one with the white basket– fairly jumping off the rack to get started…

This time six of us stayed at the Hyatt Windward Pointe, located at almost the very southeastern tip of the island. It’s far removed from where we usually stay– over in Old Town on the west side– but it was a wonderful change and, if I decided to bike around, I really had to work at it. And it’s breezy along the bikeway that rings the island, making for lots of strenuous exercise and rationalizations:

“Do I really need to have TWO Manhattans? Yes, because I can bike them off.”

“Do I HAVE to have another helping of spaghetti and meatballs? Yes, because I can bike it off.”

“Do I really need to have FIVE gin and tonics? Yes, because you’re on Duval Street and you have to bike all the way EAST, and there will go all those calories.”

Calories, schmalories.

Here’s a vew from our hotel room, looking south toward Cuba. If you squint, you can see Fidel smoking a cigar. Just across the road is the bike path, and less than a mile to the right is Smathers Beach. Just over the seawall you can see the older, collapsed seawall just below the surface of the water, and it’s become a reef: you see all kinds of fish and sea urchins.

Just to the west of the hotel, within walking distance, is the East Martello Museum. This is where you need to go to get a sense of the island’s history and quirkiness; it’s also where Robert the Doll lives forever. We didn’t see Robert this time, but we did pass the store on Duval Street which sells his likeness. I tried to photograph the display of Robert the Doll dolls through the window glass into the closed shop, but the reflection precluded that; it wasn’t until I got home that I saw that the dolls managed to allow themselves to be photographed onto the reflection of the street outside the shop window…

See the Robert the Doll dolls floating in the center of the picture?

Walking through town, Kirk likes to photograph every bougainvillea bract, every palm tree, every blooming tropical. He has an eye for color and composition, so feast your eyes on the following photographs as seen through Kirk’s lens…


OK, this one I took. These are Royal Palms.

Me and a GIANT Desert Rose.

I spent a few hours on the bike exploring back streets and neighborhoods that most people don’t explore. Me, I see an alleyway, I go down it. I talk to people, ask questions, and find things out. The Albury House, for example, is a house I’ve been obsessed with for twenty-five years. It sold at the end of 2010 after the last family member who lived in it passed on (Bonnie Albury). The house is now being rehabilitated and it’s been scraped clean of its termites and barnacles both inside and out. I almost got inside, but the construction foreman was just about to start a meeting, and I didn’t want to cause an imbroglio. Not that there was much to see inside: you can literally look through the house from front to back now.

Here’s the entry hall stairway, which generations of Alburys must have climbed since the house was built in the 1800s…

Because it’s 2012 and not 1992, most people are on a budget, and so the six of us decided to each spend a night cooking while we were there. The unit featured a full kitchen, though we had to have a new orange juicer AND kitchen stove swapped out; neither worked, and there were bags of oranges that Jon and John had brought to be squeezed, let alone their chicken and rice, spaghetti and meatballs (Jim and Kirk), and steaks and potatoes and broccoli (Bill and Karl) which were slated for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday suppers respectively. So, we didn’t spend a lot of time in restaurants, though I do recall a lusty and excellent breakfast at Two Friends Patio. We were also planning on meeting locals Susan Kent and DeVonna Howell for breakfast one morning at Flamingo on Duval Street, but the plan fell through and  instead I ended up having many, many rollicking cocktails with them at Aqua later the same day.

Entertainment one evening was provided by yours truly, lip-synching to the warblings of well-known and obscure girl-groups from 1963 and 1964, ably assisted by my background singers and dancers, who gamely invented stunning new choreography for each verse; Kirk slept through it all, which was a surprise considering we had You Tube cranked as high as it would go. It’s a good thing we were worn out before midnight, or we would have had to do a few turns to the Monkey Stroll.

One night we played Trivial Pursuit, which quickly degenerated into a raucous edition of Charades when it was decided that not many of us could answer anything that happened after 1970. I reduced myself to humming the alphabet at my teammates and then slamming the table when I got to the letter that formed the first word of the answer. “H I J K LMNO P!!”

Since we were located on the eastern end of the island this trip, I decided to take a good look around. For instance, while biking east along Staples Avenue, I came to a dead end; cars could not continue further because of a cut running from the salt ponds on the island’s north all the way through to the airport. Bikes could access a little bridge, however, and it’s here that I paused and had a look at the scenery.

And, looking down into that water, this man-made reef… anything to avoid dragging the grocery cart back to the store!

Following are a lot of houses I couldn’t resist falling in love with. Really– these places seem so cozy to me, and with a little TLC might actually be habitable for many more years.

On Solares Hill, the island's highest point.

This visit we toured the Eco Center, a free museum which features Keys wildlife, sea life, and flora. Aquariums and dioramas show you what’s at stake along the fragile island chain, and a movie in a dark little theatre helps put you to sleep after all that studying. Let me explain– it’s nicely air conditioned, the music is very Enya-esque, and the images are of divers, snorkelers, and fish of all kinds swimming slowly through their underwater world. It’s mesmerizing, and I almost couldn’t get up out of my seat when the movie ended. You stumble into a gift shop, though the thing that impressed me most was the tooled metal border running along the room’s circumference. It features turtles, fish, coral, and the like. Very nice.

When I went to take a photo out front, it appeared that an SUV had parked itself right in front of part of the mural; naturally, I bitched, leading Kirk to sputter ” I knew, KNEW you were going to say something!!”

Along with the hidden and the obscure, I like to re-visit some old haunts, just to remind myself that some things never change:

The West Martello Tower is the home of the Key West Garden Club, and is an amazing place staffed and maintained by volunteers. You can wander its nooks and crannies for hours, and the view from the top of the sweeping Atlantic is incredible.

On the grounds of West Martello Tower.

The Garden Club library at West Martello Tower. You can sit here in this cool brick room and look at old books devoted to horticulture. What was that old joke? Someone asked Dorothy Parker to use 'horticulture' in a sentence, and she replied "you can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think."

The Margaret Truman Drop-Off Launderette, catering to first ladies since, oh, 1800 or so.

Inside St. Mary, Star of the Sea. (Sancta Maria, Stella Maris.)

They open the side doors for cross-ventilation at St. Mary, which helps dry off your streaming head after biking frantically to Mass and forgetting that you're going to be dripping when you dismount and go inside.

St. paul on Duval Street, one of the city's Episcopal churches. It's gorgeous, and when you go inside and see the statues and the holy water fonts and the figural stained glass, you say "it's so Catholic!"

Steamship deco in the heart of town...

Colorful transport...

Two full days go by fast, but if you drink a lot of coffee and Diet Coke you’ll manage to stay energetic enough to traipse hither and yon and up and down and along, though my feet were hurting all day Monday; I think that was because of all that choreography on the unit’s tile floors. When you’re performing, you’re only interested in pleasing your audience, not thinking about how your feet are going to hurt.

Jon and John drove us home via Jensen Beach, where we picked up John’s mini pinscher from his dog sitter, and Max was the most well-behaved dog in the universe. Not a bark did I hear, and my Claritin prevented any allergic flare ups because, if I had started to wheeze, one of us would have had to be left by the side of the turnpike…and it wasn’t going to be Max.

Jon picked up more oranges for squeezin' in Jensen Beach.

Can’t wait to go back !

PhotoBike Tour 13: Leu Gardens and Winter Park

(Foliage photos by Kirk… click on them to make them BIGGER.)

 See those beautiful plants? It’s a raft of bromeliads that were for sale at the Leu Gardens Annual Spring Plant sale today. Kirk rounded up a bunch of people to go “in the morning, early, so we can find parking,” and I do recall a voice at 8:30 saying that he was on his way, that he would let me sleep, and here’s your coffee. See ya later!

[Codicil: I’ve been up very late this week watching episodes of Downton Abbey on Netflix. AND I’ve had a lot of organizing work to do as well… so this morning maybe, maybeeeee I was a little tired.]

I knew there would be questions– where’s Jimmy? Sleeping in?– and I still have enough foolish pride left in me to care when people get the wrong idea, so I got on my bicycle and biked from our house to Leu Gardens. Not bad! The weather was perfect today, and the traffic was fine until I hit Corinne Drive coming out of Baldwin Park– then I had to contend with yupsters in their giant SUVs as they spedpastmeTHISclose while at the same time talking on their phones and tending to Madison and Yasmine in the back seat. I’m just saying.

Leu Gardens has bike racks set up to the right of the entry building, allowing the cyclist a short walk back to the main gate, or you can access the Gardens by going into the building and then taking the first left. Immediately, you’re in the Gardens’ famous acreage, and today was a most perfect day for a plant sale. The two young guys who were handling the area of the parking lot where the bike rack was located could not have been more accommodating, even laughing at my lame joke regarding valet parking, and that I’d be back to claim it at 2 PM… here’s the key. ha! And one was quick to say he’d start a tab for me after I asked “and now where’s the bar?” When one can bring smoky cocktail banter to a botanical site, then one is very fortunate indeed.

There was some phone drama regarding the coordinating of five people and their whereabouts, but that was easily addressed. I myself had to traipse through crowds looking for my posse, going on nothing but directional markers like “we’re at that house… near the ferns… past the roses.” WHICH house, WHICH ferns, WHICH roses? I did find everyone after all, and there’s nothing like catching up with friends while your ankles are being grazed by double-wide strollers: “So how’s work DAMMIT, OUCH.” The stroller brigade was out in force, which always leads me to wonder: how does one pair of parents with a double-wide stroller manage to link up with all seventy-five OTHER pairs of parents with double-wide strollers? All seventy-six couples and the 152 kids plant themselves in the middle of busy sidewalks, comparing ice cream likes and dislikes, discussing cupcake recipes, and relating how well little Chutney is doing in Advanced Ballet. And the mothers are just as chatty.

But I digress; it was too beautiful a day for anxiety, so I soldiered on. I knew Kirk would be using up megabytes on photographing the offerings, and so I must credit him with the shots of flowers in this blog entry. Scavullo couldn’t have done better.

The specimen below is a young Royal Palm. They really don’t thrive in our area, and reputable growers will impart you that important information. It’s just too cold here for them, and you’ll often see dead Royals gracing what was obviously a very recent landscaping job. They belong in South Florida, or in warmer climate pockets (you’ll find them on Merritt Island).

And here’s another grand palm, the name of which escapes Kirk at the moment, regardless of the fact that one is practically TRIPPING over identification signs while wandering through the Gardens. I’m just saying.

And here are some more flowers and things, one of the things being a koi fish (upper left). They’re basically large goldfish, which you’ll sometimes see in Asian restaurants swimming in picturesque pools. I always like to get the hostess’s attention, point to a koi, and say “that one, please.”

Some roses, below. One of the vendors showcased a selection of old-fashioned specimens, some of them considered rare. I spotted our friend Mark there, and started over to say hello, but ran into someone else I knew and said hello to him first. Hug hug, kiss kiss, and then back to finding Mark, who had suddenly disappeared. Then one of the vendor assistants asked me, in a Mrs. Kravitz voice, “is there a particular rare rose you’re looking for?” and I said “yeah, one called Mark,” and she said “I don’t think we have one by that name,” and I said “I’m kidding, Mark is actually a person.” Can you imagine the rollicking time you would have had with me today? Your sides would have been splitting.

Below: Kaffir Lilies, and a beautiful red Amaryllis.

After a Diet Coke AND a bottle of water, it was time to thread my way back home before it grew too hot. Rather than just go home the usual way– Corinne, Baldwin Park, Lakemont, Aloma– I decided to take a back way, just to see what I could see, like this old beauty on the corner of Azalea Lane past Mead Gardens (the pictures are by me from here on):

And, my favorite house in all of Winter Park, this time in color. (I blogged Winter Park’s beauties in black and white here recently.) It was built in about 1897 and it’s amazing that it’s survived for this long on the busy road it’s located on. Today I actually walked all around the house taking pictures, but the front displays this grand lady’s finest aspect.

 Instead of dealing with 436, I went north on Lakemont because there were a few streets to the east that I wanted to explore. I wanted to photograph Lacy Shadows, which used to be an old folks’ home decorated with beautiful wrought iron lace work on its two stories. (A woman I know who worked there used always to refer to it as “Shaky Laces.”) Lacy Shadows is gone, however; that was a disappointment. And of course the lot is for sale…

Now, I knew there was a vast nothingness situated between Lakemont and 436, but I wasn’t prepared for this. It’s part of Crane Strand Swamp, a wetlands area that’s hard to find if you don’t know where to look. I knew it was here, but hadn’t even seen it from this vantage point just a block or so east of Lakemont Avenue. Interlachen Country Club is built on this, and much of the Tanglewood subdivision (Lake Howell Road south of Howell Branch Road), along with a lot of development you see on 436 between Howell Branch Road and Aloma Avenue.

And just past here, on Little Lane, you’ll find the entrance to a development that apparently is in limbo or won’t be happening any time soon. Beyond the locked gates is Crane’s Strand, and an asphalt road leading to two cul de sacs surrounded by swamp. It was to be called Winter Park Preserve. A billboard right here says “Build Your Dream Estate– Last Large Parcel of land in Winter Park.”

Then, almost home after a short ride through Tanglewood. A rather exuberant house features this Bel Air parked outside, which is just about the color of my 2003 Ford Focus. I think this car is from 1961, which would make it over fifty years old. Can you imagine? I’m over fifty years old, and I’ll bet I’ve had more oil changes than this Bel Air.

Next… I’m planning on exploring the inner creases of Polk County. There’s lots going on down there in the way of obscure sites and villages: ghost towns, phosphate plants, spooks, and the like. I can’t wait!

St. Cloud… and Narcoossee

How do YOU pronounce St. Cloud? If you’re used to having lunch in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower, your say Sahn Cloo; otherwise, if you’re like me, you say Saint Cloud. Either way, it’s a long drive from my house, and I’m reminded of it every time I drive Aloma Avenue in Goldenrod, which is where this sign is posted. It used to say NARCOOSSEE and ASHTON, but Ashton has apparently been blanketed over with suburbs. You can find a little bit of Narcoossee, though, on the way down Highway 15.

I decided to do just that the other day after fulfilling my morning obligations. S.R.15 is Goldenrod Road and it wends its way north and south from Belle Glade, down by Lake Okeechobee, all the way up to the Georgia line.  It’s all over the place in the Orlando-Winter Park area, but takes you through some interesting old neighborhoods. I decided to take it to St. Cloud, as I hadn’t been there since 1978. I figure everyone should visit St. Cloud every thirty-three years or so, just to see if anything has changed.

I tell you, the way down is under MUCH construction, being transformed into a major 4-lane highway (six lanes in some areas), which is a far cry from the two-lane road I remember. It’s very developed now– you see CVS Drugstores popping up in the middle of nowhere– and there’s not much green left , though you can see some while driving 60 MPH and taking pictures through the windshield. (I know, I know.)

After many miles– about 20, according to the sign– you arrive in what is very possibly downtown Narcoossee: some stores, a gas station, a fire station, and this odd little building that resembles a church. According to the Osceola County tax records, the county owns it; it’s part of the Old Narcoossee tract. I was dying to go inside, but… you never know. I think the fire department actually uses it for storage, and you know how they get when you trespass. I was being watched from another car while I took pictures– it pulled up a few spaces from me in the lot I parked in– and I wondered if I was going to be brought in to the hoosegow.

There was a short story I read, years ago, about a traveling salesman who drives into a typical small town A big banner stretched across the main street advertises a  town barbecue to be held that night. He gets caught in a speed trap and is brought into the police station, and left in a room until they can process him. While he’s waiting, the room becomes hotter and hotter and hotter… Yes, you guessed it! Spare ribs!

I got back into the safety of my air-conditioned Ford Focus and continued south, and soon encountered more construction. Surprise! They’re widening 15 even down here, but that didn’t stop me from threading my way through Bob’s Barricades in order to explore the little streets that lead west. One of them, Chisholm Park Road, takes you to a recreational area situated on the eastern shore of East Lake Tohopekaliga, and I was the only visitor. Nice!

It’s a Fish Management Area, and a good place to launch boats onto the lake. There are all sorts of signs telling you what you can and can’t do, which sort of litter the shore, but there you have it. Still, it’s really beautiful, and peaceful. You can smell the marsh and the fresh air, and it’s completely silent. Your pulse slows down as you breathe deeply, and you want to stay all day. If you’re reading this at work, stop for a few minutes and look at this picture:

I made my way to St. Cloud by way of Rummell Road, which skirts the old settlement of Runnymede and then connects to Lakeshore Drive via a dog leg at Mississippi Avenue. I love the fact that practically all of the north-south streets in town are named after the states; almost a hundred years ago, when they were establishing St. Cloud as a haven for Civil War veterans, the streets were named for the states from where the veterans hailed. And that’s the feeling I got, even before I read about the veterans: sleepy old folks dozing on benches, exactly who I saw along with the usual 21st. century demographic.  Granted, today’s veterans are most likely from the Korean and Vietnam “adventures.” And we had our own adventures, stateside: poignantly and sadly, the 1939 WPA Guide to Florida says that “Negroes have always been excluded from St. Cloud,” which probably explains why less than ten percent of the current residents are of African-American descent.

Even though a large Crabby Dick’s seafood restaurant has been built on the lake’s shore, there’s still a sense of quiet here that’s even more pronounced along the streets in town. I think the lake absorbs any real noise. The houses and downtown shops all seem to be resting in the sun, waiting for something to happen. And while you’re waiting, you can drive slowly along and look at some very interesting buildings.

A lot of the houses look as though they’d been constructed by a contractor who gor a discount on a large shipment of porch columns– you see these on a lot of houses in St. Cloud. There are also a lot of little Spanish-style stucco cottages.

The house below reminds me af a brooding old dowager, proud of herself for having lived so long, and turning her confident face to the street for everyone to see.  (And notice the porch columns.)

This remarkable little building is in the downtown business district; it’s the Chamber of Commerce and welcome center. I’m surprised I didn’t go inside and bother everyone with questions and introductions, and then coming away with shopping bags filled with brochures and information. The people inside these places are usually so happy for some company, even from strangers like myself, but I dunno… I wasn’t in the mood.

Along the western reaches of Lakeshore Drive you’ll find a slice of property where it’s Good Friday 365 days a year. And why does Jesus get the yellow cross? Is it sort of a nod to the whole yellow ribbon thing?

Also along Lakeshore Drive, this very attractive vernacular house, inexplicably fronted with a modern pink door.

The main street downtown, which leads to a modern city hall; the Hunter Arms Hotel; and two striking homes.

Did they paint the house that bright yellow in order to contrast nicely with the refuse container?

I love this place; it reminds me of the place Joan Crawford lived in during the opening scenes of Mildred Pierce, before she became a restaurant tycoon.

Probably the best way to see the town is to strap a bicycle onto the car and then wend your way slowly up and down along the streets. You don’t even have to go down to U.S. Highway 192, which forms the southern border and leads to the crowds and screams of International Drive. This is definitely a place designed to soothe the soul and put you to slumber– just ask all those veterans dozing along the lake.