Fave Fotos: A View of Orlando’s Lake Eola Park

Fave Fotos: A View of Orlando’s Lake Eola Park

Here is a foto I like especially. Lake Eola Park is probably the most recognizable spot in all of Orlando. It’s certainly a fave hang out for denizens of Central Florida of any age, shape or race. It’s  most definitely a “top ten” spot for people watching. A steady flow of walkers, joggers and moms pushing strollers. Beaming lovers, holding hands.

I love to take photos there. I love to take pix of birds. And tranquil nature scenes.

No shortage of birds of all kinds there. You can see plenty of ducks, swans, herons and Ibises.  For this nature-lovin’ dog, it’s like an afternoon at the zoo without paying an admission.

Plenty to like about Lake Eola Park. Big playground on the east side. Easy walking distance to all the cool shops and eateries in the Thornton Park area. The amphitheatre where I’ve seen a lot of free shows over the years. The Mindi Abair concert sponsored by WLOQ Radio back in the day–it doesn’t get any better than that!

So, back to the subject of photos, I’ve taken many shots at Lake Eola over the last 30 years or so. This one is a real favorite. I loves me some ducks! And any tranquility-promoting scenes from nature. Beautiful setting. Good photo. Wonderful memories.

It’s been too long. Heading back soon.

 

Photo credit Benjamin Lawrence Basile

 

Jeff Willey and Those Smokin’ Torps Are Killin’ It in Central Florida

Jeff Willey and Those Smokin’ Torps Are Killin’ It in Central Florida

Jeff and his top-flight band The Smokin’ Torpedoes are well-known to lovers of live music here in Central Florida. Jeff is very good at his craft. By that, I don’t mean only the musical side; he’s a very capable promoter and has shown over and over that he’s got the mojo to plan it, promote it, sing it and play it and I love to watch him do it. All of it.

I first met Jeff back in 2004 when ten or so blues-focused musicians and supporters met to talk about the blues music we love so well and explore ways to help the blues thrive in Central Florida. Those early days at Cafe Annie were so much fun. Here’s a minor miracle for you: the memories of some of those jams way back when are still very vivid in my fast-failing, whiskey-soaked brain today.

The upshot of all of that was the founding of the Orange Blossom Blues Society. The OBBS is still trying to carry on its mission to “Preserve, Promote and Present” the blues in our part of the Sunshine State. Being a part of that was an awesome thing. And still is.

One of the things that made that time so good and satisfying as I look back is that it’s how I met some of the local blues musicians and supporters who have become my good friends over the last twelve years. I will be posting soon with more about the effort to get the blues crowd in and around Orlando to link up and pull in the same direction. There were so many people who put their “time and treasure” into that effort. And the OBBS is still going strong twelve years later.

One other thing about our merry band of blusers here in Central Florida: The showcase event for the OBBS is the local or first round of the International Blues Competition and that is happening tomorrow, Sunday August 7th, beginning at 2 PM. Details here.

I had to mention the early days of the OBBS as that’s how my path crossed with Jeff’s originally. My main reason for putting together this more modest post is simply to spotlight Mr. Willey and those Smokin’ Torps who have played a large role in moving the Central Florida blues scene forward. The line up has changed, has changed more than once. Some of those Smokin’ Torps have come and gone. And come again. But their brand of authentic, classic, semi-laid back blues has been consistently good and has made them one of the best damn bands anywhere in Florida.

The Torps are an ambitious, hard-workin’ band. I follow their bookings and catch them playing out every chance I get. If you’d like to have a look at their calendar, just follow this link.

If you’re familiar with Jeff Willey and those Smokin’ Torps he fronts, you don’t need Ol’ Bulldog here to tell you how good they are. If you’re not familiar with them, you should be! Have a look at the calendar and catch one of their shows soon; you’ll be mighty glad you did.

 

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

 

Photo credit Benjamin Lawrence Basile

 

 

Orlando Brewing is a Hidden Gem in Orlando’s Sodo District

To this beer lover, Orlando Brewing is a truly unique establishment. Central Florida has its share of microbreweries, but none plowing the same ground, so to speak. You’ll find this low-key establishment in the southwestern corner of the downtown area, just west of ORMC and the other major hospitals. I love the intimate and somewhat-vintage feel of the place; nothing fancy here, just a smallish, local brewery with good craft brews and good staff. It is a real, working brewery, of course. I think of O.B. as a mid-sized, local brewery with a simple but cool pub built on the front end. It’s no surprise that you find it in a thoroughly industrial area. But that only adds to its charm.

Unlike some microbreweries, they don’t sell anything they don’t brew right there. If your tastes are fixed mostly on your typical American lagers and not so much on heartier beers, you may not be too enthusiastic about the place. But that’s what craft beers are all about. Orlando Brewing is like any other local, small-batch brewery. They’re all about making and marketing unique, hearty brands with lots of flavor and a big kick.

The place has a loyal following. I like how there’s always enough patronage to make it seem alive, but not so many folks that it’s impossible to find a seat and you end up shouting your order at the bartender.

They’ve thought up some amazing brand names for their products. Pompous Ass is, without a doubt, my favorite! If you can’t decide, the sampler is not a bad option; they set up four of their brands for you in sample-sized mugs at a decent price.

The fare in any microbrewery comes with a slightly higher price tag than the lagers a lot of us drink most of the time. But you’re paying for a hand-crafted brew, made right there in your neighborhood. That’s worth something. Which reminds me, be sure and ask for the brewery tour. Done it twice, loved it! I don’t think there’s a regular schedule for that, but they always seem very accommodating at Orlando Brewing.

There is outdoor seating. Bring your taste buds, your friends, and some cash. Don’t bring the kids. And you better use your GPS, it is a bit off the beaten path, literally and figuratively.

The Home Page for Orlando Brewing is as well-crafted as one of their beers. If you’d like to have a look at it, click on this.

A Dark Tale of 49 Murdered by Hate, revisited

The story of the slaughter of 49 partiers at Pulse has been told many times. By a thousand journos and bloggers. Orlando and her people are still coming to grips with what happened there in the early morning hours of June 12th; all the more so today as we’re exactly one month from this sad and shocking spectacle. The memorials still attract many people–from around Central Florida and all over the planet–on a daily basis.

Like so many of us with deep roots in this marvelous city, I’ve read a lot of the coverage. Every media outlet in the country has been all over this story, and they should. Because I worked part time in radio news way back in the day, I’ve always enjoyed critiquing the media and I must say that I think so many around here have done great work on this heart breakingly-awful story. WKMG, our local CBS affiliate is among them. I’ve been a loyal viewer for many years and think they’re showing the rest of us how it’s done.

The Orlando Sentinel has never shone more brightly. I say that as one who’s been reading their work for half a century; we go back to when The Sentinel landed in the driveway every morning and The Evening Sentinel-Star was tossed into the same spot mid-afternoon each week day. It was a welcome thing, back in the ’60s and ’70s, to have a paper to peruse after dinner.

Today’s article in The Sentinel about how our city and its people are doing a month after the tragedy is first-rate. To catch that, follow this link.

When I think about Pulse, I eschew thoughts of hate, trauma and death and instead focus the good times had with musical colleagues back in the ’90s when the club that would later become Pulse under the new owners was a well-known Italian eatery. Dante’s served up good Italian fare and liberal helpings of local music. Good times. If any of us could have had just a moment’s premonition of about what would one day happen in that place, it would have been world-altering.

In a previous blog posting here I said that if the shooter’s goal was to make our city cower in terror or turn on one another, he failed miserably. This community has never been more united. The messengers of hate who tried to kick Orlando when she was down have learned that this community thinks they’re really sick. Yeah, I’m speaking to you, Prosecutor Ken Lewis. Sorry, make that former-prosecutor Ken Lewis. Fits my concept of justice precisely.

We’re remembering and celebrating our brothers, sisters, children and friends who didn’t make it out alive. Praying for the survivors and doing what a community can do, in a material way, to help them move forward with their recoveries and their lives.

Watching that unfold is greatly consoling. Chronicling it for this community and the world is exemplary. As I take in the many stories carried by our local TV stations and The Sentinel 30 days down the road, I’m reminded of one more reason that Central Florida is an excellent place to live, thrive and survive, filled with many caring and generous people. The slogan #OrlandoStrong is not merely a feel-good phrase, it’s a statement that sums up well the true character of this community.

 

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

 

 

Driving, Recruiting, Training: A Taxi Career in a Changing Industry

Driving, Recruiting, Training: A Taxi Career in a Changing Industry

It was 1999 when I first got into the taxi business. I drove for a mid-sized company here in Central Florida. If you’re from around here, you’d no doubt recognize the name. The training was bad. Well, there was none. It’s not the easiest business to be in when you’re a newbie and it didn’t go well for me. I went back to slingin’ hash; I had had a long career as a waiter before deciding that taxi was a better way to go. It was a good and safe strategy to go back to something familiar, something I enjoyed and was very good at, but I still felt like driving a cab was “the next thing” for me in the career box of life.

After thinking about it for a few months, I decided to try it again, but this time I opted to go to the “big dog” in town to see if the result would be better. I landed at City Cab Co. of Orlando, a company that had been around since 1939, offered thorough training and knew how to be successful in the taxi biz. They had plenty of business over the phone, all the best parks and hotels, including the contract to service the taxi needs of Walt Disney World. And, yes, that proved beyond a doubt to be a better way to go. That’s an understatement. By the way, City Cab Company is the legal name, but Checker Cab, Yellow Cab and Winter Park Yellow Cab are all fleets operated by the same company all based out of the same location. Folks have often been confused by that.

A quick additional note about changes: those separate fleet names or brands will soon all give way to the Mears Taxi brand, but that could be the subject of a different post.

As the company evolved–way before my time–they jumped into shuttles, luxury sedans and became very big in the bus business too. Mears Transportation Group does pretty much anything and everything in the transportation business here in Central Florida, and do it well. I’ve now been associated with the company for 16 years. Just over seven years of that was driving cab, the rest has been in the department that recruits and trains new cab drivers. We also do a lot of administrative work, making sure that the drivers we have already have are up-to-date with driver permits from the city of Orlando, can still pass a vision test and are current with all contractual matters, especially after taking a hiatus from driving. In our industry, drivers are independent contractors, and the admin requirement do not stop once they’re on-board.

But our main focus in my department is getting new drivers contracted and ready to go; we recruit them, screen them, then train and motivate them and pass them on to our Operations Department. Some new drivers decide that our biz is not for them and they move on. Some, like me, take to it like a duck to water and go on to make a good living while enjoying a gig that’s quite literally like no other. I’ve got to say that driving a cab in Central Florida was, hands down, the best gig I’ve ever had.

There have been many changes in the transportation business in the last few years. In the cab business especially. Some of these changes are big. Game-changers, you might say. We who drive taxi or work in the business in administrative or support roles are feeling the changes. None of us can say with any certainty just where these changes are leading. But it’s big stuff. Ride sharing is a huge innovation, one that’s gone over well with people who use transportation services. Uber, Lyft and others have, and no doubt will continue, to change how people move from here to there. Speaking as an old-school “taxi guy” I want to acknowledge that many of us know that ride sharing could do to our industry what the internet did to newspapers. I don’t think that’s a “done deal” by any means but these 21st Century ways of going about our business are succeeding and the ramifications for those of us who’ve had success operating in the traditional way are huge.

I’m proud to be associated with a company that’s had impressive success over many, many years but that is keeping a close eye on the industry and how it’s changing and has put together a vision for how to embrace change and move with confidence into the future. I do not know what our industry will look like five or ten years from now. But I know that the qualities that have always helped a company and their people succeed will pretty much remain the same: having a good, well thought-out and adaptable business model; carefully selecting and thoroughly training your crew; supporting your workforce and giving them the tools they need to succeed; embracing changes in technology and ways to get things done and applying them in thoughtful and effective ways.

Changes. Challenges. They’re coming. Of that we can all be certain. Now as I toss out this pithy remark as my close, let me acknowledge that I need to hear and heed this advice probably more than most of you who might read it: the future belongs to those who will plan and prepare for it. I’m getting off line now so I can meditate a while on the weight and importance of that last sentence…YellowVan-movin-cropped-saturated-23523m

 

Hard to Beat Cecil’s Texas Style BBQ in O-town

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Cecil’s Texas Style BBQ is most definitely one of my favorite spots in south Orlando. I’m not the only devotee, the place is consistently packed at lunch-time. I’ve had just about everything they have to offer and have found their chow to be first-rate all the way.

The Chicken Dinner is a favorite, the meat is tender and the smoky flavor lingers well after you’ve finished your dinner. The only way they serve chicken is a “whole half”, so don’t ask for “pieces and parts!” This ain’t fast food! All dinners come with your choice of two sides. I especially recommend the black-eyed peas, the spicy pinto beans and the collards. If you like your ‘taters with a little zing, you’ll love their mashed potatoes; the addition of bits of jalapeno makes this one of the tastier offerings in the entire barbecue universe! Among the cold sides, my fave is the potato salad.

I’ve enjoyed the barbecue turkey and the pulled pork dinner over and over as well. I’ve nothing but good to say about these entrees. And the ribs are quite tasty; I’m pretty certain that Saturday night is still “All You Can Eat” for ribs but I haven’t gone that route in years. Not sure if my arteries can take that kind of thing anymore and my doctor would definitely blow a gasket!

Cecil’s recently added an appetizer. Try the bacon-wrapped, roasted, stuffed jalapenos. A bit salty, but you’ll be glad you tried ’em. I don’t care at all for Texas toast; it comes with any dinner selection. It’s not an issue with the house, I’ve just always hated the stuff. Being born in El Paso doesn’t help at all! I just wanted to warn you that you will not find the customary garlic toast finished on a grill. Your meal does include a soft-serve ice cream cone if you’d like some desert. The kids are all over that, of course.

The service is cafeteria-style and it suits the atmosphere perfectly. There are TV’s in all the right places, but you’ll not hear the audio as Mike, the owner, has opted for Country Music over the sound system instead. I’d rather hear George Strait than the talking heads on Cable News channels anyway. The dining room is rustic, styled like an outdoor patio space. A roll of paper towels at each booth is a nice and very practical touch.

One other sign that Cecil’s is the real deal: it’s a big-time hang-out for OPD and the Orange Co. Sheriff’s Department. The ‘cue is absolutely top-shelf and you’ll certainly never have to worry about security while dining at Cecil’s Texas Style BBQ!

You’ll find this gem of a restaurant on So. Orange Ave, just south of where Orange meets Michigan St. It’s across from the Publix and the Chik Fil-A. They do have have mild, sweet and hot barbecue sauces on the sauce/condiment bar, a decent selection of domestic beers and a very friendly staff. Prices are moderate, the sides are all freshly-made and are the talk of South Orlando. If you’ve never been to C.T.S. BBQ, get there soon. I promise you your first visit will not be your last!

 

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

 

Photo credit Benjamin Lawrence Basile

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.