Earlier this month and because my favorite five-year old is fascinated with city busses, I decided to sample Orlando from a different perspective. Having spent time traversing Europe in the eighties and spending time in different cities in Mexico and the US, large and small, I am no stranger to public transportation. Sometimes public transportation is the best way to get to know a city from a perspective of those who make it their home.

It was a Saturday morning in the middle of October. I decided that I needed to take some pictures of the cityscape for future projects so we started right smack in the middle of downtown. This gave us an opportunity to take pictures and enjoy the architecture of downtown Orlando.

It is obvious that some time and effort has been put into building up Orlando’s downtown and my daily experience seems to indicate a vibrant community in the day and at night. Early each morning, the sidewalks are being cleaned from the parties the night before. Who pays for this? I’m not sure at this point but I assume it is some sort of tax-driven operation. My observations are that it is an efficient operation that keeps the sidewalks clean without impeding the morning’s commute.

From an observational point of view, it seems that it is part of the community’s long-term effort to invigorate downtown Orlando, and it seems to be working. At some point I’d like to look into what, if any controversies surrounded or continues to surround downtown revitalization as it seems many cities are attempting this or have attempted it and most seem to have failed at it. Seemingly it seems to be successful in Orlando.

Since it was a Saturday, foot traffic was minimal so we enjoyed the walk through Church Street and on to Lynx Central Station.

My observation is that the mass-transit system in Orlando is active and adequate for the city. But it is just an observation from someone who doesn’t depend on mass transportation to get around. The central station is neat and organized. And, people are cordial to each other, both at the station and on the bus.

Unfortunately that did not extend to the two officials for the mass-transit that I encountered. First was the ticket lady. I asked her for information on how to get to The Mall at Millenia. Although, courteous, she nonetheless gave us the wrong bus information. Dutifully waiting for the bus we expected to take me, from experience, asked the bus driver if he would be stopping close to the mall. He said his route did not come anywhere near the mall and gave us the right bus number to take.

I took no chances this time and got a route map to verify the information given to me. The bus driver was right on. Since we had been waiting for the wrong bus, we missed the right one and ended up waiting for 45 minutes until the next one would arrive. This gave us an opportunity to interact with other commuters and it was interesting. Everyone was courteous. That is, until we encountered the next transit official, an overzealous security guard who seemed to relish the opportunity to do something rather than watch people come and go.

Part of what I enjoy when in a new city is taking pictures of buildings, people and architecture. When taking pictures of people, I make it a habit to not take a picture of their faces in order to keep their privacy. As for buildings and architecture I feel the field is wide open for my camera but I respect people’s space and try not to be intrusive. I took some pictures of the facility while waiting for our bus. We were in the public, open space but well within the bus terminal area where buses drop and pick up passengers.

And there he was, as if on a mission to make a name for himself by stopping a would be terrorist. The security guard was demanding to see my pictures telling me I had no right to take pictures of the facility. Intrusive and demanding was his demeanor, as if this was the excitement of day for him.

I understand that since 9/11 things have changed and people and governments are more security conscious. I get that. I also understand that the bus terminal is a private place, albeit one paid with and for the use by the taxpayers of the community. This distinction both gives the transit operator the right to restrict access and that includes pictures. But common sense must prevail.

I’m tagging along a five year-old with camera equipment that is not only noticeable but is clearly a camera not intended for covert operations. Why would a terrorist make a spectacle of himself by taking obvious pictures and bring attention to himself when today’s technology allows us to take very detailed pictures with our smart phones and immediately send them off on their way?

My problem with the whole episode was not that I was told not to take pictures of the facility or even of the attention; rather it was the attitude and stupidity of the whole thing. And, I’m not alone in my feeling by the reactions of the other’s waiting for their busses as one individual actually asked incredulously; “you’re not allowed to take pictures?”

Security is important and it is something I am personally more cognizant off in light of the turmoil in my country of birth and the worldwide changes taking place. But common sense means that my personal security should not and does not impede my sharing of my experiences online or with friends. Likewise, it should not dictate closing off areas to cameras when those intent on hurting someone will likely not advertise themselves with bulky cameras and a five year-old hanging on to them.

If we allow amateurish security protocols to manage our lives then we let the terrorists win the battle.

If that’s the case, then why bother spending the enormous amounts of money building nice facades, if we are not to admire them? Make boring brick boxes and save the money for things we can enjoy whether we ride the busses or not. And, regardless courtesy should always be the way to engage people until given a reason not to.

Were it not for the incompetence of the two officials I had the misfortune of engaging the whole day would have been awesome.

Nonetheless, the Orlando citizens I had the pleasure to ride the bus with were not only courteous and fun to engage but one gentlemen and another couple were particularly helpful in offering this “tourist” advice on where to get off the bus and where to go in the mall, without prompting. So far my experience in Orlando has been very positive and I continue to enjoy the people and the visitors that make the city unique and different from all others I have had the pleasure of being in. By the way, for two dollars it has been one of the best expenditures in my quest to get to know Orlando. Give the LYNX a try next time you are in the mood to explore.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...