This is part two of the two-part series entitled "Down on the Trail: The story of South Orange Blossom Trail"
It is 1:24 in the morning on a Friday in June, and it feels like a sauna.
You can cut the humidity in the air like a man grinds his knife into a steak. It is 81 degrees on the corner of South Orange Blossom Trail and Oak Ridge Road. The lack of trees and tons of concrete make it feel even worse.
Welcome to Central Florida.
Judging from the amount of cars whooshing by, it looks more like 7:30 in the evening then 1:24 in the early morning. This stretch of South Orange Blossom Trail, from Interstate 4 to the enormous and infamous Beachline Expressway/Florida Turnpike interchange, is the busiest stretch of the roadway. It is a hodgepodge of cheap motels, fast food restaurants and strip malls. When you mention South Orange Blossom Trail, this is the part of the Trail that most people envision.
It is a six lane stretch of soulless commercialism at it's finest. Where else in Orlando, heck even the state of Florida, will you find prostitutes sharing the same sidewalk as international tourist throwing away their money at the largest shopping mall in Central Florida? Where else would you find a three-star strip club sitting right next to a Walmart Supercenter? Where else will you find a pimp yelling at it's prostitute in front of a busy McDonalds?
Only on South Orange Blossom Trail.
D.L Hughley said it best. He said:
95 percent of all stereotypes are true.
South Orange Blossom Trail has had it's fair share of stereotypes over the years, and they all fit this road like a pillowcase on a pillow. This is ground zero for Orlando's underground "red light" scene. While standing outside of the McDonalds on the corner of South Orange Blossom Trail and Oak Ridge Road, a lady with a bow-legged walk winked at me and said:
How you doing hon? You look like you need a date tonight.
To which I replied:
No, I'm good.
I was not "good". I was sleepy and sweating. The Big Mac meal that I ordered was one that I quickly regretted. But the aura surrounding the intersection had a tight grip on me, and I could not let it go. Anyone who has been on the Trail past midnight would know what I am talking about.
I jumped on the last number 4 bus headed south and landed on the oddity known as the Florida Mall. The Florida Mall is the largest shopping mall in Orlando. By day, it is bustling with locals and tourist. It has my favorite store of all time: the M&M Store. But by night, it feels like a deserted desert. The same trees that hides the mall from plain site during the day, now gives of a Friday The 13th type of anxiety.
I crossed the roadway passed a now closed Office Depot back into the streetlight glow of the Trail. The scene down here is similar to the scene at Oak Ridge Road: cars whooshing by, hookers looking for their next "date". The only differences was the bright yellow glow of the Best Buy across the street and the busy McDonalds was replaced by the Orlando Ale House bar.
As I walked a little further down south of the Florida Mall, I heard a guitar piercing through air. It was coming from a McDonalds at the corner of South Orange Blossom Trail and LaQuinta Drive. The man (who did not want his name mentioned in this story) comes to this McDonalds every night to practice his music. When I asked him why, of all places, would he want to practice his music at a McDonalds parking lot on South Orange Blossom Trail, he replied:
I just have some peace. It's like my own slice of heaven.
And to many, that is what South Orange Blossom Trail represents.
In the middle of it's soullessness, the Trail has a soul. No other stretch of roadway in Orlando, not Colonial Drive, not International Drive, not Orange Avenue, has the talent to be soulless and soulful at the same time. In a lot of ways, South Orange Blossom Trail is a perfect representation of Orlando as a whole. Soulless but soulful at the same time.
Maybe the Trail is a slice of heaven.