TrIP shows humans of Orlando at Gallery at Avalon Island 

The public transit-inspired project opens its portrait show Thursday

click to enlarge COOPER REEP
  • Cooper Reep

Transit Interpretation Project: The Documentary Portrait Group

opens 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21 | through Sept. 13 at Gallery at Avalon Island, 39 S. Magnolia Ave. | avalongallery.org | free

The reality of life in Orlando is, brother, if you ain’t got a car, you gotta hoof it or wait for the bus. The Transit Interpretation Project has been getting local artists and writers on Lynx buses and SunRail trains since its inception, and the Gallery at Avalon Island will mark a milestone with its portrait exhibit opening Aug. 21. TrIP, a collaborative outgrowth of Pat Greene’s Corridor Project, is an ongoing series of writing and artwork examining and exploring public transportation in Orlando. The project has no definite end date; its creative output lives mostly on a blog (transitinterpretationproject.com), but periodic displays of the work pop up in galleries and spaces around town.

When this project quietly launched last autumn, I waited a long time to see it shift into higher gear. At first, I wanted TrIP to be more in-your-face and ask big questions, in a typical artist’s stance outside the system. But TrIP has approached its goals from a different angle than I ever expected, evading official attention by staying low-key. By participating in TrIP myself, I learned a lot more about the project’s true objectives, and am glad to report it is reaching cruising speed.

Having taken the bus in a great many cities in this nation (and quite a few in other nations), I’m always struck by the deadening effect of the Orlando bus experience. Woebegone bus stops, many without shelter or seating; lumbering, huge-wheeled giants going nowhere I need to go, and getting there slower. There’s a bus culture with no stigma in other cities where I’ve lived – including Tampa, St. Louis, Jacksonville and Honolulu. Here, the bus culture seems a twilight zone of the hard-working, unloved and unwatched.

My 10-year-old son, Cooper, and I took the Lynx 50 down to Disney one night, kibitzed with other riders and hassled the driver a little. Cooper analyzed the engine and got eyed by Daisy, a 10-year-old girl from England. It rounded out his perception of his own city a little, and mine a lot. The result was a TrIP blog post (“Searching for the soul of the tropical city”) and a sculpture, “Bus Bench,” which we built together.

Greene has nurtured an open group of local artists and writers now expressing deeper connections to Orlando’s people, and slowly, quietly, Orlando’s soul is coming out a little: the man who asked Jessica Earley to teach him how to pray; the mysterious boy with the shaved head in Destiny Deming’s post; Terry Thaxton’s moving memory of her youth, triggered by a bus ride back to the old hood; the man wearing outrageous blue swimming trunks photographed by Greg Leibowitz; and of course the marvelous GTFS graphic of the bus system itself by Nathan Selikoff. These are a few of TrIP’s Orlando portraits; in the show opening Thursday, there are lots more.

TrIP documents an important part of our shared social space: public transportation. It is a space that can’t really be owned by anyone, and so ends up being owned by all of us, just a little bit. In a world increasingly privatized and capitalized and monetized, mass transit is about the only vestige of the old urban experience that is left. With no definite destination, TrIP is gathering speed, proving that the exotic and romantic need not be a continent away: It can sometimes be in the bus seat right beside you.

Taking Photos in a Public Place Is Not a Crime, text and photo by Greg Leibowitz

“I have connected with budding models, event planners, and people who want their story to be heard. … I was told by [LYNX] security, ‘We have watched you on several security cameras going around with your camera and clipboard.’ … I will leave my clipboard at home for now and keep going back until I get trespassed. The concentrated amount of people and incredible stories are worth it.”  

The World, The Novel, text and photo by Destiny Deming

“A simple conversation with a stranger on the bus could be a real-world experience that perfectly illustrates an inherent truth about our world. … It’s these interactions that allow us to add our own chapter in a book that, even if no one ever gets to read, we get to write. TrIP is about more than public transit to me. It’s about connections and the ability to explore.”

Riders’ Block: A Confession, text by Ryan Rivas, photo by Tina Craig

“A bus is blighted space with vast potential for improvement. In Orlando in particular, buses are associated with those unfortunate enough to have no other choice of transportation. A bus ride is something to be endured. This is far from the origin of the word, ‘omnibus,’ which implies a form of transportation for all.”

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