Letter from Washington: After the Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle Flyby from the Reeves Center

Seven years ago today, I stood on a roof as the Space Shuttle said goodbye.

As I watched it circle Washington, DC on the back of a 747, it seemed like the end of an era – because it was. No longer would we be a people who went to space.

Why?

The Space Shuttle was too old. Too expensive. Too dangerous.

Rather than fix it, we got rid it. Rather than replace it, we chose to do nothing. It was too hard so we, a nation that had sent a man to the Moon, let the Space Shuttle fly off into the sunset, our space program reduced to a museum exhibit, just a memory for people old enough to remember the age of exploration.

People like me. Going to high school in Florida, we were let out of class to see every Space Shuttle launch. Even in Orlando it was visible, a towering cloud of smoke ascending into the atmosphere as the shuttle escaped the bonds of Earth.

No more. All gone, Democrats and Republicans agreeing that the time of manned space exploration had passed, as if Columbus was forced into retirement when he returned from his discoveries.

We, as a people, would no longer do great things. Grown cynical, we no longer believed that government could accomplish much.

I worked in government. I knew government waste. But the Space Shuttle was a tiny program compared to the billions wasted on endless war or shoveled to greedy seniors.

If we could not keep the Space Shuttle flying, what could we do?

Nothing. I saw it where I worked at NOAA, as Congress chipped away at the agency’s budget, refusing to maintain a weather forecasting system that was the envy of the world. Rather than replace meteorologists who retired, remaining staff were forced to work long hours. In my office, the computers were ancient and to get office supplies, you had to know someone.

Lawmakers didn’t care, knowing that their constituents had lost faith in government, despite the evidence all around them, such as tornado warnings and disability checks. Government was not something we did together, but something we took for granted.

Sometimes I wonder, how did we get to Trump? We lost confidence in our ability to do great things as a people, setting us up for charlatans like the current President.

But we can do great things, because we’ve done great things before. The proof is in the society that we’ve built together. Frayed and under pressure, but still there.

It is time that we, as a people, have faith again. Americans were meant for the stars. It is time we renounced con artists and took up our destiny. The candidate who wins in 2020 will be the one with a vision for the future as bold as the Space Shuttle.

Instagram is a Lie Factory

urban vultures

On my way to brunch, I saw a pair of vultures.

They were in the middle of the street, fighting over a rat carcass. A car honked but they did not move, consumed by their struggle.

I’m a compulsive photographer. Not a day goes by where I don’t take a photo of something and share it on Instagram.

I loved Instagram when it first began. While there were similar photo apps, Instagram was a community, allowing me a look into the lives and visions of people around the world.

It was more than just an online app. I met great friends through InstagramDC, local photographers like me who share a passion for mobile photography.

It felt real. Excited by this new medium, people created images of things that meant something to them. They experimented. They grew.

You were excited when people you respected liked your photo, the heart providing a bit of virtual recognition.

The other apps fell away and Instagram exploded. Suddenly, it was not a niche tool used by insta-photographers but something that everyone had on their iPhone.

There were top ten lists in magazines. Who were the best Instagrammers in DC? Find out!

Companies ran contests. Take a photo, share it, and you could win a trip!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

The Poutinerie is open! Get a taste of Canada at Dupont Circle @aircanada #aircanadafliesthere #contest #poutine #canada

A post shared by Joe Flood (@joeflood) on

Marketing firms put together lists of influencers. Want to get the word out about your new restaurant? Reach out to these food photographers. Give them drinks and they’ll post photos of your place online.

I’m guilty. I went to those meals, bewitched by the chance to be cool.

The fun photo app that was Instagram became a marketing tool for big brands, a new way to get advertisements in front of eyeballs, a digital method to drive conspicuous consumption.

But this one was sneaky. We know how to ignore banner ads on web sites, glossy ads in magazines, commercials blaring during timeouts. But how do you ignore marketing messages that look like Instagram posts?

Is that travel photographer you follow being paid for her fabulous adventures? She gushed about a hotel. Is her post a paid ad or an uncompensated review?

Everyone got in on it, even me. I was a Brand Ambassador, paid to take day trips around the DC region. I loved it. Would do it again.

Enterprise CarShare followed the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, which required that I put #ad #sponsored on my post. Not every company is so scrupulous.

And would you notice a #sponsored in a hundred other hashtags? Social media marketing is virtually unregulated, with the difference between legitimate post and a compensated one nearly impossible for consumers to determine.

But that’s not the only deceit.

You see a beautiful plate of pasta on Instagram, bolognese bright against a white plate. What you don’t see is the time carefully arranging the noodles, wiping off the mess, setting up the tripod for the DSLR, softening the scene with a lightbox and then editing the photos in Photoshop.

Instagram is all about the likes now, an online popularity contest, the hell of high school duplicated in cyberspace.

In response to virtual rewards, we lie and present curated lives, our fears hidden by bright images of an idealized life.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

The LEGO takeover has begun #lego #bikedc #lincolnmemorial

A post shared by Joe Flood (@joeflood) on

“You have what I want,” someone told me. “You just ride bikes and drink beer.”

But that’s not true. Like much of America, I’ve had a lousy couple of years, a fact that I’ve largely kept to myself (I’m from the Midwest), my social media feed showing little evidence of crushing anxiety and depression.

One of the creators of Instagram quit the app, after seeing what Facebook did after purchasing the online photo service. Instagram become a celebrity-driven marketplace engineered to sap users’ time and attention at the cost of their well-being. The community she nourished from birth become merely another profit center for the online leviathan.

Facebook scaled Instagram and monetized it, filling it with ads and content that looks like ads, while committing unknowable violations of privacy and decency along the way, anything, even treason, to keep the Silicon Valley machine growing.

Instagram is a lie factory. The photos aren’t real, the users aren’t honest and the company deceitful.

Yet, I still use it and love it. Is this due to my passion for photography or the virtual rewards I receive? Is it about the photos or the likes?

I took a photo of a pair of vultures fighting over a rat carcass. I did not share it on Instagram. It did not fit my brand, my carefully curated life of bikes and beer.

The answer is there. Like millions of other Americans, Instagram to me is not about photography, it’s about the likes.

Walking Away from Democracy

crazy stupid sign

The rain, sadly, ended in time for the Walk Away pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC.

Supposedly a group of ex-Democrats who had “walked away” from the party, they gathered, a couple hundred of them, on the concrete expanse of Freedom Plaza.

The Florida bomber wasn’t mentioned. Nor the Pittsburgh shooter. Instead, they complained that they were the victims, renounced by friends and family for “walking away” from liberalism.

Over and over, speakers claimed that they weren’t racist, to a very white and old crowd. I have never seen so much vaping in DC. One woman said that she couldn’t be racist because she had a black husband and a black baby.

“You won’t see this picture on the mainstream media!” she shouted in front of a collage of portraits of people in the movement, steps away from the Press tent, where the media could check in. Trumpkins desperately want coverage from the media that they scorn.

Political group demonstrates in DC isn’t news, especially if there’s only a couple hundred of them. This is a city which has seen anti-Trump demonstrators by the millions.

Q

Another speaker bragged of his ignorance. He only got the news from Twitter, as a couple circulated through the crowd holding a “Q” in red, white and blue. It’s the right’s favorite conspiracy theory, too complex and stupid to summarize. Basically, the government that Republicans have cursed as incompetent is secretly so competent that they can organize a deep state conspiracy against Trump.

The dangerous part is that these conspiracy theorists believe that Trump will strike back soon, with a military coup, that they cheer and encourage, as they work to make Trump a dictator.

It’s important to know your enemy. I went to see and record their anti-democratic beliefs and oddball notions. There is a temptation to ignore the madness of our fellow citizens.

But it’s better to know what they believe, for they are Trump’s base and provide cover for acts of violence like the Florida bomber. They are the sea in which terrorists swim.

For the Trump movement is a fascist movement. If the leader of another country called the media “enemies of the people” and winked at acts of violence against them, that’s how the American media would cover it. They’d call it fascism and refer to Trumpkins as right-wing militias or violent supporters of the regime.

But, since it’s here, we deny what occurs before our very eyes. We can’t be 1970s Argentina. Or Franco’s Spain. Yet, we have much in common with these fascist states, including a vast military, economic inequality and a leader’s cult of personality.

We should take seriously the words of Trump supporters. Calls for dictatorship and violent suppression of enemies (“lock her up”) are preparation for the real thing.

A couple hundred people rally in DC, walking away from reality and into the comfort of authoritarianism. It’s easy to mock them as old and stupid and sick. But we do so at our peril.

Safe Streets Needed in the Nation’s Capital

Man blocks traffic to protest city's negligence in protecting people

“A tragedy,” you hear on the news but when you encounter real grief it’s almost impossible to process. You look away from the mother alone in her pain. She lost her son doing something that should be safe – riding an electric scooter in Washington, DC.

And here she was, days after his death, on the spot where he was killed, as cars honked and drivers cursed.

This was the scene at the memorial ride for Carlos Sanchez-Martin, who was run over by an SUV in a Dupont Circle crosswalk. A white ghost scooter was erected to memorialize him, placed at the spot where he died. We then occupied the street for ten minutes, placing our bikes and our bodies on the asphalt for safe streets.

Drivers couldn’t wait ten minutes. Someone died here and they couldn’t wait ten minutes. They honked and honked and a couple even got out of their cars to confront us, a situation thankfully defused by the Metropolitan Police Department.

Ten minutes. Drivers won’t even give ten minutes for someone that they killed. This is why we need safe streets in the nation’s capital.

Untitled

After the ten minutes were up, we left the intersection. Drivers poured through, nearly hitting people in the same crosswalk where Carlos Sanchez-Martin was killed. Drivers ran red lights despite the presence of uniformed officers. No tickets were issued.

Rachel Maisler organized the memorial ride. It has become her sad duty to coordinate these events, having brought mourners together for cyclist deaths on H Street and M Street.

And there will be another one, on Thursday, for Thomas A. Hollowell, who was hit by a red-light runner at 12th and Constitution, just off the National Mall.

If you’re murdered by a gun in this city, the police flood the neighborhood. Lights are put up. Squad cars are posted on corners to reassure people that they’re safe.

But if you’re a murdered by a car, nothing is done. I visited 12th and Pennsylvania the day after Hollowell’s death and cars were still running red lights. A more enlightened city would make physical changes to the intersection to make it safer and crackdown on red light runners.

But not the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Safety is not a priority for this unresponsive bureaucracy.

At the memorial for Carlos Sanchez-Martin, a man sat down in the street. This wasn’t planned – no one even knew who he was. He sat down in front of four lanes of traffic with his scooter next to him.

DDOT does so little to stop rampaging drivers that ordinary citizens are willing to put their bodies on the line for safe streets.

The memorial rides are grassroots affairs. Organized by Rachel Maisler, they have forced the city to make changes that keep people safe, like removing parking spaces on the M St bike lane. Negative media coverage is the only thing that DDOT responds to.

The memorial ride for Thomas Hollowell is Thursday 5:30 PM at Farragut Square. People on bikes, scooters, rollerblades or even just walking – anyone who believes in safe streets is welcome. Wear white. It will be a silent procession to where Hollowell lost his life. Follow Rachel Maisler on Twitter for more details.

Death in the M St Bike Lane

Moment of silence for Jeffrey Long

 

Protected bike lanes are supposed to be protected, separated from cars and protected by barriers. 15th St in Washington, DC, is a good example of one – parked cars make up the barriers and stop lights with red arrows prevent drivers from turning across the bike lane.

But the “protected” bike lane on M St created by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) fails to include these best practices. Instead, DDOT gave in to the demands of businesses (and one local church) to design a protected bike lane that looks protected but isn’t.

It’s a Trap

The lane starts off looking protected at Thomas Circle. Running along the curb, with a row of parked cars as protection – great! But as you ride west, the lane disappears entirely as it goes by the Metropolitan AME Church, who didn’t want their double-parking parishioners inconvenienced. On the 1600 block of M St, the lane finds protection again with a line of parked cars but then ends in a mad scrum at the end of the block, as cars merge into the lane so that they can make a right turn.

This dangerous pattern of mixing cars and bikes continues on to Georgetown, where the lane sputters out. The people of #BikeDC have complained about the M St bike lane for years, telling DDOT that was unsafe, and even sharing with the transportation agency photos and videos demonstrating the danger.

DDOT did nothing.

The Inevitable Death

Over the weekend, the inevitable happened: a cyclist was killed on M St, run over by a truck making a right turn across the bike lane. His name was Jeffrey Long.

He wasn’t even the first person on a bike killed this summer in DC, despite the Vision Zero talk about eliminating pedestrian and cyclist deaths from Mayor Bowser. In June, Malik Habib died on H St NE after being run over by a bus.

DIY Safety

A couple days after Long’s death, I visited New Hampshire and M St NW, where he was killed. I expected to see physical changes to the intersection, such as a red light arrow to keep drivers from crossing paths with cyclists. After all, someone died here.

Nothing had been done, at least by DDOT.

But someone had been busy. Six toilet plungers painted orange had been placed on M St, preventing drivers from cutting the corner on to New Hampshire. Instead, they had to slow down and make a 90 degree turn, making the intersection safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

DIY safety improvement on M St

That’s the state of the city in 2018, in which people have to make their own traffic improvements to keep their neighbors safe. As I wrote in the Washington Post, Mayor Bowser and her administration care more about making rich people richer than helping ordinary citizens.

Ride of Silence

Last night, there was a memorial ride for Jeffrey Long. More than a hundred cyclists in white rode silently down M St during rush hour.

We stopped and placed our bikes on the spot where he died for twenty minutes of reflection. Flowers were placed on the white ghost bike that memorializes him.

Untitled

a moment of reflection

A cyclist was kiled here

Next Steps

This can’t be the end. We are calling for:

  1. Improved sight lines at M/NH/21st St NW.
  2. Repaint intersection immediately.
  3. No turns on red in downtown.
  4. DC Council oversight hearing holding DDOT, DPW and MPD accountable for safe infrastructure & enforcement.

This tragedy should not be forgotten. Contact your councilmember to ensure that this never happens again.

And follow #BikeDC on Twitter to learn the latest about biking in the city, as well as plans for an upcoming ride to honor Malik Habib.

Letter from Washington: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman 2 filming at the Hirshhorn

Update: a modified version of this post appeared recently in the Washington Post.

Wonder Woman is filming in Washington this week. If you go by one of the locations (the Hirshhorn Museum, Watergate, Georgetown) the PAs will tell you that it’s Magic Hour. But everyone in DC knows that it’s Wonder Woman.

“No photos!” comes a cry from behind a barricade as iPhones rise to catch the irresistible sight of 1980s cars and fashion on the National Mall. In June. On a Friday.

Despite the legally unenforcible prohibition, images from the movie have been all over the Internet. Twitter even made it one of its Moments.

Seeing photos online, I hurried down to catch the shoot at the Hirshhorn Museum.

Movie-making is frightfully dull unless you’re the one making the movie. I wrote screenplays for a while and was even on set for a couple of short films.

It can take all afternoon just to get the lights set up. 99% of the time, nothing is happening, just extras in wigs and costumes listlessly standing around, waiting for their chance to be a blur in the background.

My timing was propitious, biking up just as Wonder Woman/Magic Hour was rehearsing a scene.

There’s Gal Gadot!

No. It was her stand-in and Chris Pine’s stand-in looking so similar to the two actors that I had to zoom in on their faces to confirm that they were nobody.

Action!

The stand-ins were acting now, walking where Gal Gadot and Chris Pine would be, and acting too, the Pine stand-in reacting to something overhead. Walk, talk, react as the camera whirred and cars from the 80s idled past the museum.

Stop!

And then again, the old cars reversing, the stand-ins returning to shadow and the extras relaxing in their bright 80s clothes. Whatever…

Action!

Again, the cars idled forward, the stand-ins took their marks, and the extras tried to look natural.

Stop!

Life in DC, 2018, resumed. Drivers from down the street honked, annoyed at being delayed. High school tour groups, clad in identical green shirts, trooped by, unaware of the movie shoot. PAs told joggers to cross the street. “The sidewalk is closed!”

Action!

And then, looking through my zoom lens, there was Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, wearing the same clothes as the stand-ins, even a Member’s Only jacket for Steve Trevor, but anointed with the familiarity of being stars. You know them, but you don’t, their image the only thing truly accessible.

They duplicated what the stand-ins did. Walk, talk, react, Chris Pine gawking at whatever was in the sky but with considerable more subtlety than the stand-in. He’s a star.

A dirty hippy ruined my shot. Old man, in a tie-die shirt and blue overalls, entering the frame just as I focused on Pine and Gadot.

Stop!

Everyone relaxed, Gadot crossing the concrete plaza to consult with Patty Jenkins, the director. That’s the conversation I would’ve loved to hear.

I love the fact that they used the Hirshhorn, as well as several other DC locations. They also recreated Commander Salamander in Georgetown, a mainstay of 1980s cool when the 80s were cool.

What wasn’t so cool was Magic Hour/Wonder Woman shutting down Pennsylvania Avenue all weekend long, blocking off bike lanes (it’s always about bikes) with no alternate accommodations. Instead, confused foreign tourists, groups on Segways, bikes and cars crammed into narrow streets trying to detour around the blocks-long bottleneck.

There weren’t even detour signs for the lost. Instead, just fences and people with ill-defined authority telling them to leave and “NO PHOTOS!”

But to help the filmmakers, the DC city government had erected barricades, parked dump trucks and even brought in police officers to keep the curious away. Money talks, in the non-superhero universe.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) had finished their reconstruction/destruction of the 15th St bike lane by the old Washington Post building. It had been a protected bike lane until it was destroyed to enable a private developer to construct a building. The biking residents of the city (like me) have endured years of dodging cement trucks and cranes so that a rich man can get richer.

I biked by. All the resources of the city were handed to the Wonder Woman filmmakers. But, on 15th St, DDOT couldn’t even be bothered to put up a barrier of plastic bollards. Instead, the only protection from cars is a narrow strip of paint for this two-way bike lane. There will be chaos and injury come Monday.

there should be bollards on right

But that doesn’t matter to Mayor Bowser and a city government entranced by Hollywood fame. They’ll block off entire streets for an imaginary character but do little for the real people of the city, forced to beg for a few pieces of plastic protection from very real dangers.

In the movies, Wonder Woman stands up for the oppressed. But in real life, there are no superheroes. If you have money, Mayor Bowser and the city government will let you do what you want.

Photos: 500 Days of Trump

I intended to ignore the Trump administration. But, 500 days ago, during the Inauguration, I heard a helicopter hovering over my apartment, followed it into the street, and I’ve been taking photos ever since.

Inauguration Day riot, Muslim ban protest, Women’s March, Science March, Climate March, Women’s March (again), perp walks, protests, street art, paper mache, Juggalos, makeout sessions, security theater – I’ve documented the resistance in DC.

limo in flames on K St Continue reading “Photos: 500 Days of Trump”

Tweetstorm: Five Lessons from Going Viral

Tweet activity

A viral photo became my most popular tweet ever, racking up more than 200,000 impressions.

It’s a picture that I captured outside the White House Correspondents Dinner, a quick shot of Parkland survivor David Hogg before I was shooed away by security. Happy to get any photo, I posted it to Twitter, thinking my photographer friends would enjoy it.

And then it blew up online, my phone steadily buzzing with notifications through the night and for days afterward.

What can you learn from going viral?

  1. It will be accidental. It’s nice to think that you can make a post go viral – you can’t. Twitter is driven by the users. Their likes, dislikes, passions, prejudices and whims determine what goes viral and what doesn’t. I’ve written funnier tweets, taken better photos and shared more interesting links but it was this post of David Hogg that went viral, for it was timely (the dinner was going on as I posted the photo) and Hogg is a controversial figure in the gun control debate.
  2. You’ll want to change your tweet. In my photo, another person is pictured. I didn’t recognize him so just identified David Hogg. Within minutes, a reply told me that it was Zion Kelly, whose brother was shot to death on the streets of DC. You can’t edit a tweet so I added a threaded post identifying him.
  3. You will be personally attacked. I didn’t reply to the gun nuts who thought that the presence of David Hogg at the WHCD was preposterous. But a couple people said that I was racist for omitting mention of Zion Kelly in my original tweet. When I explained to one that I didn’t recognize him, she grudgingly admitted that I might not be a racist but my response was “problematic.”
  4. You won’t understand the analytics. My original tweet had 221,000 impressions. The thread I added with Zion Kelly’s name had 680,000 impressions. Why does the thread have more than the original?
  5. It won’t amount to much. Seeing the photo go viral, I wrote a post the next day on the moment, which captured some of the traffic my photo generated. But out of 220,000 Twitter impressions, I gained five new followers. The raging discourse of America had landed briefly on me, lit me in its fire, and then moved on to the next topic in the endless, infernal debate.

Going viral is short-lived and unsatisfying. All that storm und drang around my photo ultimately amounted to little.

The next morning, I bundled up and biked to see my friends from the District Department of Transformation, a group of activists trying to make the city’s streets safer. They’re all people I’ve met through Twitter. They had blocked off a street for breakfast, an action designed to show that streets should be for people, not cars.

I took a photo and shared it using the #BikeDC hashtag.

That’s the type of engagement that matters – real, small-scale and committed.

If you’re a social media manager, don’t chase social media fame, which is ephemeral and low-value. Instead, use Twitter to build an impactful community of engaged supporters, people who will show up for you on a cold Sunday morning to occupy a street.

Michael Wolff: The Biographer the President Deserves

Sold out of Fire and Fury at Kramerbooks

There’s a tendency to think that people at the top of large organizations are smarter than you. After all, they’ve made it to the top. They must brilliant people guided by devoted staff and working within a well-organized system.

The truth is more like the moment Dorothy peeks behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz – it’s all chaos, a sham of smoke and mirrors aimed at concealing the very human weakness of the person in charge, as Michael Wolff’s reveals in Fire and Fury, his takedown of the Trump administration.

I’ve worked in communications for major organizations in Washington, DC. Everywhere, it’s the same – you may have smart staffers, and a process designed to to prevent embarrassing mistakes, but the work is driven by the whims of The Boss. If he (and it’s almost always a he), wants to put out a press release announcing his birthday, then one is produced.

I read Michael Wolff’s book Burn Rate back in the 90s. This was the era of Silicon Alley, when New York dotcoms aspired to be the next Excite or Yahoo. Wolff, a journalist, founded a company and then proceeded to burn through VC cash before walking away from the wreckage. The book mocks Internet pioneers and the industry.

He’s a loathsome character, with the attitude of a con artist putting one over on the rubes. In this case, the marks are his employees, who he stiffs, and investors, who lose their money. There’s a scene at the end of the book (and it’s very novelistic) where he succeeds at unloading the remains of his business on someone else though his media company is little more than a Filemaker database, a feat that Wolff gleefully recounts.

Whenever I’d see his name in the media, I’d think, “Ugh, that guy.” After burning Internet bridges, he went on to excoriate Rupert Murdoch and other billionaire/tyrants, his villainous headshot atop gossipy columns in Vanity Fair and other publications.

A simple Google search would’ve revealed all this.

Inviting this devious miscreant into the White House is the greatest act of communications malpractice this century. Instead of warning staff not to talk to this unreliable scribe, Sarah Sanders allowed this New York creature to observe the Trumpian chaos from a comfy couch. He’s a journalist who specializes in ripping apart media figures – what did they think he was doing there?

As Drew Margary in GQ writes, it takes a rat to catch a rat. Promising a nice book, and then writing a nasty one, Wolff worked the long con to perfection. For a change, Trump was the one being tricked.

Unethical, self-absorbed and steeped in the values of the billionaire elite, Wolff is the biographer that Trump deserves.

En La Florida

SunRail in Winter Park

Bathed in light, I watched the cutest little bit of stimulus money creep into the green environs of Winter Park, FL. The station is tiny, and families waited along the palm tree-lined track to catch the three cars of the SunRail train. The destination was Orlando, five miles away. Driving (or even biking) would’ve been faster but this was some cheap fun for bored children a couple days after Christmas.

Kids love trains, as do most adults though they dismiss them as impractical. But if trains ran more often, and to more places, they would be practical.

Instead, we build roads. Near where my parents live, the state built a flyover at a suburban intersection, allowing traffic to soar on a concrete ramp twenty feet in the air, going from Red Bug Road to 436, one of those six-lane highways lined with fast food joints and gas stations that could be anywhere in America. In a car, you wait for the light to change, go under the massive flyover and then run into another traffic light.

After watching the train disappear into the verdant flatness of Florida, I drove to my favorite hipster coffee joint. I love how Orange Avenue meanders between Winter Park and Orlando, winding around lakes and passing lingering bits of Old Florida. Along the way is Foxtail Coffee, which makes a great cappuccino and has an outdoor seating area with fake grass and real palm trees. Next door, there’s a place for tiny, tortured salads and a local brewery. It’s about as Portlandia as Florida gets.

Foxtail is nine miles from parents’ place. Easily bikeable, where it not for the presence of six-lane roads like 436. The Google bike directions send you through the flyover.

In Orlando, people bike in subdivisions or they bike on trails but they don’t bike on roads, especially ones like 436. You don’t even see people walking along these suburban corridors.

There’s a tendency to think that this is the natural state of things, as if God ordained the car and America built a network of highways in response to his word.

I watched Secrets of Spanish Florida with the family. American history doesn’t begin with Jamestown but with St. Augustine in 1565, where Spain established a melting-pot colony of Europeans, Indians and escaped slaves. The first Americans were not Puritans, and the first Thanksgiving was not in Massachusetts. By the time the English got to America, the Spanish had been living here for decades. In La Florida, citizenship was available to all, no matter your race.

Perhaps if the Spanish remained in control, Florida would look like Spain, with high-speed trains and excellent ham.

Florida doesn’t have to be a place where retirees go to escape taxation. It can be different. America can be different, too.