The best stories money could buy

Who knew that Mayor Glenda Hood's celebration of Orlando's progress would include drag queens? It's right there on page 165 of "Orlando: The City Beautiful," the new coffee-table tome underwritten by the Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce and 69 of its members, each of which paid to have a publicist write the glowing profiles about them that fill out the 368-page picture book. The queen is Sam Singhaus, and -- imagine our surprise -- the photo of "Miss Sammy" that follows an upbeat essay by Hood is actually an outtake of Singhaus' session posing for Orlando Weekly's 1997 Best of Orlando cover. (Photographer C. Jordan Harris sold the image.) One assumes that Hood, who shares authorial credit with photo editor Bill Bachmann, did not weigh in on the pictures. But there's no doubt the words are hers. Her introduction, comparing the strides made in Central Florida during her great-grandfather's residency and her own, is written in the same chirpy manner as her "column" in the Downtown Orlando Monthly, a Sentinel publication that itself is subsidized by the tax-funded Downtown Development Board. Elsewhere, the flatteries reflect the truism that history is written by the victors -- or those rich enough to dictate their own version of events. The owners of Church Street Station bought a two-page feature that somehow never once mentions founder Bob Snow. Anchors such as Disney and SunTrust are obvious inclusions, but readers also get the full story of Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q. And one of the longest features -- four-pages -- brags on time-share mogul David Siegel. Credit, or blame, Towery Publishing of Memphis, which built a niche selling local chambers on upbeat images of themselves -- hardly a tough sell. The price to secure a spot among the select profiles is negotiable, but the $8,000 that Orlando Utilities Commission paid for its two-page spread is a ballpark figure -- and makes the book's $44.95 price a crime. Shouldn't they be giving this fluff away?