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 3

Breakfast at the Cabot Lodge (named for former UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge?) south of Gainesville was about the same at the Holiday Inn near Ocala only we sat near an open fireplace. And the orange juice is getting better, although nothing to write home about. (Is blogging a form of writing home?)

Driving south on Route 27 from Gainesville to Sebring we took a right on Lake Minneola Road because the name sounded nice and headed into the small town of Clermont. In the historic downtown we found clean, quiet streets for a Saturday, mile temperatures (long-sleeved shirt weather, maybe close to 60). Stopped at Liz’s Ice Cream & Deli for lunch with a table of about 10 senior citizens and Liz behind the counter making sandwiches. Very, very friendly people. Two were Kiwanians and one a Rotarian, in their 60s and 70s and maybe early 80s. They talked about sex and getting drunk the previous night. Must be the Florida heat.

We drove around the south shore of Lake Minneola and were impressed with the public spaces—beach and pavilion, walking and bike paths and what looked like an amphitheater under construction. Big lake with some chop from the wind but it wasn’t undergoing eutrophication as so many of the shallow lakes in this part of central Florida.

After lunch we drove to Sebring and checked into the Inn on the Lake, a beautiful three-story hotel in the Spanish style across the highway from Lake Jackson, with a view of Little Lake Jackson from the room. There was a pool for lounging and groups of friendly, talkative people. Golfers we guessed from the tournament sign-in sheet in the lobby. Most in their 60s, a few younger, a few older. They sat in the back of the lobby by the fireplace and talked about getting laid. What’s with this generation?

Drove through an industrial area for dinner at the Blue Crab, a cross between a restaurant and clam shack, a place for seniors, blue-collar retirees and (finally) locals. It’s owned by a couple of bikers. The waitresses looked lean and nicotine burned. Ours was named Mel. Before she took our order she introduced herself as Big Bird and said that her boss, Bill, calls her Turkey Buzzard. She leaned toward us and in a conspiratorial whisper said, “I told him, ‘You call me that because I eat a lot of shit around here, so it must be true.’” Then she reared back quickly as if she’d given offense. Not at all. If she wants to burn her ears she should hike up the road and watch the old folks strut their nine irons.

Sunday, Jan. 9. Finally we have reached the summit: at the Inn on the Lake the orange juice is excellent, fresh-squeezed, the waitress said, by a local company. After breakfast we drove south to the small town of Lake Placid to see if lived up to its name. It did, maybe a bit too much. In Sebring the business district consisted of a couple of stores and a consignment shop on a rotary. Here there isn’t even a business district. And once outside town things got thin rather quickly. Around the lake some homes backed onto water but they were crushed together, on busy highways and fully exposed to the sun. Not much fun in August.

Lunch at the Tower View Restaurant in Lake Placid—second time we stumbled onto one of the more popular restaurants for locals. Then north to the Sebring International Raceway, home of the 12-hour Grand Prix, where we spent half an hour watching small noisy cars race around a very long track.

Back home to have a drink by the pool, dinner at the hotel restaurant and a wild evening doing laundry. Tomorrow the real world beckons as we head to Orlando to cover the International Builders Show at the Orange County Convention Center.

Sebring Intl Raceway 448