In search of the perfect orange, part 4

Left a good hotel (the Inn on the Lake) in an average town (Sebring) and drove not to Orlando as planned but to Mt. Dora, an hour north of the city. Drove past the small park we saw five years ago when we left the kids at Disney. Ate at the same restaurant near the lake and the railroad tracks, Pisces Rising—nice but a bit pricey. The town is quaint but overrun with hundreds of thousands of people during several festivals each year, according to a very nice woman at the local chamber of commerce.

We said we live in a resort area and complimented her on the sign hanging on the door: “We treat our visitors like family.”

She laughed. “But we treat our family like crap.”

“That part of the sign must have fallen off.”

Instead of touring the town, we headed to the post office. We have to carry heavy client training manuals home and decided that we’ll never get them on the airplane without hocking the rental car. So we’ll mail them. The guy at the post office was very friendly. Then we drove around Lake Dora and through Eustis (a tad too commercial) around Lake Eustis and north on CR 452 past Lake Yale (an OK place but few trees for that all-important shade in summer). Then west to Leesburg and Lake Griffin and Lake Harris and finally south to the Rosen Centre Hotel on International Drive. Dinner at Thai Thani, a chain that didn’t feel like a franchise, its interior dark and ornamental, the food spicy, the service attentive.

Tuesday, Jan. 11. The Rosen is a tall, wide hotel that aspires to elegance and succeeds in most ways. The public spaces are vast and tastefully decorated, the rooms small but comfortable. Some guests complained there were no refrigerators or microwaves in the rooms but we didn’t miss them. The hotel charges extra for everything—parking, Internet and use of the spa—but does a good job with housekeeping and food service.

Breakfast in the Café Gauguin was hot and fresh, a buffet with everything from oatmeal to eggs to fruit, although the orange juice wasn’t as good at the liquid gold in Sebring. We sat through a sales meeting in the afternoon for our client Aqua Glass, then joined a group dinner (14 of us) at the Everglades Restaurant in the Rosen. Very elegant, with three wait staff and pictures drawn on plates in edible gel. Big, rich, expensive meal but a nice way to kickoff the show, in the company of some very interesting and considerate people.

Sunset on Lake Eustis

Sunset on Lake Eustis

In search of the perfect orange, part 1

Two days after New Year’s we flew from Allentown, Pa., to Orlando International for a tour of Central Florida’s lake district and a search for real orange juice. I carried a mangled nest of electronic devices and cords for coverage of the International Builders Show the following week. My wife had packed a half-dozen books and manuals so she could rewrite her school district’s curriculum while I worked the trade show.

One of our suitcases weighed 57 lbs., 7 lbs. over the limit. I’m not saying whose suitcase. The airline people wanted to charge us $49 in addition to the $20 fee per checked bag. We carried the books on board the plane. The flight took off at 5:43 p.m. and landed about two hours later. We got in earlier than expected but still later than we’re used to flying. Nearly another hour to take the shuttle to ground transportation, retrieve the luggage and rent the car (present your pink rental sheet to the guy in the booth on the way out). Then a nearly two-hour drive north on great black highways through low-lying country to Silver Springs, just east of Ocala.

Tuesday, Jan. 4. Explore the Ocala National Forest. Drive east on Route 314 looking for 314A and lakes but they’re harder to find than you’d think, and all of the land surrounding them is privately owned and virtually inaccessible. Drove past great stands of pine, their trunks blacked from controlled burns. Past trailers and junk yards and small houses—quite a contrast to Lido Key and St. Armand’s Circle, our destination last year. Spanish moss hung like scarves from live oak trees, palms cracking, dry leaves scudding across the pavement.

We drove down sand-covered roads with dust billowing, clouds wispy, the sun warm on our backs as we walked a pier on Lake Kerr and watched the powerboats bob at the makeshift marina next door, dogs howling in the background, a trio of orange trees dropping fat fruit on a green lawn.

We pulled off Highway 19 for lunch at the Square Meal, a small restaurant near the office for the Ocala National Forest. The Square Meal looks like a local hangout, sandwiched between a real estate office and a Laundromat. Big red Coke sign on the wall next to a rack of fish hooks. Many of the men and two girls were dressed in camo jackets and caps. Several women ordered the special—fried pork loin with white gravy. Pay at the counter on the way out, cash only.

Dinner was ordinary but good at the Outback franchise near our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Silver Springs, a new, clean and friendly place with complimentary breakfast. The only complaint: for the heart of the citrus industry, the orange juice was surprisingly bad, tasteless and watery. Florida supplies 40% of the world’s orange juice. Let’s hope they don’t get this stuff.

Lunch at the Square Meal

Lunch at the Square Meal