Man About Town blog Archives 1

 

The website that hosted the “Man About Town” blog has long since gone “404”, but I have saved the posts (minus graphics) and present them here. I have left the posts exactly as they originally appeared, including any inadvertently misspelled words or grammatical errors, mostly to remind me that I have made some progress since these first professional efforts. Links also remain, though some of those may have fallen victim to the “404” monster as well.

These posts represent a good cross section of the kinds of writing I was doing for Tribune Media Services. There are reviews of restaurants, movies, local stage events and businesses in Orlando, as well as articles dealing with (then) current events and local topics of interest.

 

April 24, 2005

Welcome! It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to the first post of the official Find Local Blog for the city of Orlando. While you're using the fantastic new search capabilities of Find Local to locate the best entertainment, restaurants and businesses in Orlando, I'll be posting here about my personal experience with some of them as well. I'll also be posting about local topics and current events that are on everyone's mind here in Orlando such as traffic, politics, sports, education; basically anything that happens here in O-town and Central Florida is likely to appear at some point in this blog. Blogs are, by their very nature, personal creations that reflect the views, attitudes and experiences of the person posting to them. In that regard this blog will be no different; I'll be writing about topics, events, entertainment, restaurants, etc. from my point of view. But, I also want to engage you, the citizens of Orlando and surrounding areas, in this blog as well. Agree? Disagree? Have a better idea or an opposing point of view? Want to share an experience that was different than mine? Have a place you'd like to recommend? Whatever category you fall into, I want to hear from you. As to the "style" of writing for this blog, well that usually depends on the subject matter. Sometimes it will be deadly serious, sometimes it will be humorous, sometimes it will be irreverent, sometimes it will be sarcastic. Mostly I plan for it to be fun, for me and for you. I thought I'd kick off this first blog by telling you a little about myself. Not a lot, because I'd like to think that I could be anybody you know...well anybody of the male gender persuasion, that is. To paraphrase what callers like to say on radio talk shows, "I'm a long time resident, first time blogger", though that last part isn't entirely true. I've been blogging for the past five years or so with postings to two personal blogs and one group blog. But, since most of you won't be familiar with any of those, it's like I'm a first-timer. My background is varied, my political leanings are muddled, my education is a combination of higher academics and life experience, and my hygiene is impeccable. I tend toward activities that are more mental in nature than physical, but a good fist fight is always an unforgettable experience, win or lose. Sometimes my positions on things are mercurial, depending on how I feel that particular day. Being taught to debate both sides of an issue might have contributed to that condition. I think I've learned to never say "Never", though sometimes I forget what I've learned. If I like you, then I like you until I don't like you. I try to forgive, but I don't always succeed and I never, ever forget. My musical tastes are pretty eclectic, as are my literary preferences. I'm partial to action/adventure movies, enjoy a good play (I did some stage acting once; my second-grade teacher thought I was fabulous) and still think professional wrestling is real. I know enough about computers and technology to be considered "geeky", but I don't think anyone's ever actually called me a geek. Because I wanted to be just about anybody you might know, I decided to adopt an online "persona" for this blog. I e-mailed family and friends (both of them) asking for suggestions of a "non de plume" I might adopt. My friend and attorney of record, Caroline, smartly suggested "Norm de Plume", but I passed on that one. However, I do want to sincerely thank everyone who sent their suggestions to me. There were many, many good ones and it was difficult to choose from such a multitude of excellent offerings. After a great deal of consideration, I finally decided on another one that my friend and attorney of record, Caroline, suggested. You've already seen it on the logo graphic at the top of this post, "Man About Town". It embodies what I hope this blog will be, the writings of a man about this town. Thanks, Caroline. So, I hope if you're reading this that you will leave a comment, I want to hear from you. And I hope that you will pass this site on to other people you know. I'll be posting here at least four times a week, but you can visit and leave comments as often as you like. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town

April 26, 2005

Burgeoning Growth

Like any expanding metropolitan area, we here in O-town and the surrounding region face the ever-present fact of growth, it's management (or lack of) and the attendant factors related to that growth; transportation, housing, education, employment and the environment. If you've lived in Orlando or the nearby area for more than a few years, you've seen how quickly Central Florida has spread out geographically as well as the increase in population density. The 1990 U.S. Census Bureau reported that Orange County's population was 677,491. Ten years later, in the 2000 census, that number had increased to 896,344, a 32.3 percent increase. In those 10 years the county's population grew by almost a quarter of a million people. We're 5 years out from the 2000 census, so if we assume that same rate of growth then we have added 125,000 more people since the last count, taking the county today over the 1 million mark. That's in an approximately 800 square mile area, after the almost 100 square miles of water area are subtracted. The City of Orlando experienced similar growth. In 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 164,693 people in the city limits. The 2000 census saw that increase by 21,258 to 185,951, an increase of almost 13 percent. And that was with the city increasing it's area by 38.9 percent (from 67.3 square miles to 93.5 square miles) through annexation of land and communities.

And of course, those population figures do not include the millions of tourists who swell our ranks throughout most of the year. Not that we begrudge them, not at all since they account for almost 20 percent of our directly related jobs and filter down into almost all the remaining 80 percent. We are a tourism-based economy and if we ever had any doubt about how true that was, we discovered the veracity of that fact after September 11th. My travels in the area take me through the city, the county and the surrounding areas on a weekly, if not daily basis. Most of the people who live and work in this region do the same. I have yet, in the last 5 years, to make one trip on a city, county or state road in the area without dealing with road construction. Not one. But I also have yet, in those same 5 years, to ride on a city or county road that was not in need of improvement. If I'm not slowing down for and dodging construction workers and/or barriers, then I'm slowing down for and dodging potholes, crumbling roads and poorly planned routes. It's an on-going mess most of the time. Schools and local education are another area of concern due to growth. It seems that almost every new school built is bursting at the seams as soon as it opens and most of the public schools have a multitude of portables serving as classrooms. Down the street from my neighborhood a new elementary school is under construction. It looks like it will be big enough to handle the area's children, but I can't help but wonder, "For how long?" I have some family members who are teachers in the local school system and, like most teachers, they do their absolute best to educate our children. But we all wonder how effective is the education when so many classes are filled to overflow? Well, I haven't even touched on housing or the environment, but I think I've laid the issue out enough. What do you think? Are we heading for even more problems, or are we doing fine? Do you think growth is progressing in an orderly fashion, or are we simply reacting to every developer who comes along? Is there a way to find a balance? Do you have faith in our elected leaders to manage the continued growth we will no doubt experience? And if you're new to Orlando and the surrounding area, I'd be interested in hearing what your reaction has been. Are we in better or worse shape than the area you came from? Do you have any experiential suggestions you could offer? Despite all the concerns above and more, most of us who are residents must like living here. After all, we're still her, aren't we? Hope to see you next time, Man About Town

April 27, 2005

The Buckinghams

Headed out to the 12th Annual EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival tonight, but not to look at any flowers or plants. I was going to listen to 60's rock group "The Buckinghams", who are part of the Flower Power Concert Series held every year in conjunction with the Festival. I met up with some friends of mine, Kirk, Laura, Russell and Royda, under Spaceship Earth and we were off to find a place to eat before the concert. Our first choice was the food court over at The Land pavilion, but it is still closed for renovations, though it looked fine. So, it was on to the Electric Umbrella, a quick service sit-down restaurant just outside the Innoventions pavilion serving cheeseburgers, deli sandwiches, salads, chicken tenders and desserts. I grabbed a $6.59 turkey and cheese deli sandwich with orange mayonnaise and a side of pineapple cole slaw. I've never had pineapple cole slaw before, and I still don't think I've had pineapple cole slaw. The cole slaw, like the deli sandwich, was tasty, but I never once detected pineapple. Then again, I didn't taste any orange in the mayo either. My companions had some of the other dishes and everyone seemed to enjoy their meal, except for Russell who was picking raisins out of his salad, lol. Our meal gave us a chance to catch up on our lives, as we hadn't seen each other in a couple of months or more. It's always fun to spend time with friends and I was glad they had agreed to meet me for a bite to eat and the concert. Then we were off to the open-air America Gardens Theater, which is on the other side of the lake, where the concert would be held. We had the brainstorm of taking the ferry across the lake, but as we walked up to board a female cast member rudely barked at Laura that the ferry wasn't sailing for the remainder of the night. Things sure have changed at the Disney Parks over the past several years. We walked around and arrived about 20 minutes before the concert was set to begin. We were able to get good seats, about 6 rows back and off to the left just a little bit. I was happy because it meant I could probably get some decent pictures.

The group hit the stage at 8:15 and opened their playlist with "Back in Love Again" and "Don't You Care" with lead singer Carl Giammarese, one of the 2 remaining original and founding members of The Buckinghams, belting out the vocals as if time had been turned back 40 years. At 58, Carl still retains his boyish good looks and, judging by the reaction of women of all ages in the audience, still knows how to use it to his advantage.

They continued on with one of the bands earliest hits, "I'll Go Crazy" with lead guitarist Bob Abrams picking up the vocals, then moved on to a nice extended cover of "Domino" with bass guitarist Nick Fortuna (the other remaining original member) handling the vocals very admirably. During that song, lead guitarist Abrams was playing so hard that he broke one of his strings in the middle of the song, but just kept right on playing with the string dangling off the neck. Giammarese gave him his guitar and they moved on to several songs with Giammarese singing lead including, "The Letter", "When A Man Loves A Woman" and one of their biggest hits, "Susan". These concerts only last about 30 minutes, so it's hard to fit all the songs in, but I was disappointed that they didn't play some of their other greatest hits like "Hey Baby, They're Playing Our Song", "Kind of a Drag", "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "I Knew You When". Although the entire band puts on a great show full of energy and excitement, there's no doubt that drummer Tom Scheckel is having more fun than anyone on the stage and possibly in the audience. This man is a show all by himself as he beats on the drums and cymbals while jumping and gyrating around to the beat of each song. My friend Kirk is a drummer and at the conclusion of the concert he declared, "He's a great drummer!", which is good enough for musically challenged me.

There are several more Flower Power Concerts scheduled over the next month with artists such as The Turtles, The Grass Roots, B.J. Thomas, The Nelsons, Rare Earth and more. Click here to get the entire schedule and make your plans to hear some rock 'n roll from the 60's and 70's this summer.

April 30, 2005

Cafe Tu Tu Tango

I know this blog is supposed to be about Orlando, but Friday night, I decided to take a trip to Barcelona, Spain for dinner and some entertainment. I mean, the Man About Town CAN become the Man About World, right? Ok...not really. But once you step inside the doors of Cafe Tu Tu Tango, you may find yourself feeling like you've been transported to the actual artist's loft in Barcelona that Cafe Tu Tu Tango (hereafter referred to as "Tu Tu") is modeled upon. No matter where you look, your eyes will behold artwork in a multitude of mediums; whether it be oil, acrylic, tempera or watercolor paintings of various sizes and subject matter, pencil or pen and ink drawings, charcoal sketches, sculptures, metal works and an endless variety of types, studies and mediums. If you can imagine it, you'll most likely find it on the walls, ceiling, columns and tables. And ALL the artwork is by local artists and is for sale. If a certain piece of artwork catches your eye while you're dining, you can purchase it right off the wall or any other surface to which it may be affixed and take it out the door with you. I was tempted by several pieces. My friend Zee would love this place. In fact, now that I think about it, she should submit some of her fabulous work to the interior decor of Tu Tu. Music is always playing in the background. Sometimes it's light jazz, sometimes disco, sometimes it's the blues, sometimes rock, sometimes it's show tunes and I think I even heard a country song one time over the din of people talking, laughing and partying throughout the restaurant. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

When I and my two dining companions, Maryellen and Cindy, arrived it was 7:20 and we were told it would be approximately 45 minutes before we could be seated. I was expecting that because Tu Tu does not accept reservations, except for group events. There were several of those going on inside the 220 seat restaurant. While we waited outside with our little "buzzer device" (stop thinking naughty) we watched a group of 30 something women exit after apparently celebrating the birthday of one of their number and climb into a white limo to head to their next stop and a group of friends celebrating...well I wasn't sure exactly WHAT they were celebrating but they were doing a great job of it! I love to people-watch, and our time spent waiting by the entrance afforded an excellent opportunity to observe the kind of clientele that are drawn to Tu Tu. Customers ranged in age from late teens to senior citizens, locals to tourists, couples to groups (I didn't observe any single people and I don't think the dinner hour would really be attractive to a single individual; perhaps lunch, when it is somewhat quieter and more subdued, would be), and people dressed in everything from ragged jeans and ripped T-shirts to suits, ties and cocktail dresses. Like the art and music, the crowd that enjoys Tu Tu is eclectic. Our wait turned out to be more like 55 minutes, but we enjoyed ourselves listening to the music that is piped outside while we chatted and watched the parade of people entering and exiting. One of several very attractive young ladies escorted us to our seats and as soon as she walked away our server Jason appeared. Jason looked very much like actor Michael Rosenbaum, who portrays Lex Luthor on the TV series "Smallville". He explained the concept behind Tu Tu's look and atmosphere, as I've already elaborated on above, the artwork on display and the fact that various artists set up their easels, drawing boards, etc on different nights to allow patrons to watch them as they work creating art. On this night a painter of oil landscapes and another painter/illustrator were on hand, working on pieces as patrons looked over their shoulders. A face-painter and balloon artist were also in attendance. And for our dancing entertainment, a belly-dancer and two Flamenco dancers were with us, moving about the restaurant and around tables exhibiting their abilities. Roaming musicians are also part of the available entertainment, but we did not see any that night. And we were told a Tarot Card reader was also there to predict our future, if we should so choose. He then gave us a quick primer on the tapas menu offerings; a varied, all-appetizer sized multi-ethnic choice of cuisines (Thai, Cajun and Mexican, to name a few) that are best ordered in varieties and shared among those in your party. The food is truly a global experience and the enjoyment of it is meant to be a shared experience. After consulting the menu at length, the three of us ordered the following dishes to share among ourselves: Mediterranean Spinach Dip-Blended with Feta Cheese and toasted walnuts; served cold with roasted red peppers and parmesan pita crisps. Pizza Palette-A thin crust vegetable pizza served (at out request) sans cheese and presented on an artist's palette. Oriental Marinated Steak Skewers-served with Ginger-Soy Aioli. Sesame Grilled Chicken Salad-Bok Choy, Napa Cabbage, Romaine, Water Chestnuts, Cashews and fresh orange segments tossed with a Tamari-Ginger vinaigrette. Dijon Chicken Skewers-served over chilled Sesame Noodles. Maryellen and I each enjoyed a nice Spanish red wine, while Cindy chose a Pinot Grigio that she found to be excellent. Soon after our plates of food began arriving at different intervals and we all dove in, sharing the various items ("Oh, you HAVE to try some of this!"), talking, laughing, enjoying the dancers and clapping as two of the ladies at the table next to us were wished a "Happy Birthday" by all the patrons in our area at the urging of their server, who was standing on a chair to obtain everyone's attention. Soon we had cleaned every plate and were contemplating dessert. As a true gentleman, I urged the ladies to choose our desserts. Maryellen chose the Banana Pizza while Cindy honed in on the Molten Chocolate. Banana Pizza-Cinnamon flat bread topped with streusel and fresh bananas, banana ice cream and caramel sauce. Molten Chocolate-Petite chocolate souffle with a bittersweet Belgian Chocolate center and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I must admit, I'm not a big banana fan and I seriously questioned the choice of eating such a fruit in pizza form, but one bite quickly changed my mind! This dessert dish was fabulously tasty in an unexpected way. We were enjoying our food and conversation in the very stimulating atmosphere so much that I was surprised to note, when I checked my cell phone at the conclusion of our repast, that it was already 10pm! It seemed like it had only been a few minutes since we sat down to begin our total sensory experience of a meal. As we slowly made our way to the exit, Maryellen stopped at an artists table and bought a small print of a painting she admired that had been hanging on a wall near us. The Tarot Card Reader happened to be someone that Cindy knew, so she and I chipped in to get a reading for Maryellen. I don't know what the reader told her, but she seemed happy with it.

If you ever are in the mood for a lunch or dinner of total entertainment and enjoyment, you would be hard pressed to make a better choice than Cafe Tu Tu Tango. The restaurant is located at 8625 International Drive in Orlando, phone number 407.248.2222, and the hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday 11:30 am until 11:00 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am until 2:00 am. They accept Cash, Traveler's Checks (US only), American Express, MasterCard, and Visa. You can click here for a map. They also have locations in Miami, Atlanta and California. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town

May 1, 2005

Orange County Library System Delivery Service

A few days ago, local ABC affiliate WFTV ran a news segment about a service that patrons of the Orange County Library System enjoy; the delivery of books to their home or business address. According to WFTV, no other library in the country provides such a service and the cost of that service to Orange County taxpayers is $800,000 for delivery and $350,000 in salaries, for a combined $1,150,000 per year. The segment goes on to state that the library system could build and staff a new branch each year for that amount of money. I live a half mile from an excellent branch of the library system, but my schedule and the branch's schedule very seldom agree. Believe me when I tell you that I LOVE the experience of being in a library. To be able to walk up and down the aisles between bookshelves and explore such a vast array of subject matter is a privilege that a great majority of the world's population never gets to enjoy. There have been many times that I have just walked in and picked a book at random and the majority of those times I have learned something new or opened my mind to something I may not have otherwise imagined. However, these days it is a rare occasion when I can indulge in a physical visit to the main library or even the branch that is within a 10 minute walk of my home. The news segment also intimated that the delivery service is of no use to seniors who can't make it to the library because the service is delivery only and does not provide a subsequent pickup service. That is, of course, true and a pickup service would be very helpful, especially to homebound patrons. I would imagine that, if someone is truly homebound and they use the library's online catalog to choose a book or books they would like to read and employ the delivery service, they have a friend or caregiver who can return the books. This has to be much easier than sending someone with a list of books to the library, having them find them and check them out, bring them to the homebound person on their next visit and then, after all that, still have to return them. For the rest of us, with no time to walk into the library or branch during operating hours to pick out a book, the convenience of ordering from the online catalog and requesting delivery allows us to still enjoy the library's materials. And, while we cannot check out books from a closed library, we can still return materials after hours. So, while pickup service would be nice, it is not absolutely necessary.

I suppose it is possible to build a branch and staff it each year for the amount of money that is spent on delivering the books, but again having a multitude of branches within easy walking or driving distance of the population is no guarantee that it would be used, due to the same scheduling problems I pointed out above. Additionally, each new branch will have to be stocked with materials. I'm fairly certain that, even with the discounts libraries enjoy in their purchasing, the materials cost would far exceed the savings of eliminating this program in order to build more branches. Here's what I feel is an obvious point, but one which WFTV did not make. If this program is costing so much money, then it must be a program that is being used by a large number of the library patrons in Orange County. In fact, math-challenged as I am, it look like almost a half-million deliveries were made last year, in order to reach a figure of $800,000. The one point I would agree with them on is that it would be nice to devise a way that multiple book orders could be delivered at once for one charge, rather than a charge for each, Finally, Library Director Mary Anne Hodel has posted her response on the OCLS website and points out that the home delivery service is the one service that taxpayers feel good about spending tax dollars on. I can echo that feeling. I've never taken advantage of the library's service to check out artwork to hang in my home; I've never used the computer services at the library; I very seldom am able to enjoy the programs that the library offers on a multitude of subjects and venues...but I don't begrudge my tax dollars supporting those services, whether I use them or not. I am extremely happy to use the delivery service and am delighted that my taxes can help provide one of the best services I receive from ANY part of Orange County government. So what do YOU think? Do you use the service? If so, do you like it? If you don't use it, is there a reason why you don't. DO you think WFTV is right, or do you feel the library program is a useful service? I hope you'll leave your comments below. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town

May 3, 2005

Orange County Regional History Center/Norman Rockwell

I headed out this evening to the Orange County Regional History Center, not because I'm a huge history buff, but because of a limited engagement exhibition on display during extended hours for tonight only until 9pm. The exhibit was a small collection of paintings that the late Norman Rockwell had created for Boy's Life Magazine and The Boy Scouts of America Calendar. I have always enjoyed the work of Norman Rockwell, as he seemed to capture with his paints and brushes the spirit of "Americana" in our culture from the 30's through the 60's. In addition to his realistic style he almost always included some small element of humor in his paintings or illustrations that would bring anywhere from a slight smile to laugh out loud guffaws from his viewers. After spending some time just admiring and appreciating the talent on display in the canvasses of his work, I decided that since I had never even stepped foot in the Historical Center before, it might be a good time to get my money's worth from the admission fee. The guidebook suggests you start your tour of the 4 floor center in their "Orientation theater". For about 18 minutes you're taken on a journey of the history of Central Florida; from the beginnings of Native American Indians up through the space shuttle launches of today. For what is obviously a shoestring budget (donations are accepted) the production was quite good. Then it is time to take a chronological trip through the history of Orange County as you also make your way through the 4 floors of historical exhibits. First is a display of Native American life before the European arrival with a wealth of artifacts that have been excavated over the years and a description of everyday life for these early inhabitants. Then it is on to a walk-through of the natural environment followed by the First Contact with European explorers and an exploration of the hard life of the first pioneers who drove cattle and planted citrus, complete with a life-sized mock-up of a Cypress Tree shack.

From there we move through time (and the building) to the 1920's to find that, even then, we were a tourist haven as the railroad cut though the state and the area was a magnet to what were called "Tin Can Tourists" because of their habit of bringing their own cans of food to eat in their little campers, rather than spend money on expensive meals in area hotels and restaurants. Soon after the aviation boom with the building of the Orlando Air Base, followed by Cape Canaveral Air Station (now Kennedy Space Center) would bring its influence to the area. There is also a restored 1927 courtroom and a good sized display of the area's African American Heritage, including the racial difficulties and deaths in nearby Ocoee. And of course, there is a large display chronicling the high points of the arrival of Disney World and it's opening in 1971. After strolling through all the displays and floors I decided to return to the Norman Rockwell exhibit one more time and just soak in the quality and character of his work. At a time when illustrations were the primary visual tools of manufacturers, advertisers and magazines, Norman Rockwell was the benchmark of all other illustrators and painters. He possessed the unique ability to capture the spirit that made up this country at the time, in a way that few others could. Even now, as you look back at his works, you can see the history of this country unfolding through his art. The History Center is open Monday through Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday from Noon to 5pm and admission is $7.00 for adults, $3.50 for children ages 3-12 and $6.50 for students and seniors over 60. The Center is located in the heart of downtown Orlando at 65 E. Central Boulevard and their phone number is 407.836.8500 or toll free 800.965.2030. Want to know the history of this town? Then the Orange County Regional History Center is a great place to find it! Hope to see you next time, Man About Town

May 5, 2005

SunPass, Freedom Calls and The State Fruit

SunPass is the Florida Department of Transportation's method of using a privately assigned transponder to debit charges on most of Florida's toll roads from your prepaid account. You can purchase the actual transponder from DOT locations or from CVS Drug Stores and Publix Supermarkets, then either submit a written application by mail or in person or register online. Tolls are automatically deducted from your balance and funds can be replenished as needed. When approaching toll plazas, you need only go through lanes that are designated for SunPass Only and you simply slow down to 35 miles per hour as you pass through and the toll is electronically paid. The increased usage of SunPass has helped reduce the backup at toll plazas as vehicles with transponders no longer have to stop for the exact change or change given lanes. But lately, I've had friends who use SunPass complaining that there are now so many vehicles using the transponders that the SunPass Only lanes are beginning to back up with vehicles, even though they do not have to fully stop. The sheer volume is causing the lines.

For instance, on the 508 (Beeline Expressway) westbound there is one SunPass Only lane at the toll plaza between the airport and I-4. During peak traffic times that SunPass Only lane is backed up with vehicles. A couple of weeks ago at the same toll plaza they added a second SunPass Only lane in the eastbound direction and people I know who use SunPass are very happy about the additional lane as it keeps them moving briskly through the plaza. So maybe it's time for a second SunPass Only lane to open in the westbound direction so that drivers going that direction can enjoy the same convenience as their eastbound counterparts. This Sunday is Mother's Day and one of our local luxury hotels is teaming up with Freedom Calls to make it possible for Central Florida families with relatives and loved ones in the U.S. military serving in Iraq to have a chance to see and speak to their family members on this special day. The Peabody Hotel on International Drive is providing facilities to allow free live video hookups between the hotel and soldiers at Camp Fallujah, Al Asad or Camp Taji for up to 30 minutes per family. Call the Peabody at 407.345.4521 or Freedom Calls Foundation at 718.797.9154 for more information.

After 160 years of statehood Florida now has an official State Fruit. Before Wednesday we had a State Flower, State Bird and even a State Beverage so it seems that it is just about time we had a State Fruit and the legislature agreed by declaring the Orange to be our lawful State Fruit. After all, our state is the world's second-highest orange producer, we have pictures of it on our state license tags and our very own city is located in a county named Orange. It just seems fitting. However, the Key Lime was also in the running to become State Fruit. When backers saw that effort failing they pushed for the creation of a State Pie, which would be, of course, the Key Lime Pie. Alas, that failed as well. SO, what do you think? More SUnPass Only lanes? Should the Orange indeed be the State Fruit? And would you have supported an official State Pie if it was Key Lime? Let Orlando know! Leave a comment and tell us what YOU have on your mind. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town

May 7, 2005

Free Comic Book Day

Today comic book shops all across the country celebrated the Fourth Annual Free Comic Book Day. This is the first time the event has not been held in conjunction with the release of a superhero related theatrical movie. The first FCBD was timed to the premiere of Spider-Man in 2002, the second to the opening of X2 in 2003 and last years to the release of Spider-Man 2. Comic Book shops in Orlando that were participating in this year's giveaway included: Coliseum of Comics Fashion Square 3201 E. Colonial Drive Orlando 407.228.1210 College Park Video 3001 Edgewater Drive Orlando 407.422.9989 Coliseum of Comics Orlando 4722 S. Orange Blossom Trail Orlando 407.240.7882 Sci-Fi City 6006 E. Colonial Drive Orlando 407.282.2292

I headed out in the late morning to Sci-Fi City in East Orlando. I haven't read comics books per se in several years (if I purchase and read any now it is in the form of hardback compilations of several issues or graphic novels, rather than individual comic books), but back in the day I used to frequent Sci-Fi City and it's predecessor Enterprise 1701. Sci-Fi City sells all of the above as well as model-making kits, statues, clothing, novels, posters and a full range of science fiction material, as well as hosting gaming gatherings and selling all the supplies needed for those activities. The store has 10,000 square feet of space and they use every bit of it! The variety of comics being given away covers almost the entire spectrum of genres; super heroes with Batman, Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four, funny animals like Disney's Uncle Scrooge, war books like GI Joe, and the likes of The Simpsons and Betty & Veronica. Readers of all ages and fans of various interests will find something they can enjoy reading. When I arrived the parking lot was nearly full and the store was bristling with activity and customers. I could not help but wonder how many were regular customers, how many were there only for the free comics and how many might be like me, there to make the acquaintance of an old friend or two. Stepping through the entrance doors I was met with the welcome sight of two super heroic ladies; Wonder Woman and Supergirl, as they manned the door prize sign-up table and posed for pictures with customers in the store. I knew now that no matter how hectic it might get during my visit, these two Maids of Might would keep the peace.

Those lucky kids! The free comics were stacked on tables in the aisle and it was like a smorgasbord buffet for fans. I estimated there were some 2 dozen or so different titles, all supplied by the different publishing companies to be given away to the public. No strings, no requirements; just pick 1 copy of each title you were interested in and walk out the door. I, of course, could not do that. I walked around and looked at the walls full of new comic books (the ones for sale), thought about buying a super-hero themed T-shirt, flipped though the various poster offerings (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Buffy, Angel, and about a million different Manga characters), and finally found a Classic Star Trek (Kirk, Spock and McCoy) U.S.S. Enterprise Starship die-cast model of the ship for my desk at home.

Then I made my way back to the free comics tables and picked out three comics I was interested in reading. I have to admit I was tempted to pick up one of every title, and I would have read them all if I did, but it just didn't feel right to do that when there might be someone who really wanted to read a title that I may have only picked up to read in passing. I did see almost everyone else grabbing one of each, but I just couldn't do that. I took my Enterprise ship to the check-out counter, spent a few minutes chatting with the salesperson about some Star Trek trivia, then took my purchase and my free comics and exited the store. Wonder Woman and Supergirl called out to me to, "Have a nice day" and I turned and smiled at them. It was already off to a pretty good start! Do you like comic books or know someone who does? Did you attend any of the Free Comic Book Days giveaways today? Or do you think people who read comic books just haven't grown up and joined the real world? I hope you'll let me know by leaving a comment. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town

May 8, 2005

Le Cellier Steakhouse

I'm the type of person who occasionally enjoys a good steak, but only if it is quality beef that is properly prepared. That usually means that "chain" restaurants are not on the list of places I will order a steak from, but rather that dining at high-end specialty locations are called for when it comes to making that critical dining choice. One place that I have consistently enjoyed both lunch and dinner meals with steak as the entree is the Le Cellier steakhouse at the Canada pavilion at EPCOT. Saturday evening myself and my 3 dining companions arrived about 20 minutes early for our 6:10 reservation (recommended) and after only a 3 minute wait found ourselves being ushered to our seats. The decor of Le Cellier is, appropriately enough, meant to resemble a wine cellar. The arched brick support columns and dark wood beams with gaslight lamps, as well as the wine bottles resting against the outer walls, lend authenticity to the atmosphere of an underground eatery set within a castle wine cellar.

Within moments our server, Priscilla, arrived to take our drink orders while we perused the menu. There are some excellent wines available at Le Cellier, but for this meal everyone in our party confined themselves to nonalcoholic beverages. By the time Priscilla returned with our drinks, we had been able to make our choices from the various excellent offerings available, For Appetizers, one of the ladies chose: Beef and Barley Soup - rich beef broth and fresh vegetables. The other lady chose: Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup - smoked bacon and Moosehead beer. The gentleman chose: Seared Canadian Scallops - King salmon mousseline and lemon tomato vinaigrette And I picked: Vine-Ripe Tomato Stack - shiitake mushrooms, wilted spinach, balsamic reduction. Both of the ladies declared their soups to be excellent (whether the beer in the Cheddar Cheese soup influenced the one lady, I cannot say) while the gentleman indulged his love of seafood by consuming each of his scallops with gusto. My tomato stack consisted of 3 thickly cut slices covered in thinly sliced mushrooms and a generous amount of spinach, topped by a tasty balsamic dressing. The portions sizes of all of the above were sufficient enough that a meal could have been made of just the appetizers, but there was much more to come. For main entree dishes both ladies chose the: 7 oz. Filet Mignon - glazed with maple barbeque sauce and accompanied by cream cheese mashed potatoes. The gentleman chose the: Herb Crusted Prime Rib - roasted garlic, roasted Yukon potatoes, season's first spring onions, finished with a veal demi glace. And I indulged myself in my favorite: Le Cellier Mushroom Filet Mignon - wild mushroom risotto, white truffle and herb beurre blanc, topped with fried parsnips. Everyone in the party concurred that the beef in each entree was tender, flavorful and, as is usual in an upper-scale eatery with experienced chefs, cooked exactly as ordered. For a piece of meat such as a filet mignon, this is not always easily achieved in some dining establishments. The ladies found the addition of maple syrup to the barbeque sauce glaze gave the meat a unique flavor with contrasts they found very enjoyable. The gentleman at first expressed concern that he could not see any evidence of herbs in his herb-crusted prime rib, but soon discovered that was the fault of his eyes in the dimly lit room and not the dish itself. My filet mignon was covered in delicious mushrooms, a palette-pleasing sauce and crisply fried parsnips. Despite all that "window-dressing", the filet itself is what stood out both in flavor, texture and tenderness. For dessert (as full and sated as we all found ourselves) one lady ordered: Maple Creme Brulee - caramelized maple sugar and housemade cookie. The other lady and the gentleman ordered: Fresh Strawberries with Vanilla Ice Cream. And I ordered the: Canadian Club Cake - chocolate cake brushed with whiskey, layered with chocolate mousse, finished with pineapple marmalade. The portion size of the Maple Creme Brulee seemed a tad small to my eyes, but the lady insisted that it was just right. The strawberries were fresh, sweet and firm in a portion size I thought was extremely large. My cake was a fair sized portion, very chocolate tasting and was only slightly spoiled by the addition of the pineapple marmalade. Fortunately that was a very small part of the dessert and was not overpowering. If you ever find yourself craving a delicious piece of well-cooked steak, you should consider the Canadian beef dishes of Le Cellier, located in the Canadian pavilion at EPCOT in Disney World. Hours correspond to World Showcase operating hours, which are usually 11am to 9pm, but can be confirmed when you make your recommended reservation. Children are welcome and a Child Menu is available. If you've ever been to Le Cellier I'd love to hear your experience which you can share by leaving a comment. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/dining/diningDetail?id=LeCellierSteakhouseDiningPage

May 10, 2005

Jury Duty

A couple of weeks ago a woman I work with was called up for jury duty in Orange County. She could have probably arranged to be excused because her daughter was graduating from flight attendant school in Texas, but since she had not planned on attending the ceremony anyway she didn't try to get out of serving. But she didn't really want to serve in the first place. It turned out that after lunch she and the other pool members were dismissed. Tomorrow another woman I work with is scheduled to report for jury duty in Osceola County. She does not want to serve either, but isn't going to make up some kind of excuse to get out of it. She was hoping though, when she called after 5pm today to see if she was still supposed to report, that the recording would tell her she did not have to be there. Their feelings, it turns out, mirror those of a majority of prospective jurors. Coincidentally, today's Orlando Sentinel carried an article (free registration may be required) on the difficulties counties in Florida are having in providing jury pools for trials. Statistically, three fifths of the people who are summoned for jury duty either fail to show up or don't reply at all to the summons card. The threat of a fine of up to $100 has turned out to be just that...nothing more than a threat. Most counties do not pursue any disciplinary action against those who do not respond. Back in 1998 the state changed the juror pulling system from one that relied on the voter registration rolls exclusively to one that drew from all licensed drivers in the state. The reasoning was that voter registration rolls were shrinking and with them the number of jurors who could be called. I knew some prospective jurors who were being called up every year or two. By expanding the prospective pool, it was thought, they would also increase the number of jurors who could serve. But that thinking has almost backfired. There has been a slight increase in the number who report for duty, but not as many as there should be when you widen the pool to include all the drivers in the state. That's because people who registered to vote also, by their registration, indicated that they had an interest in the civic affairs of citizenship. By expanding the pool they simply increased the numbers of people who had no intention or interest in serving on a jury and would either make any excuse possible to get out of it or simply not respond at all to a summons. Even worse, as far as the justice system is concerned, is that those who do not want to serve but do anyway are detached from the proceedings of the trial and do not help to render valid decisions within the context of the trial. I have only been summoned twice. Once I reported and was dismissed when I was not needed that day and the second time when I called the night before I was told not to report. But I would love to serve on a jury and am one of those people who is humbled to be asked to perform my civic duty in order to provide someone a fair and impartial trial with a jury of their peers. So, what do you think the answer might be to the low response rate of prospective jurors? Should we return to a system where they are pulled only from voter registration rolls? Should we begin publicly punishing those who do not even bother to respond? Do we need to do more in the area of educating citizens as to what some of the benefits/responsibilities of citizenship are? And how about yourself? Have you ever been called or served on a jury? How did you feel about it? Did you try and get out of it or did you serve? Let Orlando know how you feel by leaving your comments below. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/southwest/orl-asecjurors10051005may10,1,5134986.story?page=1&coll=orl-news-headlines-swest

May 13, 2005

archy & mehitabel

What do you get when you combine a love-sick, intellectual cockroach who taps out daily columns for a great metropolitan newspaper by jumping onto typewriter keys, with an alley cat who has all the morals of...well an alley cat? You get the story of archy & mehitabel, the brainchild of newspaper columnist Don Marquis who, in 1916, introduced his readers to the two title characters and the other denizens of Shinbone Alley. You also get the latest musical play presented by Orlando's own Mad Cow Theatre, which my friend Zee and I attended this past Thursday night. In 1954 lyricist Joe Darion (Man of La Mancha) and composer George Kleinsinger fashioned a "back alley opera" based on Marquis' writings. In 1957 they collaborated with a young new comic by the name of Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles) and reworked the production into a full blown Broadway musical which saw a rather limited run of 49 performances before drawing the curtain. The play, though, in various incarnations has survived and been performed by local theater productions across the country in the almost 50 years since. archy was an everyday cockroach with the not-so everyday soul of a poet, which he was in a previous life. At night he would climb to the typewriter, in which Marquis would have graciously left a sheet of paper, and would "write" by jumping off the carriage onto a key, off the carriage onto a key, off the carriage onto a key until he would complete whatever philosophical observation or commentary on existence was in his little cockroach mind and soul, with a healthy does of humor and sarcasm. Because he could not simultaneously hold down the shift key and whatever letter key he was using, all of archy's writings were in lower case and without benefit of punctuation. mehitabel was a run of the mill alley cat (though she claimed she was Cleopatra in a previous life) who roamed the garbage cans and ledges of Shinbone Alley, a rundown area of the city inhabited by the poorer and baser non-human creatures of the sprawling metropolis. She was content to "spend time" with any tom, dick or harry cat who could be "generous" and she was, to archy's constant torment, the love of his little cockroach life. Now, I have to admit, when I was first considering attending this live musical stage production I had my doubts regarding how much I would enjoy such an offbeat story, especially when the main characters were an insect and a cat being performed by people. I wondered if that juxtaposition would be too jarring to my senses for my mind to accept. Not to mention, who ever heard of a love story between a roach and a cat? That SING!!!??? Michael Andrew, singer, bandleader, producer and actor (but perhaps best known locally as the Michael Andrew in "Michael Andrew and Swingerhead") plays the romantically challenged archy. A few years back some friends of mine and I saw Michael Andrew and Swingerhead perform in a local club and I was blown away by Andrew's vocals. The songs that archy sings do not give Andrew the opportunity to exercise his wide range, but he evokes the small yet outspoken cockroach so well that even without the oversized glasses and bowler hat with antennae that he wears you would be able to picture the diminutive insect. And I swear he was channeling Jimmy Durante, he did such an excellent impression of the late singer during one of the songs. His portrayal of a drunken cockroach ("Flit with a DDT chaser") was absolutely dead-on and hilarious, as was his interaction with front-row audience members. His love song about mehitabel had me in stitches when he sang, "Her left ear is ragged; there are lumps on her hide, and she limps on her hind leg on the starboard side." Sara Jones plays the bawdy yet lovable mehitabel. Jones graduates next month from UCF's theater program, but she has already appeared in numerous local stage productions. She seemed equally capable of both belting out the strong songs and softly singing the ballad-type ones. Her duet "Flotsam and Jetsam" with Andrew was choreographed and performed delightfully. Stephan Jones plays dual roles as Big Bill the tomcat and the smooth talking con man actor/producer Tyrone Tattersall. Jones is a veteran actor who has performed around the world and locally has appeared with The Orlando Shakespeare Festival and at The Icehouse Theatre. Without a doubt, Jones is the most charismatic presence on the stage during this production. His portrayal of Big Bill in the style reminiscent of a tough guy from "Guys and Dolls" and his slick role as the well-spoken producer who promises to make mehitabel a star were both the highlights of the entire play for me. Jones seemed to have SO much fun while on stage that it was contagious. These principals are solidly supported by Kimberly Gray, Samantha Kelly and Jenny Weaver who fill roles as diverse as the three alley cat friends of mehitabel's, a lightning bug, a moth, and various other roles, singing and speaking. I'm certainly no expert on the theater, but it seemed to me that these three young ladies had spent a great deal of time rehearsing as they sang and danced in almost perfect choreographed harmony. Part of what made the experience an enjoyable one was both the lighting and the set designs, Remember how I wrote above that I wondered if I would be able to "accept" the story in my mind? Well, 10 minutes into the production I was fully transported to Shinbone Alley thanks to the effects of the lighting and sets, which were handled by Erin Miner and Michael Noles, respectively. Musical Director Robin Jensen and the live band kept the pace going while Costume Designer Denise Warner did an excellent job of outfitting each actor in costumes that would clearly identify their role without being overpowering (except for the lightning bug, but that may have been just the beauty of Samantha Kelly "shining" through).Narrator Reagan Smith's wonderfully deep voice tied the scenes together beautifully and helped to keep the story flowing. It has been a while since I've been to a live stage theater production, but seeing archy & mehitabel has sparked a desire to remedy that situation by making sure I make it to other plays in the area in the near future. Mad Cow Theatre and it's performers have staged a delightfully funny and thoroughly entertaining production that had me right in the alley with the cats and in the darkened news office with a talking cockroach. Great performances by all involved that provided an evening of wonderful entertainment and amusement. archy & mehitabel runs through June 5, 2005 on various days and at various times. Ticket prices range from $14 to $24, so call for exact times and prices for the show you want to see. Mad Cow Theatre is located at 105 South Magnolia Avenue at the corner of Pine and Magnolia in Downtown Orlando. The phone number is 407.297.8788. If you've been to see archy & mehitabel I'd love to read your thoughts on the play, or if you think you'd like to see it after reading this review, that would be cool to know. Or maybe you'd never attend a live theater production unless you were bound and gagged. Please let me know by leaving a comment below. After all, Orlando wants to know what you think and so do I! Hope to see you next time, Man About Town http://www.donmarquis.com/ http://www.madcowtheatre.com/ http://innerzinc.com/inneroutings/ http://www.mtishows.com/bio.asp?bID=3361 --darion http://www.answers.com/topic/mel-brooks http://www.michaelandrew.com/ http://www.swingerhead.com/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_music http://www.shakespearefest.org/ http://www.icehousetheatre.com/

May 14, 2005

Hurricane Season Approaches

First, a special "Thank You" to fellow Orlando bloggers "Blog of a Mother" and "Inneroutings" for linking to my blog, and even using my graphic (above) on their blogs for the link. I appreciate the space! :) If you've linked to this blog I'd love to hear about it, and if you'd like to use the "Man About Town" graphic for your link, please feel free to do so. On June 1st, just a little more than 2 weeks away, hurricane season will officially begin. Until last year I felt fairly safe living right in the middle of the state, thinking that any hurricane that made it this far inland from either coast would be severely weakened by the time it got to us. Charley, Frances and Jeanne proved that theory completely wrong last August and September.

Last year, Dr William Gray accurately predicted a total of 14 tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic, forecast 8 hurricanes (there were 9) and 3 major hurricanes (there were 6). This year predictions call for 13 named storms and 7 hurricanes, with a 73 percent chance that at least 1 major hurricane will make landfall in the United States and a 53 percent chance that it will be on the U.S. East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula. The average for the last century is 52 percent and 31 percent respectively. In other words we stand a very good chance of repeating last season's destruction at least 1 time, and fairly decent odds of it happening more than once yet again. I don't know about you, but once is enough for me. Soon I will be out purchasing batteries, water, some canned goods (I was without power for only 18 hours last year, but friends less than 2 miles away were without electricity for 10 days), and making sure my first aid kit is stocked. I may even go ahead and buy plywood for my windows and perhaps a generator. I'm also planning to trim some branches from the trees around my house, one of them still has dead branches from last year's hurricanes hanging in it. Here's a basic Hurricane Survival List of things each home should have to weather a hurricane and it's aftermath: A supply of water (one gallon per person per day). Store water in sealed, unbreakable containers. A supply of non-perishable packaged or canned food and a manual can opener. A change of clothing, rain gear, and sturdy shoes. Blankets or sleeping bags. Towels, toilet paper and bathroom items. A first aid kit and prescription medications (enough to last 2 weeks). Two large coolers (one to keep food; one to go get ice). A battery-powered radio or TV, flashlight, spare bulbs, and plenty of extra batteries. Several boxes of candles and matches sealed in plastic bags. An ample supply of cash since ATM's or credit card terminals may not be working. An extra set of car keys. A list of current family physicians and current prescription medications. Special items for infants, elderly, or disabled family members. Also, if you have multiple members in your household, it's a good idea to have a rendezvous plan and place to meet afterward should you be separated before or during the storm.

Orlando didn't fare very well at all last hurricane season. I think despite all the warnings most of us had grown pretty complacent about preparing for 100mph winds and the tornadoes that were spawned from the fierce weather systems as they approached and passed over us. It was quite chilling to walk around in the morning light after Charley and see huge trees uprooted and blocking entire streets or worse, crushing some nearby home or automobile. This year, with those memories fresh in our minds, we can all exercise better preparedness in anticipation of a repeat of last August and September's destruction. Are you planning on preparing better and earlier this year than you did last year? Do you have any additional items you would suggest for a Hurricane Survival List? Or do you think that last year's hurricane season was so bad that the odds are in our favor this year to slide by without much in the way of landfall storms? If so, I hope you'll leave your comment below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town http://everfloyd.com/annmarie/blog/ http://innerzinc.com/inneroutings/ http://tropical.atmos.colostate.edu/forecasts/ dr.gray http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/H/HURRICANE_CONFERENCE?SITE=APWEB&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

May 15, 2005

Bits and Pieces

If you've been to downtown Orlando, you know that parking, especially on the street, is at a premium. While the downtown area is booming with the building of businesses and residential housing, it's getting harder and harder to find available street parking. The answer now seems to be an abundance of parking garages. Sometimes that's convenient, but a lot of times it isn't. What's your experience been? And do you think the parking garages are better or worse than street parking? Theme parks across the nation are gearing up for their biggest summer yet since the terrorist attacks of 2001, in spite of the rising cost of gasoline. We have 3 of the biggest (Disney, Universal and Sea World) right in our "backyard" and others (Busch Gardens, Cypress Gardens) within an easy drive. As a resident, do you attend the local theme parks very often? Or do you only go when family or friends are in town visiting? There's been a lot of debate about Orange County and/or the City of Orlando paying for or helping to pay for multi-million dollar improvements to the TD Waterhouse Centre in order to keep an NBA team (Orlando Magic) in our town. Some argue that we can never be a world-class city without a professional sports team bearing our name. Do you think that's true? Should taxpayer money be used to renovate the former O-rena, or should team owner Rich DeVos be funding any improvements? UCF has plans to build a brand new stadium and would like to add a college of medicine to it's campus. Do you think the new UCF stadium will signal the end of Citrus Bowl Stadium just west of downtown Orlando, since the UCF Knights will no longer be playing their games in it? Do you think that annual bowl games will then decide to play in the newer UCF stadium, since it will be state of the art, compared to the Citrus Bowl Stadium which was last renovated 15 years ago? Will a college of medicine help bring more technology-based businesses and industry into East Orlando? Or will it be a monumental waste of money and effort? The Orlando Police Department and the Office of the Mayor of Orlando have been at odds for quite a while over the amount of a pay raise for police officers. Is the Police Department being greedy? Or is the City being stingy? And while we're on the subject of law enforcement and money; Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary has told the County Commission that he wants an additional $16 million next year for his department, even if it means raising taxes. Are you willing to pay more in taxes in order to provide the Sheriff with the additional money? Or do you think Orange County will respond as it has in the last few years when asked for a tax hike to fund local education and just say no? I hope you'll leave your comments below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town

May 17, 2005

Orlando International Fringe Festival

Here's a big "Thank You" to Dawn and Michelle for adding "Man About Town" links to their blogs here in Orlando. Ladies, you are lovely! The Orlando International Fringe Festival (referred to simply as "The Fringe" by locals) kicks off its 14th annual celebration this Thursday night, May 19th, and continues for 10 days and nights until its close on May 29th. Situated in the 45 acre Loch Haven Park will be more than 50 artists and performing groups putting on almost 400 shows that will range from comedic and dramatic theater productions to music, dance, performance art, drumming, poetry reading, juggling and more. Some performances are solo and some involve troupes of players. The Fringe owes it's existence to a historical event that spawned many such festivals around the world. In 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland the very first Edinburgh International Festival was held in the hopes of uniting post-World War II Europe through a celebration of culture. Performers from throughout Europe were invited to come and display their talent. Knowing there would be huge crowds gathering each day, six Scottish companies and two English companies decided to turn up uninvited. With no place for them to perform they were turned away from the main festival. Not to be denied, they set up makeshift stages and performing venues on the outer "fringes" of the official Festival and made their mark on history, thus instituting the very first "Fringe Festival".

To attend you need only show up and purchase first an official Orlando International Fringe Festival button for $6. The proceeds from the button sales help to support the Festival. Then, consult the program and decide which shows/performances you would like to see. You purchase separate tickets for each show and 100 percent of that ticket price goes to the performers, none of it goes to the Festival. Ticket prices for the individual shows/performances range from $3 to $10 per person, depending on the show. There are concession stands, vendor stands and a beer garden which features an outdoor stage hosting various performances and this year there will be an Internet Cafe set up for the geeks. :) To introduce children to the joy of theater and the arts (and because some of the regular shows are mature in nature and include adult language and/or semi-nudity) there is The Kid's Fringe held Saturday May 21st, Sunday May 22nd, Saturday May 28th and Sunday May 29th between the hours of 1 and 4 pm. Kid's Fringe is held on the lobby stage of The Orlando Repertory Theatre at 1001 E. Princeton Street and is aimed at children in kindergarten through the 8th grade. Activities include plays, raffles, comedy improv, clowns and sing-a-longs. The Kid's Fringe is FREE, but if you buy a button you help support the Festival. Visual Fringe is a fairly new portion of the Fringe, making pieces of artowrk available for sale throughout the Festival. The Fringe has partnered with OVAL in making various artists work available. The pieces will be on display inside the Shakespeare Center and the Orlando Repertory Theatre. All proceeds from the sale of artwork goes directly to the artist. Parking is available at Loch Haven Park in two surface lots and at the Orlando Science Center garage. Parking at the Science Center garage costs $3.50 before 5 pm and $2 after 5 pm. The Fringe runs Thursday night May 19th through Sunday, May 29th during various hours. Consult the online schedule for performance times. If you've been to The Fringe before I'd love to hear of your experience and what you thought of it. Or if you're thinking you might attend The Fringe for the first time this year that would be great to know. I hope you'll leave your comments below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town http://itsdawnedonme.com/ http://www.zengrrl.com/index.php http://orlandofringe.org/CMS/component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/ http://www.cityoforlando.net/public_works/parks/cityparks/lochhaven/LochHaven.htm http://www.edfringe.com/area.html?id=35 http://www.tixtoday.com/cgi-bin/tixtoday/search.cgi program http://orlandofringe.org/CMS/content/view/9/32/ $3 http://www.ovalorlando.org/

May 20, 2005

Arthur Frommer in O-Town

If there is one single name that stands out in the world of travel guides, it is the name "Frommer". Tonight the man behind the name, Arthur Frommer, was the keynote speaker at a special presentation conducted by the Institute for Travel Writing & Photography at the Orlando Public Library in downtown Orlando. This was the opening session of the Institute's 10th annual 3-day gathering and was free to the public, though reservations were required. My companion for the evening, Cindy, and I arrived at approximately 6:15 to find the seating area rapidly filling for the 7:00pm start time.

Frommer published his first guide, "Europe on $5 a Day", in 1956 and there are now more than 300 titles which bear his name as guides to practically every region, country and continent on the earth. He writes a travel column that appears in more than 60 U.S. newspapers and travel articles written by him have appeared in magazines such as Reader's Digest, Parade Magazine and Consumers' Digest. As the opening guest speaker, Frommer, who described Orlando as "One of the 3 most rapidly expanding cities in the United States", spent about 30 minutes reviewing today's world of travel. He suggested the following: 1. Substitute The People's Republic of China for any trips to western Europe, due to the severely imbalanced exchange rate between the dollar and the Euro. A trip to China is much more economical, more value for the money and, "comparable to Europe in the 1950's". 2. Consider trips to Vietnam, which is currently experiencing a "mini-boomlet" of tourism and can be a great value for the economical-minded traveler. 3. Travel to Bali, where an all-inclusive 1 week trip from the west coast of the U.S. can be had for $829. 4. An African Safari which includes 5 days in game reserve parks and 2 days in cities such as Kenya or Tanzania for $1,800. 5. Summer rates to Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires for $699. 6. For domestic travel, consider the excellent value of trips to one of the four National Parks; Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon or the Great Smoky Mountains, where a carload can enter for $20 and accommodations at rustic lodges average $60 per night. For people who may wish to spend their vacation or travel time expanding their minds, Frommer pointed out that a great many of the world's universities, such as St. John's College in New Mexico and Oxford in England have summer programs available for auditing and you can stay in the dorms that the students live in during the school year and eat in the same cafeteria the students do during the school year, while learning about specialized topics over a one or two week period. These kinds of travel Frommer hailed as "A vacation that returns you to your home a more learned person". As his time was running out, he quickly pointed out learning cruises such as Swan Hellenic, the benefits of Elder Hostels for travelers over the age of 55, enjoyable paddleboat tours up the Mississippi River, the value of travels to Costa Rica and urged us to consider travels to central European countries such as Poland, Croatia, and Hungary where the currency is not in such a state of fluctuation as it is in western Europe. The program then moved into a panel discussion and Q & A session with Mr. Frommer and 5 faculty members of the Institute for Travel Writing & Photography that was moderated by the editor of the e-mail newsletter and website SunScribbles, Ms. Darlyn Finch. The faculty members on the panel joining Mr. Frommer were, from left to right: John W. Byram - - Editor-in-chief, University Press of Florida. Lee Foster - - e-travel journalist. Bruce Whipperman - - Travel guide writer. Dr. Timothy O'Keefe - - Former head of journalism at UCF and travel guide writer. Tom Brosnahan - - e-travel journalist.

For approximately an hour the audience was able to ask questions of the panel members on subjects ranging from how to become a travel writer or photographer to worries about terrorism while traveling to what "out of the way" locales might be recommended. Afterward, a small reception was held with refreshments and the opportunity for all to mingle and discuss as many different aspects of travel as you can imagine. It was a very enjoyable evening of learning and obtaining useful information for those who enjoy traveling the country and the world. Mr. Frommer and the other members of the panel, were charming, cordial and very knowledgeable. As an extra added bonus, we got to make "new" friends tonight when we met ZenGrrl and her friend Rhon. I've known ZenGrrl though her blog and she mine, but we've never met in person. However when we both found out we would be attending tonight's event, we made plans to be sure and meet and introduce ourselves in person, We had a wonderful conversation with both ladies and have made plans to keep in touch in the future. ZenGrll is a published travel writer (along with a whole laundry list of talents and accomplishments) and it was a pleasure to finally meet her and Rhon in person. Do you like to travel? If so, what has been your favorite vacation or trip? Do you have recommendations or tips for travelers that you'd like to share? Or are you a homebody who prefers staying close to where you are? I hope you'll leave your comments below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town http://www.frommers.com/ http://www.satw.org/satw/print.asp?SId=571 http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/asp/home.aspx http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/ http://cruisemates.com/articles/reviews/swan-hellenic/index.cfm http://www.elderhostel.org/welcome/home.asp http://sunscribbles.com/ http://www.zengrrl.com/index.php

May 22, 2005

Downtown Orlando Lifestyle Expo

Today was the First Annual Downtown Orlando Lifestyle Expo, a free event held at the western side of Lake Eola that featured exhibits from downtown Orlando businesses, realtors, condominium projects, churches, arts groups and vendors, as well as several free concerts by jazz musicians at the Lake Eola Disney Amphitheater. I made it to Lake Eola at about 4pm, 2 hours after the official kick off time of 2pm, and found the area to be quite crowded. It took a while to find on-street parking and I was just about to head for the downtown parking garage when I lucked out and found a spot almost directly across from the south entrance to Lake Eola. As I approached the part of the park where the exhibitor's tents were, I could see that there was quite a large gathering of people on the sidewalk and in the grassy areas around the tents. I hope that translated into good sales for the vendors. There were artists selling paintings, woodwork, handmade dolls, jewelry, scarves and candles. Businesses were represented by such names as Cingular, The Orlando Magic, radio station WLOQ, downtown churches and several others. But by far the biggest tent and the biggest push came from the downtown realtors who are working to entice people to move into the downtown area condominium developments. After spending 2 hours yesterday doing work in my yard, I could easily be persuaded to move into a condo where there is no grass to mow or edge, no weeds to pull and no prickly, thorny bushes to attack me while working. It was a tempting offer, but I guess I'm too firmly ensconced in the suburbs.

By the time I arrived at the Disney Amphitheater, The Legendary J.C.'s had already finished performing and left the stage and Paul Howards was in the process of setting up. Though a little disappointed that I had missed the J.C.'s, I was excited to see Paul Howards perform live and apparently I wasn't the only one. The amphitheater was about half full when I arrived, but by the time Howards and his group hit the stage it was easily three quarters full and people were still arriving. Howards, who played for years at the Jazz Company at Walt Disney World's Pleasure Island, is a master saxophonist. The way he belts out the sound it amazes me that he doesn't pass out from lack of oxygen.

Howards is accompanied by a keyboardist, drummer, bass guitarist and lead guitarist and they all meshed beautifully during every piece. The "competition" between Howards and his lead guitarist on a few numbers lead to some brilliant performances, as each of them took their playing to another level, and it was the audience that won every time.

During his performance, it was almost impossible not to tap your foot, bob your head, sway your shoulders or tap with your hands to the beat of the music. It was infectious; so much so that this woman could not keep from standing up and dancing with her little girl as the music swept over the audience. Soon, it was time to depart, unfortunately before Chuck Loeb and Kim Waters were scheduled to perform. But I'm sure there will be a SECOND annual Downtown Orlando Lifestyle Expo next year since this one looked so successful, so maybe I'll get a chance to hear them then if they return. Finally, I have to share with you this picture of a concert-goer trying to even out his tan while waiting for the show to begin. He was making good use of the sunshine that appeared in between the occasional clouds. I hope he was successful! LOL!

Did you attend the Expo today? If so I'd love to read your impressions of the event. Or did this sound like an event you would attend in the future? I hope you'll leave your comments below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town http://www.downtownorlandoproperties.com/dtolifestyleexpo.htm http://www.thejointchiefs.com/indexnew.html http://www.jazzinorlando.com/homehow.htm paul howards http://chuckloeb.com/ http://www.kimwaters.net/

May 24, 2005

The Orlando Magic Bring Back Brian Hill

I am a nominal sports fan. I do have my favorite teams in the different major sports, but I usually don't watch or listen to many games until the playoffs, and then usually only if one of my favorite or second-favorite teams is playing. I have been to a couple of the Orlando Magic Games and enjoyed them very much, but I'm also the type who usually prefers to sit in the comfort of my home if I'm going to watch a game, again unless it's some kind of playoff game.

But back during the '94-'95 and '95-'96 seasons, I watched quite a few Orlando Magic games, especially when they went into their first (and only) NBA Finals games in '95-'96. They were playing, they were playing well and they were winning a majority of their games with a good combination of coaching and talent. It was fun to watch them win more than they lost and they looked like they were having more fun doing the same. I remember sitting with some buddies watching a game and remarking that it looked like The Magic may have finally begun to come into their own as an NBA franchise. How little did we know that our optimism (and that of many Magic Fans) would be destroyed by actions we could not understand. The Head Coach position was held by Brian Hill. He made the players work, on both their strengths and their weaknesses, and he got results that showed on the court. He coached with his own obvious talent, and that showed on the court as well as The Magic outplayed other teams and made their way to the NBA Finals. The future looked bright for the Magic's next season, even with Shaq going to L.A., until Penny Hardaway threw his temper tantrum and convinced other players and management that he was more important than Brian Hill, resulting in Hill's firing in 1997. According to published reports, some of those players indicated in later years that they had effectively "quit" on Coach Hill during games. I haven't watched an Orlando Magic game since. I lost respect for players and management and had no desire to support them, even in the smallest way, by watching their games. I'm only one potential viewer, but it seemed like a lot of people in Orlando felt the same. What was done and how it was done never felt right.

So, it was with no small amount of glee that I read Internet News reports this morning that indicated Brian Hill would be offered the Orlando Magic Head Coaching job before the day was out. I'd like to think that management is indicating, in their own way, that they made a mistake in firing Hill 8 years ago. I certainly hope they have apologized to him, profusely. And I hope that they realize that no man is a miracle worker and that they will need to allow Hill the time to rebuild as needed in order to coach The Magic to winning seasons again. And he CAN do it. Hill was the Orlando Magic's winningest coach, with a 191-104 record as Head Coach. If the current talent, and whoever we pick up in the draft lottery tonight, stays healthy and will work with Hill, we stand a better than even chance of making the finals again next season. But as I said at the top of this blog, I'm a nominal sports fan. There may be (and probably are) aspects of this whole tableau that I have missed and if you've got a more informed point of view (or even your own point of view, well-informed or not) I'd love to hear it and so would Orlando. I hope you'll leave your comments below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town.

May 25, 2005

Urban Think Bookstore

Wednesday after work I headed downtown so I could attend a book signing that was being held at Urban Think Bookstore, located at 625 E. Central Boulevard. I arrived downtown about 45 minutes before the signing was to begin, so I thought I would try one of the area eateries. I walked across and down the street a short distance from where I had parked my car and came upon Metro Expresso Pizza Cafe at 417 E. Central Boulevard. Their menu consisted of pizza, of course, as well as salads, sandwiches and some pasta dishes. I ordered a turkey and provolone sub with everything but onions, and a glass of iced tea. I was amused when I made the faux pas of asking what kinds of bread they offered for the subs and the gentleman behind the counter looked up at me from his order-taking and in a very heavily accented voice said "All our bread is Italian bread...sir." Of course, I should have known. He gave me my glass of tea at the counter and I made my way to an inside street window table so I could watch people walking by the small outdoor seating area in front of the restaurant while my sandwich was being prepared and toasted. I love to people-watch. After about 5 minutes my sandwich was delivered to my table and it looked delicious.

The Italian sub roll was 8 inches in length, cut in half with melted provolone on the roll, thinly sliced turkey breast piled high, fresh lettuce and sliced tomato with a side of Italian dressing. I ate half the sub without the dressing and half with it, and both were very tasty. I felt that the amount of food and drink I received for my $7.00 was more than worth it. If you're in the downtown area, you might want to stop in and try Metro Expresso and let me know what you think of it.

The book signing was for a book by Bob Mervine entitled Orlando Chow-Restaurants for the Rest of Us. It seemed like a perfect book for the Man About Town to own, lol. Mr. Mervine spent more than 20 years in the Media Relations Department of Walt Disney World, was part of the opening team for Tokyo Disneyland, has worked as a broadcast journalist and is currently a staff writer for the Orlando Business Journal covering Tourism, Marketing & Media and Dining & Restaurants, as well as being a freelance writer. With his varied background and his many years as a resident of Central Florida, he is eminently qualified to serve as a guide to the Orlando area's best places to eat.

Orlando Chow-Restaurants for the Rest of Us, as I would discover upon purchasing a copy, is chock full of information while retaining an easy to read and simplistic format. The restaurants appear in an alphabetical order and each one is allotted 2 pages to describe the cuisine(s) offered; the address and hours of service; the price range; forms of payment accepted; whether reservations are suggested or necessary; a description of house specialties; ambiance; dress code (if any); seating availabilities; handicapped accessibility; parking and general directions from different points in the city; followed by an enlightening description of the restaurant and it's epicurean offerings. There are no "rankings" per se because, as Mr. Mervine states in his introduction, "The reader can assume if it is in the book, I recommend it." There are also handy indexes in the back that list the restaurants by cuisine, by location and by price range, for easy selection of a restaurant that will fill (pun intended) your needs, and the 217 page book's size is excellent for travel and for keeping in your glove compartment.

Unfortunately, when I arrived a few minutes prior to the scheduled 5:30pm signing, I discovered that the event had been canceled and while disappointed, it gave me a chance to meander through Urban Think's bookshelves, reading areas and beer and wine bar. There can be no mistaking the difference between Urban Think and the "big box" bookstores. When you walk in the front door the staff, if they're not assisting customers, can be found sitting on one of the comfortable chairs or couches throughout the store enjoying their favorite reading material. Since it was early in the evening, I was the only patron and the two employees I saw allowed me to walk around the entire store looking over the different books without bothering me once. I like that. If I want help, I'll ask, but otherwise I prefer to not be accosted by "sales" people. Urban Think is not a huge store, but it is large enough and offers a great variety of books, magazines, newspapers and CD's in many genres. The atmosphere is casual and is reminiscent of what bookstores were before Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million (and don't get me wrong, I frequent those bookstores too) in that you feel...comfortable. Overall, I would say that the phrase "thought provoking" is an apt description of most of Urban Think's literary offerings, but there is something for everyone there. Art, by local artists and for sale as well, adorns the walls, counters and bookshelves.

While most bookstores have a coffee bar or cafe, Urban Think has a very nice beer and wine bar (they DO offer water, sodas and coffee as well) where you can pick up a bottle of beer or a glass of wine and sip it while you wander through the bookstore. I didn't, since I was driving. After buying Orlando Chow-Restaurants for the Rest of Us (and a few other items as well), I reluctantly walked out of Urban Think toward my car. But I'll definitely be back. Have you been to Urban Think before? If so, I'd love to read your impressions of this unique bookstore. Or if my experience has piqued your interest and you plan to visit it for the first time, I'd love to read that as well! I hope you'll leave your comments below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town http://www.urbanthinkorlando.com/

May 28, 2005

Lightning Capital of The U.S.

As summer weather begins to take hold here in Central Florida (Summer doesn't officially begin until June 21, but we all know it's here already!) we will experience the usual high-humidity, high-temperature stifling heat that makes us thankful for air-conditioning. We will experience the familiar pattern of afternoon thunderstorms, and with those afternoon thunderstorms we will be reminded many, many times that we live in the "Lightning Capital of the United States"

Four days ago a line of thunderstorms blew through Volusia and north Seminole counties (north and northeast of Orlando) between 3 and 4 p.m. causing extensive property damage and sending a 29 year old soil scientist to the hospital after he was struck by lightning while surveying land in a wooded area with 4 other survey group members. The group was in the process of leaving the area because they saw the storm approaching. According to a National Weather Service meteorologist, that lightning strike was one of an estimated 5,670 lightning strikes that day that hit between 1 and 5 p.m. in an area that covers the Ocala National Forest, parts of the Atlantic Ocean, and portions of Lake, Seminole, Volusia and Brevard counties.

Three days ago afternoon thunderstorms and their accompanying lightning strikes caused dozens of small brush fires over in the city of Palm Bay in Brevard County, east of Orlando on the coast. Fire departments across the area are gearing up to try and respond to the typical summer occurrence of these kinds of brush fires that are caused by lightning strikes. And it really makes me rethink any plans to go camping, since my tent has metal tubing for framing and support. Here's a map produced by NASA showing the distribution of lightning on a worldwide scale.

Some interesting facts; a typical lightning strike is hotter than the surface of the sun! The temperature of the surface of the sun has been recorded at 11,000 degrees (pretty hot, if you ask me) but lightning strikes hit the 50,000 degree mark! Also, lightning typically avoids striking oceans, but as the picture to the.... shows it DOES happen sometimes. And when lightning strikes a sandy area, hollowed out glass tube-like structures know as fulgurites are formed beneath the ground, sometimes boring down and branching out for several feet.

So, what can you do to avoid being struck by lightning? Here are some tips if you see a storm approaching:

1. Stay indoors and try not to go out a half hour before and after the storm. Lightning can precede the actual clouds and rain of a storm and linger after it has passed.

2. Avoid open spaces, fields, and ballparks (the location of 28% of deaths and 29% of lightning injuries), but if you find yourself in one of those locations with no time to leave, fall flat on the ground to minimize being struck.

3. Conversely, you also want to avoid standing under trees (18% of deaths and 13% of injuries).

4. If you are boating, fishing, or enjoying other water-related activities (13% of deaths and 6% of injuries), get off the water as soon as you see a storm approaching.

5. The safest place to be is in a building, preferably one with a lightning rod, or a car with the windows rolled up and your body not touching any metal parts. The metal of the lightning rod and/or the car will direct the lightning current into the ground.

My electrical engineering friends like to remind me that it's the amps that kill and not the voltage...but I think 1 billion volts might not feel too good either, so I'd like to avoid both of them altogether. And I'd like for you to avoid them as well. Please be extra careful this summer and stay away from places and situations where lightning might strike. You'll be glad you did, and so will your family and friends. If you've had any experience with lightning strikes or have any other advice to offer, I hope you'll leave a comment below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town.

May 30, 2005

Fringe Festival I: "Theme Park Diva"

The Fringe has gone (sniff, sniff); here's my "sort of review" of one of the shows I saw. Some things are much funnier when you get the "inside" part of the joke, or song or whatever it may be. And though I've never worked at a theme park, I've known plenty of people who have. Enough to make me laugh almost uncontrollably with recognition throughout the entire hour-long production of "Theme Park Diva" that was presented at this year's Orlando International Fringe Festival. Trust me when I tell you my companion for the show was very embarrassed to be sitting next to me (and it wasn't even the usual reason that women are embarrassed to sit next to me) and the only thing that kept her from leaving was that she found it to be humorous as well. Just not as much as me. But anyone who lives in Central Florida and has attended more than 2 theme parks in a year will recognize the scenes that are played out with an almost gleefully savage style in this musical performance that has tunes in it that you just can't get out of your head. Sort of like that "It's A Small World" song....oops! Sorry.

We arrived at the Fringe around 12:15pm for the 1pm show. By the time we got parked (we got VERY lucky and found a spot in the front near the entrance), bought our Fringe buttons and our tickets for the show and got in line (there were already at least 75 people in front of us) it was 12:30. They opened the doors to the Margeson Theatre in Lowndes Shakespeare Center at 10 minutes to 1 and we got good seats (they're all good seats; no one is more than 30 feet from the stage) on the 3rd row, stage right on the inside end. That way no one was trying to step past us to get to another seat.

Soon the lights dimmed and we were transported backstage to Galaxy World USA, the theme park that won the prestigious CPIA (Cleanest Park in America) award and where we find fresh-faced, innocent and naive Suzi Ditty, a local girl who just got hired to sing and dance with The Galaxy World Singers. It's been Suzi's dream since she was a little girl to be a part of the show and maybe, just maybe, be the star of the show like Amber Crystal, the reigning Theme Park Diva who is waiting for HER big break...to work a cruise ship run by the theme park. Through skits and musical pieces we watch the story unfold.

Theme Park Entertainment Director Ms. Terry Richards (played in drag oh so well by David Houde) creates her masterpiece "Music, Music, Music, Music and More" for the annual theme park competition. We get to watch as the Galaxy World Singers reveal that they play "pass the penny" during musical numbers to keep from getting bored, that they like to play practical jokes on each other while on stage and that the last show of the day is "the fast show" because they want to get finished and go party. We hear the girls complain that all the guys are gay, and the guys complain about their female stalkers in the audience. Oh, and the song "It's a Family Park" will leave you in stitches. In the end, Amber gets her cruise line gig (while her boyfriend in food service gets a job on the cruise ship snack bar), Ms. Richards' musical production wins the coveted award and Suzi becomes the newest "Theme Park Diva".

I cannot urge you strongly enough to see this show when it appears. This was the troupe's second appearance at Fringe and I sure hope they will be back next year. It will be the first show I see. Did you go see "Theme Park Diva", or any of the Fringe offerings? If so, I hope you'll leave a comment below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town.

May 31, 2005

Fringe Festival II: "The Extraordinary Fila"

The Fringe has gone (sniff, sniff); here's my "sort of review" of one of the shows I saw. If you ask me if I want to see men beating drums, my answer would be, "Ummm no, no thank you" but if you ask me if I want to see women belly dancing my response would be an enthusiastic "Yes!". That is how I came to be in the audience this past Sunday afternoon when The SHREDD! Percussion Ensemble performed it's presentation of "The Extraordinary Fila". I went with CK, who has a passing acquaintance with some of the performers, so she wanted to see their event and besides that many of her friends had recommended seeing the show. She probably went for the men drumming, I definitely went for the women belly dancing!

An opening act of Flamenco dancers, Jenny and Ernesto Caballero, from Bolivia started off the show. It was an excellent performance, if you enjoy that sort of thing. It's just not my cup of tea. But I tip my hat to their talent and skill. Then the lights dim and the drummers make their entrance. First up is a short, stocky man wearing a "Billy Jack" hat with a wolf head and skin on top of it and short silver chimes hanging off the edge of the brim around the hat. He has a short, leather, poncho-like item over his shoulders and chest and carrying a long drum. His name is Martin "Greywolf" Murphy and he will be the narrator and African drum player. Next is a tall, slender man wearing a leopard spotted shirt, wooden rattles on his wrists, a feathery headdress and a necklace of animal (I hope) bones around his neck and carrying 2 short drums which are attached to him by straps. His name is Mfuka Thobos Lubamba and he is from Africa. Bringing up the rear, but taking the middle spot on stage behind two tall conga drums, is Carlos "C-Los" Hernandez, wearing a dazzling white shirt and pair of pants and wearing a stylish "Panama Jack" hat...for now.

Greywolf steps to the microphone and says, "On an ordinary day, an ordinary man is walking down an ordinary road..." and so begins the tale of "The Extraordinary Fila", a story told through the percussion of the drums (with translation by Greywolf) and the interpretive movements of the belly dancers. It is the story of 2 men who have been like brothers all their lives (portrayed by Murphy and Lubamba), living on opposite sides of a road; their respective wives (portrayed by Rebecca "Bhrigha" Murphy, real-life wife of Martin, and Sandra "Selket" Mistretta) and a man who walks down their road with his extraordinary fila, portrayed by Hernandez. It is a story of love, passion, anger, violence and, in the end, reconciliation.

While the men remain on stage through the hour-long show, the women exit after each of their dance performances to change costumes and accessories. Accessories such as scimitars, daggers, canes, snakes and what can only be described as a lighted candelabra, balanced on Bhrigha's head during her dance. Surprisingly, I did find myself being entertained by the totality of the show and not just the wonderful talents of the belly dancers. The format of the show is adapted from an African storytelling tradition, using the varying beats of the drums to convey words and emotions (though thankfully Greywolf provided narrative translation for those of us who are not fluent in "drum"), with the added performance of the belly dancers used as interpretive actions. And exactly what is "The Extraordinary Fila"? If you don't know, I wouldn't want to spoil it for you in case you attend next year's performance. Suffice it to say that it almost ruins a lifelong friendship, then brings it back together again because the men discover that it all depends on your point of view. Kudos to The SHREDD! Percussion Ensemble for broadening my mind and cultural knowledge while doing so in an entertaining fashion! Now, bring the belly dancers back out please, LOL. Did you go see "The Extraordinary Fila", or any of the Fringe offerings? If so, I hope you'll leave a comment below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town.

June 2, 2005

Toojay's

Met up with Cindy, Ed and Pam tonight and we decided to have dinner at Toojay's on East Colonial and I am STILL full. For those who don't know, Toojay's is an excellent deli...no wait it's a full service restaurant...no wait it's a fantastic sandwich shop, wait...it's a bakery. Actually it's all of those rolled into one, and a favorite place for those who want to enjoy some authentic Jewish deli fare or American cuisine. It wasn't all that busy when we arrived around 7:15, yet our server managed to leave me thinking she was somewhat distracted. As she took our drink order I asked for iced tea, unsweetened. She asked me if I would like lemon with it and I answered "No, thank you" yet when she returned my our drinks my tea had a nice big wedge of lemon in it. Now the truth is it really doesn't matter to me if a lemon wedge is in my tea or not, though my preference is not to have one in it, but if it is...no big deal. I just found it odd that she asked me and still got it wrong. Other than that little quirk, service was excellent.

Cindy ordered the TooJay's Chopped Salad: Turkey, ham, boiled egg, crisp greens and fresh garden vegetables chopped and tossed with your choice of dressing, topped with Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled bacon and artichoke hearts. "Without the artichoke hearts, please." Pam ordered the T.J.'s Trio: Generous scoops of our popular dill chicken, tuna and Dijon chicken salads served on a bed of lettuce garnished with fresh vegetables. Ed chose the TooJay's Shepherd's Pie: Our version of this favorite. Tender ground beef and vegetables baked in an individual casserole dish and topped with mashed potatoes and melted Muenster cheese. And I went with the Turkey Sandwich ( All sandwiches served with cole slaw, dill pickle & dressings) on wheat bread: Fresh roasted, sliced thin and piled high and a basket of Beer Battered Onion Rings: Dipped in beer batter and fried to a golden brown. Served with a Remoulade sauce. Before our food arrived, we were served a plate of various breads (Rye, Whole Wheat, Deli Roll, and Challah) with butter pats, but I passed on trying any of them since I was having a sandwich. Even though it wasn't that busy, it seemed to take a longer time than I would have thought to prepare our orders. Again, it wasn't that big of a deal as we were talking and enjoying ourselves and I don't think any of us were exceptionally hungry, but it was something I took notice of in a peripheral sort of way.

When our food arrived it looked delicious, except that Cindy's salad contained black olives, an item that wasn't listed as part of the ingredients on the menu. Cindy hates black olives, though I can't for the life of me figure out why. They are, after all, delicious. But our server was more than happy to remove the dish and have the kitchen re-make a salad with no black olives and the replacement arrived back in fairly quick time. My Turkey Sandwich was indeed piled high, so much that I could barely fit my big mouth around it to take a bite. The bread was fresh, soft and tasteful, but I didn't realize that if you don't ask for dressing, they don't put it on. For some reason I assumed it would have mayonnaise on it, but that wasn't the case. Still I decided to try eating it "dry" just to taste the flavor of the turkey and bread. It WAS tasty, but it was also dry and required many sips of tea to help it on it's way. The cole slaw was very good, not too wet and had a pleasant flavor. I'm sure Ed enjoyed his Shepherd's Pie as he polished it off in short fashion, even though we were all still talking while we were eating. Pam seemed to like her choice and Cindy enjoyed her salad, but could not eat it all and ended up taking it home in a to go box.

For dessert Cindy and I shared Coconut Mounds: Rich chocolate cake layered with cool and creamy coconut filling, while Ed and Pam shared a piece of Carrot Cake: Rich in carrots and layers of delectable cream cheese icing. By the time we left at 9:10, the restaurant had closed and we were all completely filled with good food and good conversation. Toojay's is located at 2400 E. Colonial Drive in Orlando (behind Barnes & Noble Bookstore) and is open Sunday-Thursday 8 am to 9 pm; Friday and Saturday 8 am to 10 pm and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They have take out available, a delicious smelling bakery, serve a nice variety of beer and wine and they cater! Have you ever eaten at Toojay's? If so I'd love to hear how you felt about your food or dining experience. Or, if reading about Toojay's has made you think you might like to try them out sometime, I'd love to hear that too. Please leave a comment below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town.

June 5, 2005

Orlando International Airport To Offer Fliers A "Clear" Choice

Would you be willing to pay $80 a year in order to be guaranteed access to an exclusive, possibly faster security checkpoint line and the promise that you would never have to endure a random secondary pat-down (as long as nothing on your person or carryon triggers the metal detector)? If that sounds good to you, Orlando International Airport will be the first airport in the nation to offer such a plan through a pilot program called Private Sector Known Traveler Program (PSKT) with a private company named "Verified Identity Pass Inc." beginning June 21, 2005. On that date, program hopefuls will be able to submit an application that will require them to provide biometric data such as fingerprints and iris scans for identity verification, as well as undergoing a background check through state, federal and intelligence agencies that are under the Department of Homeland Security. The program also includes the creative branding concept of the word "Clear" to be used in promotional statements such as, "Orlando Airport Clears the Way" and "The Orlando Airport is Now Clear." Clear is presented as the theme for their media advertising campaign and includes signage and kiosk design throughout the airport terminal. That same branding may possibly be used at other airports who contract with Verified Identity Pass in the future.

The Federal government's Transportation Security Administration has been testing it's own "Registered Traveler" program, which is free, through selected airlines at selected airports across the country (Boston, Los Angeles, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Washington-Reagan) but they have announced they will cap their usage at 10,000 participants and clearance cards obtained at one airport don't work at others. TSA and DHS are supportive of broadening the scope of the program through private sector companies such as Verified Identity Pass. I myself have not flown out of OIA in several years, but people that I know who have are not generally unhappy with the security wait time and that is even with the news a month ago that OIA was suffering from a shortage of screeners. Though down to 1,000 from a high of 1,500 shortly after September 11, 2001, wait times at the airport are seldom more than 15 to 20 minutes unless there is an equipment malfunction.

So, is this program necessary at an airport that does not have any serious security wait-time issues? Or will this become a situation that is similar to our E-pass program, which by opening more E-pass lanes reduced the number of change lanes, thus lengthening the lines at the change lanes into miles long lines of vehicles? Will regular security lines be reduced as these "Clear" lines are opened, causing longer waits for those who do not have the "Clear" card? Or will a traveling populace that is used to "Fast Pass" privileges at local theme parks flock to the new "Clear" convenience that OIA is providing? And there are still some people who have real concerns about data, their data, being in the databases of private companies that, these days especially, can't seem to keep it private. Banks, credit card companies, and private businesses have all shown their vulnerability to information thieves in the past few years. If social security numbers and credit card numbers cannot be safely stored by private companies, why would anyone believe that it would be any different for their fingerprints or iris scans?

And finally, though it does indeed sound like the plot for a thriller novel (but then, so did flying planeloads of people into buildings full of people), what about the possibility of "sleeper" agents, people with spotless records that can obtain the lessened security checks that this program provides? Are we opening ourselves up to an exploitation of the program's inherent weakness; that while you can know a person's record you cannot know what they think? Will this be a false panacea that turns around and bites us in the ass someday? What do you think? Is this a great program, or is it a waste of time and money? Would you use it when it becomes available? Do you fly out of OIA quite a bit and can offer more insight into the situation? It would be great if you would leave a comment below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you next time, Man About Town.

June 8, 2005

Wine Down Wednesdays

Wednesday is that day of the week known as "Hump Day" to most people who work a Monday through Friday job. If we can just get over the hump of that middle day, we can coast downhill into the weekend. Every Wednesday in the month of June, Whole Foods Market in Winter Park is holding a special event in their store called Wine Down Wednesday and for those who enjoy the fruit of the vine it's an excellent opportunity to sample some new varieties or reacquaint yourself with some old favorites. The play on words is just thrown in for some extra fun. If you live in the Orlando area and you've never been to Whole Foods Market, you really should make some time to check it out. Ostensibly thought of as a health food store, Whole Foods is more of an organic and natural food outlet with other healthful products thrown in for convenience.. They typically carry over 80 varieties of fresh organically grown produce, a seafood and meat counter, a bakery featuring items baked with unbleached flour and all gluten-free, a deli that is full of healthy ready-to-eat products prepared fresh daily as well as a full salad bar, vitamins and health care products, fresh ground coffees and teas and tucked away in the back corner is a surprisingly varied and well-stocked wine and cheese selection.

 

That is the corner that CK and I were heading for in order to enjoy tonight's special theme for Wine Down Wednesday; Italian Wine Tasting. But first, we meandered through the store which, for a Wednesday evening, seemed to be pretty crowded. It was interesting to see the different kinds of people who make up the store's customer base. There were aging flower children of the 60's who you could almost imagine had walked in from the commune to pick up something natural to eat or drink; there were those who looked as if they might be trying to stave off the advancement of age by consuming every healthy product they could locate; there were those "beautiful people" who intended to stay that way by consuming every healthy product they could locate and there those people like CK and I who just wanted some free booze, LOL.

 

Just kidding.

 

After CK picked up some sugar free chocolate and raspberry cookies she found (right above Paul Newman's healthy cookies that cost as much as your health insurance premium for a 12 ounce package) and about 20 different varieties of tea that she wanted to try, we headed over to the wine tasting. They were offering cubes of Asiago Cheese, a Fennel Salad, chunks of roasted pork loin and strips of beef with peppers as snacks to those tasting the wines. I chose to stick with the cheese while CK tried the Fennel Salad. If I hadn't had other plans for the night that would keep me away from any refrigeration for a few hours, I would have bought some of the cheese to have at home. CK initially liked the taste of the salad, but then felt like the dressing may have been too spicy for her. But, not to fear, wine samples are here!

 

The distinguished looking wine expert had 4 different wines he was offering as samples; a chardonnay, a merlot, a combination (60 percent chardonnay, 25 percent cabernet and 15 percent merlot) and a cabernet. Red wines don't appeal to CK so she tried the chardonnay first and found it to be very light and tasty. I chose the merlot and enjoyed the strong yet surprisingly mild flavor. I also sipped a little of CK's chardonnay and agreed it was very good. Then I tried the cabernet and, oh my, it was so, so very delicious. Full of flavor but very smooth. Even my red wine reluctant companion declared the cabernet to be an excellent libation. She ended up buying a bottle of the chardonnay she enjoyed, while I picked up a bottle of the cabernet. I'm waiting for an appropriate meal or perhaps just a quiet night with a book to uncork it and enjoy. There are still 2 more Wednesday Wine Downs left in the month, both taking place from 6:00 to 8:00pm. Next week will be the Top 10 Summer Wines and the week after features Crisp Whites and Cool Lights. If you have any interest in wines at all, you should plan to go to one of these and see what's new or what's recommended. Whole Foods Market is located at the Winter Park Corners, 1989 Aloma Avenue in Winter Park and their phone number is 407.673.8788. They are open 7 days a week from 8:00am to 10:00pm. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town.

 

June 11, 2005

 

Club Swank-Kid Dutch and his Blusicians

 

I was feeling a little "retro" the other night so I rang up a dame I know named Cindy and told her we were going clubbing. One of the newsboys on the street corner told me about a new place in town called Club Swank that was supposed to be jumpin' with a really hip to the jive jazz and swing band.

 

We rolled up in my flivver around 9pm and went in the joint just as it opened, paying the choice bit of calico at the door our $4 cover charge. We walked through the main table area where the band plays, then ankle'd over to the barkeep in the next room and I ordered two glasses of our favorite giggle water. I tipped him a few clams because he poured us the good hooch. Dollface and I made our way to an out of the way table and sat down as the band was finishing setting up. Though the joint looks small from the road, it is much larger inside than it appears and has a nice open feel to it. There is an area with a large rectangular bar in the middle allowing access from any side in the room, the area where we sat had some tables and a straight ahead view of the band, then a room off to the right rear of that had couches and plush chairs and a bigger room to the right and front of that area had a large dance floor and tables and chairs around the outer edges. Finally, though we didn't go and peek at it, there is an outdoor tiki bar and patio complete with torches and a large open mouthed idol. All tastefully furnished and with a decor that recalls the classy clubs of the 1930's and 40's. The staff dresses in appropriate period attire as, we discovered later in the evening, do some of the patrons.

 

As we sipped our drinks in the low-lighted atmosphere of the room, we watched a baby vamp walk through the door and sit at a table across from us. The three of us sat watching the band get ready to play and then Kid Dutch himself walked over to our table and welcomed us, which my Jane thought was the cat's meow, and as he walked back to the band area he spoke to the bird as well. Then it was time for the headline band to hit the stage; Kid Dutch and his Blusicians! The 6 member band is comprised of 2 saxophonists, a bass guitarist, a drummer, an acoustic bassist and of course, Kid Dutch himself on brasses (trombone, trumpet, etc) and lead vocals. They began their first song and as they played through their first set, we watched more and more people come through the door, some wearing their glad rags, some looking like rag-a-muffins but all there to either listen to the band or to swing dance to the music the Kid and his Blusicians were laying down. Speaking of which, I think my two favorite songs out of the first set were "St. Louis Blues" and "Daytona-Rooni".

 

Although the music was Jake and the club was the bee's knees, we both had early-morning calls so we left after the first set was completed, but not before we got to see a couple hit the dance floor and show us some copacetic swing dance steps. The male part of the couple was a real Oliver Twist, not a heeler like yours truly. I'll be returning to Club Swank soon and on a night when I can stay later to really soak up the atmosphere, as well as the hooch. Have you'se been to Club Swank or enjoyed the tunes of Kid Dutch and his Blusicians? If so, I'd be interested in knowing if you'se would give them an attaboy or a bushwa. Or if Club Swank sounds like the kind of juice joint you'se would like to lay a few simoleans down in, that would be great to know too. Please leave you'se comment below and let Orlando know what you'se think. P.S. all italicized words or phrases are from the '30's and their meanings can be found here. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town.

 

June 12, 2005

 

Anthony's Pizzeria

 

Friday night I went to Urban Think Bookstore in the Thornton Park area of downtown Orlando to meet some friends of mine; Lester, his wife and Vanessa for a little book browsing before we had dinner. I arrived slightly early for our planned 7pm meeting so I parked a few blocks away on the street and walked to the bookstore in the drizzly rain that has been a constant part of our weather scene the past couple of weeks. My compact umbrella was in my backpack, but it really wasn't raining hard enough to get it out.

 

It has become more and more enjoyable to go downtown over the last few years. The businesses and the residential housing that have sprung up has helped to draw young and middle-aged adults as well as families back into the area. As I walked down East Central Boulevard I saw people sitting in the park chatting with each other under the cover of huge trees, children playing, young women walking their dogs, businessmen and businesswomen walking home from work, joggers, skateboarders and people like me, visiting the area and en route to a business or retail shop. I passed a couple of outdoor cafes with groups of people eating and drinking under the protection of awnings or large table umbrellas. Everyone was talking, laughing, eating and drinking while they enjoyed the company of one friend or many. Downtown O-Town has turned into a cool place to be, whether it's living there or visiting from time to time.

 

So, we all met up at UT and spent about an hour browsing through the shelves and lounging on the chairs and couches and chatting before we made whatever purchases we wanted (I picked up two books, one for me and one for a close friend) and left in search of food. Lester said he had heard of a great Italian place around the corner so we trekked the quarter block to Summerlin then one block south to a place called Anthony's Pizzeria.

 

Anthony's Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant sits on the corner of East Washington and North Summerlin. The building has covered outdoor dining area, indoor dining room and a small bar with an even smaller dining area and holds approximately 80 people total. When we arrived at approximately 8pm there were about 72 people eating, at least that's what I'm estimating since there were only two four person tables that were empty. The waitress/hostess asked if we wanted to eat inside and since all the tables outside were full we indicated that we would indeed like to eat inside. The four of us were looking at a nice four person table in the main dining room, but the hostess took us past that table and through to the bar area instead and seated us at one of three small tables in the crowded bar's tiny dining area.

 

We looked over our menus and decided we would split a large pizza and after a poll was taken among us we chose the Margherita Pizza. No, not that kind of Margarita! The ingredients were mozzarella cheese, chopped plum tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic, a combination said to have been created by Raffaele Esposito in 1889, with the toppings in the colors of the tricolor flag of Italy, and named for the wife of King Umberto I of Italy, Queen Margherita of Savoy. I hope you got that because there will be a test later.

 

The service was unbelievably slow. Our waitress arrived about five minutes after we had been seated and took our drink orders and we were ready to place out food order but she dashed away so quickly we didn't even have time to say we'd like to place our food order. Another five minutes passed and she returned with our drinks and took our order. We spent the next twenty five minutes talking about TV shows, movies, books and baseball before she finally returned with our pizza. I'm not sure if they were short-staffed that night or not, though it didn't seem that way since we saw our waitress talking and laughing with a bartender, rather than checking on us I have to say...the pizza was worth the wait. An excellently baked and flavorful crust with lots of tasty chopped plum tomatoes, a delicious sauce, plenty of mozzarella cheese, lots of basil and even more (it seemed) fresh garlic. Vanessa even found a whole garlic clove on one of her slices of pizza and I was still tasting garlic the next day. Didn't have to worry about vampires. We were all pretty hungry so that sucker didn't last long. Lester and his wife each ordered a cannoli for dessert and by that time the place had begun to thin out some in terms of diners so they didn't have to wait all that long for them to be served.

 

We paid our bill (and left a more than deserved tip) and stepped back out into the night around 9:10. We walked about one block to the entrance of the Thornton Park Parking Garage that the three of them had parked in and said our goodbyes for the night, then I took a leisurely stroll back to my car a few blocks away, passing the quickly filling bars and nightspots along the way. If I were rating Anthony's I'd give them an "A" for food and a "D" for service. I'd like to try Anthony's again during a less busy time to see if the service improves when they are not packed with diners AND to enjoy another delicious pizza. Anthony's Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant is located at 100 N. Summerlin Avenue in Orlando and their hours of operation are Monday through Thursday 11:00 AM - 10:00 PM, Friday and Saturday 11:00 AM - 11:00 PM and Sunday 12:00 PM - 10:00 PM. serving lunch and dinner and you can get take-out or they can deliver. They serve beer and wine, both with meals and at the stand-alone bar, dress is casual, reservations are not necessary but are accepted and they accept most major credit cards. Prices would be categorized in the inexpensive range. Have you eaten at Anthony's before? If so I'd love to read your thoughts and experiences. Please feel free to leave a comment below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town.

 

 

June 15, 2005

 

Orlando Improv-Comedy with Alex Ortiz

 

Laughter, they say, is the best medicine. If that's true then I should be healthy for a good long time because I spent a solid 2 1/2 hours laughing this past Tuesday night at the Orlando Improv Apollo Night featuring Alex Ortiz. At the end of the night when I was driving home and remembering some the funnier performances, my face was so sore from all the laughing that it hurt just to smile. My companions for the evening's festivities, Kathy and Carol, and I were seated at a table to the left of the stage, one "row" back and we arrived at about 7:45, so we had 15 minutes to spare before the scheduled 8pm curtain time (though there is NO curtain). The ladies ordered white wine and I enjoyed an ice cold Heineken. Even the worst comedian can get a few laughs if people have enough alcohol in them. I'm glad to say that only 3 of the performers this night would need the extra help. The majority of them could have had a convention hall full of sober politicians rolling in the aisles with laughter. Well, maybe not Katherine Harris.

 

Improv has specialty nights for their shows. Wednesday night is "College Night", and if you show your college ID you get in for free, Sunday is "Hospitality Night" and if you show your paycheck from any Service/Hospitality employer you get in for free. Tuesday night, the night we went, is Apollo Night and features black comedians, though strangely enough offers no free admission incentive as they do on other nights. Maybe black customers don't need to be coaxed out with free tickets to see the shows, which may say something about those other markets. Orlando Improv is located in one of the old Church Street Station bars and some of the old decor remains amid the newly walled off sections of what used to be a much larger venue. Still I estimated that the seating capacity was approximately 200-225 in the performance area. There is also a 25 seat bar area in the lobby for those who arrive early and want to get a head start on the night of laughter.

 

The place was packed (I think they may have even brought in a few extra chairs for some latecomers) and out of those approximately 225 customers, there were perhaps 10 white people, of which Kathy, Carol and I were 3. We were also the closest white people to the stage so we made easy targets for some of the jokes; you know, how white people dance, how we talk, etc. All in good natured fun. In fact the host decided he had poked a little too much fun at us and gave us a free CD for being such good sports. The 3 of us were laughing along with the jokes and weren't ever offended, but who's going to turn down a free CD? I gave it to the girls because that's the kind of guy I am.

 

The opening acts were 10-12 (I lost count) young men and 1 young lady who were amateurs and up and coming comedians that were each given 5-6 minutes of stage time. Some were very, very funny (like the Jamaican young man with the dreadlocks and the young Puerto Rican who must have had a case of Red Bull before hitting the stage) and others were not as funny as I'm sure they will be someday. The audience was kind to laugh and clap for all of them, but the funnier ones obviously garnered a heartier round of laughs and applause. The onstage host was a very funny man who filled in between acts with jokes and introduced each of the performers. He was easily as funny as the main act, but then I guess you have to be if you're going to carry the show through good and mediocre acts. I know that I would not want to be up on that stage knowing I needed to make people like me laugh, so I salute their courage. My one real complaint was that the sound system's volume was turned up so loud that sometimes what was said was unintelligible (at least where we were sitting) and I never was able to catch the names of the opening acts or the host.

 

At 9:45 the headliner comic, Alex Ortiz, took to the stage and for the next 45 minutes he would entertain us and keep us laughing almost non-stop. A self-described "half-black half-Puerto Rican former member of the U.S. armed forces and firefighter", Mr. Ortiz has appeared on BET's Comic View, Showtime at the Apollo, two Miller Genuine Draft Beer commercials (among others), and will be appearing this summer on an HBO Special. He told us stories of his childhood, did some excellent imitations of cartoon character's voices like Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Daffy Duck as well as Sesame Street characters, and did a hilarious song about his favorite President titled "The Arkansas Clintons" sung to the tune of "The Beverly Hillbillies" theme song that detailed Bill's sexual exploits from Little Rock to Washington, DC. It would be prudent to point out that the majority of every performer's act during this show (and I would imagine most others on Apollo Night) dealt with jokes and humor about sex, drugs and race. Some very graphic and all containing very adult language. If those subjects are not ones that you find funny, it would be best to steer clear of this particular night when looking for comedy. The "cleanest" joke I heard Tuesday night was this; "Who is the busiest person in Arkansas? The Tooth Fairy!" The rest of them would turn your ears blue, if those things affect you that way.

 

Orlando Improv is located at 129 W. Church Street (on the corner of Church Street and Garland Avenue) in downtown Orlando. Hours and shows are Tuesday-Thursday 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 8 and 10:30 p.m. and Sunday 7 p.m. with the doors opening an hour before show time, but you should always check their website or call them in case they change the hours for a special show. The phone number is 321-281-8000 and they offer beer and wine as well as a full dinner menu and a snack menu. Have you been to Orlando Improv, either on Apollo Night or for any other performances? If so I'd love to read your comments and impressions. Or if you plan on giving Orlando Improv a try for the first time after reading this entry, it would be cool if you let Orlando know by leaving a comment below. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town.

 

 

June 17, 2005

 

Orlando Sweathogs

 

Summer officially begins next Tuesday, June 21st. Already, in these waning days of Spring, we have had daily temperatures in the low 90's with high humidity and heat indexes that make it feel like you're walking through water and it's in the high 100's. In Orlando that means if you step outside the confines of an air-conditioned building or vehicle for more than 30 seconds, you're going to sweat!

 

Earlier this week, Old Spice named the top 100 sweatiest cities and they ranked O-Town as the 9th sweatiest city in the United States. 9th! That's pathetic!! When I look at the top 8, I can hardly believe that any of them beat us out by being sweatier than we are. I've seen the wet oval circles in the underarms of shirts and blouses of men and women throughout the city. It's not a pretty sight. Foreheads full of beads of sweat popping out make you want to run for the nearest air-conditioned refuge you can find in order to escape the gross vision. Shaking hands with someone whose hands are wet with perspiration leaves you trying to inconspicuously wipe your hand on your pants legs. I've worked outdoors in Orlando and I've worked indoors in Orlando; I'll take indoors any day of the week.

 

Here are the top 10:

 

1. Phoenix, AZ

2. Las Vegas, NV

3. Tucson, AZ

4. Miami, FL

5. Corpus Christi, TX

6. West Palm Beach, FL

7. Houston, TX

8. Tampa, FL

9. Orlando, FL

10. Fort Myers, FL 

Now I've been in Miami, West Palm Beach, Tampa and Fort Myers; they all enjoy high temperatures and humidity, like Orlando does, but they have the benefit of cooling ocean or gulf breezes that we lack here in land-locked O-Town. I would venture to guess that Corpus Christi has that same saving grace since they sit right on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. The only time I've been in Houston is for a connecting flight and I never left the airport, so I can't comment on that city. I've never been to Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Tucson but you always hear that doctors send people to those places for the benefit of their "dry heat" meaning they have no humidity to speak of, unlike our fair city. Old Spice tells us, "The Sweatiest Cities ranking is based on the average U.S. male/female height/weight, and the average high temperature for 2004 in each of the cities during June, July and August. The sweat level was analyzed based on the assumption that the individual was walking for one hour." so it's a pretty sure bet they didn't send people to each of the cities to actually experience the weather in person. I think their results might be different if they did. To deal with the summer heat Old Spice lists some things to help battle the effects: Water - Drink plenty of fluids, at least eight to 10 glasses of water per day. Choose Cotton - Wear clothing that breathes easier, such as cotton. Avoid materials that encourage perspiration, such as polyester and nylon, as well as dark colors. Replace Salt and Minerals - Sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. If participating in a strenuous activity where you anticipate heavy perspiration, drink fruit juices and sports beverages to replace the lost minerals. I would add this advice from the Man About Town; stay indoors with the air-conditioning set to a nice cool 72 degrees while you sip your favorite ice cold beverage. How do you feel about Orlando being named 9th Sweatiest City in the United States? Do we deserve a higher ranking, or have you been to sweatier cities? If so, it would be great to have you leave a comment below and let Orlando know what you think. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town.

 

 

June 19, 2005

 

"Ladies of Eola Heights"

 

There is something inherently funny about men in drag. I don't mean "funny" as in "odd" but "funny" as in "makes you laugh". Especially when they are borderline "passable" but there's just something that tips you off. Maybe it's the voice, maybe it's the body shape or maybe it's the five o'clock shadow that makeup just won't hide. Maybe it's that pesky Adam's apple.

 

The theater and performance arts have a rich history of men playing the parts of women. For example, actors in Shakespearean plays, and indeed in all Elizabethan theater, tragedy as well as comedy, were all male and the female parts were played by young men in drag. In Japan, the traditional theater known as Kabuki has always featured drag performers. The original troupes were all female and some would perform the male roles, in present day they are all male and some will perform the female roles. In more modern film releases such as "The Birdcage" or in TV shows like "Bosom Buddies" the roles are made all the funnier because we, the audience, are in on the joke as it were. So I expected some laughs this past Saturday night when Carsten, CK, Rebecca, Zephyr and myself went to see "Ladies of Eola Heights" at the Footlight Theater in the Parliament House hotel and nightclub complex on Orange Blossom Trail, a production where all the female roles are performed by males. My expectations were well met and exceeded by this excellently written and performed production.

 

We decided to arrive early and have dinner at the Rainbow Cafe inside the complex. This is a small (occupancy 39) cozy restaurant with an intimate atmosphere and an attentive staff. The decor was sort of European with dark colors, recessed areas in the walls with plants in them and Cabaret style candles on the tables. Frankly, I did not expect much in the way of quality dining fare, but I was proved wrong as both myself and my company of fellow diners found our meals to be delicious. Carsten ordered a Prime Rib cooked medium with a beer for his beverage. He was more than satisfied with the quality of the meat and it was cooked exactly as he had ordered. His only complaint (and I believe the only one from the entire party) was that they brought his beer to the table in a can. But our server seemed to quickly sense Carsten's unhappiness (could it have been that low growl that began to emanate from his throat?) and hastily asked if he would like a glass for his beer, then proceeded to expertly pour and serve the glass to an assuaged Great Dane. Rebecca enjoyed her Crab Stuffed Sole, CK and Zephyr each ordered the French Chicken (a new dish on the menu) and were pleased with it, while I found the Chicken Parmesan to be very tasty; the only drawback being a personal one in that I prefer the taste and texture of Angel Hair Pasta and this dish was served with the traditional spaghetti noodle. Rebecca and I each ordered wine, she a cabernet sauvignon and myself a merlot. Though clearly house wines they were still more than acceptable. CK and I were the gluttons of the night, splitting a piece of chocolate cake for dessert while the others looked on in disbelief. Then it was time (past time actually, as we learned) to make our way to the theater. We assumed that getting to the theater by 7:30 or so for the 8 o'clock show would be acceptable, since the doors did were not supposed to open until 7:30 anyway. WRONG! The crowd waiting to get in had apparently swollen to such a large size that they opened the doors early to reduce the number of people in the lobby and the result was we ended up with seats on the back row of the theater, which seats about 200. Even at that, by the time the doors were closed for the start of the play some 15 or so people were standing in the back of the theater. Needless to say, this showing, like many others before it, was completely sold out! The fun began before the first performer hit the stage with the welcome by an unseen voice who gave us the usual instructions regarding cell phones and flash and/or video photography and then added, "And for those of you who might be...concerned... about what others may think of you because you have come to this...gay resort theater...please do not worry, as soon as you entered our parking lot and got out of your vehicle...your reputation was shot to hell!" We all laughed, but there were quite few obviously straight couples, older couples and several of us who raised our hands to indicate that this was our first time visiting the Footlight Theater. Also, there was a sizable contingent from the Red Hat Society on hand to view the play. "Ladies of Eola Heights" opens with younger sister Ruby arriving at the family home in Orlando (after many years absence) where her older sister Pearl and younger brother Jackson still live, in order to meet with their oldest sister Opal, who also has been away for many years, to plan their recently deceased father's funeral. Ruby walks in and finds the house filled with boxes of merchandise from the Home Shopping Network and Pearl unexpectedly in a Hoveround sucking down oxygen like it was air. As they talk Ruby asks where Jackson is and Pearl explains that, due to an accident that occurred when a model of the planet Pluto fell on Jackson's head while he was watching reruns on the TVLand Network, Jackson is now "June" (as in June Cleaver) but also assumes the persona of any number of female performers and lip synchs the words to songs to get his message across rather than speaking. Throughout the play, "June" appears in drag as different women in progressively more complicated costumes and evening gowns, mouthing the words to showtunes and hit songs which are piped throughout the "house" by an expensive CD sound system that was purchased from, you guessed it, the Home Shopping Network. This revelation sends Ruby, an avid drinker and what some would call a "loose" woman, to the bar their daddy kept for a drink and it's not long before she is feeling no pain as she and Pearl discuss what happened to Jackson and the possibility that an old flame who was to escort Ruby to her senior prom 30 years earlier may want to take her to the 30th reunion that is being held that very night. Soon oldest Sister Opal arrives. She is the only one to have married and become a good Christian woman with children and grandchildren, yet, as we find out later, is still not able to overcome some event in the past that has affected her life and marriage. When she finally realizes what has happened to Jackson, after several side-splitting misunderstandings, she is horrified. Soon all three sisters are drinking and talking and in bits and pieces it becomes obvious that their dearly departed father had molested each of them, as well as Jackson, when they were younger. Through scenes that are funny and scenes that are sobering, they question why none of them ever talked about it, why their mother never stopped it and the effect it has had on their lives; such as Ruby being a "loose" woman, Opal contemplating divorce form her husband who is much like her father in that he beats her and Pearl who quietly remained to take care of the old man as his health and mind left him, then turned the tables on him when he was helpless. Pearl then reveals that she has already cremated their father's body and thrown the ashes into a dumpster. When the other two sisters ask why she had them come back home to plan a funeral that was clearly not necessary, she tells them it is because she wanted to see them, that she had missed them after not seeing them for so many years. When Ruby begins to joke about how there would be no inheritance because their father never had a "pot to piss in" Pearl suddenly stands up from her Hoveround, walks over to a drawer and pulls out envelopes of money for each of them, It turns out their father had struck it big in the stock market before he died. Pearl spent her share buying things from, you guessed it, the Home Shopping Network, which explains the boxes of merchandise (including the Hoveround) and when asked about the oxygen she was constantly sucking on explains, "It was Nitrous!". As a final "goodbye" to their abusive father, they gather all the pictures of him in the house (and one Opal has in her purse, "for some unknown reason") except for one that is Jackson's room, place them in a metal stew pot, pour lighter fluid on them and set them afire. As the pictures burn, a young man dressed in a suit and without a wig or makeup, enters the room with the last remaining picture in his hand and adds it to the fire. Each, it seems, has finally found some closure to the horrible chapters in their lives. Writer/Producer/Actor Michael Wanzie (Pearl) has woven a tale of personal horror and wrapped it in humor, because sometimes that is how we deal best with the most painful aspects or experiences in life. As an audience, we were alternately roaring with laughter at the truly funny lines, and reflectively silent when the awful past was revealed in bits and pieces. I could go on and on, but this post is already overly long. You may think I have related the entire play, but I assure you I have not even scratched the surface of the humor and the pathos of this production. If you have not already, you should definitely go see this play. Saturday's show was to be the last (it has been playing since January) but the continually sold out performances due to word of mouth have caused the addition of three "final" (as of now, anyway) shows which are scheduled for Saturday June 25th, Saturday July 2nd and Saturday July 9th. Rumor is that the play may also return in the fall. "Ladies of Eola Heights" is playing in the Footlight Theater inside the Parliament House Resort Complex, located at 410 North Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 407.540.0317 or in person at the Theater Box Office and show time for each performance is 8pm. Have you been to see "Ladies of Eola Heights"? If so, I'd love to read your impressions of the play in the comments section below. Or if this review has piqued your interest and you think you would like to see the performance, I would love to see your comment on that as well. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115685/ --the birdcage http://members.ozemail.com.au/~peterv/bb/ --bosom buddies http://www.wanzie.com/presents.html --ladies of eola heights http://www.redhatsociety.com/ http://wanzie.com//boxoffice/ http://www.parliamenthouse.com/orlando/default.asp Parliament House Motor Inn - (407) 425-7571 - 410 N Orange Blossom Trl, Orlando, FL 32805

 

June 20, 2005 Uncle Jones' Bar-B-Que I'm not a big fan of barbequed food, which is odd considering that my dad was a master griller and bar-b-que'r, and the only commercial barbeque restaurant I've been to is Sonny's. People that I know who have been in the O-Town area for longer than I have told me Uncle Jones' Bar-B-Que in Altamonte Springs (it's actually closer to Casselberry) was the place to get some really good barbequed meats with all the "fixins". So, late Sunday afternoon around 4:30 I grabbed Cindy, who loves barbeque, and we drove up to Altamonte Springs to meet Jason, AnnMarie and Mikey for a barbeque dinner. As we pulled into the driveway we were greeted by the Uncle Jones' sign which reads, in big letters, "Nothin-Mo-Betta". Uncle Jones' building is a rustic looking rectangle shaped business with brick walls painted red and gray and a small open porch in the front with some bench seating. We stepped inside and waited in the tiny foyer while the cashier/hostess rang up some departing diners, all of whom looked very happy and contented. The dining room seats about 40 and most of those are 4 person booths or 2 person tables, but they put a couple of tables together for us so we could all sit together. Uncle Jones' is a very "down home" restaurant with the same kind of atmosphere, reminiscent of older roadside diners across the country that were serving food before the advent of franchise restaurants. Everything was clean, but well-worn, from the floor to the ceiling and the furnishings in between. It wasn't fancy, classy or trendy, but we were there for food, not trendy decor. Uncle Jones' offers a nice barbeque buffet with loads of ribs, beef, chicken and pork as well as side dishes like corn on the cob, fried okra, garlic bread, rice, yams, cornbread and Brunswick Stew. Everyone in our party decided to order something off the menu instead. Jason and Mikey got a cheeseburger with fries, AnnMarie ordered the barbeque chicken, Cindy chose the beef dinner and I opted for a beef sandwich. Our server, an elderly but spry lady, brought us all our drinks and set the table for us with napkins and utensils while we sat and talked. From my vantage point I could almost see into the kitchen area where workers were scrambling around preparing orders for those of us in the dining room and for customers who were availing themselves of the drive-thru service to take some dinner home. All of us could hear the work being done in the kitchen; chopping, cutting, sizzling, etc. It's a pretty good bet that if you're not hungry before you arrive, you will be after sitting in the dining room for a few minutes and smelling the wonderful aromas that make their way out of the kitchen and into the dining area. Much faster than I expected, our food arrived and we all began to dig in. The beef that Cindy got with her dinner and that I got on my sandwich was a pulled beef than had been liberally spiced while cooking, giving it a wonderful flavor that stood alone by itself without the need for either the mild or hot barbeque sauce. I put some mild sauce on mine anyway, but the amount of meat on the sandwich was such a huge portion that about a third of it was falling off onto the plate anyway. All of us remarked at how large the portions were for what seemed like a more than a fair price. Jason and Mikey enjoyed their cheeseburgers and AnnMarie said her barbeque chicken was tender, juicy and tasty. My one complaint was that the french fries seemed to be underdone, but I like mine a little crispy anyway. Even for a non-barbeque connoisseur like myself, I found that I enjoyed the food at Uncle Jones' very much and my dining companions seemed to agree with that assessment. We all gave the food a thumbs up. Uncle Jones' Bar-B-Que is located at 1370 E. Altamonte Drive (Highway 436) in Altamonte Springs and the phone number is 407.260.2425. Hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday 11am to 9pm and Friday and Saturday 11am to 10pm serving lunch and dinner. The drive-thru is open the same days and hours. Dress is casual and prices would be classified as inexpensive. Beer and wine are available. Have you eaten at Uncle Jones' before? If you have it would be great to read your impressions with the food and service. If this review has made your mouth start watering for some home cooked barbeque that you don't have to cook and Uncle Jones' sounds like the place you'd like to go, I'd love to hear about that as well, so please feel free to leave a comment below. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town

 

June 21, 2005 "Tugger, the Jeep Who Wants to Fly" There was a time when Orlando thought it was going to become "Hollywood East". Universal Studios had real working sound stages, Disney World had a fully staffed animation studio, would-be actors and actresses were all over the city trying to break in to the business, and major studios indicated they'd like to make feature films and TV movies here because of our lack of unionized restrictions and lower costs. Some studios shot scenes here, some lower budget studios shot entire movies here, a few TV series like "Superboy" and "Swamp Thing" were produced here. Then the bottom fell out. Sound stages were converted to make room for other attractions or used to broadcast professional wrestling shows, Disney laid off the majority of their animators, studios went back to filming in Hollywood, New York or Toronto and "Hollywood East" became "Hollywood Ceased." But a former Disney animator named Jeff Varab decided to stick it out in Orlando and in 2000 opened his company, Genesis Orlando, in a little town that's actually just south of Orlando named Celebration. Genesis Orlando is a computer animation company that got its start by producing spots for TV ads and corporate presentations. But he always wanted to put together a full-length animated feature and in 2003 he and Genesis Orlando began working on "Tugger, the Jeep Who Wants to Fly" a film based on a children's story by George Parsons. The culmination of that 2 1/2 years of work is being premiered on Saturday, July 2nd on three open-air screens in downtown Celebration at 6:30 pm. "Tugger, the Jeep Who Wants to Fly" is the story of a 1940's military jeep whose engine is damaged during wartime duty in World War II. When the jeep's engine fan is destroyed and there are no replacement parts available, the mechanics use a real airplane propeller in its place and from then on Tugger is convinced that he will one day fly. When he is sold as military surplus to an airport, he finds his new job is to tow airplanes and he gets in trouble all the time with the tower chief because he wants to fly. A short-wave radio named, aptly, "Shorty" is Tugger's friend and sidekick. Genesis Orlando has ambitious plans for Tugger and his friends, such as Mr. and Mrs. Pump, a happily married pair of gasoline pumps, Lucy the Ladder truck, Bob the Bomber and numerous World War II-era aircraft. Current plans are to release one feature film during 4th of July celebrations for the next 7 years. Movie and TV series star Jim Belushi is the voice of Tugger and local comedian Carrot Top gives voice to Shorty. Belushi will be appearing at the screening and he and his group "The Sacred Hearts Band" will be performing after the premiere. Orlando Magic player Grant Hill will serve as emcee for the concert. During the celebration in Celebration, which begins at 3pm, the Magic cheerleaders will be appearing, various food booths will be open, there will be a veteran's parade, a flyover by Air Force jets and fireworks. Through a special arrangement with the Air Force, Genesis Orlando will broadcast the opening ceremonies and the concert by Belushi's band around the world via satellite to almost a half million troops and their families in a special "Salute To Our Armed Forces." In addition, part of the event's proceeds will benefit Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women in Orlando. Tugger's big screen debut will take place on July 15th at theaters across the country and parent studio Paramount plans to release the Home DVD version in the late Fall of this year, just in time for Christmas giving. If you're planning to attend, the streets of downtown Celebration will be closed to traffic so people who are not residents of the area will need to park at an off-site parking area and take a shuttle into downtown. The parking fee is $5 and a large crowd is expected for this entire event, so make your plans to get their early, enjoy the parade, the music, the fireworks and most importantly, the premiere of "Tugger, the Jeep Who Wants to Fly." Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town http://www.genesisorlando.com/ http://www.tuggerjeep.com/ http://www.tuggerjeep.com/tuggercast.html http://www.arnoldpalmerhospital.org/

 

June 23, 2005 Just How Clean Is Orlando? This month's Reader's Digest Magazine has an article about the 50 cleanest cities in America. You may be surprised to learn that Orlando is not only included in the list, but that our town (drum roll, please) made it into the top 10 of the cleanest cities in America. I've been to some other cities across our nation and comparatively speaking I've always thought Orlando looked pretty good, especially as opposed to our nearest large neighboring city, Tampa, which came in at number 31. But cleanest? Well, let's just say in my travels around the city I've seen some pretty trashy looking streets, lakes, waterways and neighborhoods. Of course, suffering the effects of 3 hurricanes in a few weeks time can do that to a girl. We've still got downed trees, torn up houses, fences in pieces, hundreds of broken signs and windows, some places still boarded up...well you know we could go on and on. But the folks at Reader's Digest weren't just looking at the cosmetic side of cities they visited, compared data on and ranked. They looked at such aspects as: 1. Air quality 2. Water quality 3. Industries dumping toxins into the environment 4. Waste disposal And they didn't take just the city limits into consideration, but added Metropolitan Statistical Areas, surrounding suburbs, cities and counties, into the mix as well. That means we have clean neighbors too. Of course I must say that the city and surrounding areas do try to keep things clean. A couple of weeks ago I was driving down Conway Road where it crosses Frontage Road just west of the airport. There is a small...I guess you would call it a canal on the west side of Conway and I was stopped at the traffic light. I looked over and it was full of floating trash; bottles, paper, cans, boxes, and I even saw a shoe floating half-submerged in the water. The next week, when I drove by I looked and all the garbage and trash had been cleaned out and it looked so nice and clean, even for a retention canal. Unfortunately this week I saw garbage in the water again, including a plastic trash bag, a bunch of newspapers, some items of clothing and a Styrofoam cooler, of all things. But the good news is that Orlando was ranked as the 9th cleanest city in America, which is pretty darn good out of 50 other large metropolitan areas. We should be proud of ourselves and out city in placing so high in the rankings. Wait a minute...didn't I just post a few days ago that we were also rated 9th in another ranking...the one that says we are the 9th sweatiest city in America? Well it's good to know that, as sweaty as we might be, we clean up pretty well. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town http://www.rd.com/

 

June 26, 2005 The Blue Martini-Sisaundra Lewis Saturday night I bailed out early on a friend's birthday party to make sure I arrived at The Blue Martini in time for Sisaundra Lewis' performance. This would be her "CD Release Party" concert and it was taking place in one of Orlando's upscale bars that likes to bill itself as "The Best Bar in the Business", and they may well just be. I arrived at 7:15 pm for the scheduled 8 o'clock performance and even though the website for Blue Martini notes "Fashionable/Dress Attire Required", the doorman/bouncer smiled and said, "Welcome to The Blue Martini sir" and I breathed an inward sigh of relief as I entered the doors because it would have been embarrassing to be denied entrance for not being fashionably attired. Not wearing my cut-offs turned out to be a good move. When you enter The Blue Martini you find yourself in the first of 3 bar areas known as The Stage Room, to the left of that is The Outdoor Patio Bar and straight ahead beyond The Stage Room is The VIP Room. The Stage Room is an elongated semi-circle shape with the bar on the right and a raised stage (hence, the name) behind it. If a performer or piece of band equipment fell off the stage either one would fall onto the bartenders below, but the raised height allows everyone in all 3 bars to see the performers. There is a small dance floor and the rest of the area is filled with cocktail tables and chairs. The Outdoor Patio Bar is a more casual setting on the covered deck that allows you to enjoy the outside environment, rain or shine. The VIP Room is a smaller bar and seating area that physically separates you from The Stage Room, but allows you to still see the main bar area, dance floor and stage. Total capacity for all 3 bars is approximately 1,000 people. After scoping out all the bars I came back into The Stage Room because I knew I wanted to be as close as possible to the music and Ms. Lewis to watch her perform. I was fortunate enough to find a table almost dead center in front of the stage, with only the bar and an empty (for now, but that would change) common walk-through area separating me from the stage. The building was about 3/4 full at this point and almost everyone I saw was young and beautiful...even the guys! Ok, truthfully there were a lot of "beautiful" people but there were also quite few everyday people like myself and even some older singles and couples. I took my seat and soon one of the "Girls of Blue Martini" approached my table to take my order. Let me tell you a little about the "girls". Without exception, every single one of them looked like model material, their work uniform consists of a light blue low cut halter top and tight black pants, both of which are obviously designed to show off their "assets", and they were all, at least the ones I observed, very friendly and very conscientious about providing excellent service. And like most people in this line of business, they work very, very hard. The more crowded the bar got as the night wore on, the harder and faster these ladies worked to keep everyone happy and their food and drink orders filled. My "Blue Martini Girl" was named Jenna and she waited patiently while I looked over their drink menu at the multitude of specialty martinis like The Almond Joy, the Red Apple, the Mango, the Carmel and others. I decided to try their signature drink, even though I'm not a martini drinker, shaken or stirred. The Blue Martini (the drink) is made up of Finlandia Vodka, Cointreau, Blue Curacao, Sweet ‘n Sour Mix and Orange Juice, served in an oversized Snifter. There is a neon blue arched straw in the snifter for decoration and a regular straw in the drink, but since I only drink milkshakes through a straw, I removed mine and drank my foo foo drink like a man. I have to say it was quite delicious and the bartender didn't underpour the alcohol amount. In addition to their specialty martinis, the bar offers fine wines and quality domestic and import beers. I also ordered the Parmesan, Spinach & Artichoke Dip served hot with toasted pita triangles, an appetizer which was large enough to be a meal. By 10 minutes to 8pm every seat in The Stage Room was filled and so were most of the seats in the other 2 bars. I had given one of the chairs at my table to a couple who needed one at the bar and then another couple had asked if they could sit at my table in the remaining two chairs and of course that was no problem. We talked a little about Ms. Lewis (they weren't familiar with her) and made small talk until the music started. At precisely 8pm, Sisaundra Lewis and The Sounds of Soul hit the stage. Her 5 man band consists of a rhythm guitarist, a bass guitarist, drummer, keyboardist and synthesizer as well as a gentleman who provided background vocals in addition to singing a few songs himself. Ms. Lewis appeared wearing a very sophisticated tailored white pantsuit and during her first set performed such hits as "Killing Me Softly", "Mercy, Mercy Me", "(These Are The) Good Times" and "Boogie Oogie Oogie" (with a great solo by the bass guitarist), among many other songs. It was a good solid hour of music. At 9 pm the band took a break and Ms. Lewis made her way to a cordoned off area of the bar where friends and family were present for the CD Release Party, giving her and the band a chance to catch their breaths, and me a chance to tell you a little more about Sisaundra Lewis. I had first seen her a few years back when she was performing as the lead singer in Cirque de Soleil's La Nouba production in Downtown Disney. During a tour of Japan, she met Grammy and Oscar Award winner Peabo Bryson, who invited her to tour the world with him as a backing vocalist and his new duet partner, a young woman named Celine Dion, which led to a worldwide tour with the Grammy and Oscar Award winning Dion. She spent several years working with Ms. Dion as her backing vocalist, vocal director and choreographer, before returning to Central Florida to handpick some of her favorite musicians and form The Sounds of Soul. Sisaundra has made many television appearances including The Tonight Show with both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, The David Letterman Show, The Arsenio Hall show, Oprah Winfrey, President Clinton's Inauguration party, The Grammy Awards and many others. She has served as a producer/writer for such artists as David Foster, Emilio Estefan, Andrew Lloyd, Marvin Hamlisch, Sting, and Sean 'Puff Daddy' Combs, to name a few. But music is not her only talent, as an actress she has appeared in many television commercials for companies such as Sears, J.C.Penney, Dr. Pepper, Sprite, MCI, Pepperidge Farms, Certs, Cinnamon Grahams, KFC, McDonalds, Sun Micro, GE, Dentyne, General Foods, International Coffee, Arby's, Plain Dealer, Publix, Applebees, Shower to Shower, Show Time, General Motors, Big Red, Belks, and Kelly Services. Whew! As you can see, she is a very talented lady. By the time the second set began at 9:30 the bar was SRO, the first couple that had been sitting at my table had left and been replaced by another couple, and the common walking area in between our table and the bar was filled with people standing or dancing. About halfway through the set Victoria, the female half of the couple at my table, left to go to the "powder room" and it took her 15 minutes to make her way there and back through the throng. The dance floor was filled, but people were confined to dancing in place because there was no room to move. Ms. Lewis had changed outfits and was now in a very sharp black pantsuit. For the next hour we enjoyed songs like "Rock With You", "Chain Of Fools", "Shout" (a very extended version from her CD), "Don't Stop ('Till You Get It On)" and the female anthem of the disco era, "I Will Survive" as well as many others. Another full hour of music with a single Happy Birthday message interrupting the songs. When I left at the end of the second set at 10:30pm, the bar was filled to it's capacity of 1,000 and as I exited I made my way past approximately 150 people standing in line waiting to get in. A word to the wise; when a headliner like Sisaundra Lewis is appearing at a venue that calls itself "The Best Bar in the Business", it might be a good idea to get there early. The Blue Martini is located at 4200 Conroy Road in the Mall at Millenia and is open Monday through Friday 4pm to 2am and Saturday and Sunday 1pm to 2am with a variety of musical talent appearing on various nights. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town http://www.bluemartinilounge.com/orlhome.htm http://www.sisaundra.com/pages/1/index.htm http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/CirqueDuSoleil/en/showstickets/lanouba/intro/intro.htm

 

June 27, 2005 Fourth Of July Activities Here's a rundown of the bigger Independence Day Celebrations and 4th of July activities around town this coming holiday weekend. Fireworks at the Fountain This year's entertainment includes an afternoon filled with family fun, games and plenty of tasty, festival foods, and a mega-fun Kids Area. There will be three stages for live entertainment featuring the renowned Orlando Concert Band playing patriotic music, and the Colgate Country Showdown -- a competition showcasing talented amateur performers competing for the big time. Food vendors will be serving up delicious festival foods. Adults can quench their thirst by picking up a cold beverage at either of the two Beer Gardens. At approximately 9:15pm there will be a 20-minute-long fireworks display that will light up the sky around Lake Eola. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Downtown Orlando Venue: Lake Eola Park and Fountain Time Info: 4:00pm - 10:00pm (Fireworks around 9:15) Price Info: Free 4th of July at SeaWorld Orlando SeaWorld will have a spectacular fireworks display when night falls then a fireworks finale, the perfect way to end your day at the park. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Orlando Venue: Waterfront at SeaWorld Time Info: 9:00am - 11:00pm Price Info: Florida Residents: $59.75 + tax (adults), $48.00 + tax (ages 3-9), Free (ages 2 and under) Avalon Park's July 4th Celebration Celebrate with friends and neighbors at Avalon Park's Town Square 4th of July Celebration! This free event features food and refreshments, Magicians, Hot Dog Eating Contest, Apple Pie Bake Off, and much, much more. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: East Orlando Venue: Avalon Park Town Square Time Info: 5:30pm - 9:30pm Price Info: Free All-American Celebration in Celebration Celebrate this 4th of July just like they did in small town U.S.A. in days past. In addition to a great fireworks display, there will be plenty of food, fun and live music along the lakefront. The parade starts at 9:00am, so come on out and have a great time! Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Celebration Venue: Market Street at Celebration Time Info: 6:00pm - 10:00pm Price Info: Free Kissimmee July 4th Celebration The Kissimmee July 4th Celebration is one of the most popular annual events in Osceola County. This family event offers multiple entertainment stages, karaoke, food, arts & crafts, strolling entertainment, a water-ski show and, of course, a spectacular fireworks display at 9:00pm. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Kissimmee Venue: Kissimmee Lakefront Park Time Info: Noon - 10:00pm (9:00pm Fireworks) Price Info: Free 4th of July Block Party, Hot Rocket Fourth (Downtown Orlando) If you're going to be in downtown Orlando this Independence Day, do your partying at Wall Street Plaza. Wall Street features six bars and an outdoor main stage featuring live performances by Grand Funk RailRoad at 8:45-9:45 and Big 10-4 at 10:45pm. Admission is FREE. We'll keep the party going well after the Fireworks at the Fountain display finishes at Lake Eola. All ages until 10pm, then it is 21 and up. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Downtown Orlando Venue: Wall Street Plaza Time Info: 8:30pm - 2:00am Price Info: Free Red, White & Zoo Enjoy music, games, and food, while celebrating the Central Florida Zoo's 30th birthday on July 2nd, 3rd and 4th. With more than 300 exotic species, including the new Australian exhibit, featuring Kangaroos and Emus. Red, White & Zoo features live music on Saturday, and face-painting and games like Pin the Tail on the Elephant, Animal Bean Bag Toss, A Waterslide, a Mini train, and many animal demonstrations on all three days, its sure to be a blast for the whole family! Date(s): July 2, 3 & 4, 2005 Location: Sanford Venue: Central Florida Zoo Contact Email: information@centralfloridazoo.org Contact Phone: 407-323-4450 (ext. 149) Time Info: 9:00am to 5:00pm Price Info: Adults $8.95, Children 3-12 $4.95, Seniors $6.95, Zoo Members Free Sanford's 4th of July On The River Make plans to join the Celebration on Monday, July 4th from 5:00pm until 10:00pm at Ft. Mellon Park, along the Sanford RiverWalk, in the heart of Sanford. Live concert performances by Cactus Jack & the Cadillacs and The RedEye Express, enjoy great food and drinks. The kids will have a blast playing in the mega-fun All-American Kids Zone. Just after sundown, the sky will come alive with a spectacular 23-minute-long fireworks display, presented by the pyrotechnic experts at Zambelli Internationale, over beautiful Lake Monroe. The display will be simulcast on MAGIC 107.7FM. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Sanford Venue: Fort Mellon Park - Sanford Time Info: 5:00pm - Fireworks Show Approx. 9:00pm Price Info: Free Universal Orlando's Fourth of July Spectacle Be prepared for a Fourth of July Spectacle that really rocks as Florida's most anticipated fireworks display returns to Universal Orlando. The destination-wide celebration will light up the skies over Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios and CityWalk. Beginning at 9:50pm, this year's explosive show is the one July 4th tradition that cannot be missed! Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Universal/CityWalk Venue: Universal Orlando Resort Contact Phone: 407-824-4321 Time Info: Fireworks at 9:50pm, CityWalk Closes at 2:30am Price Info: Free (Preferred viewing area access $8.00) Sorcery in the Sky Guests at Disney-MGM Studios on July 4th will be treated to a very special fireworks show this year. Sorcery in the Sky is a dazzling fireworks show and symphonic serenade, celebrating the magic of motion pictures at 9:00pm. This pyrotechnic spectacular was the park's good-night kiss for years, following its premier in 1990 -- until the Disney entertainment wizards crafted Fantasmic!, which has been captivating guests most nights since 1998. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Disney Area Venue: Disney MGM Studios Contact Phone: 407-824-4321 Time Info: 9:00am - 10:00pm Price Info: $59.75 (adults), $48.00 (ages 3-9) Fantasy in the Sky Guests at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom on July 4th will be treated to a pyrotechnic spectacle rarely seen. Fantasy in the Sky, familiar to generations of Magic Kingdom visitors who oohed and ahhed its bursts of color above Cinderella Castle for more than a quarter century beginning in 1975, will be presented at 9:00pm in a special edition that includes extra dazzling pyrotechnics. Wishes fireworks spectacular replaced Fantasy in the Sky in 2003. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Disney Area Venue: Magic Kingdom Contact Phone: 407-824-4321 Time Info: 9:00am - 12:30am Price Info: $59.75 (adults), $48.00 (ages 3-9) IllumiNations on Independence Day Guest visiting Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort this 4th of July can celebrate their patriotism while enjoying the always-thrilling IllumiNations. The popular nighttime spectacular will be presented at 10:00pm, and features dancing flames, cascading fountains and eye-popping fireworks synchronized to a dramatic musical score that lights the skies and decorates the lagoon of Epcot World Showcase. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Disney Area Venue: Epcot Contact Phone: 407-824-4321 Time Info: 9:00am - 10:00pm Price Info: $59.75 (adults), $48.00 (ages 3-9) Olde Fashioned July 4th Celebration The Olde Fashioned July 4th Celebration takes place at Central Park in downtown Winter Park and features live patriotic music, the locally-famous 4th of July Bicycle Parade, a hot dog eating contest, horse drawn wagon rides, face painting, and tons more family fun. Date(s): July 4, 2005 Location: Winter Park Venue: Central Park - Winter Park Time Info: Starts at 9:00am Price Info: Free City of Winter Springs - Celebration of Freedom Join the community and citizens of The City of Winter Springs for our Celebration of Freedom Independence Day event. The good times get going at 5:00pm, Sunday, July 3rd at Central Winds Park in Winter Springs. The family-friendly festival features two stages of live entertainment, great foods, fun games and a fantastic Fireworks Display at approximately 9:00pm. Date(s): July 3, 2005 Location: Winter Springs Venue: Central Winds Park - Winter Springs Contact Phone: 407-327-6599 Time Info: 5:00pm - 10:00pm (Fireworks at approx 9:00pm) Price Info: Free If you know of any other Fourth of July events, please feel free to leave a comment below with the event information. Hope to see you here next time, Man About Town