Since the last time I posted on the blog, I moved from South Florida up to Orlando. I meant to do a whole post about the transition up here, but this is not that post.
This post is about the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. It happened one year ago today, June 12, 2016, and 49 people lost their lives, not counting the shooter. Another 58 were injured during the shooting. I didn’t live in Orlando at the time, but this city has always had a special place in my heart.
There have been vigils and remembrance events all over Orlando for the last few days, but today was the biggest set of events. Amelie and I were out running errands in the afternoon, and our route took us directly past Pulse during their afternoon ceremony. The traffic was our first clue that something was going on, followed immediately by the presence of a fleet of news vans.
There have been people standing in front of Pulse every time we’ve driven past- the entire site is a memorial now, with a constant flow of mourners and people leaving things behind like flowers or a small token of their memory. Today it was jammed, of course.
Later in the day, the crowds started to gather for the big Orlando United event at Lake Eola. I didn’t realize it until this afternoon, but the city shut down many of the streets around the Lake for the event. A little past 4:30 in the afternoon, this is what the traffic pattern looked like downtown:
On top of that, there was rain. Lots and lots of rain. Once most of the rain leveled off, I grabbed my old MIX 105.1 umbrella and walked over to the Orlando Public Library to catch the last few minutes of Drag Queen Storytime. My timing was off; this picture was just a few moments after a spectacularly photogenic twirl by our storyteller.
After Drag Queen Storyteller wrapped up, I walked the remaining block or so to Lake Eola, and wandered around the event. This mural by Yuriy Karabash and Michael Pilato was put up earlier today- I’m not sure where the mural will ultimately reside after today.
People continued to gather for the Orlando United event- it was supposed to start at 7pm, but weather delayed it somewhat. Still, more and more people arrived. I’m somewhere in the upper left part of this photo from the Orlando Sentinel, wearing a bright red shirt:
You can see the top of the bandshell in this next photo- that’s as close as I was really able to get to the bandshell. It was broadcast throughout the park over speakers all the way around the Lake, though, and Disney had put up a pair of large overflow screens so that people could watch from the larger part of Lake Eola Park on the Eastern bank.
Once the event started, I could hear what was going on, but I couldn’t see it- until someone near me mentioned that some of the local news media were streaming it live, and everyone has a cell phone… I caught the video of a drum and bagpipe corps, and some other musical acts.
During the show, I walked around the lake so that I could get out of the thicker part of the crowd for a bit, and I was treated to some pretty spectacular views from the Northern side of the lake. The band-shell was dressed properly for the occasion…
Lake Eola’s iconic fountain was also beautifully lit in rainbow colors for the occasion.
It’s difficult to express exactly how something like this makes me feel- I don’t know anyone who was directly affected by the Pulse shooting, but I have such strong ties to Orlando through friends and friends of friends that I see the ripples outward.
It hits especially hard because it could easily have been someone close to me. When I was twenty-five, I lived in Orlando. I was attending UCF for my degree, but in my down time, I went dancing. Some weeks, I would be out five nights out of seven- Two of those nights were Club Zen, Wednesdays were at the Embassy Music Hall, one night was at Barbarella or at Cairo, an Egyptian-themed club a few blocks over, or the Blue Room.
Most of those clubs are gone now, but this was my circle. Except for a few cherished friends from the university, my entire social scene was based around where we could find good music. If I had lived in Orlando one year ago today, it’s possible I would have been out, dancing.
I’m happy to see that one year later, Orlando is still strong, still loving, and still dancing.