“The idea of the search comes to me again as I am on my way to my aunt’s house, riding the Gentilly bus down Elysian Fields. The truth is I dislike cars. I have the feeling I have become invisible. People on the street cannot see you; they only watch your rear fender until it is out of their way.“ -Binx Bolling, from Walker Percy’s Moviegoer.
When I was going to Winter Park High School in the mid-70’s I used to skip school to go fishing. I had just read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I was inspired by their mischief, and sense of adventure. Towards the end of high school I skipped school a couple of times and took the bus from Winter Park to downtown Orlando. There was more retail activity at that time. I wandered into Kress department store and had lunch at McCrory Drug Store’s fountain shop. Walking down the empty railroad tracks looking at the old buildings, many of them gone now. I felt like a modern day hobo or beatnik, even though my knowledge of those worlds was limited, peripheral, and my mother would cook me dinner in few hours.
About twenty years later during my daily commutes riding the Seattle bus, I read the Moviegoer, not only did the protagonists Binx’s existential search resonate with me, but I also understood what he meant about riding the bus, and driving.
I know that my current perspective of the bus is a bit privileged, and maybe nostalgic. I drive most everywhere these days. The bus and mass transit is a topic that can get heated. Many times the people involved in the discussion have very little first hand knowledge about the bus. I am guilty of this. I tend to romanticize all types of travel that are not too organized.
The meandering journeys of the Beats, hobos, Situationists, Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and other explorers who are not necessarily destination-oriented are my inspiration. I look forward to viewing the less traveled roads, the uncelebrated and ignored places. It feels much more like an adventure when there are no branded anecdotes or travelogues to reference.
The morning of November 11th, I took the 45 bus from Lake Mary, where I am house-sitting. At the Seminole Center Super Stop, I switched buses to the 102. Tagging the stop Super seems ironic. It’s a bleak, bare bones stop on the edge of a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Heading south on US 17-92 on the way to the Winter Park Amtrak station we passed many ugly often unoccupied strip malls and plazas (I know this is no secret). The schedule said that I needed to switch from the 102 to the 103 next to the Jai-Alai Fronton (I think it’s called something else now, something cheesy like the event place). I looked at the hideous looking huge metal building where I have seen some Jai-Alai and other concerts. The Clash played there, so did Springsteen in the early 80’s or late 70’s. Jai-Alai came to Orlando in 1962. It would be nice if there was a Basque (Jai-Alai is Basque) restaurant inside. When I was 20 or 21 I rode around Europe with a married American couple. They were fighting the whole way. It was awkward. There were lots of good times despite the awkward situation. We camped a few nights on the Basque coast in Northern Spain. It wasn’t a designated campsite. Some of the locals brought in a bunch of fresh fish and lobsters. They made the best bouillabaisse I have ever had.
I got out of the 102 to switch and noticed that the driver had switched the number to 103.
He told me, “Oh yeah it’s the same bus.”
I asked why. “I’m not sure.”
So I took the 103/102 to the train station.
I was going to take the train from Winter Park to Kissimmee. The train was scheduled to arrive in Winter Park, in a little over an hour. I stopped at Barnie’s for a snack and some coffee. My girlfriend Kim met up with me. She brought me a copy of The New York Times.
After breakfast, Kim walked across the tracks with me. I lined up to board. She took photos. I kissed her goodbye.
The train was about twenty minutes late. This is not uncommon with Amtrak.
The train passed through Winter Park, downtown Orlando. The point of view gives the city a completely different look. We arrived in Orlando, at the Orlando Amtrak station. The 1926 Mission style building that would look at home in Central America is my favorite building in Orlando. I got off the train for a few minutes, took some photos. I was walking inside to take photos of the beautiful wooden benches and wooden phone booths. One of the conductors told me not to go too far, because we were leaving soon. I got back on the train.
A few minutes later, we pulled away. Warehouses, parking lots, vegetation, houses, fast food restaurants and graffiti disappeared from our view. The landscape looked exotic at an accelerated pace. It felt like I was in a familiar place, but really traveling as the train arrived.
I got off the train, and walked toward Main Street. Looking to the right, I saw a large propane tank in the parking lot, behind it there is a large mural of main street buildings on the side of Makinson hardware store. Across the street, I could see the restaurant on the corner that had a big sign in the window that said Latin food. I crossed the street and went into the Latin food place. Latin music was blaring. I could smell the food. It smelled so good. There was a table of kids that looked to be between six and eight playing a game on an iPad. They were laughing and running around their table. I think one of the mothers was my server. She was attentive towards them, in between waiting on me. I felt like I was in Latin America, but I was in Kissimmee. When I was a kid everyone referred to Kissimmee as Kowboy country. Many still do…(stay tuned for Part II tomorrow)