Tragedy Strikes a Family at Disney World

On Tuesday, June 14th, two year old Lane Graves was wading in ankle-deep water at Disney’s flagship resort, The Grand Floridian, when he was attacked and dragged under by an alligator. Although his father was close by and tried to keep young Lane from being taken, his efforts were no match for a gator’s jaws. Mercifully, Lane’s body was recovered the next day.

The Graves family was visiting Central Florida from Nebraska on vacation and remained here for several days to make the arrangements for their son.

Lane’s funeral was held on the afternoon of June 21st. The service was limited to family and close friends.

A couple of observations about this mind-numbingly tragic event: although the loss of this precious child is first and foremost a tragedy  for the family, it rocked the Central Florida community as well, coming as it did, on the heals of the murder of singer Christina Grimmie and the attack at the Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando. These three hugely-traumatic events would have weighed very heavily on the heart of Orlando regardless of the “why and when” factors. But having them fall, as they did, in a period of only five days was a perfect storm of shock, incredulity and heart-break for people who call Orlando home. It’s hard to conceive. Honestly. I can’t think of anything remotely like this in my half-century plus of living here.

Having said that, our community began the process of healing from this “unholy trinity” of events pretty quickly. The journey toward healing will be much longer for the families of those who were lost.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for the Graves family. If you’d like to help, follow this link. Please note that if you’re reading this a few weeks down the road from this tragic event, that account may not be active at that time.

To see how you can help the victims and the families of the 102 who were gunned down in the Pulse attack, click here. Note that of the 102 who were shot, 49 didn’t make it. At this writing, two and a half weeks later, only six survivors remain at Orlando Regional Medical Center. One is still in critical condition. But a lot of those folks will be healing from their wounds for a very, very long time.

On the 9th of June, if an angel had come down from heaven and described the events that would soon be happening in Central Florida, none of us would have taken the celestial messenger seriously. Those who might have put some stock in the angel’s revelation could not be blamed if they had taken the first flight out. But much to the credit of our people, this community has risen up and done great things to support the survivors, their families and the ones whose lives were lost. I hasten to add that much love and support has flooded in from places way beyond our part of the world. Like the love and unity which seemed to be everywhere in the aftermath of 9/11, these “warm, fuzzy” thoughts and behaviors will most likely wane as the shock and grief lessen. But the love and unity I’ve seen all around Central Florida in the last two weeks has been extraordinary and I hope it lasts a while.

I Cor. 13:13  New Living Translation

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.

 

 

June 12th: The Pulse Massacre and its Aftermath

When Islamic extremist and first-class hater, Omar Mateen, walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando’s Sodo district he was carrying a variant of the AR-15 assault rifle and a 9mm semiautomatic handgun. And a smart phone. With the two weapons he murdered 49 club patrons and with the smart phone he repeatedly checked to see if news of his hateful slaughter was trending on the internet. Truly a massacre for the digital age.

This was, as you surely know, the worst mass shooting in American history and so much has already been written about it. And will be written about it. By media in Central Florida, all over the U.S. and, quite literally, all over the world. Even without delving into that nauseating social media aspect of this, it was a singular event in America’s history; it was our only mass shooting that was both an obvious act of terror and a clear-cut hate crime. Side note here: to those who think it was only the latter but not the former, I say:  you’re blinded by your hate and homophobia. Try dropping your leather-bound, King James assault Bibles and begin your slow trek away from slavish obedience to the Levitical cult and toward the 21st Century. Do it. You’ll thank me later.

Many of us who live in Orlando followed the events in real time and were shocked to see it all unfold. Shocked, but not surprised, as that saying goes. I’ve lived in Orlando for all but a few years since 1961 and I’ve made my living directly or indirectly from the visitors who come here from every corner of the globe since my first waiter’s gig in 1977. Tourism is our lifeblood. And many of us have always dreaded the possibility that some day some murderous punk–or punks–would visit our tropical paradise and shoot, stab or blow up people and things, shocking and horrifying the world and making even the idea of coming back to this formerly-blissful place too awful to contemplate.

I’m not at all minimizing the human cost of Mr. Mateen’s savage and obscene act; the 102 people who were cut down at Pulse–49 of whom died–should never be thought of as bit players in a larger story about theme parks and tourist dollars. But because so many journalists and reporters have done excellent work covering that primary aspect of the attack, I feel it’s not inappropriate to make some brief observations about some of the ramifications for our part of Florida. We’re a bit more than two weeks from this sad, shocking spasm of hate and I want to focus on some takeaways about the events of June 12th for those of us who call Orlando home but were, mercifully, not caught in a madman’s sights that morning.

Because the scum-of-the-earth perp had his ticket punched by OPD’s SWAT Team, we’ll never know exactly what motivated him, or whether he chose the world’s premier vacation spot with some kind of specific intent. Meaning choosing Orlando to purposefully spoil this idyllic getaway spot for vacationers  in the way that Bin Laden wanted to shock the world by thrusting a dagger deep into America’s financial heart and its seat of government. He did choose the September 11th targets in a purposeful and effective way. A plan that was purposeful, effective and evil. Very evil.

I don’t know if that was actually a part his sick terror plan in the lead-up to this attack. What I do know is that if he was hoping to strike a death-blow to our city and our region, he failed miserably.

The way Orlando has come together in the aftermath of this carnage is truly amazing. I love Central Florida and have known for more than half a century that it’s filled with some real first-rate examples of humanity. But even so, I’ve been surprised and taken aback–in a good way–with the ways in which our community, the nation and, yes, the world have responded to the tragedy of that morning’s events and rallied around our part of the Sunshine State.

The lives of Mr. Mateen’s victims have been thoroughly celebrated in the days which have followed the attack. Some of our local news outlets have really emphasized that aspect of the event and greatly humanized some people who did not get out of Pulse alive for those of us who did not know them. Many local media outlets have done fine work in that regard. Stations WKMG and WFTV led the way and the Orlando Sentinel produced truly excellent coverage all throughout this incredible and gut-wrenching saga. And they still are.

Those of us who are directly involved in the hospitality industry–as were many of the Pulse victims–have seen absolutely no sign that any of the thousands and thousands of folks, both in the U.S. and beyond who enjoy coming here are being cowed into staying away. I have seen, read and viewed many features and articles from so many sources which lead me to believe just the opposite.

We grieve for the victims of the Pulse rampage. And we honor them by moving forward with our lives and with our corporate life in this community. We honor them by refusing to be bullied, intimidated and terrorized.

It’s been said–not a few times–that Orlando will never be the same in the aftermath of this sad chapter in our history. That’s true. But around that intensely sad and shocking story, a greater story of community-building and transcendent love is being written. It’s a wonderful thing and one more bit of evidence that Orlando is an extraordinary place and her people care about one another in an extraordinary way. To see this so clearly only a few days down the road is nearly-miraculous and an invitation to move forward. To move forward together, carrying in our grieving yet hopeful hearts the memories of those lost and the determination that their deaths will not have been in vain. #OrlandoStrong

 

 

The Death of Singer Christina Grimmie

Rising star Christina Grimmie made a name for herself after her run on NBC’s The Voice back in 2014, though she was not a new performer at that time by any means. Her murder at The Plaza Live was shocking and although she was not an artist that I follow, it was chilling to read the news the next morning, as I have been in that Orlando landmark many times; it was one of the venues where many of us in the blues community have played or shown up to support one another or have gone to see nationally-known acts. It was inconceivable that an artist would be shot dead there by an obsessed fan, but that’s exactly what happened.

Because there are thousands upon thousands of places on the net that tell every detail of that sad story, I’ll not rehash the killing. But this piece in Rolling Stone treats the story with a wide-angle lens, talking about that zone where social media, super-stardom,  and obsession meet and what that means for artists and fans.

This is not to down-play in any way the shock and mind-numbing grief that must have ripped through the hearts of her family, friends and fans. But an even crazier and more shocking event was about to play out in Orlando. Our community, the Nation and even the world have been fixated on the this bizarre and heart-breaking story: the massacre of 49 people at Pulse, a nightclub on Orlando’s south side.

Orlando’s very, very tragic week

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard about the incredibly tragic events here in Orlando over the last week. There’s been non-stop coverage of all three events, not by local media only, but the big boys have been all over it too. CNN and the New York Times, among many others. And when you think back over the week’s events, it’s not hard to see why.

First, singer Christina Grimmie was shot dead in an autograph session at the Plaza Theater on Friday, June 10th. Then, barely 24 hours later home-grown terrorist and homophobe Omar Mateen cut loose with a torrent of death that claimed 49 innocent lives and injured 53 others. And then on Tuesday night, Lane Graves, a two year old boy visiting from Nebraska, was dragged under and drowned by an alligator at Disney’s flagship resort. An incredible week, to say the least, and one we who call Orlando home will never forget.

In the next three posts, I’m going to have more to say about these three truly tragic events. At this moment, I just want to point out-though it’s been done countless times in the last ten days-that this is probably more cruelty, shock, sadness and sorrow than has been visited on any single American city in such a short span of time in our century. If that sounds like hyperbole, it’s not. What a week it’s been! I hope no community here in the U.S. or anywhere else on the planet, ever has to deal with this improbable mix of insanity, hatred and ill fortune in a six day span. Heaven help us.

 

Bulldog Ben blows bad, blue notes

Have enjoyed singin’ and playin’ the blues here in Central Florida for the last 21 years. Not quite as active these days, but have some good plans lined up for the short-term future. To see my music page on the world-wide web and sample four cuts from my 1997 CD Mean Ol’ Frisco click here. Many thanks to guitarist Les Canney and musical and tech wizard Jeff Walker. No better musicians to work with.ben-w-chro-harp-darker-cropped-52345987d