Booking a trip is very easy. All you need is transportation and a place to stay. I had it all. I was set up with a long weekend off work and a fresh paycheck deposit, and so, I went for it. I booked two nights at an Airbnb run like a hostel. It had okay reviews and had been around for awhile. I gave my 2000 Ford F150 a good check and jumped on the road for Orlando on Easter weekend.
My two hour drive took three boring hours of crawling south to Orlando from Jacksonville. Following the directions provided by my iPhone, nearly dead at this point, I pulled into a neighborhood … which looked less than ideal from a safety standpoint. I pulled up to the house and quickly looked up the front door code which had been emailed to me. With it barely memorized, my phone dies. I quickly punch in the code in hopes that I wouldn’t forget it in the next minute. Luckily, I had it, and I was able to walk in. Walk into what? Walk into what suddenly appeared very much like a halfway home. Not a soul greeted me as I walked in and there were about 5 people in the living room doing various activities. Two white guys, an Indian woman, a white woman, and a 7 year old blond girl. I sat on the ground near an outlet and was ignored as I charged my phone. It became clear that they all knew each other very well; because, as I later discovered, they had been living there for months! Eventually, I caught up with what was happening. The Indian woman was traveling North America and ‘slumming it’ to amuse herself. One white guy was from Turkey, an engineer waiting for his apartment lease and school paperwork to all clear. The other white man was apparently an editor or author, southern, and had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about… everything. The white woman, dressed in a uniform for some kind of restaurant or hotel, was wearing too much makeup and was the mother of the young girl. I suddenly, and mildly horrifically, realized she was leaving for work. She was going to leave the 7 year old girl at the house with the other inhabitants. From what I understood, her husband had screwed her over with the lease on their apartment during the divorce, and they were now there- realistically: homeless. The woman was giving instructions for what the girl could eat (as much chocolate milk and chicken nuggets as she wanted) and suddenly brought me into the conversation. “And I don’t know who this lady is, but I’m sure she’s nice too, just like everyone else here. This is my daughter *Pepper.” I introduced myself to Pepper and that was that. As my phone gained charge I started wandering around. The advertised pool was green with algae and the roofing sections of screen covering the outside area were ripped and falling in. The code for the bedroom I was assigned to was, now at my disposal, allowed me entry into a small dank room with 5 bunk bed sets… half of which were filled with blow up mattresses. One of them was occupied by a very large snoring man. On a large shelf in the hall, the bedding provided was, very literally, tattered blankets with no sheets or pillows. After a quick trip to the restroom, I became acquainted with the extremely poor water pressure and musty moldy smell of an ill-ventilated sewage system. I couldn’t believe any of it. And so, I sat back down and forced my way, and my questions, into the conversations happening in the living room. They were all stuck, in some way or another, with nowhere else to go. The original owners of the land had recently, within the past year, moved up to Canada and left the care of the property to different hosts.
Everyone eventually dispersed, and I was left with Pepper in the living room. Through her strong speech impediment, I learned she was in 1st grade and that all she wanted to do was watch mildly inappropriate YouTube videos on the phone her mother had left her with. I let her know I was a teacher and that I worked with 6th grade ESE. She understood and turned back to her phone. Standing up next to the coffee table which had a solid half inch layer of dust covering board games and a bible on the lower shelf, I slowly walked outside and breathed somewhat fresh air, as homemade truck repairs and strange makeshift mopeds occasionally sped down the road. I realized the building immediately across was actually a large church and felt a little safer. I walked up and down the block trying to decide what to do. I had booked 2 nights, the total had been almost $50 and I had just driven 3 hours to be here. I couldn’t get in touch with the host or the Airbnb helpline.
I made a decision. I had to leave. I’m a grown woman with a full time job and an apartment. There was no reason for me to keep myself in this situation. I walked back in and made a sly round through the house snapping some pictures, in hopes of eventually getting a refund or leaving a poor review for them. Being an anthropology major, and feeling a bit boujee at this point, I looked up the closest Starbucks, hoping to find some safety and gentrification. It was 30 minutes away. I hadn’t taken anything inside and didn’t find it necessary to say anything to the other “guests.” I simply hopped back into my truck with my freshly charged cellphone and headed to Starbucks.
I changed into a fresh set of clothes in the Starbucks restroom, ordered a decaf latte, and set to work on my laptop. Where was I going to go? What was I going to do? Easter weekend meant nothing under $250 a night! I’d have to drive back, but there was no way I was gong to miss Ethos Vegan Kitchen- like a vegan Applebees! I grabbed my ass a seat at the bar and went to town on cider, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, collard greens, and homemade bbq sauce on vegan chicken. I took in the hipster vegan love- then climbed back in the truck and headed home.
And THAT, was my amazing Orlando vacation!
*I changed Pepper’s name and sincerely hope she is doing okay!