This is part one of a two-part series entitled “Down on the Trail: The story of South Orange Blossom Trail“.
The stench in the air is soul-crushing.
The smell is a mix of people who have not showered in months, human feces, rotting garbage and car exhaust fumes. To make matters worse, it was 89 degrees on this day, which made the air even more toxic to breath. The scene around this place represents the worst aspects of human life. People walking around with a solemn, zombie-like look on there faces, prostitutes looking for their next “date”, drug addicts constantly on the search for their next hit, and homeless people in search of a place to sleep.
But everyday at 12:30 in the hot and sticky Central Florida afternoon, they come together and stand in line for a hot meal at the Roads Coffee House at the corner of South Orange Blossom Trail and 18th street in the community of Parramore, a once proud neighborhood that is now besieged with crime and drugs.
The Roads Coffee House is a non-profit soup kitchen that serves the down and out the roam this stretch of the Trail. Prostitutes, pimps, homeless and drug addicts can find a simple, hot meal, even if this is the only meal they will have for the day.
This is life on South Orange Blossom Trail.
This stretch of South Orange Blossom Trail (or what us locals call it, OBT) is a sun-baked four lane roadway pawn shops, used car lots, rundown corner stores and broken hopes. It is the home to the Orlando Citrus Bowl, where football fans from all over the country get a firsthand view of Orlando’s most polarised strip.
The Trail did not used to be this way.
South Orange Blossom Trail was Orange County’s original motel strip where families came to rest after a day of fun at the Magic Kingdom. But when Disney began to build resorts on it’s property and the International Drive resort area began to take shape, visitors began to turn their back on the Trail and the road began its decline into disrepair. In the 1980’s, the crack cocaine epidemic began to hit the Parramore area, and combined with the economic downfall that began when tourist found a better bargain near the theme parks, and the Trail has fallen to what it now looks like today, a crackled, disorganized slum in the shadows of the shiny office and condo towers of downtown Orlando.
There have been many attempts to revitalize the Trail. In 1997, the city of Orlando began to catch the wave of a hot real estate market, and there was suddenly a renewed interest in redeveloping the Parramore area of South Orange Blossom Trail. New businesses were applying for permits left and right and new building owners began to renovate dilapidated buildings. It certainly seemed like South Orange Blossom Trail was poised for a comeback.
But in 2006, the housing bubble exploded like a nuclear bomb, and the Trail was left in the dust again. In the years since, Orlando has experienced a rebirth. Tourist began to flock back to the area. The area surrounding the University of Central Florida has exploded with new stores and restaurants. Lake Nona, the pretentious upscale neighborhood, locked up the Nemours Childrens Hospital.
But what about the Trail?
The Trail looks the same as it has for the past 30 years, like a boxer that has taken too many punches to the head and can’t seem to get up. It is no wonder why a real estate company decided to advertise to buy ugly houses and commercial properties on the Trail. They would make a killing here. From an outside glance, at least half of the Trail in between Colonial Drive and Interstate 4 needs to meet the bulldozer.
But look a little deeper and you will see that there is still some of the old charm left here.
There is the barbershop, Hairvolution, on the corner of South OBT and Washington Street where Orlando Magic players such as Jameer Nelson and Darrell Armstrong came to get fresh before the game. There is Goff’s, where you can get the best tasting Sundaes and Shakes in the city. In the summertime, the small white building in front of the Citrus Bowl have lines wrapped around the building. It is truly the best kept secret in Central Florida.
This portion of the Trail is a neighborhood in search of a redemption. The residents and business owners who still believe will continue to wait for a break that may or may not come. Until then, the city will just have to take the Trail for what it is.
And hope that the stench in the air can clear up soon.