As you might expect, some of my craziest stories involve beer. Like that time I accidentally ordered a “jug” of beer for $1.25 in Vietnam (thinking, of course, that I was ordering a mug), foolishly finished it anyway (waste beer, never!), and was promptly propositioned by two women on a motor scooter, resulting in now-drunk me explaining to prostitutes just how unsafe it would be for three people to ride a single motor scooter. Or that time I was in South Africa at an all-black university, during Apartheid, drinking warm beer after sunset in a dorm room with a new friend who told me—as he was shaking my hand—that he was having a conversation with a white person for the first time in his life. Or that time I was in New Zealand, or Peru, or Austria… hell, just name a country. And now I can add to that list Orlando, Florida.
Long story short, Celgene invited me and a handful of other multiple sclerosis bloggers to Orlando for an MS summit on brain preservation, the focus of their new website The MS MindShift. (Full disclosure, Celgene paid for the conference and all travel, thoughts here are my own.) Interestingly, their new oral MS drug ozanimod, still awaiting FDA-approval, was never mentioned once. If you haven’t heard of it, you likely will, as results from a study were just released this week showing that patients treated with ozanimod did indeed lose less cortical grey matter volume than did those treated with another MS therapy (Avonex in this case). The conference was enlightening, but the beer adventure afterward became the story.
|Dave and Nicole from My New Normals|
Let me set the stage. After saying our good-byes to Nicole and Tommy Lemelle (My New Normals), Caroline Craven (The Girl With MS) and her partner Tim, Ashley Ringstaff and Patty Long, the remaining misfits—Cheryl Hile and husband Brian along with Jodi Johnson (Edible Monster)—hatched a plan to go out to dinner. But first, Brian wanted to get a beer. At a special, out-of-the-way brewpub. My kinda guy! After my previous worldly beer escapades, which my wife Laura has always stunningly supported, how could I say no? How much trouble could we possibly get into? We were in Orlando, home of Walt Disney World, Legoland Florida, and Gatorland for Christ sakes! How I overlooked Orlando’s “CSI: The Experience” is beyond me (cue the intro scream, YEEEEAAAAHH, that you just have to listen to one more time). That oversight turned out to be prophetic.
Let me be clear: Brian, troublemaker-in-chief, chose the brewery. Not me. (I know, shocker.) He said it was .4 miles from our hotel. Until I got a text later from Cheryl saying it was more like a mile, along with the advice that we could take a bus. But handicap accessibility and public transportation are notoriously unreliable. And Jodi was using Bumblebee, her properly named yellow scooter. Since I can roll a mile and needed the exercise, especially with the tantalizing reward of a beer, I figured why not set off on foot and wheels. I love exploring!
After we gingerly crossed the train tracks in downtown Orlando, the mood shifted. And then shortly after we went under the highway overpass, the mood shifted further. Laura’s Spidey sense started tingling. I was telling her that it was just dehydration and she needed a pint of porter. She protested.
“I think we are in the hood,” she said. I started to explain that dilapidated buildings, cars on blocks, and sketchy people aimlessly lingering does not qualify as “the hood,” when a stranger interrupted us.
“You guys lost?” We did appear to be a misplaced motley crew with one person in a yellow wheelchair, one on a yellow scooter, and one trying to keep her composure.
“Nope,” I proudly said. “We are going to meet friends at a brewpub!”
“Ohh-kay,” he said. “But you do realize you are in the middle of the hood. Right?”
Eye daggers more deadly than any weapon wielded on Game of Thrones were thrown my way. Even Arya with her dragonglass and Valyrian steel would have been no match for Laura’s optical stabbers.
“Don’t worry, I’ll walk with you,” said our new protector, who now reminded me of GOT's The Hound. “Sometimes getting around the Parramore is like playing a video game where you’ve got to shoot away the pimps, hoes, beggars and drug dealers—pew, pew, pew!” His fingers were firing in all directions. My God.
At this point we all cautiously and quickly got out our phones to see how far we still had to go. Far enough. But now turning around seemed folly, since we were no longer on the fringes, but smack dab in the middle of the hood. Thankfully I didn’t look up Parramore on Urban Dictionary until I was safely at home and under the covers of my own bed, where my phone glowed the ominous definition….
“Parramore: 1) the worst hood in Orlando, even worse than Pine Hills (“don't come into Parramore unless you wanna get glocked down”). 2) The most notorious neighborhood in Orlando, aka the 407 (“Parramore, the only place in O-Town with more stray cats and glocks than people”).
Since at the time I didn’t realize being Glock-less in the Parramore was unwise, I trusted in the one weapon we did have: two rolling gimps. If we tilted our heads just so, flailed our arms just so, and let loose a little drool, we might be able to convince the unawares that we were highly contagious, and in no way did any hoodlum want to catch this infectious action. No siree. Alternatively, I considered doling out my phone and wallet (minus beer money) to the first passerby just to get it over with.
Soon The Hound had to peel off, but he told us with deep care that we were getting close, and that we would probably make it. And then like a castle cutting through the mist, its drawbridge lowered, Broken Strings Brewery appeared. Appropriately, Brian and Cheryl were sitting beneath a huge middle finger (I was thinking we were all screwed), which became even more appropriate after we found out they had no had no porters or stouts or dark beers of any kind—Laura’s preference (now I was doubly screwed).
But we were there. In one piece. With all of our material possessions. Enjoying beer. So you could say that it was a mighty fine way to end the day, learning how to preserve our brains in the morning and how to dodge pimps in the afternoon. Only now we had a new problem: it was the end of the day, the sun was setting, and we were in a bar. And still in the hood. Walking back was not an option and, with the possible exception of an Uber RV, no one ride could handle multiple rolling aids. The city bus beckoned. And it was coming!
|With Bumblebee, Jodi points out who'll get mugged first.|
And then it was going. Our MS rears could not get outside in time. So now we were outside waiting for another bus. Without beer. At dusk. In the hood. Presented with the gift of extra time to panic, I sized up the situation the way one might size up what to do when a bear charges a group of people. Who will get mauled first? Cheryl ran a marathon on all seven continents in a single year, the first MSer to ever do so and I am part of her fan club, which means she’s more than an order of magnitude faster than I am. And she has endurance. Her husband Brian (due to his love of beer, I am also in his fan club) needs to keep up with her, so he’s quick enough. Laura runs, fast, and is smart. Jodi’s scooter scoots along a steady brisk pace. And then there’s me, with my manual wheelchair, where a curb cut can slow my progress to a crawl. It was no contest. Heck, Omar (re: The Wire) could take me down with a mere sideways glance.
While I was in the middle of preparing my final remarks—something like, “save yourself, go on without me” so that it may spawn a meme—it dawned on me that people reading my obit might mistake my untimely demise in Parramore for a freak mosh-pit accident (so Dave-like, they’d say) at a Paramore concert. But then another bus rolled up and out flopped a ramp—it was fully accessible! It was a pleasant surprise to us and apparently an even bigger surprise to the passengers, as many had to move to accommodate a pair of disabled riders. I even overheard one exasperated passenger exclaim “There’s two of ’em?!”
|Not this Paramore.|
As we headed back to the relative safety of downtown, our epic adventure winding down, I got to thinking. The Parramore wasn’t such a bad place. Struggling, yes, but the people we met were nice. A new soccer stadium in the area hopefully will help turn around some of the negative perceptions of the community, which has only received bad press, from Even Breathing Is a Risk in One of Orlando’s Poorest Neighborhoods to a piece titled The Rise and Fall of an African American Inner City: The Case of Parramore, Orlando.
We struggle with our health issues. These residents struggle with life. But we all soldier on, trying not to feel sorry for ourselves, making the best of our relative situations. It’s all we can do, hoping and believing that one day our tide is going to turn. And if it maybe doesn’t? We try to drown out that nonsense. For we are a merry band of optimistic misfits. And we will soldier on. We will give our challenges the full Johnny Cash.
Our trusty brewpub finders Cheryl and Brian dinged the dinger on the bus. Our stop. Curious. The bus stop was directly under the highway overpass, dividing downtown and Parramore. We trundled off the bus en masse, and as it belched its way into the skyscrapers of Orlando, a wistful haze started settling over me now that our odyssey was moments from concluding. We turned to roll downtown. But wait! At the end of our sidewalk where there was a curb cut were orange barrels and safety tape. Closed. So we turned around and spied the other end exiting toward Parramore. More orange barrels and more tape. We were in the middle of a closed sidewalk with no escape. The adventure was going to continue! Perfect.