There we sat at the Lynx bus stop, waiting on the 9:53am 51 Lynx bus to appear in the distance. I felt confident that I had prepped and planned for our first trip on Orlando’s growing public transportation system adequately. My plans for my wife and I were rather simple, leave our vehicles parked for the day while still being able to go where we wanted to travel around Orlando. With our bus passes in hand we notice the bus making its way up Conway Road towards our stop. Everyone began to gather their things and rise to their feet in preparation of the approaching bus. Finally as the bus came to a halt, the doors swung open and we found a seat as the doors closed behind us. Our adventure had begun.
Just as quickly as the bus accelerated away from the stop where we got on the bus it stopped again at the very next bus stop. A few more folks load into the bus and exchange hellos with the driver as well as other riders. Seems they are regular riders as they engage in a conversation about how their family and life in general, a welcome change from the frustration and rage of all the drivers on the road you feel behind the wheel of a car every day. Down the road we continued, making stops here and there as we moved along the route. I settled in and grabbed my notepad to scribble down some notes and observations so far. In my car this is not even an option without pulling over or risking the safety of myself and anyone else on the road at the time. So I jotted down some notes and the bus rolled on through its route, passing through the same roads I travel every week only this time as a rider with the ability to disengage from the commute.
Soon the bus pulled into the Colonial Plaza stop and many of my fellow riders stood up and made their exit of the bus. For those unfamiliar with this stop, it serves as a connector for a few buses with routes in the area. After a few moments the doors closed again and the bus continued its route down Robinson Street, through the Milk District and on towards the downtown Central Station. My first planned stop was coming up on Robinson Street so we gathered up our bags and prepared to alert the driver to stop at the next bus stop. Finally I see it getting close so I pulled the cable and the bus came to a stop at the very next stop, right across the street from Dickson Azalea Park. We say goodbye to the driver as we stepped off the bus. As soon as we exited the doors closed and the 51 Lynx bus pulled away down Robinson, growing smaller as we made our way across the street. The plan was to explore and take pictures of the lush green foliage and large, majestic oak trees that wind along the small creek in the park.
After an hour or so of exploring the park we were ready to hop back on a Lynx bus to ride into the Central Station. Since I had researched all the routes and times beforehand I knew that on a Saturday the bus only came by once per hour, so I was careful to not miss the bus. It should only be ten minutes or so until the next bus comes along so I wandered nearby taking a few more pictures. As I walked back up to the bus stop I noticed how I could frame a shot of the bus stop sign and the bus together as a great composition to accompany my story. I pulled out my camera and made a few test shots to get framing and focus figured out before the bus arrived and I was guilty of holding it up while they wait for me to get a perfect shot. I look up and see the bus coming up the road, getting closer as I snapped a few pictures of the bus growing larger and larger in my viewfinder. Now I know this was my first time riding the bus in Orlando but this action of taking photos of the bus from the street must be a universal sign to bus drivers that I have no interest in riding on the bus, I would just rather take pictures of you driving by me. The bus barely even slowed as it passed by me standing at the bus stop. Well, at least I got a couple of great shots.
Being very familiar with the bus schedule I knew it would be another hour before the next one passed by, so we set off on foot towards Thornton Park. Luck for us it was only five or six blocks away from where we were so it did not take very long to get back to some familiar territory. Along the way through Thornton Park we found ourselves in Benjamin’s French Bakery, perusing their menu and deciding to have a late breakfast and a few minutes off our feet. Soon we were munching on some delicious croissants and planning where we wanted to venture to next. The free Grapefruit Lymmo bus had a stop a couple blocks away, so we finished up our food and headed over to Summerlin and Central to wait for the next bus to take us further into downtown Orlando.
As we walked up to the Thornton Park Grapefruit Lymmo bus stop, we noticed a guy sitting up on one of the benches half awake and fighting to remain in a vertical position. The bus stop sign read “ten minutes until the next bus.” Hard to tell at first if this guy was sleeping or intoxicated, so we kept our distance and tried not to disturb him. He never seemed to even acknowledge we were around. So we talked about some things we could go do and where the bus runs exactly through downtown while we passed the time. Three more minutes now. The bus should be along anytime. Then a moment later we noticed the sign read “No service scheduled.” I was new to riding the public transit system in Orlando but I knew this would mean a lot more waiting around. So we decide to take off on foot up Central toward Lake Eola, feeling confident in our decision with still no buses anywhere in sight. After pictures along the edge of Lake Eola, we made our way to the front of the park around Rosalind Avenue and happen upon the Veteran’s Day Parade, taking place on the Saturday after Veteran’s Day. It was a beautiful November day in Orlando of hundreds of people had turned out to celebrate and honor our military veterans along the parade route.
Through the downtown parade route we continued to walk, taking pictures here and there as we moved past the main library to the corner of Central and Magnolia. Due to the parade, the intersection was blocked off with buses and people unable to move. It became clear to us why the sign had read no service and we were glad we did not stay at the bus stop any longer than we did. So we settled in to our spot in the crowd and watched and photographed the rest of the parade passing us by. After ten or fifteen more minutes the last of the parade had passed and the police opened the crossroads back up to normal vehicle and pedestrian traffic. The buses left and we walked across the street to the larger Magnolia and Central bus stop. Soon after the street sweeping vehicles were buzzing along the parade route to clean up all the trash and debris. We found a place along one of the rails and waited for the next Orange Lymmo to take us to the Central Station.
This area of downtown has always been a hub of activity on normal days and this Saturday was no different. The parade had created an influx of riders greater than the normal volume as well as delayed the everyday riders from traveling in their normal routines. The bus stop was full of riders with no bus in sight. The bus stop sign read fifty five minutes until the next bus. Time to get comfortable and people watch while we wait. Anytime you want to see a broad mix of Orlando’s unique culture, go sit around this bus stop for an hour or two and simply observe all the people who come and go. It will help you to understand the wonderful melting pot of cultures our city has evolved into over the years.
With my camera in hand I carefully observed from the bus stop. Across the street in the open park area of Orlando’s History Museum is a giant globe statue. Underneath the globe, seated on the base was a woman trying her best to block the bright Florida sunlight from shining down on her. From my vantage point it almost seemed as if she were holding the weight of this world on her back, as if preventing it from falling to the ground were her only responsibility. After a few minutes of watching I noticed a man stopped and talked with her for a moment, as if he were asking her a question. I knew this by the fact she did not stand up and he did not sit down the entire conversation. It appeared the man was asking directions and pointing down the street before saying goodbye to her and walking off in the direction he was pointing. The woman remained in her seated position and returned to her own thoughts.
Forty minutes until the next bus reads the sign. A couple of guys waiting walked up to the sign and commented on the long delays. Clearly not happy with their limited options, they took off on foot up Magnolia towards the courthouse. From the corner of my eye I saw the man returning to the woman seated across the street with a large fountain drink cup and a big plastic bag. He handed the woman the drink and proceeded to pull out the food container he bought for her from one of the local restaurants. As he opened the lid a broad smile came across the woman’s face as she savored the sweet aroma of this freshly prepared meal. He also set a bottled water beside her for later. She seemed to thank him for his generosity as he took his leave, back up past the History Center, disappearing as quickly as he appeared. Then she returned to her hot meal and took her time enjoying every bite, as if it were her last meal. Seeing the man’s generosity gave me hope for the humanity the people of our city continue to embrace towards the less fortunate.
Twenty minutes until the next bus. About a quarter of the people who started out waiting for the bus have since left on foot. I didn’t mind the wait because I wanted to experience the Central Station in person. Seated on a bench across from us was a pre-teen boy, impatiently waiting with his family for the bus after the parade. In his boredom he had deconstructed the small American flag he collected from the Veteran’s Day Parade from the small wooden dowel it was attached. He pulls the straw out of his cup and loads the wooden dowel. His chest swells up as his draws in a deep breath, then with great force exhales through the straw, launching the projectile five feet away onto the ground. I could see the light bulb above his head light up as he grinned from ear to ear and leapt to his feet to retrieve the small dowel. He would repeat this process a few more times before his parents grew impatient of waiting on the bus and decided to leave on foot up Magnolia towards the courthouse.
Fifteen minutes until the next bus. I took out my notepad and updated my notes and also took a glance through some of the pictures I had taken so far. The area around us was still busy with activity. I could overhear some of the guys on the other end of the bus stop talking about the current state of the world. One of the guys seemed more vocal about things than the other guys, maybe he was having a bad day or even a bad year. I went back to making notes instead of ease dropping any more on their conversation. Only about half the people who were waiting originally were still at the bus stop as well as several more who had walked up since. The woman across the street still sat underneath the globe, relaxed and content to stay put for a while.
Five minutes until the next bus. Even I was beginning to growing impatient by now so I packed up my notepad and camera in anticipation of the soon to arrive bus. Glancing down on the ground I noticed the small detached American flag laying on the ground near where the younger boy with the projectile had sat earlier. The only remnants of a parade that had passed through earlier. Finally the bus appears in the distance, moving closer and closer as it came to a stop in front of us. People begin to load and unload as we made our way onto the bus as well. The Orange Lymmo bus was especially crowded today from the nearly two hour service interruption. The friendly bus driver took his time securing a woman in a special needs chair safely into the bus. He asked her about her day as well as made sure she was comfortable. The driver then took his seat and the bus finally left the stop and headed up Magnolia towards the courthouse. We made a few more stops along the route to Central Station but before I knew it we finally stopped on the curb next to the Central Station. We grabbed our things and exited the bus onto the sidewalk. I took out my camera and snapped some photos as we walked along the sidewalk towards the main station building. The station was bustling with the movement of people and machines and I felt excited to finally be able to sit and observe the Orlando transit hub in person without having anywhere else to be for a little while.
The automatic door slid open and we entered the beautiful Central Station building. It was busy with the activity of people moving in and out of the station while some sat in the seats around the edges. I slowly wandered around the inside taking a few pictures as I took in all the details. The unhappy guy from the bus stop earlier stops me and asks if I was from Sweden. All though at first I was a little surprised by the question I quickly realized that with my giant beard and camera strapped around my neck that I must have looked like a tourist. A tourist wandering around the local bus station with wide eyes and a camera, so I quickly replied that I was from Orlando and simply exploring the city with my camera. He seemed perplexed as to why I would find it fun or adventurous to be hanging around a bus station when it was something he had to do out of necessity. He said nothing else, he simply nodded and made his exit from the building. Maybe I did look foolish to him, attempting to glamorize something he deemed unglamorous and burdensome. Who was I to romanticize something as menial as public transportation, something he probably had to do because he had no other transportation options to go to work every day. So I was careful to respect his privacy and try not to invade his space anymore.
After exploring the inside of the station for a few more minutes we ventured outside and found a nearby bench to sit and watch from for a little while. Again I pulled out my notepad to make a few more notes about the trip. Buses and people come and go. I could only imagine how busy weekdays were around the station, when the vast majority of people use our public transit system. The curves of the station’s architecture flowed from one end to the other. After a while we got up and wandered around the platforms on the outside of the station until we arrived on the platform for Sunrail. Since it was Saturday there was no one around on this platform because there is no weekend service for Sunrail in Orlando. Something I hope changes in the near future. We took more pictures as we decided where to venture to next. We finally agreed to ride the Orange Lymmo back to the Magnolia and Central bus stop, where we would walk over to Lake Eola for a mid-afternoon lunch near the water. A nice little unplanned stop before we wrap up our adventure and hop on the 51 Lynx bus back over to our neighborhood on Conway Road.
An hour or so later, after we finished our relaxing lunch right next to Lake Eola, we began to walk around Lake Eola towards the Robinson Street side of the park. We made our way past the Chinese Ting Gazebo and notice that over near the water someone is all set up for a wedding under the late afternoon sky and beautiful downtown Orlando skyline. We continued over to the bus stop for the 51 Lynx bus and I continue to wander close by taking a few last photos before packing up my camera for the day. After a few more minutes the bus was nearing our stop as we prepared to board the slowing bus. The doors opened and we grabbed a seat, ready to relax and reflect for the quick fifteen minute or so ride back to the edge of our Conway neighborhood. I began to make a few final notes as the bus began to roll down Robinson.
The bus moved down Robinson as it traced back the route we had traveled earlier in the day until we again arrive back at the Colonial Plaza bus stop. A few people get on and off the bus before we are moving again, up Primrose toward the loop around Lake Underhill. The ride seems so much shorter when the bus does not have to make every stop along the route and soon we are back on Conway Road, getting closer to our last stop for the day. The bus passed through the Conway and Michigan intersection and we pulled on the cable to alert the driver we wanted off at the next stop. We arose from our seats and said goodbye to the driver as we exited for the last time that day. After the bus pulled away, we crossed Conway Road and began our ten minute walk back into our Bryn Mawr neighborhood to our house.
For the most part, my first experience with Orlando’s public transportation was a very positive one. I was able to travel around town fairly quickly, without having to rely on using a vehicle and keeping at least one car off the road that day. And through my journey I was able to disconnect from the commute, witnessed humanity and compassion still alive and well with the people of Orlando and gain confidence in my ability to navigate Orlando’s growing public transit system. Though I am not able to leave my vehicle parked every day of the week, I will start taking the bus on a regular basis and hope that more and more people in Orlando will start to do the same occasionally as they realize how far our transit system has come along since its inception many years ago.
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