The Black Politico

Orlando politics and more -- from a black perspective

From Columnist to Columnist

On last Friday, two of my friends and I, clicked the link to Scott Maxwell’s column about ’10 people in Orlando who are making the city a better place.’

I loved it.

My mouthy friend had already skimmed to the bottom of the article and said, ‘oh, is that the guy that called you and other women racist, woman-hating names?’ She was referring to a man who many of us know will slay women personally on social media with the most degrading and disgusting comments he can think of, if some disagree with his position. I read further, identified his name and said, “OMG yes!”

For the sake of this commentary, let’s refer to this person as “the guy.”
My friend said, ‘how in the hell is he making Orlando better when he can’t control his mouth, fires off racist and mysogynist remarks and has a history of assault on women?’ She was bending back her fingers one-by-one as if she was counting as she blurted out each “charge.” I agreed with her.

She was fire-hot-mad. Frankly, so was I. Yet, no part of me thought Maxwell knew about “the guy’s” rants and history.

So, I sent Maxwell a direct message on Facebook telling him I loved his column but there’s one name in there that makes me cringe and I cited why and sent proof. I guess I’ve read Maxwell’s columns enough to feel comfortable saying that. I was so wrong.

For the record, Maxwell did not cite him as one of the top 10 people, but he hinted at “the guy” being close to it, because he said some people had floated “the guy’s” name around as being a good candidate and that the Orlando Sentinel had covered some positive attempts at community issues or events in which “the guy” was involved.

Why am I ranting about all this? Stay with me. I’m getting there.

“The guy” I’m referring to used some of the worst names you can call a Black or Brown woman. To me, the name-calling he used was equivalent to calling a Black person the n-word and “the guy,” well, he’d pour salt in the wound by adding a touch of mysogynist verbiage to it to make sure those women, who didn’t agree with him, felt the sting.

For the record, the n-word and other remarks, including a word that degrades women, is what recently led to the resignation of Florida Senator, Frank Artiles further proving that words matter.

In addition, “the guy” has a history of physically abusing women, although the charges were dropped according to what Scott Maxwell wrote back.
When I put this in my direct message to Maxwell, we instantly started chatting back and forth, but it then led to a reaction I never saw coming.

He thanked me for my kind words about his column but immediately defended the abuser or “the guy” in this case, by saying they ran a background check after I sent him what I thought and that the alleged physical assault happened in 2005 and those charges were dropped. I didn’t know what year the assault happened but Maxwell checked me on it. However, the year still really didn’t matter to me; the assaults did.

Maxwell messaged me this: “I usually take issue with people who try to use dropped charges against candidates – or anyone really … especially as it is a tactic that disproportionately affects minorities and lower income folks. I understand you don’t care for him. And I appreciate background. But I’m also trying to live by standards i try to demand form (from) others.”

My jaw hit the floor. “Take issue?” I had a look on face as if I were a kid in the backseat of a car that had just passed by a sewage dump. My friend said, “what’d he say?” I said, “nothing.”

Scott Maxwell is one of my favorite columnists. He was a Jeopardy question for crying out loud. He’s a journalist’s hero or heroes.

Initially, I felt small, embarrassed and ashamed to have told him about “the guy,” yet, pissed that he played the race card in a discussion to defend the abuser and hadn’t stopped short once of defending the victim. Let me say that another way. He defended the abuser by questioning the victim because she had dropped the charges, all the while sitting with screenshots of “the guy” calling Black women “negro bed-wenches”.

Stick a fork in me, because I am so done.

This blame victims. I have to believe it’s often not intentional, but the damage can be huge whether someone is saying it intentionally or not.

With all my personality (good or bad) and passion, I felt small because I told him information that should have been known prior to writing a story on the 10 best people and sideways mentioning someone who we all whisper about but rarely shout out about. It’s the exact same thing we do, to defend offenders while making victims feel so much smaller.

This is wrong.

The mentality is something I may never understand.
I know people change their lives and try to become better, we all do, yet when an alleged crime happened by “the guy” in 2005 and women are still being attacked online by “the guy” just days ago, any reasonably sound person must ask themselves why highlight someone as a community leader who can’t control his emotions and feels this way about women?

But, Maxwell didn’t do that.

Instead, I got schooled on this happening to black people and middle income people.

My goal is not to bash Maxwell. My goal is to sound-off about what I’ve been writing about for weeks now. This is why so many victims don’t speak out. This is why victims drop charges against their abusers. This is why little things like words, matter.

How many people in Black & Brown communities drop charges on the abusers because they are afraid? Plenty do. How many remember Alex Zaldivar who was a witness to a crime and was set to testify and was murdered by the defendant? I’ve said this before and I’ll say it now, my first roommate in college was a victim. Her mother was murdered by a man she was dating and my roommate witnessed it, as a child. That man was incarcerated for a short time but then released because he had turned his life around.

My roommate would go back to her home city on the holidays and certain weekends and would run into her Mother’s killer in the grocery store, often. The damage that did to her family was immeasurable and I hope no one ever suffers like that. I am confident, many women who have been abused have dropped charges against their abuser at least once and I know I don’t need to remind you that some victims of domestic violence have been murdered.
The fact that my roommate’s Mother was a black woman makes me want to challenge the opposition that much more.

In the case of “the guy,” I don’t know if the victim dropped the charges or if the state dropped them, but the victim absolutely could have been terrified.

Let’s face it, in our politically correct world, no one really stands for victims. We give them the side-eye if they claim they’ve been wronged and I’ll never understand why many liberals are not standing up for the good, law-abiding, victims in the Central Florida community.

This exchange led me to think about the black man that was shot in the face by another black man on Easter Sunday. The murder was broadcasted live on Facebook. If that killer would have come out alive, many liberals would be fighting for him if he so much as said he’s changed his life for the better.

I understand we want to defend people who are black and have had run-ins with the law and claim to have changed their lives for the better. I get it. But, if they truly have changed, it should show in their behavior.

I challenge all of us to think about the victim on the receiving end of their actions, regardless of whether an attack physically happened in 2005 or just last week via an exchange of words on social media.

I figured, from columnist to columnist, Maxwell just didn’t know. There are issues in our communities we know must be addressed. We absolutely must recognize injustices and racial disparities. I don’t need that speech. Especially, not from a white guy. What I need is simple understanding of what the other side of the aisle thinks, feels, believes and knows to be truth.

Nina Simone once said, “I tell you what freedom is to me: no fear.” That’s what it means to me, too. I don’t want to fear a community that I love so deeply.

I’d rather raise-up those who are truly doing the best they can to respect and value us all. As Black women, we wear a lot of crowns and take a lot of crap from all sorts of people with all kinds of beliefs. The last thing we need is our own Brothers tearing us down and victims voices to be silent.

While some fight for offenders and offenders who have changed their lives, I am but one voice of many that will speak out also on behalf of victims to a point of no concern about whether it offends a violent offender. There are innocent people tied-up in our justice system and they should be the first group of people we fight to free. There are those who have non-violent offenses and we should fight for their freedom, too. I will, forever stand against those who are violent toward us, regardless of the color of their skin and with all due respect, I don’t need a lesson from a white man to teach me about the racial disparities that I know all too well.

Debate at Mt. Sinai ruffles feathers

The African American Council of Christian Clergy (AACCC) of Central Florida reached out to Senate, House of Representatives, Comptroller, State Attorney and Judicial candidates this election season to have what was first called a “meet and greet” by some. It then turned into a forum and then a action-packed debate. In the invitation, the AACCC stated, the organization is a council of multi-denominational congregations over a myriad of residential districts. “Each of the 60 congregations have been impacted by injustice and social sin,” stated the AACCC.

Stewart Moore of WESH Channel 2 helped to moderate the debate with Pastor Larry G. Mills of Mt. Sinai and President-Elect of the AACCC/Candidate for House of Representatives District 45, Kelvin Cobaris. Former Miss America Ericka Dunlap was scheduled to show but had a death in her family and was understandably absent.

The forum’s invitation stated, “We have the moral and civic duty to change politics and systems which create conditions that oppress the body of Christ. One of the ways we can do this is by voting locally, statewide and nationally for candidates that can act justly, love mercifully and walk humbly.”

Here’s where feathers were ruffled.

This forum was put on by a 501(c)3 organization and was not neutral. Regardless of the time being shortened for some candidates and lead-in questions being asked to help certain candidates by moderators, the truth was found solidly in the incumbents. Candidates have the opportunity to say all they want about the hope and change they wish to see. They aren’t in office, yet so what they may say sounds good, preachy and right. Wrong. Some of them didn’t even appear to know how to do the job they were fighting so hard to get while others were banking on winning the election on one issue only.

However, incumbents are the ones who can truly tell you what shape our government is in and many of them that were on that stage know how to fix it. Let’s be clear, government is no place for on-the-job training. It’s ok if you’re a community organizer and activist and you want to ignite change but before you compare yourself to President Obama remember that he had a Law Degree and was a Senator at the time he worked his way up to the Presidency.

Incumbent Democratic State Representative Bruce Antone spoke candidly about his accomplishments in the House of Representative and his ability to pass legislation and secure major funding for projects and organizations in District 46, the largely urban and inner city district he represents in the Florda House of Representatives. So, let’s be clear. The incumbent in the District 46 race is far more experienced than his opponent. As I sat in the audience and listened to the debate between the candidates for Comptroller, I heard a woman next to me ask, “what is a comptroller?” Now, I’m not judging her at all. Many don’t know what a Comptroller is and many people work two sometimes three jobs in our community so they are not as in-tune with politics as you and I. But, if you don’t know what a Comptroller is, it’s time to jump off Facebook, whip out Google and start clicking buttons to see what impact that office has on your life and most of all, the finances of where we live.

What’s near and dear to me is the State Attorney’s race. This race is important because most people don’t know what a State Attorney does. Our State Attorney, Jeff Ashton, is a prosecutor. He is not our defense attorney.

He is supposed to put people in jail. But our State Attorney just so happens to be an advocate for us as well. He is our advocate for crime happening in our community. He prosecutes people for wrongdoing. He’s also changed the game, so to speak, so that children who make mistakes don’t go to jail or prison as they once did. He put to use a Civil Citations program so our young black and brown children can be without those records following them for the rest of their lives. I’ve said this time and time again. I had a friend who was murdered here in Orlando and to this day, we don’t know who killed him. We will never feel the justice many get seeing the person who harmed their loved one put behind bars.

As a people, we don’t quite understand, collectively, what we have in the State Attorney that is sitting in that seat now because we won’t look past the color of his skin. Before you call me biased, call him brilliant. Call him fair. And call him much better than that last guy. Please, open your mind to the information I’m about to put before you.

The previous State Attorney ran an office that I believe to be racially unjust. The number of attorneys of color were few. Since Jeff Ashton has taken over, the diversity in that office has now increased to well over 10% and now there are attorneys that are Black, Latino, Muslim, Asian trying cases alongside their White colleagues. The website is also translated in French so that our Haitian brothers and sisters can get the information they need as well as they are a significant part of our community.

What bothered me in the debate was the lack of factual information given by the opponent. The State Attorney’s opponent had the audacity to insinuate the lack of color in that office. She worked there under Jeff Ashton for two years and was promoted twice according to her own words. She was a product of his ambition to hire attorneys of color. But now, she’s been recruited and funded by the Vose’s, a white male Republican who worked for and helped propel the racially biased office before Jeff Ashton took office. And let me not forget to say this Bill Vose guy “just so”  happens to be a write-in candidate in this race. Let me explain why that’s a problem.

With the opponent in this race’s blessing, Vose put himself in the race to close the primaries. Because of that only Democrats can now vote in the election. This was done so Jeff Ashton’s opponent could fair better in this race. Talk about disenfranchising all voters! And if anyone tells you otherwise, including your Pastor, tell him to dig deeper and to stick to the good word in the Bible, because a biased church shouldn’t be so deeply involved in such a process.

Ashton is a Democrat and has fought hard to put together a team of people that represent this community. As an attorney in this community, his opponent is funded by Republicans, a group who is trying to take over the Black Lives Matter movement from young black people and his opponent was less than truthful in her “sermon” at the debate and forced her way into the minds of people who should just dig a little deeper and ask a few more questions than they ever have before.

Our community is being lied to and cheated and regardless of the color of someone’s skin that should never, ever happen.

One lady stood up and said Jeff Ashton sent her to prison for 15 years for driving a getaway car that “hurt somebody”. Wrong. The victim in that case was killed. She set up a good man, a black man, to be robbed and he was shot multiple times and died. That was a murder, not a wound as she initially tried to phrase it. In addition, she agreed to a plea of 15 years. Jeff Ashton didn’t “put” her anywhere. She did that to herself.

All I ask is that we ask the deep questions and come to the table with an open mind and open heart to be able to receive the information that is before us.

Lastly, I was approached by Representative Bruce Antone’s opponent weeks ago at a meeting. She attacked me with words, because I mentioned she had an endorsement from her Pastor Derrick McCrae. It was true. She did have an endorsement from her Pastor. And, my God it’s only Facebook!  I didn’t have a dog in that fight. I can’t imagine voting for and sending someone to Tallahassee to represent me who attacks constituents and voters because they may disagree with them.

My point is to be sure you ask the right questions that will lead to the best vote that you can make this season. Putting people in office that have little to no experience doesn’t help us. As for the State Attorney’s race, mark my words, if that office goes backwards to the way it was before, simply by using a person with a good sermon and black skin to do the dirty work of those who dogged us before, we can kiss our advances forward, a great big “goodbye”.

Why Excessive Force Cases and the OPD Citizens Review Board Matter to the Black Community

In a candidate roundtable discussion at New Covenant Baptist Church last week in Orlando, I asked the State Attorney Jeff Ashton’s opponent what she did when she sat on the Orlando Police Department’s Citizens Review Board. “What 23 excessive force cases? I don’t know anything about 23 excessive force cases. What years are you referring to? What cases,” she asked? She continued, “If you can provide me with the cases, I’d be more than happy to tell you what I did!” She was obviously heated that I asked.

I can tell you what she did. Nothing.

She sat silent. Not just on the 23 excessive force cases because she said she wasn’t on the board during that time, but said she did serve during 2005 and 2006. I can’t find any records that shows she served during that time frame. When she sat on the board, she did nothing about the excessive force cases that came across her desk. Even if she wasn’t on the board during the time of the 23 excessive force cases, wouldn’t she know about those cases even as a local attorney? Well, she said she didn’t. I sat glazed over wondering what county she was intending to serve. Was it Seminole? Osceola and Orange? If so, she had no clue. These incidents were filed against the City police not the Sheriff’s department, which serves the county.

She went on to explain what the review board did, which was not clear and then was bailed out by someone helping to answer the question posed.
I asked again, “What did you do, when those cases came across your desk?” I didn’t think I was asking a question that would stump someone running for State Attorney. Especially, not someone running against a powerful State Attorney that has national recognition with introducing DNA into the courts and a co-prosecutor on the Casey Anthony trial. From Ashton’s opponent, I got an Earth, Wind and Fire song and dance but no answer.

Shortly after I moved to Orlando a very close friend was gunned down and killed in Washington Shores. To this day, we have no clue who did it. Not many in the community spoke about it. Joel was a graduate of FAMU, not into any “bad business” and worked full-time at Disney and part-time at a small business in Washington Shores. He was picking up his paycheck.
To our family, he was one of our very best friends and was my husband’s best friend.

I remember when we received the call. I was mopping the floor and a friend of ours called us and asked to speak with my husband. “He’s busy,” I said. “It’s important,” our friend responded. I knew right then it was more than I could handle. I made sure my husband took the call and while he spoke quietly in the other room I mopped the same tile over and over again knowing in just a few minutes he’d come out and tell me something I didn’t want to hear. I could feel how tense it was. Something was seriously wrong.

He broke the news. I cried for so long, I can’t remember when I stopped crying. I remember the windows were open, we’d just bought our first home and I couldn’t stop sobbing. I was afraid the neighbors would hear me and wonder exactly what kind of neighbors we would be. So loud and emotional and we had just moved in.

Who took Joel from us? Was it a gang initiation, being caught in the cross-fire of a gun battle or could it have been excessive force? We still don’t know. However, what the murder did was make me more curious about the justice and political system. I never wanted anyone to feel the kind of hurt I felt when I found out Joel died.

So, when I asked the question, “What did you do on the OPD Citizens Review Board,” I wanted an answer as a citizen, a supporter of her opponent and as a journalist, so that I could come back and tell you in this piece. I didn’t ask her for the latest rendition of some tribal song and dance that tops the Billboard charts. I didn’t ask for the attitude she delivered. I wanted an answer and I didn’t want that answer just for Joel. I wanted it for every single person that really believes they are a victim of police brutality and for those of us who are curious as to what happened to those that passed away in police custody or with police nearby.

Now, I’ll backtrack and tell you what State Attorney Jeff Ashton did. After a thorough investigation, Ashton, made sure those OPD officers were indicted and prosecuted just about all of them. He didn’t go on a witch hunt for officers just because they wore blue he put it before a Grand Jury and sided with the truth. He didn’t back down. He didn’t put all officers in one category and hold them all responsible for another officer’s actions. He did what a good State Attorney should do. And Aston didn’t sit on the board.

The OPD Citizens Review Board is made up of community activists, citizens and appointed professionals in the community. This board is to review cases of police brutality or excessive force and make a recommendation about whether or not the cases should move forward or be thrown out.

We have the OPD Citizens Review Board because without a true, properly functioning board, the voice of those who very well could be beaten or unjustly attacked or stopped by police goes unheard. According to my research, Ashton’s opponent MAY have served two months on the board as chair.

Without the board, it’s the officer’s word versus the citizen’s word and quite frankly that’s not fair to either the officer or the alleged victim. If the chair of the board is silent, you’d better believe you’ll see more and more cases of police brutality hit the press and then go absolutely no where. Who was that chair? Ashton’s opponent was not only on the board but was the chair of the board.

Some attorney’s are voices for that opponent. But read on…the attorneys that hit the streets with bullhorns claiming to fight for justice are fighting for paychecks. They are fighting to get you hyped-up so you can turn their case into a media monster, while they garner national exposure, rake in additional clients and settle those cases so close to your heart for dollars rather than time behind bars for those offenders. That’s their goal. To get you to do their job. Hey, maybe that’s ok for some, but it’s not good enough for me around election time.  Look at their win/loss records. Furthermore, look at the law and if our legislators are not doing their jobs, vote them out.

As for Ashton’s opponent, she’s not ready, yet. Her time may come, but this is not it. We need someone level-headed enough to be able to fight for what’s right without being offended by questions that matter most to the community and he’s sitting in the seat already.

I was then asked thereafter whether or not I would support a black woman over a white man. I immediately said, I’d listen to the black woman, of course. She’s black and she’s a woman. I’m black and I’m a woman, so yes, I sat and I listened. I didn’t like what I heard but some of that I’ll save for another day. I refuse to rally behind anyone I have not seen fighting in the black and brown communities for the betterment of our community. I’d much rather fight for the candidate who listens and is unafraid and unapologetic about getting justice for those of us who so desperately need it. As a community, we must move forward in our thinking.

Being black doesn’t make us experienced in the law. Experience makes us experienced. We need to be careful of who and what’s behind any candidate that runs for office. Transparency is what’s needed and with Ashton we have that. When you don’t have that, you’re not confident enough to push through the elements of justice that will truly help the community combat the issues that plague, change and even all too often take the lives of our brothers and sisters.

The Top 5 Races to Watch in Central Florida

On a national scale, there’s no question this election season will be exciting. Along the spectrum, it could be interesting and even possibly depressing, for some.

With Donald Trump being the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the silent majority has spoken so far and they apparently agree with Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-Women rhetoric. As for Black people, well, he has Black friends and his daughter is married to a Jewish man.

The previous sentence was written with the most sarcasm I could possibly put into words.

That’s about as much as we know about Trump’s views on how he personally and professionally feels about people of color and that’s plenty. Besides the soon-to-be bland Presidential general race, we have local races that can directly change communities of color and hopefully reshape the United States Senate. Yes, that drag of a Senate that refuses to not even so much as grant a hearing for President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

Closer to home, we need serious change in Central Florida’s Black and Brown communities and it doesn’t only come with a change in current elected and appointed officials. All races are important, however, the top 5 races to watch closely will indeed shape the next 2-4 years of Black and Brown life in Central Florida if we choose wisely.

 

  1. State Attorney: The State Attorney’s race is indeed shaping up to be both exciting and interesting as current State Attorney, Jeff Ashton, is challenged by his former employee, Aramis Ayala. Both are Democrats. While Ashton is still favored in the race, he won with an estimated 47% of the Black vote and 42% of the Latino vote. Ayala is Black and her husband is Latino which leads some to assume Ayala could have a real shot at this office based on the demographics. However, that is an assumption that all people of color vote for people of color and that’s not accurate. While it’s not impossible, it is hard to be an incumbent. Ashton is not only known for his role in the Casey Anthony trial but, quite frankly, he’s a brilliant attorney even outside of that one case. He was the first attorney to earn a conviction by introducing DNA as evidence in 1987. Ashton is favored by many because he’s more experienced and has a strong track record. He ran a successful campaign against Lawson Lamar calling out most of the things that Black and Brown people hold near and dear. Especially, the “improper” prison sentences Lamar was known for supporting.
  2. Congressional District 10: With this race, we have the potential to elect a Black woman as a U.S. Representative in this area. With the newly drawn lines, Representative Daniel Webster (R), who currently holds the seat, has chosen to run in District 11 instead of District 10, while former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings (D) shapes the race as the favored candidate. Businessman Bob Poe, Senator Geraldine Thompson and Attorney Fatima Rita Fahmy, all Democrats, also challenge Demings in the race for the seat.
  3. Senate District 13: State Representative Randolph Bracy, Jr (D), former Senator Gary Siplin (D), Environmentalist Chuck O’Neal (D) and former State Representative Bob Sindler (D) have all raised a pretty decent amount of money according to their financial reports for this Senate seat previously occupied by Senator Geraldine Thompson. While this is a hard race to call “favorites,” name recognition may be what it all boils down to. The Bracy name is well-known in the community because of his parents and their success as Pastors and their work with the community, local and national politics. But, young Bracy has to earn a “name” for himself when it comes to drafting legislation that creates positive change. Siplin brings his name recognition to the table as well as he not only served as Senator but has served the community as an attorney and was known for his backpack giveaways each year before school starts, which also happened to always be around primary elections.
  4. Senator Marco Rubio’s Current Seat: This race is known to most people as “Rubio’s seat.” It will be a knock-down, drag-out fight simply because Alan “say my name” Grayson is in the race. Grayson always makes a splash wherever he goes. He’s a registered Democrat but acts more like an Independent. As Rubio makes his exit, many believe he was always preparing himself for the role of President while neglecting his responsibilities as Senator. Rubio (R) didn’t vote on issues that had a direct impact on his constituents, Alan Grayson (D), Patrick Murphy (Republican turned Democrat) and Pam Keith (D) are all vying for former Presidential Candidate and current Senator Marco Rubio’s seat. Keith is the only woman and only person of color in this race. One thing that stood out to me when I spoke with Pam Keith is her passion for issues that matter to Black people. She is passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement which may drive younger people to the polls in her favor. Recently, in his final time as Senator, Rubio visited Orlando and went to the often talked about Windsor Cove Apartments and called the owners “slumlords”.
  5. The Race for Weed: In a sense, Attorney and activist John Morgan of nationally known law firm, Morgan and Morgan, is the favored candidate when it comes to the legalization of medical marijuana commonly called “pot” in Florida. Everyone seems to have their eyes on this race as last election cycle it narrowly failed to pass. Now, medical marijuana will be on the Presidential ballot. Presidential races always bring out more voters, so many anticipate this time around the legalization of cannabis is within reach.

Elections should not be a popularity contest nor should they propel reality show excitement in voters. Elections are serious business and shouldn’t be taken lightly. As we move forward with debates, Q&A’s with candidates and as we gather other information, possibly, we will be able to make decisions that will help create the communities we desire.

Going past Circus World meant the world to this kid

Photo courtesy of Rhetta Peoples

Photo courtesy of Rhetta Peoples

Photo courtesy of Rhetta Peoples

Photo courtesy of Rhetta Peoples

I would sit in the back of my Dad’s blue Dodge racing car that had a loud muffler as we drove from Tampa to Orlando every other weekend. My Dad, a big man who stood 6-feet, 5- inches tall and rarely smiled, affectionately named this car “hips,” which tickled me and my sister each time he said it in his deep voice. We traveled to Orlando via the interstate and religiously passed Circus World on I-4.

Circus World had a huge rollercoaster that I could see as we drove by and no matter what side of the car I was sitting on when we started the drive, I would end up on the closest side to Circus World. It was torture because all we could do was “look” at it as we passed by. At that time, we didn’t have enough money to go to a theme park like that. I was only about 5 or 6 years old and another attraction could have easily grabbed my attention too if it were close-by.

However, Circus World was the only place along the highway that was made for a kid. It stopped the slow drag of tree after tree and highway sign after highway sign. I could sense when we were getting near it. As we got closer, I would stretch my eyes even wider than they already are, as if that would help me see it faster than I realistically could. The rollercoaster looked to be a wooden style coaster that only a giant could have built. A coaster that I knew if I got anywhere near it, I would back-out at the last minute. It went way up as if it were in the clouds and then would drop down at an angle. If the windows were down in my Dad’s car and the muffler wasn’t too loud that day, we could hear the riders screaming in sheer delight as the coaster fell towards the bottom of that big hill they were sitting on.

I wanted to go to Circus World so badly, just to see what else was there that would peak my interest. I mean, if this roller coaster could entice me from the interstate then I just knew the entire “world” there would have me running from the parking lot to the entrance like the Griswold’s at Wally World.

During the drive past Circus World, I would hang my head out of the window like a puppy while hanging onto the glass of the window because my Dad would only let it down a little more than halfway. I could feel the hair bows on the ends of my twisted ponytails hit the sides of my face as the wind rushed in and my eyes were as big as quarters.

My sister would double-dog dare me saying, “I bet you won’t ride that rollercoaster.” Each time she said it, she would always whisper it to me as if it were some big secret. “Hey Rhetta, I bet you won’t ride that rollercoaster.” She would say it at least twice and as she held her half-dressed, Barbie doll in her hand, combing the dolls hair as she did so often. I was defensive, yelling back, “Oh yes I will,” trying hard to respond loud enough so that my Dad would hear it and discourage her from teasing me. He never did. But, when I shouted back I could see his eyes in the rear view mirror looking at us. His eyes looked like he had a smile on his face. I don’t know for sure. I don’t know if he wanted to take us and couldn’t afford it or he just wanted to hear the chatter of his kids that he had missed all week long.

I knew deep down in my heart, that if I were to ride that coaster, I would freak out once we got to the very tip-top of what looked like the peak of a mountain. But, I insisted to my sister that I would ride that rollercoaster like nobody’s business.

I would motion my hand in an upward position like it was the cart on the coaster and then drop it down right in my sister’s face making a swooshing sound, acting every bit of a 5-year old. I don’t remember ever going to Circus World with my Dad but I do remember the drive from Tampa to Orlando and back and the music that would play in the car. Since my parents were divorced at the time, Daddy would play the song, “Just the two of us” by Bill Withers and re-word the song making it “Just the three of us,” since our family would always be in sets of three now since the divorce, instead of the awesome four which obviously included my fantastic Mom.

I really didn’t need to ride the coaster. I just wanted to see it up close. Was it raggedy and worn? Did the seats in the cart have seat belts or was there some kind of lap bar? I needed to know details. I, at the very least, wanted to hear the voices of the riders up close.

What made that drive so much fun was that I had the chance to stick my head out of the window when I knew that wasn’t typically allowed when it was four of us. For some reason, Dad only allowed me to do that when we passed Circus World and I didn’t abuse the privilege. I did it only when I knew it was OK. We didn’t have to wait in any lines, have our height checked or pay any admission fees. Dad simply drove us past Circus World and that was exciting. I felt empowered enough to tell my sister exactly what I would do and how I would do it and going to Orlando seemed to give me an opportunity to show how bold I was to my big sister as we drove into town from Tampa to start a new chapter in our lives.

Circus World was my favorite part of Orlando even though I never physically experienced it. The imagination brought so much more. There were no long lines to wait in, no arguments about who’s riding what next and no long drive home. It was a 4-second glance that invited so much fun to this little girl each and every time we drove past.