n Google Maps, look up “Colonial Photo & Hobby” (in Orlando). The street it’s on (on the east face) is 17-92, or Mills Avenue.
On a day too cold to ride a bike, I put on my walking shoes and my floppy hat and walked a section of it- I had an errand to run (north of there) and something to get at that hobby shop. Also, there is coffee on the return trip (Frameworks, on 17-92 and Lake Highland, about a mile north). So I had to walk down and then back up 17-92.
First off, it’s pretty much a tenderloin district. The only people walking were a couple of bums and a hostile-looking guy I passed twice. Lots of small hole-in-the-wall shops, tattoo places, palm readers, questionable attorneys. Some of the businesses are in small houses that were probably there when it was two lanes only (with front yards). As the city boomed (in the post-war fifties, with the coming of AC) 17-92 was widened to four lanes and street parking.
As far as a high street goes, it’s an ugly slash of concrete, grit and litter. As one conservative writer noted on talking about soldiers who die for their country, he said something like, “Dying for what? A concrete sidewalk between curb cuts for Target and Chuckee Cheese?” He was talking about this sort of place.
But as I walked, my writer’s eyes rolled into place. In the old, shabby houses, one could see the pride with which they were built, the care with which the architecture was considered back when houses were individual efforts and not mass-produced ticky-tacky sprawl of today. And the shops, all individual, all different. One had tile work of a bear in a mountain stream. Some were low and art deco, some were solid and businesslike. My favorite is the building Track Shack is in – the roof has a ship’s funnel and running lights – I suppose boats were once sold there.
I wandered along, seeing the street in historical context, the wild mish-mash of various eras, the 30s, 40s, 50s, along with some new builds. And the old houses where children in the 20s might have played along a tree-lined street. Of course, all of that is gone but in the haze of history, I could see it. It’s like seeing an elderly person and ponder what loves, adventures and despairs they suffered in their long lives.
It’s hard to imagine what this street might become as we move into eras of self-driving electric cars and online shopping. Will it be reborn (as was Corrine Drive and its shops, now a trendy place to hang out)? Or will it be razed and something different and seemingly impossible placed along this route? Hard to say. I can only see hints of the past. The future is more difficult.
I eventually made it to the coffee shop. Sitting in the picture window, looking out at the evolving streetscape, my copy of “John Carter on Mars” upopened on the table before me (written in the early 1900s, when this road was probably rutted dirt or maybe brick), and looked at my beginner’s mind, seeing it fresh, without the haze of distraction.
And interesting place, as are most places, when you really look with full attention.
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