I get that Orlando gets looked at as a bit of a joke sometimes. We’re this tacky tourist town run by Mickey Mouse full of bad drivers and everybody’s grandparents. We’re the land of lovebugs and cockroaches and gators and hurricanes. Our roads suck, our NBA team can’t hang on to a center, and it’s likely to be 90 degrees on top of everything.
But dammit, Orlando is my home. I’ve spent all but two of my years on this planet here. I know there’s life to the old town east of Disney. I know about Restaurant Row and the Milk District and Mills 50 and Religion Road. I’ve walked down Park Avenue and paddled down the Wekiva River. I’ve fed the peacocks on Genius Drive and the swans at Lake Eola. I’ve partied with Belgian and Irish World Cup fans. I’ve hunkered down through David and Charley. I’ve got my favorite bars and restaurants and book stores and comic book stores. Yes, I can admit we’re sometimes weird and sometimes bizarre, but that’s part of what makes me love this town.
And last night somebody hurt something I love.
No, I’m not gay. No, I don’t go clubbing. Neither of which matters. Those were my fellow Orlandoans who were hurt and killed last night. People who had their own places they loved, their little parts of Orlando they cherished. And who wanted to do nothing more but enjoy one of them with people who felt the same way. And who had no reason to expect they’d get shot for it. I’ve never met them, but I was them. And they were me.
Because the fact is all it would have taken was a slight shift of motivation for last night to have happened to any of us. The shooter could have chosen the downtown bars along Orange Avenue, or the tourist corridor of I-Drive, or one of the theme parks. One different decision, and fifty different families are having the worst Sunday imaginable today. That’s why, while most of us are unhurt, we still feel wounded.
In his first post-9/11 Daily Show, Jon Stewart talked about “why I grieve, but why I don’t despair.” Well, I look and see hundreds of people lining up to donate blood. Standing in the heat for hours in some cases. I see grocery stores delivering water to those in line. I saw one blood bank that had so many donors, they had to stop taking donations because they were completely out of supplies to do so. I see post after post on Facebook of people saddened but resolved. I see a city that took a punch, then decided it wasn’t going to just take it.
And I grieve, but I do not despair.
So yes, Orlando is silly. It’s gaudy and humid and schizophrenic. And it’s home. Watching us come together in the face of this tragedy, I’ve never been more proud to call it that.