A Final Sip of Juice

Greg Dawson muses on his new journey.

I’m writing this from our home in Lakeland, which explains why it’s my final “Extra Pulp” column for Orlando magazine.

In April, I let Editor Barry Glenn know we were moving to Lakeland where our son Chris now lives at Noah’s Landing (noahsarkflorida.org), a remarkable new community for people with developmental disabilities. It takes a village of volunteers to make it work. My wife Candy started a reading club for the Noah’s residents, and I help with their bowling league and basketball.

I expected Barry to gently pull the plug on “Pulp,” which debuted in February 2013, on the sensible grounds that a column about Orlando should be written by someone who actually lives in Orlando. But Barry is such a mensch, he just wished us well and said nothing about the column.

So I thought, “Hey, I can do the column from here. I can read the Sentinel online, visit Orlando occasionally—virtually live there. I can do this thing.”

Uh, no. I soon realized that writing an Orlando column in absentia was not going to work. We were astounded at how rapidly Orlando disappeared in the rearview mirror—out of sight, out of mind. After two months in Lakeland, I reluctantly pulled the plug on “Pulp” myself.

The fact that we now live in a 55+ community comes as a great surprise to us—a joke on ourselves. In Orlando we lived in a lakeside community of singles, young couples, retirees, and families, alive with activity and the sound of children’s laughter. 

Watching this diverse world go by from the front porch with our little dog Pepsi, we wondered why anyone would choose to live in a “Stepford” senior community where everyone you see is a reminder of exactly how old you are. We swore we would never live in a place like that.

C’est la vie, say the old folks. It goes to show you never can tell.

Here’s the biggest surprise of all: We like it. After 27 years in the mouse race of Orlando, we didn’t realize how ready we were for slower and mellower. Also simpler—a return to basics (but we still have cable). We downsized from 2,200 to 1,400 square feet and ditched a bunch of stuff we didn’t want or need.

Our aim is to “Live Your 60s Like The ’60s ”—a phrase Candy coined to put on T-shirts to sell at Paul Simon and Eagles concerts and wherever boomers gather. She never got to the selling part because, well, we’re from the ’60s, which were about the journey not the destination.

Not everyone in the ’hood is a reminder of exactly how old we are. Many are older—think Matlock, the later years—some are younger and still working. “Mellower” does not mean comatose. The place has its own special vibe and vitality, with accents and stories from Boston and Long Island to the heartland. And with a certain age comes a certain delightful and unfiltered what-the-hell honesty. Hello, Miss Daisy.

Farewell, Orlando.

Farewell to the Enzian, the Timucua White House, Mad Cow, SunRail, Harvill’s produce, family doc Rob Gaynor, Pepsi doc Juan Patino, car doc Rick Eakins, hair docs Angie Kovach and Tammi Kerkow, A Gift for Teaching, walks at Greenwood Urban Wetlands, roofball at the Sentinel, Dandelion, Daybreak Diner, the funky art and fountain at Lake Eola, the wavy neon roofline of the Lynx station at night, the Edgewood Farmer’s Market and Ray Bagshaw, the best darn mayor in Orange County.

I leave behind some column ideas that never got done:

The proliferation of retail stores devoted entirely to olive oil.

Guerrilla graffiti artists who defied authorities to bring attitude and beauty to drab public spaces.

Exploring when and why builders started installing bathtubs with steep sides and no steps that are accidents waiting to happen unless you are a member of Cirque du Soleil. 

The homeless man run over while trying to retrieve a dollar bill blowing in the wind.

Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who for years sent personal, handwritten letters ever-so-politely inviting me to services in hopes of saving my soul. Little did they know that was a lost cause, but I was touched by their gentle earnestness, and saved all their letters.

It’s only 50 miles as the raven flies from Lakeland to Orlando. We’ll make trips to see friends, go to a Magic game, catch an indie flick at the Enzian that will never play in Lakeland. But this is home now.

Tomorrow morning I’ll read the Lakeland Ledger tossed in the driveway and enjoy the sounds of silence while having coffee and orange juice—without pulp. 

Categories: Column