Orlando Nightlife Columnist Tod Caviness: An Interview

Poet recites and holding a Yuengling

Orlando’s Tod Caviness writes the nightlife column for The Orlando Sentinel. Once a month, he hosts The Speakeasy at Will’s Pub, an open-mic poetry reading. By readers choice, three times he won Orlando Weekly’s Best Spoken-Word artist. A long friend of mine, I asked him to grace this humble blog for an interview.

1. Tell us your literary history.
The usual high school poetry and journaling. Some short stories that will hopefully never see the light of day, although some of it still makes me smile when I dig it out of the attic.

2. What is  your Orlando literary history?
Really, the “literary” history starts in Orlando. I didn’t start writing with intent until after I moved here in the mid-’90s, and I still credit the old Backroom Words and the larger spoken word scene for a big part of that. Sometime after the Backroom Words morphed into Speakeasy, I weaseled my way into some freelance work for an arts & entertainment site called Orlando Citybeat. (Later known as Orlando Metromix, before the Orlando Sentinel dropped it entirely.) I find that the “old days” are never as cool as we remember, but man, do I miss doing comic book reviews and that oddball karaoke column I used to write with Trevor Fraser.

Anyway, that led to full-time grunt work with the Sentinel and eventually the features reporting job I have now. Although my days of “slam poetry” (or whatever you want to call it) are largely in the rear-view, I still keep a toehold in the scene through my monthly gig hosting Speakeasy at Will’s Pub and spoken word events at the annual Orlando Fringe Festival.

3. Explain your Orlando Sentinel blog.
The blog’s just a small part of my job, which is basically the same nightlife beat the late Kelly Fitzpatrick used to cover. And man, do I owe her for it – I would not have gotten the foot in the door way back when without Kelly and I hope I can keep doing this with half the sense of humor she had.

When I’m not coming up with synonyms for “cocktail,” I’m a general features reporter, which means I write about a wide range of entertainment topics. Basically, whatever I can convince my editor to print. I’ve interviewed everyone from local burlesque dancers to Art Spiegelman. All this is not quite as fun as it sounds … but yeah, it’s still a lot of fun.

4. What are your views on Orlando’s nightlife?
Man, does Orlando love chasing trends. Luckily, the primary trends at the moment are craft beer and better cocktails, and I can’t argue with either of those. Who doesn’t want better drinks? Orlando may not have blazed any trails, but we’re quick learners: Florida’s one of the fastest-growing states for microbreweries, and the bartenders at joints like The Courtesy and Matador really care about what they do. All this, and there’s still room for the old guard like Wally’s and Will’s. It’s a good mix. I think a few areas are reaching the saturation point (ahem, downtown), but after the smoke clears the worthy bars are still going to have a clientele.

5. Any memorable moments?
Man, I wish I had more Bukowski moments, but the best part of this job is just letting bartenders talk and watching people. There’s a bar a few miles north of College Park, and I found the markers where a couple regulars are buried in the backyard. (Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you which one.) They’re still there, if you know where to look. That probably seems sad to some people, but I dunno – sometimes the ties you make at bars are the strongest. The friendships I made at Will’s back in the day have lasted longer than 99% of the people who signed my high school yearbook.

6. Anyone given you backlash over a review?
Sure. It’s funny, though – most people are just glad to be mentioned, even if it’s lukewarm. It’s when I don’t mention them that I hear about it. God forbid I do a roundup of dive bars or whatever and (insert hole-in-the-wall here) isn’t on the list. People, I cover six counties. That’s a lot of bars.

7. I forgot the specifics. Yet, you mentioned a Southern site not mentioning any Orlando bars.
Oh yeah! Southern Living did some “Top 100” list awhile back. But a lot of the buzzworthy spots have just been popping up in the last couple years; give it time. And let’s be honest, this was a magazine that my Mom reads for cake recipes.

8. What are your views on Uber? (Uber is a mobile phone network connecting clients to available drivers. Worldwide, taxi companies hate it.)
Don’t really know enough about it to have a strong opinion, but I know a couple legitimate cabbies around town and you can probably guess theirs. I know if I were drunk and looking for a ride, it probably wouldn’t make my top 3 options.

9. Any future projects or plans?
I’ve just recently become a Dad, which has a way of putting anything beyond the 9-to-5 on hold. Despite that, it’s shaping up to be a good year: I’ve got a short story coming out on the next “15 Views of Orlando” anthology from Burrow Press, and I’m in talks with a publisher in Tampa to knock out my first book of poetry in awhile. So far, so good.

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