Monday, May 30, 2016

Goodbye Greasy Goodness

I must admit I have stopped to take pictures of the Olde Dixie Fried Chicken sign more than I've actually eaten there. It is one of the few vintage signs left in the Orlando area, and occasionally I like to ride my bike into historic Pine Castle where the restaurant is located on photo safari. So when I heard it was shutting down, I made the conscious decision to ignore the fact that I normally try to adhere to a plant-based diet, and I stopped in for lunch.

It was quit chaotic when I arrived – folks lined up along the back wall waiting for take-out orders, what seemed like 8 or 10 women working hard to full those orders, and a disorganized crowd milling around the order counter. Immediately I was truck by the notion that if there was system in place, it wasn't clear. Was there line at the order counter, when did you pay, was there table service or pick-up? Turns out if you dine in, and they bring you your food, which I did in order to soak up the ambiance.

The place looks like it hadn't changed in half a century, the interior consists of wood paneling and stacked rock walls covered with posters of John Wayne. Large clusters of chicken collectibles line the counter. A mural of an old Southern plantation surrounded by oaks draped in Spanish moss covered the wall behind the cash register. There were amazing midcentury details like an incredible terrazzo compass rose and Googie-like multicolored hanging lights.

The smell of fried chicken coated everything, and the women behind the counter were in constant motion taking freshly fried chicken parts out of the fryer and putting them in boxes. At lunchtime the restaurant posted on Facebook that due to demand they had bought more chicken (as they were going to only stay open until they ran out.) As I was leaving I heard one of the ladies say they had run out of boxes, despite ordering about 5,000 of them.

While I was enjoying my delicious chicken breast, (it was so fresh and hot I couldn't pick it up with my fingers), one of the guests asked a member of the staff what was going to happen to the restaurant. She said they were looking for a new location, and I believe she said in Oviedo. I also overheard that the she understood the building would not be demolished, it would just not be Olde Dixie Fried Chicken anymore.

The place was crowded with a diverse group of people in all shapes, sizes, and colors. I found that interesting since the Confederate flag is prominently featured in the establishment's sign. My theory is that they named it "Olde Dixie" after the Dixie Highway which followed the route of Orange Avenue through Pine Castle.

There are very few restaurants with any history in the Orlando area, and even fewer buildings with original mid-century details. I'm sad to see this place go. And the chicken was moist and crispy, the cole slaw sweet and tasty, and the mac and cheese was delicious. I guess I'll go back to my plant-based diet until I have to say so-long to the next Orlando dining institution ready to bite the dust. Let's hope that's in the distant future.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Textures of the ancient city

I just returned from an overnight trip to my favorite city in Florida, St. Augustine. Although it can be touristy and crowded, there is magic there that I'm always able to tap into. My wife an I journey there at least once a year, and are never disappointed. This weekend the weather was perfect and the light was incredible. Waking the city, I  constantly make new discoveries and can simply lose myself in the rich textures on display in this incredibly lovely place.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Shuffling my way to a world ranking

When Michael Zellner, president of the International Shuffleboard Association, invited me to participate in this year's shuffleboard world championships, I wasn't sure if I was qualified. Although I received a special exemption to play against the world's best players, I knew that my game was not up to snuff to play in a tournament of that level. But Zellner convinced me that his invitation was a significant honor, and I didn't feel like I could say no. So I spent the past week playing against some of the best shuffleboard players anywhere. 

Fast courts, freshly beaded

The tournament started with a practice round on Sunday and I quickly determined that the courts at the Clearwater Shuffleboard Club were fast and they had lots of "drift." Drift is when the disk "drifts" off line due to the slant of the court. I soon learned that skilled players can use the drift to their advantage to tuck a scoring disk behind a blocking disk. The first day concluded with a reception at the Clearwater Beach hotel where most of the players were staying.

Jonathan of the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn greets the Allens
from the Allen R. Shuffleboard Company at the tournament's opening reception

The tournament officially kicked off the next day as the teams from all over the world paraded behind their flags. We were welcomed by local dignitaries and shuffleboard officials. A recording of the national anthem for each country was played, and I have to admit I got a little choked up at the thought of representing the USA.

After lunch, matches began and I was extremely nervous. There is a warm-up ritual before each game, and I found it completely confusing. This was my first shuffleboard competition at any level, and I was not sure what to expect. My first match was against a French Canadian with years of experience and I soon found myself in a deep hole that I could never dig out of. I learned very quickly that there is a big difference between recreational shuffleboard, what I later heard referred to as "shoot and giggle", and competitive shuffleboard. My opponents were all very cordial, and most of them were helpful and friendly, but they all played to win. In most of my games I was over matched, and once the game was out of hand, my opponents gave me tips on strategy.

I learned more about the game in one week than I had learned in two years of the Orlando Shuffle. At this level, there is a great deal of strategy and nuance. Players know where to aim, where not to aim, and possess the skills to put the disk exactly where they want to. Age is irrelevant, but experience is. The winner of the men's tournament was the same age as me, 50, but he's been playing since he was eight years old! The players could tell you which disks were faster than others and which parts of the courts were slow. Ultimately I lost far more matches than I won.

My first win came against a Norwegian who led by two scores with three frames left. I cut his lead in the next frame and then he was 'kitchened' on the next frame. The kitchen is the area in the back of the scoring triangle, and landing your disk in the kitchen results in ten off your score. It's the equivalent of a 'pick 6' in football, and it is the great equalizer in shuffleboard. I was tutored to beware of the kitchen, but not be afraid of it. I avoided the kitchen my final frame to beat the Norwegian, who would go on to become one of his country's best players in the tournament.

With my confidence high I entered a match against an undefeated American and at the end of eight frames I was up by a whopping 36 points. The next eight frames he challenged me to try to knock his disks into the kitchen by placing them deep in the scoring area. I knew that he would be right back in the game if I landed in the kitchen, so I allowed him to score. He slowly caught up until he passed me on the last shot of the match. It was a devastating loss. I didn't sleep much that night.

I found when I was in close matches my heart beat fast, my adrenaline flowed and I felt incredibly alive. Overall I was in four close matches, losing two and winning two (both against Norwegians.) I also was on the plus side of one lopsided match against an inexperienced player from Ohio. But the majority of my matches were learning opportunities against better players where I was soundly defeated.

Wednesday evening I gave a five minute speech at the end of the Hall of Fame banquet about the Orlando Shuffle. I reported how over the last two years with the help of a handful of committed shufflers, we have attempted to revitalize the game in Orlando.  After reviewing the old Florida Shuffleboard Association directories on hand in Clearwater, it looks like the official Orlando Shuffleboard Club dissolved in the late '90s.  Now we shuffle on the first and third Saturday each month, and I have high hopes that we can start a league next year. My talk was well received and I think our future efforts will be broadly supported by other players in the state.

When Orlando had an active club, it was in the Northern district with clubs from Volusia and Lake counties. According to another shuffler, the district had as many as 14 clubs at one time, but is now down to five. New Smyrna Beach alone has gone from four clubs down to one. But the game of shuffleboard seems much healthier in areas of Florida with larger retirement communities. According to Jim Allen of the Allen R. Shuffleboard Company, municipal shuffleboard facilities are becoming more scarce, while courts that are amenities for retirement communities are still desirable. As real estate prices soar, the amount of land a shuffleboard complex needs can often become too valuable to be used for recreation. Many of the European players are used to playing on plastic or 'poly' courts, which are becoming more prevalent.

Lakeside, Ohio has a shuffleboard club that has tournaments for kids, and they produced Bob Jones, Jr., this year's men's champion. In addition to the success of Brooklyn's Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club and the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club, a new indoor club in Ohio has opened, bringing the game to even more new players.

While many of the participants were retirees from up north, most of the international players were younger. But the large municipal clubs like those in Clearwater and St. Cloud where the retirees play are not as healthy as they have been in the past.  So I guess I'll keep the "Save Our Shuffleboard" Facebook group active so that folks don't take this great game for granted.

I'm still processing all I learned this week. I made great connections and met new friends. There is a distinct shuffleboard culture and it was fun to be part of the the game's community for a week. I soared after spectacular highs and re-grouped after crushing lows. I got a deeper look into the intricacies of a game that can be both infuriating and rewarding. I got schooled. But it was a small price to pay because at the end the week I held the ranking of the 56th best mens shuffleboard player in the world.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bottled Spring Water and the Mouse: Florida's New Faux Spring

After the Civil War, tourists from northern states began flocking to Florida via newly-constructed railroads systems and steamboats. The tropical paradise they visited was full of natural wonders and the exotic flora and fauna was mysterious and untamed. Soon visitors to this new Eden began discovering the state's many beautiful artesian springs. Modern facilities were created so guests could stay and take the waters, a centuries-old practice in Europe where it was believed almost any ailment could be cured by soaking in or drinking mineral water. Green Cove, Suwannee, and Magnolia Springs were three of the best known spring-based health spas with elaborate resort complexes.

The notion of healthful spring water in Florida was so powerful that bottled water from the springs became a commodity with many springs bottling and shipping water to other parts of the country. The evidence of water bottling at Florida springs during this era can still be found today. Here are just a few examples of Florida springs that were used for bottled drinking water:

Hampton Springs Water, Hampton Springs (near Perry)
This remarkable product claimed to cure "indigestion, rheumatism, dyspepsia, stomach and liver troubles, and skin disease." Today Hampton Springs is a Taylor County park.

Postcard from the State Archives of Florida

The spring pool at Hampton Springs today

Magnesia Springs, Hawthorne
Water bottled at this spring near Gainesville was sold to Camp Blanding for 50 cents for a five gallon jug. The spring is now privately owned, although there has been some recent discussion suggesting it be restored as a public facility again.

Read more about Magnesia Springs here.

Orange City Water from Volusia Blue Spring
According to the Orange City website, Orange City Water earned the “highest award that the world can give for its water at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition." They also claimed that "John D. Rockefeller, Sr. had Orange City water sent to him wherever he traveled, and even used it for bathing."

From the State Archives of Florida

From the State Archives of Florida

From the State Archives of Florida

Espiritu Water from Espiritu Santo Springs, Safety Harbor
Historian J. Michael Francis recently confirmed the historical inaccuracy of the account on the historical marker in front of the Safety Harbor Spa that states Hernando De Soto thought he "discovered the fountain of youth sought by Ponce de León" when he found these springs he dubbed "Espiritu Santo Springs." Despite the falsehood, few springs have the longevity of human history as these springs in Safety Harbor, and it is one of three springs in the state where one can still take the waters for therapeutic purposes.  I believe the water is still available for drinking purposes at the spa today.

Safety Harbor bottling facilities. Photo by the Burgert Bros.
From the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.

Deerfoot Mineral Spring, DeLand
I recently stumbled across this blog account: "Around 1890, DeLand entrepreneur J.B. Taylor decided to tap the spring and sell the water under the Deerfoot Water Company name. His company first marketed the water for sale as a medicinal supplement. Later on, the paddle boats used it as their water source. Mr. Taylor later installed a 100-foot well that, according to the USGS’s 1913 publication Geology and Ground Waters of Florida  yielded a sulphur water also believed to have medicinal properties."


Purity Springs, Tampa
I first learned of Purity Springs from this Tampania blog and have visited the site of the Tampa area water bottling plant several times. This small spring is now an oasis of calm near the chaos of urban Tampa.

Men standing by delivery trucks situated in front of the bottling department
of the Purity Springs Water Company, water tower in upper right corner:
Tampa, 1928. From the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.

Fenholloway Sulphur Water
From Joe Dunn’s ‎Florida Trailblazer Facebook page:
“Found these photos while researching the old town of Fenholloway in Taylor County. One of the things it was noted for was the mineral springs there. In the early 1920's the Fenholloway water was sold locally from a pick-up truck. The business later expanded and trucks delivered the water all over North Florida and South Georgia. The water was pumped from the springs, bottled and transported to Live Oak, Mayo, Cross City, Greenville and other cities in the area. Sometime in the late 1930's to the 1940's the spring dried up due to groundwater pumping. After that the mineral water had to imported then the business closed sometime in the 1950's.”



Bottled Water in Florida today

The popularity of bottled water in the 21st century has led to a renaissance of the water-bottling industry in Florida. Many major brands fill plastic water bottles with ancient water from the Floridan Aquifer according to journalist Cynthia Barnett in her book Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S. "Three of of the largest water-bottling companies in the world pump or buy their product from the Suwannee District" states Barnett about the region that is the heart of Florida's spring country. With springs across Florida facing an uncertain future due to over pumping and pollution, many environmentalists bristle knowing that water that would ordinarily bubble up in a spring now often ends up in a plastic bottle to be shipped out of the state.  Although Barnett points out the amount of water withdrawn by water bottlers is small compared to the hundred of millions of gallons used by industrial and agricultural interests in the state, she also makes the point that the state's water regulators "simply do not understand the overall impact the water bottling industry has on Florida."

Florida's Newest Spring

I was working in downtown Orlando at the Church Street Station entertainment complex when Disney opened its own nighttime entertainment destination known as Pleasure Island. While Church Street was Bob Snow's singular vision, merging mostly Victorian decor into nostalgic showrooms, Pleasure Island was a fictitious warehouse district with state-of-the-art nightclubs and bars sprinkled with Disney magic pixie dust. Eventually the luster wore off and Pleasure Island's unique venues like the Adventurer's Club and Mannequins Dance Palace closed.

In 2013, Disney began construction on a new incarnation of the Pleasure Island/Downtown Disney area known as Disney Springs. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, the complex will have the "look of an early 20th century Florida town" and renderings showed design elements that reflected the era of Florida’s spring water bottling history. Included was a "permanent fixture" in the Downtown Disney skyline, the Springs Bottling Co. Marquee.

My initial reaction to seeing the renderings was mixed. On the one hand, as a lover of Florida history, I'm intrigued by the idea that Disney would chose to pay homage to this romantic era in our state's history when travelers took long journeys in train cars to stay in remarkable Guilded Age hotels and take the waters. But as someone who cares deeply about the future of Florida's springs, I also hoped if Disney was creating a fake spring environment, that they might take the opportunity to educate their millions of visitors about our state's real springs, which are threatened by the explosive growth of Florida. I was not the only one who felt that Disney's choice for theming lacked sensitivity and several well-known environmentalists expressed disappointment as well.

Photo of the back of the Springs Bottling marquee via the Orlando Sentinel.

I had this letter printed in the Orlando Sentinel editorial page:
Disney’s teachable moment
As a Floridian who cares deeply about our state’s springs, I have mixed feelings about the new Disney Springs development. 
From a historical perspective, I appreciate how the company is paying homage to a fascinating era in our state’s past, when springs helped hasten the development of the state, offering a resource that could be bottled and sold. Murals on the site for bottled mineral water echo real vintage advertisements for bottled spring water from both nearby Wekiwa and Blue springs. 
However, I am disappointed that the designers of Disney Springs seem to be ignoring that water withdrawal from the Floridan Aquifer is a sore subject for environmentalists. As the Central Florida Water Initiative looks for new ways to quench the thirst of our region without overtapping our maxed-out aquifer, perhaps a building with giant letters at the top stating “springs bottling plant” is not a good idea. An architectural rendering of this was shown in a photo gallery on the Sentinel website. 
According to the Disney website, the top priority in the company’s environmental policy is to “improve water and energy efficiencies.” My hope is that Disney will take advantage of the huge volume of tourists streaming through its gates to create awareness of the water challenges facing the region. I would love to see interpretive signage at Disney Springs created to educate the public about the geology and ecology of Florida’s springs. It’s a teachable moment. 
Rick Kilby Orlando

My visit to Disney Springs

Eventually curiosity won out and I had to see Disney Springs for myself, despite the fact that much of it is still under construction. I was pleased to find ample, free parking as a new parking garage had been completed since my last visit. Many of the buildings in the Downtown Disney area have remain unchanged and it was not until I crossed over the bridge past a construction area that I noticed newly constructed buildings. There were several structures that are clearly an homage to the architecture of the early 19th century. Much of what I saw, including the impressive Boathouse Restaurant, reminded me of buildings created by the St. Joe Corporation in their panhandle projects like WaterColor and WaterSound. The same seaside visual vocabulary I've seen used by New Urbanist architects along the Gulf of Mexico marks the waterfront area. Ironically, one of the yet-to-be completed buildings bears a strong resemblance to Orlando's historic train depot, where my office was located when I worked at Church Street Station.

Disney Springs building,  partially completed.
Detail of the very similar Orlando historic railroad depot.

While I was aggravated trying to negotiate through the Labor Day crowds I had several distinct impressions. Disney has always done nostalgia well, and Disney Springs is no exception. Like the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, they have been able to channel the spirit of another era. But it is still largely a retail and and dining area, and in my opinion the Church Street Station complex was superior in its attention to detail and authentic artifacts and antiques. I still have mixed feelings about the complex, but I hope to return when Disney Springs is complete. When I do, I'll be looking hopefully for an interpretive display with verbiage about Florida's real springs.

The Boathouse Restaurant has a fleet of several "Amphicars" available for "swims."

Propellers are located just beneath the tail fins. "Swims" go for $75 per person.

Amphicar just beyond a few of the Boathouse's vintage motorboats.

One of the many spectacular watercraft on display.

While a bit pricey, the atmosphere of the Boathouse was terrific.

These whimsical renderings bear little resemblance to an actual Florida spring.

Here's my hint to Disney for springs signage, illustration by Dawn Schreiner.
Learn more about what you can do for our springs here.