. 750 W. Main Street, Bartow
Kelly Harris-Hollifield lives by a select few simple rules. Never buy cheap bacon, never use canned mushrooms, never serve or eat ranch dressing she did not make herself. For everything else, a basic philosophy: Bend, don't break.
Her husband, who has rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, was an independent trucker. She worked in medical billing. They bought a house, started saving. "Then in 2007 the bottom fell out." Trucking loads started paying less, and gas went up. He sold his rig to be home with the kids, just before she lost her job. The loss of income was tough, but the budget killer was the COBRA insurance. With his pre-existing conditions, it cost nearly $1,500 a month.
"We had to pay it. Once you get a lapse, you're up that well-known creek. I worked in health care and I know all about it. You'll never get coverage," she says. "In the end we chose health care over our house."
The house went into foreclosure. Last March she passed by an empty diner on Main Street and saw a "For Lease" sign. "I'm 34. I don't want to be 50 and regret that I never tried to make things better," she said to herself, and dialed the number. Her husband got a trucking job with benefits. The financial pressure began to ease. She opened in June and must average $500 in sales a day to make it. "I know this will never make me rich. I just want to repair our credit and own a home again someday."
n 1058 Main Street, Davenport
Aleen Dorey wore a cream-colored dress from the JCPenney catalog when she married Ron Dorey in the front office of the Stark KOA Campground 35 years ago. She was working at McDonald's; he was going to truck-driving school. They share core beliefs in hard work, character and self-reliance. "I think a whole lot more than 47 percent of people in this country need to take responsibility for themselves," Ron says.
Seven years ago they pulled their 37-foot Coachmen Catalina onto Main Street at the Florida Camp Inn in Davenport, supposing it to be just another stop on the road. He had been hired as a night shift bus driver for Disney; she was starting a graveyard shift in housekeeping at a Disney resort. The plan was to live on a tight budget and free themselves from $45,000 of debt. It took four years.
"We've worked our butts off and don't owe nobody nothing," says Ron, a wiry 74-year-old. Something about Florida Camp Inn started to settle into their bones. Aleen, who is 64, took to drinking her morning coffee outside in her pajamas so she could gossip with her neighbor through an RV window. In the evening, neighbors drove golf carts cruising Main Street instead of staying inside and watching TV.
So about four years ago, they tied their RV down with hurricane straps. Soon, they put skirting around it, installed a permanent flush toilet and replaced the canvas awning with aluminum. They enclosed it and added AC.
Ron changed his voter registration from Republican to independent in 2008, and is disgusted with both parties. "I don't think any of them — Republican, Democrats or independents — have a lick of sense."
, 372 E. Main Street, Apopka
Cecy Cortez loved to spend Thanksgiving Day at work. She kept the doors of her hair salon open for the holiday, catered with a Puerto Rican-style buffet, cranked up traditional Mexican ranchero music from her homeland, and turned business into a party. Customers spilled out the door. Seven hair stylists kept busy from open to close. Cortez could not be more thankful. She had come to the United States in 1986 to work the fields, saved enough to go to cosmetology school, and by 2004 saved enough to open her own salon.
But in 2008 the Thanksgiving crowd thinned. The recession hit, and by 2009 Thanksgiving was barely a special occasion. She went down to three stylists, dropped her prices and struggled to break even. In 2010, fortune smiled again on the 51-year-old. Her son fell in love with Angelica Santiago, a Puerto Rican woman with a business degree. Santiago left her family behind, moved to the States, and brought Cortez two blessings: a granddaughter and a new business plan. The three of them formed a team.
"We were only serving the Hispanic community in this area, basically people who could walk here," Santiago says. "This is America, you have to broaden your market to everyone." She created a Facebook page, is building a website, delivered fliers around town and decided they would provide a better value for people facing tough times.
"My dad had a saying, 'The money is out there right now in people's pockets. You just have to work a little harder to get it.' We can do that."
. 10715 Main Street, Thonotosassa
Retired postmaster and part-time library assistant Ron Smith is as cynical as he is well-read. And he is very well-read. Since earning a master's degree in political science from USF in 1978, he has prided himself on knowing minutiae of the latest political news from the left and right, and on his commitment to staying in the center. "I'm so jaded about the whole thing. It's not even high theater anymore, it's low theater," he shrugs. "It frightens me that we have candidates who can just lie. Romney says Obama provided $90 billion in tax breaks to green energy companies. PolitiFact comes up the next day and tells us that is total bullc--p. Obama says Romney plans a $5 trillion tax cut. Bullc--p. But there are enough people who don't read that it's all about a good sound bite. Facts don't matter." He shakes his head. "Then people say data is left-leaning. Data leans? Data doesn't lean. It's data."
But "as cynical as I am, I think the salvation of this country is in the resiliency of the people. Through our whole history we get squashed and get back up again, squashed and get back up again. You can't keep Americans down. You can count on them."
m 3615 Main Street, Sanford (Midway)
If you are a postal worker, the property appraiser, a mapmaker or a visitor looking for New Bethel AME Church, you will find it on Main Street in Sanford. However, if you are from here you know it is — and has always been — on Main Street in a place called Midway.
The town got its name from two wells "midway" between ranches in Geneva and the rail yard in Sanford. It is where ranchers paused their cattle drive for rest and water. It is also where the human beings whose hard labor built farm wealth for white families in Sanford were allowed to settle.
The church started in a barn that burned down in the 1920s. The congregation built a real church; it burned down in 1975. They rebuilt again.
Altamese Johnson Martin and the other aging members of the congregation have kept a communal promise that their children would have better lives than the ones they were born into. She remembers when school was held in summer, between harvest seasons. "I started working in the fields when I was 9 years old," the 77-year-old recollects. "I didn't mind it because everyone else was doing it."
Back then Midway was made of dirt roads and discrimination. It was a tightly knit farming community, so no one went hungry. Everyone looked out for their neighbor, and children knew if they misbehaved every adult was a short degree of separation away from their parents.
In her lifetime, Midway — and her church — has produced doctors, lawyers, businessmen, professional athletes and countless success stories of people who made it to the middle class.
"What is it that Hillary says, 'It takes a village?' Well it was a village," she laughs. Which is why you'll find her in the pews of the church she grew up in every Sunday morning, and at Bible study every Wednesday night.