By Joseph S. Bello - On Oct. 5, 1972, a commercial airliner landed in a dark airfield called McCoy. It was well aftermidnight. It was dark and desolate. On that flight was a 17-year-old boy from a tiny beach town in New Jersey. Terrified and homesick.
The young officer who drew the short straw that night loaded us new recruits into the gray military bus. Off we went, headed north on a lonely stretch of country road that would someday become the traffic jam we now know as Semoran Boulevard. We were bound for Naval Training Center Orlando. Years later, the darkness outside of my window would become known as east Orlando.
It was 1972. Our first freedom, "liberty" contained one order — freedom to go anywhere. Except Church Street in downtown Orlando. That's where the hookers, hippies and all kinds of trouble preyed upon young stupid kids from places like New Jersey. Shore patrol officers walked the beat along Church.
After years of lurching and lunging, fits and starts, there are no off-limits areas left for anyone in our city of Orlando. On every level, from our thriving downtown to our diverse economy, we are firing on all cylinders. We are a young, vibrant, energetic city with excitement oozing from our collective pores. Sports, culture, culinary and creative arts, craft beverages and a world-class solution to solving homelessness — all Orlando.
I look out of a different, clearer, more hopeful window today, more than 40 years after Uncle Sam first sent me up that lonely dark road from McCoy to the Naval Training Center. I see what any person living in a metropolis might see: good stuff, bad stuff and folks planting their feet in the ground with hopes of a new and exciting life.
Orlando is bursting with an energy that, in my lifetime as a citizen here, is unprecedented. I credit our mayor, Buddy Dyer, and our past progressive mayors who have passed the torch and fulfilled a dream of an Orlando of the future. I credit the spirit of collaboration between our Orange County leadership and our city leadership. Well done.
Because of that spirit of collaboration, we all enjoy and benefit from living in a diverse, exciting city full of youth and opportunity.
For this kid from back in '72 who caught the bus up Semoran and decided to settle in for awhile, Orlando continues to amaze.