What I came South for

Orlando,  Saturday, May 21.

When I called my pal Sean when I got across the border, I told him I couldn’t wait to simply sit and talk to Americans. One of the great pleasures in being here is to get a chance to feel the pulse of these (in the real sense) republicans.

Yesterday was a good day. Jon and I were determined to have a clean second run at the show (after some rocky patches, particularly on the tech level, on our opening). We wanted to give the Orlando audience a real version of The Paladin, and we arrived in plenty of time at the theatre, feeling ready and confident. Playing for a small but attentive crowd, Jon gave a fine performance.

After the show, I went into the park where the Orlando Fringe is centred.  It’s a beautiful public space, fronting the Orlando Science Centre, two major galleries, and adjacent to the Orlando Shakespeare Center that hosts multiple Fringe venues. There is a festival tent set up in the middle of the park as a music venue: last night I listened to two of the local hip-hop heroes who were backed up by a competent rhythm section and a very nimble jazz flautist. This afternoon, the venue was given over to female singer-songwriters doing a song-circle, playing for donations to a local charity that distributes food to children (when one parses this, it sounds pretty disturbing—Orlando is not the barefoot South).

I drove (one drives everywhere in this town) to the music store where I had purchased a lot of expensive cable for the show, in case of need. I was relieved that the store gave me no grief about returning the 150 bucks (US) worth of guitar and speaker cable.   I also bought a very sweet little parlour guitar for a hundred bucks from their “scratch and dent” rack. I’m looking forward to a long relationship. On the way back to the freeway which connects all Orlando communities, I noticed the Bodacious Barbecue hut, which turned out to be a real little cultural gem. The little stop is a modest little take-out/eat in with ten picnic tables in the (mandatorily) air-conditioned interior, and a few on the deck. The nice girls took my order for a pulled pork sandwich (excellent), and as I waited, sipping my complimentary Pepsi, the large group who had ordered just before me said grace as their orders rolled out. As far as I could make out, they were some kind of expedition from a church group. You know you’re in the USA when a mixed group of extended families have a prayer session before eating fast food. I was glad to note, as I am to report, that this group was a mixed-race gang, and the kids ate, hugged, wrestled, and (a lovely moment) shucked the corn-cob, which was offered them by the proprietors, together. I haven’t seen a lot of racial mixing here in Florida, and it was a pleasure to watch the five year-old black kid roughhousing with one of the white adults. Hope comes in small quantities, and is worth celebrating.

Later that evening I repaired to the local quasi-English pub, where they have Newcastle ale on tap, and I can reliably convince the barmaids to tune one of the TVs to the NHL playoffs so I can get my fix of ice-sport. (St. Louis was crushing the Sharks.) A guy beside me was ordering Jack Daniels with the remark that “I hear this is one of the places to be in Orlando.” I ventured that I was glad to have found it in that case, as I was a visiting Canadian. He explained that he was from New York, and as the Montreal soccer team was taking on the local Orlando team (cheered on by the supposedly Anglophilic Orlando soccer fans), I explained that I was very fond of Montreal, as an example of another world-class city.

This got us to talking about his job as a traveling baseball scout for the New York Mets, and before long, he had revealed to me that in his youth he had been a major-league pitcher (“not a very good one,” he said modestly) with the Brewers and the Mariners. I expressed my admiration and he introduced himself as John Updike. I couldn’t help but comment on the fact that his namesake was a much-celebrated fiction writer. He grinned and said, “my mother liked books.”

John was a pleasant interlocutor. I loved what he said about his job scouting for the Mets. He expressed his longing for the kids that he interviewed to be able accept that they COULD succeed as long as they committed themselves to the discipline of their craft. I told him it was the same in theatre, another discipline that attracts young people who want to be stars. In his case, he described the frequent encounters with parents who expect a contract for their precious young star athletes before those gifted young people have proven their necessary sacrifice to discipline. He endeared himself to me very deeply by praising young Canadian prospects, many of whom he has dealt with, and who, if they have a background in the tough sport of hockey (so he claimed), already have the strength of character that professional baseball requires.

It was a fascinating chat, because as John pointed out, he deals with a talent pool whose elite stand to make scores of millions of dollars. This doesn’t stop many young men wasting their talent because no one has convinced them of the old adage: success is ten per cent inspiration… and ninety per cent perspiration. I saw this truism proven out so many times in Theatre Arts, MacEwan, that it has for me the strength of Natural Law.

I’m happy to have made this acquaintance; it tickles me to now have an open invitation to a Mets game. Maybe I’ll get a chance to cash that in some day.

Now, to pour a little perspiration onto my lovely little new guitar…

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