Earlier this summer an interesting video project made the rounds on social media. The footage, filmed in downtown Orlando, featured members of our city’s homeless population holding signs that said something unique about their lives. One woman holds a sign indicating that she was once a figure skater. A man holds one saying that he used to build robots for a living. The video, part of a project called Rethink Homelessness, sponsored by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, attempts to get people to shelve their preconceived notions of who the homeless are and recognize that their problems are not that different from our problems. The project is brilliant: simple, moving and effective.
Orlando Ballet recently fled this gorgeous historic building when they cried “mold!” and were turned out onto the curb. Once an OUC power plant, the former Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts is now nothing but an empty shell, with the newly renovated “Happy New Year/Happy Holidays” sign (paid for by donations from the Ivanhoe Village Main Street District) resting atop it like a crown on a tired old beauty queen. The Ivanhoe Foundation that was charged with the upkeep of the building will most likely disband and leave their money to the Ballet, but nobody is talking about why this local landmark has been left jilted and alone for so long.
Every day of the week, Orange County Animal Services in Orlando is slammed. The open-admission shelter, which serves all of Orange County, receives a flood of new animals who have no place to go. They’re either picked up as strays, surrendered by owners or confiscated by the authorities, and a lot of those animals don’t ever make it out alive. Their only chance is that, once they’re put up for adoption, they catch the eye of some kind soul searching for a new pet. Which is where Pawsitive Shelter Photography comes in. Before the volunteers from this little organization got involved, the photos of the dogs and cats available at the shelter were … less than flattering. They were taken in kennels and dark rooms, and the animals usually looked dirty and terrified. Now, Pawsitive Shelter Photography visits twice a week and takes professional-quality photos of the animals on a nice, clean background. They dress them in cute, seasonally themed gear and they spend enough time with the animals so they look engaged rather than erratic, making them far more likely to catch the eye of the casual pet adopter cruising the Internet, searching for a new pal.
It was hard to criticize Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs for making an appearance at the 2013 Come Out With Pride festivities last fall. Jacobs had not exactly been friendly to LGBT causes in the past – she notoriously voted in favor of the gay marriage ban in 2008 and played dumb throughout the Orange County domestic partnership registry fight into 2012. But her appearance was intended to be heartfelt, mostly because a gay member of her staff had recently passed away. We were all told to believe (specifically by the event promoters) that Jacobs had evolved on the issue, that we ought to be more inclusive and accepting of those like her, that her very presence among the rainbow flags and pro-gay signs would mean that there was no turning back for Jacobs on LGBT issues because there were pictures. Picture this: In June 2014, Jacobs still refused to endorse marriage equality, even when confronted specifically on the issue. Some things never change.
In her 16 years as the sometimes unintelligible mouthpiece of the Orlando City Hall dais – one that liked to ramble on about wayward chickens in the streets – the city had grown accustomed to the commissioner’s bouts with irreverence. But come May, after her official farewell meeting had already transpired, Lynum felt compelled to call another final meeting, this time to address the building of a new K-8 school in her Parramore district. Critics of the new school complained that it was an invitation to resegregation in addition to being a demolition order for Colonialtown’s beloved Fern Creek Elementary, where many Parramore children were bused. Commissioner Patty Sheehan was one of those critics and said as much when voting no on a land deal that set the school in motion. That compelled Lynum to seethe with righteous indignation. “I have never interfered with any other council district,” she said to Sheehan at the May 27 meeting. “To have this discussion about keeping [Fern Creek] open, and to have little black children bused to some community that they can’t walk to, is asinine.” Dismount!
There were plenty of Orlando in-jokes to snicker at in the 2014 Fringe show written by our former A&C editor, Steve Schneider, which transposed the cult B-movie Escape From New York into the tale of a Baldwin Park ravaged by disaster: stabs at Bright House sales jobs, jabs at overreaching HOAs, and a certain used-car salesman’s twinkle-toed granddaughter as a crucial character. But from the moment Ragen took the stage as Commissioner Patty Sheehan, she – and her hair – owned it. Sporting a Don King-worthy shock of starchy gray that reached for the sky, pardner, accessorized with a Western shirt, tight jeans and sensible footwear, Ragen’s seething, acerbic, delightful Sheehan stole the show. The essentially good-natured, I-kid-because-I-love tone of Schneider’s Orlandoan opus was confirmed by the fact that Commissioner Sheehan sat front and center for half a dozen performances, laughing louder than anyone else. Some people just get it.
As if you had any doubt that the long-embattled Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority had serious issues, this year the board of the organization went out of its way to make sure everybody knew just how troubled it was. In May, State Attorney Jeff Ashton released more than 500 pages worth of evidence indicating that the powerful people who ran the authority used it as their plaything. They pushed lucrative contracts to friends, held secret meetings at local bars where they came up with plans to take control of the board, and bullied those who didn’t walk in tandem with their plans. Authority board member Scott Batterson was indicted on bribery charges in relation to the report in April, and former state Rep. Chris Dorworth and board member Rebekah Hammond were both indicted for violating the state’s Sunshine Laws. In May, another board member, Marco Peña, resigned from his seat on the board and pled guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for his testimony about the authority’s malfeasance. Shocked? Don’t be. This kind of thing has gone on at the Expressway Authority practically since it was founded in the 1960s. This year’s antics, however, finally led to its abolishment.
Bithlo started out as a planned community, but instead of becoming an early version of Baldwin Park, the municipality defaulted on some loans and then was hit hard by the Great Depression. Cue losing your city government and being kicked out of the county by scared politicians and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a community with no zoning, no services and no funding for basic necessities. United Global Outreach, a nonprofit organization led by Tim McKinney, saw that the Bithlo residents needed some help, swooped in, and the rest is history. They provided free dental care, started a school, held free weekly community meals and now are launching a whole series of improvements based around what they call Transformation Village. All of this has been done in only a few years and without the aid of a municipal government.
Witnessing a rainbow on an overcast day is the equivalent of running into “Pops” around the Mills 50 district. Pops, as he tells people to call him, washes windows for the businesses along Mills (particularly Will’s Pub), and happens to spin some of the best conversational webs. If you’re lucky enough to catch the man, don’t be afraid to engage with him in a friendly head-to-head. Our mothers warned us about talking to strangers, but Pops is no stranger to the world. He’s been around and his stories are sure to be a highlight to anyone’s day. (Plus, if you’re really lucky, Pops will be selling random scavenged goods – ladders, guitar strings – for hella cheap.)
Remember when all the cool kids would bring their English textbooks, Cure tapes and bottles of amaretto to the cemetery to, like, hang out or whatever? Yeah, we don’t either. But on Greenwood Cemetery’s moonlight walking tours, you can kind of get that experience, plus a hefty dose of Orlando nostalgia. While you see the graves and learn about the lives of such local bigwigs as Bumby, Tinker, Robinson and Carr (all real ex-people!), you can flash back to those days when doing weird, creepy shit was somehow all that mattered. Just remember that you have to RSVP on their site to secure a
spot on the tour. Jncos and trenchcoats not required. Or encouraged. Ever.
There are an estimated 100 million feral cats in this country. Animal rights advocates want to treat them as urban wildlife and public pets – feed them, neuter them and leave them be – but a lot of environmentalists want them gone. The problem is that both sides are outspoken, and local government seems to be afraid of the political hornets’ nest that is feral-cat control. While the two sides duke it out and try to figure out how to reduce the population of feral cats – often called community cats these days, since they are (like it or not) part of the fabric of our community – we think you’d do best to put a fence around your organic garden. How else are you going to keep those calicos that live under your bungalow from shitting in the tomatoes? Live and let live.