Going to Florida: My First Home

This is a series of posts following my two years on the road…although most of that time was not spent on the road at all.

August 2011
Moving to Orlando

I’ve always been a physically weak guy. I want to blame my genes, but my mother’s side of the family are practically giants by Korean standards. On the other hand, my father and his father were stick thin like myself. Because of my tall, lanky appearance, my parents nicknamed me beansprout as a kid whereas other kids teased me that I must be malnourished. But, no matter what I ate, I was always thin and felt insecure about my appearance.

By graduate school, I noticed for the first time that despite my thinness, I also looked kind of fat. My stomach giggled, I didn’t have an athletic build. So, I hired an undergrad student personal trainer. Towards the end of my first workout session with her (yes, it was a girl), my body was so exhausted that I fell to the ground in a daze. My vision was completely blurred to the point of being practically blind for several minutes and feeling nauseous. After a month, I stopped my sessions with her.

Most gyms and personal trainers as I would learn aren’t really worth their salt. Like most items in our consumer culture, they’re created to sell you a dream, an idea of who you are rather than any real, end results. It’s not just their fault. A lot of people don’t have the patience or dedication to really get the real results too. Fortunately, my apartment complex had a great gym that was always empty, and I slowly overcame my fear of the gym until I finally felt at home in one.

I mention my interest in fitness because it was the reason that drew me to Florida.

One of my dreams of the RV had been the ability to travel to experts and masters to learn from whether it was a Zen monastery in northern NY or a hacker school in San Francisco.

I spotted a blog post by Drew Baye, a well known personal trainer and former body builder. He was looking for case study subjects for his upcoming book. He would train people for three months in exchange for being put on public display. Immediately, I emailed him and asked to be signed up. He agreed as long as I could get my butt to Orlando by the time the program started. My friends all joked that I would return unrecognizable as a meat head.

Yet, I had zero friends in Orlando. I didn’t know much about Orlando apart from Disney World. It was definitely the biggest life change up to that point. I would learn a few lessons from Orlando including the confidence that I could make friends anywhere and survive anywhere.

In addition, my friends at the time were moving all over the place. Some of them were on a long term Europe tour. Another was teaching English abroad. Others were starting graduate school. With everyone moving and progressing to new stages of their life, I felt an itch to also be doing something, anything.

So, a week later, I drove my RV from Delaware to Orlando. Along the way, I said goodbye to my old friends in Washington DC, couchsurfed in Richmond, danced in Raleigh, and toured Savannah. I never really fell in love with the south apart from the charming beauty of Savannah.

Unbeknownst to me, my trainer had emailed me the day I had left Delaware to warn me that the program had been cancelled. I didn’t see the email. A few days later, I’m sitting in my new home in Florida reading this email in dumb amazement. My sole and only reason for moving to Orlando had been cut short before it ever began. This was freaking nuts I thought.

While driving down, I found a house through craigslist to rent month to month just three miles from downtown Orlando. The summer heat would of made living n the RV a complete hell even in the night.

When I arrived in town, I was shocked to find my new home was hiding on the “wrong side of the tracks”. Every other house on the street had a metal, high fence. The main street was dotted with strip clubs, gun stores, liquor shops, and prostitutes on the road. My new roommates were a high school student, his older, gay companion, and a young girl working at Disney Land. Later, an older man working as a linecook at a fast food joint would join our motley crew. He rented what was basically the size of a large closet. It was definitely a large change from my college and graduate school days of artists, scientists, yuppies, hipsters, and geeks.

To keep things exciting, my room lacked an air conditioner, the kitchen lacked a stove, and three of my roommates (the gay couple and the girl) shared a single bedroom. Although I got along with everyone at the house, I, immediately, knew I wanted to leave.

One day, I returned home late to see dozens of police cars and firetrucks at the gas station across the street from my house. My roommates told me that a drunk women had driven her minivan directly into a gas pump causing a gas explosion. I left a few days later.

Ironically, my next home in the beautiful, historic Lake Eola area would turn out to be the more dangerous place.