Odds ... and ends
Four score and seven million years ago (OK, like a decade), in some front-of-the-book whimsy fit, Orlando Weekly decided to condense its seven-day news-blotter blurbathon into a thing with a voice and a hangover. The aggregation of said news ruminations – generally reported, but often spat upon at the same time – comprised what would come to be known as the eyeroll destination we know as Happytown™ (at some point that "™" was dropped, though, because of the statute of limitations on dumb keyboard moves), a weekly reader that rivaled Cosmopolitan for its breadth of political coverage and stature, er, satire. Sure, there were various iterations, some involving multiple voices (that was the plan), but it ended up being this writer's weekly note to Orlando and its surrounding communities, dear diary, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
I beg of you, where else would you have read the conjured fantasies about former House Speaker Will Weatherford drifting into my personal Penthouse Forum fumes, or seen Sen. Marco Rubio as a bold unicorn because he hates gay people and his people and all people (overstatement!), or read about every amazing protest put on by amazing people in this town even when nobody else seemed to care? Where else would you have shared a sort of teen-magazine glee while talking about redistricting lawsuits, Medicaid expansion, lying mayors and the lying commissioners who lie with them? Where else?
Today, Happytown is being put to rest, along with its current writer's career at the Orlando Weekly. We know, we know: This isn't the first time we've faked this rodeo. But it is the first real time that we've closed it down with our boots still on and blisters still bleeding – as has previously been reported, I am moving on to LGBT publication Watermark to assume the role of editor-in-chief on June 22. In a manner befitting only this particularly bleached exit, the past two weeks have involved a sit-down conversation with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer ("My Buddy and me," June 10) and a terrible speech from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts (cough).
"Without question, we're prepared to take our place on the world stage, and we are poised for long-term success," Jacobs bleated on June 12. "Let's keep today's energy and momentum going by investing in our future, and by growing our awesome Orange County culture, a culture of collaboration, a culture of caring, and a culture of creativity and innovation. May God bless each of you, and may God bless Orange County. Thank you!"
Then, a full Mary Lou Retton dismount. Good for you, mayor. Good for you.
Except things aren't really that good, and everybody knows it. The entirety of Parramore has virtually been pawned to developers or subject to eminent domain, there is still no viable retail in downtown Orlando, the neighborhoods of Orlando continue to cower beneath the spotlight of downtown developments, bad players continue to run the show, the boybands are gone (!), SunRail is a Soul Asylum song ("Runaway Train," fact fans) lacking ridership, the Orlando Magic don't really win games anymore and the police are kicking people.
When I first started contributing to the column, it was almost inevitable that I would be the last blurb on the page, the last thought, the mint on the pillow that described a garden tour in Lake Eola Heights. Not Necessarily the News, so to speak. Prior to that, we can say now without any measure of guilt, it came with a hint of punditry laced with braggadocio – a sort of masculine chest-pounding that still seems alive today.
"It was a fine column, lovingly crafted by the most diligent journalists the city had ever seen," former Weekly news editor Jeffrey C. Billman says. "And then we left and bequeathed it to you, and the whole thing went to shit."
"It was journalistically impeccable and then it turned into a Billy Manes dog-and-pony show," former Weekly editor-in-chief Bob Whitby, who created the column, says, adding that he doesn't quite remember why he made it, though. We reached him in his crypt somewhere in the Midwest.
"I don't remember. I was really drunk at the time. I don't remember," he exhumes.
But it worked. Even in the humble hands of yours truly, stinks were caused, hackles were raised, accolades were offered, recriminations issued. That one time former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin came in and tried to call us (me, little gay me) a sexist who hated people who dyed their hair? We'll hold onto that one forever. The numerous occasions during which the news staff was asked to "rate the protest" to the beardy disenchantment of all of those we pursued? Golden. The ups and the downs; the times we were arrested and then awarded; the friendships and the family. These are the yellowed pages we'll press in our scrapbooks.
As for us – well, me – I couldn't have begged for a better gig than being at the helm of Happytown and in the brigs of the Weekly. For reasons too numerous to count and too emotional to explain (again), I really just came to this page in this issue to say "thank you" to everyone who has believed in me, this paper and this column. In the words of Mary Tyler Moore:
"Well I just wanted you to know that sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me. And I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with, and not my family. And last night I thought, 'What is a family anyway?' They're just people who make you feel less alone and really loved. And that's what you've done for me. Thank you for being my family."
It's a long way to Tipperary.