This next entry in the Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview Series will be slightly different from what we’ve done on the site before. Ken Storey (who you may know from Twitter, the Orlando Tourism Report, his Orlando Weekly columns, or various other places on the internet) graciously agreed to be interviewed for the site, but, as the interview evolved, we realized that there would be too much content to include in just one post. So, today we are starting a 3-part series on Orlando’s Past, Present and Future. The first entry (Past) is included below (and features some background on Ken’s past as well), and the additional entries (Present and Future) will come Monday, November 30, 2015 and Wednesday, December 2, 2015, respectively. I hope you enjoy it.
Orlando (and Ken’s) Past
Many people who know you online think of you as someone with a great deal of knowledge of all aspects of Orlando, not just Disney and Universal. How did you develop such a wide range of knowledge?
It’s a bit of a long story. When I was in 6th Grade for Social Studies I was required to make a portfolio on the state that included things like the history, main economic drivers, etc. Well back in 1996 there wasn’t a lot of ‘internet’ and ‘smart phones’ to help me with the project so my mother took me to the Visitors Welcome Center just north of Leesburg on 441. It was a small wooden building with a tall roof that stuck out even then so I had always wondered what was inside. I met the most knowledgeable people there, got cool brochures on amazing places all around the state and left with a new fascination with the state. That was the final click broke me and created my obsession.
Looking back there have always been hints of it. Growing up I had always been told the stories of life in Florida. My mother, raised here from the age 1, grew up in Venice and was friends with numerous Ringling Circus families. Then as a teenager she moved to Central Florida and lived on what is now the Sanford Airport, for a time they even kept pigs on what is now the runway. These stories of her babysitting for E-Tickets, mixed with the magic of growing up in later 1980s/early 1990s Florida have always been my inspiration to keep going.
I was still in the womb the first time I visited Magic Kingdom (an awful July 4th, 1984 in which the transit system couldn’t hold the crowds forcing many, including my mother who was very pregnant with me, to walk from the front gates to the parking lot).
My father has always been in construction. He taught me how to read blueprints with a job he was bidding. It was an oddly simple blueprint plan, unlike most this one only featured enough details for what he was bidding on (the doors), that plan was for Mission: Space at Epcot. Some of my strongest and fondest memories growing up are memories of Epcot (it was the first place I witnessed webcams and saw a robot that could mow the grass on its own).
My parents, who both had been in Florida a number of years, had many friends working at the mouse and when that ‘new park’ (Universal) opened in town we were some of the first to visit it. Luckily for us that new park had a meltdown on most of their rides and we were given wads of tickets, the last of which I finally used in 2007. All those tickets meant that I was able to not only spend my childhood with the magic of Epcot but in this new park that did things a bit different.
After that initial visit to the Welcome Center I became a regular visitor there and any time I passed a thing of brochures I had to stop to pick a few (a habit I’ve yet to break). Soon my walk-in closet was redone as my very own ‘welcome center’ where I kept rows of brochures. When family would come to visit I’d make sure to advise them on all the cool stuff to do in town. Most other kids in school took up sports, odd collections of meaningless items like rocks or cards with random facts on them or other seemingly (to me at the time) pointless hobbies but I kept my brochures.
The 1990s were a very odd time for Central Florida. 4 major theme parks opened in the course of 9 years, it wasn’t just the Disney Decade- it was the Orlando Decade. And here I was growing up right in the middle of it. My father went from working at a local lumberyard to helping build entire new towns. Places like The Villages and Celebration appeared almost overnight. My father, knowing what was taking place, was smart in showing me the construction. I saw the cow fields that became Celebration and drove the endless roads filled with houses still under construction in The Villages and west Orange County. All of this inspired me, all this change happening more or less because of one person. We’re taught as children that we can change the world but here I was truly witnessing it, the entire reality of Central Florida rapidly changing and all thanks in large part to one guy.
So throw all of that in a blender and I think it’s pretty easy to see why I’m the completely obsessed with this ever changing region.
That’s it for Part 1. I hope you enjoyed getting a little more background on Ken and some early Orlando. The next installment will be up on Monday, November 30.