Florida is a regionalized place which often makes visiting different areas of the state a somewhat scary, unknown experience. A recent trip to Orlando shook some of my long-standing ideas of the city and its not-so-great reputation among Floridians and kinda everyone in general.
I can however admit when I am wrong and in this particular case feel as though I might owe Orlando an apology. For every hushed “whore-land-o” or off-handed “armpit of Florida” comment (which isn’t even that clever) I’ve made, I do apologize. Orlando surprised me with amazing people, good poetry and one crazy night.
Driving into the city I spotted a Orlando must see, the christian theme park HOLY LAND! After some convincing we were allowed to walk the grounds (unwilling to pay the $40 entry fee) of this infamous and highly surveillanced christian compound. Though this seems like a strange way to start telling you how amazing Orlando is the experience was pretty fun. We frolicked in a plastic Garden of Eden and made donuts around the roundabout nativity scene.
The real reason we were in Orlando though was to hear poet, Monica Wendel as she ended her residency at the Kerouac house. Monica has spent the past three months writing at the house where Kerouac typed the original manuscript of Dharma Bums. She just released a beautiful book of poetry that reads like a political dreamscape of a young woman living in Brooklyn. No Apocalypse will be officially released in June but is available for pre-order now on Amazon.com (look for it soon on Buffalo Girls’ Summer reading list).
Monica was the featured poet at an open mic reading in College Park that evolved into a party at the Kerouac House. The night continued with more poetry as Monica read some of her “sexier” works accompanied by a six-foot bull whip (whip clarification, I brought it but if we’re going to get technical, it’s belongs to my mother). As larger amounts of tequila were consumed people engaged less in poetry and more in karaoke which is when I really began to experience the rowdier side of Orlando folk. The mixture of artists, students and teachers were interesting and talented, willing to talk politics and even decent karaoke singers. But most importantly they could drink and write poetry.
Take away message, don’t believe what they say, Orlando is more than a theme park wasteland.