Monday, February 21, 2011

Hot Child in the Suburbs

Apparently today is some sort of holiday. I wouldn’t know this based on my work schedule, but this fact is evident the moment I hop into my car and begin the drive to/from my office. You see, I’m a suburbanite. More importantly, I’m a suburbanite in a city with a main revenue source that relies on tourism. And, more important still, I live in the part of town commonly referred to as “the attractions.”

Now, just to give some perspective, the attractions area stretches all the way from my office in the Stepford Wives-esque manufactured town of Celebration – which is located on the far end of Disney’s sprawling 47-square-mile metropolis that houses 4 theme parks, 2 water parks and so many resorts I long ago lost track (in other words it’s roughly the size of San Francisco, or twice the size of Manhattan, whatever helps you wrap your head around it better) – then passes right through the SeaWorld parks before ending, finally, at the park and resort area that makes up Universal Orlando (and which also happens to be where our house is located). So, as you can see, making the drive from house to work (and back) pretty much takes me through every tourist trap, theme park logjam and “Mom, which way do we go now … I can’t figure out this map … Wait, I think that’s our exit let’s swerve across 4 lanes of traffic right NOW” destination in the Central Florida area.

Surprisingly, it’s normally not so bad to drive through. About 25 minutes on average, sometimes even less. However, every time a holiday weekend, spring break season for northern schools, winter vacation or touching television commercial about spending more time with your family rolls around my daily drive turns into a standstill. Accidents line the interstate and rubberneckers gawk, snap photos and force the rest of us out onto side streets, which are equally plagued with throngs of locals trying (unsuccessfully) to use their back road knowledge of the city to maneuver around it all (they say it’s the locals who actually have most of these accidents, not the tourists, though I think we all can agree that it’s us who crash only because we’re trying to avoid the swerving and weaving and general road chaos caused by them). In total, regardless of which backed-up roadway you pick, holidays like today mean my drive time could be doubled. So when Dad tells me to be home promptly at 6 p.m. and pick up some orange juice from the store on the way (don’t you just love the fact that I’m a grown, 33-year-old woman now has absolutely no relevance to him in relation to his parenting skills?) it’s hard to explain that, in fact, I would have to leave the office quite earlier than is really considered acceptable in order to make this happen.

I’m not complaining though – quite the contrary. In fact, I find people who live in Orlando and complain about the tourists to be annoying. Why not also complain about how hot it is while you’re at it? It cracks me up. It reminds me of those people who live in college towns and then complain about all the dang students everywhere. Sorry, nope, not buying it. You live here by choice, and you knew what you were signing up for when you moved to the second “Happiest Place on Earth.” And yet, there is a whole other side of Orlando that is so far removed from tourists with Mickey ears perched on their heads and clinging onto stuffed Shamus that you would hardly even identify it as part of the same metropolis area. And it is many of the people who live on this side of town – in the downtown Orlando district and outlying suburban areas that stretch out the other, non-attraction based, side of the city – who seem to foster this oddly misplaced disdain for all things “Disney” (they are assuming, of course, that all the theme parks in the region can be lumped into just one conglomerate, regardless of which parent company actually owns each individual attraction).

When the “happiness haters” speak of traveling to “my” part of town you can hear the vehemence for this task in their voice. And, frankly, I can relate because that’s exactly how I feel when I travel to “their” side of town. That nasty holiday traffic I only sometimes have to encounter when driving through the attractions is a daily occurrence for those who drive downtown. And while paying to park at the theme parks gets their blood boiling, I feel the same sense of dread driving in circles downtown looking for a meter, hunting for quarters to feed it and desperately rushing through meals to avoid a ticket when it expires. Oh, and that’s assuming the restaurant you wanted to dine at is even still open. Just because you went there just last week does not mean it will still be open today. Orlando businesses are notorious for failing and shuttering before you even have a chance to check it out. Visiting a friend? That means paying $15 for the privilege of parking in their building’s garage, waiting for the front desk guy to come back from his break so he can buzz you in, being told what types of food & beverage you’re allowed to have by the pool that no one is swimming in but instead lounging coyly around in order to be seen. Or else you could just come to my house, park out front for free, and drink whatever you want as you actually swim in my nice, private, not peed in by small children, pool. Want something to eat? My side of town features the acclaimed “restaurant row” and dozens of award-winning restaurants, many with celebrity chef names attached, at all those “terrible” vacation resorts that true Orlandians (Orlanders? Ummm … Residents of Orlando) hate. They even have those $18 martinis you seem so fond of. And you know they’ll be open – 365 days a year. Plus, did I mention the ample free parking?

I get it – haters gotta hate. But, come on, Orlando is no New York City. And we can’t pretend it’s Miami either. This is not a great cultural hotbed of America. So, lighten up people and embrace what makes this place so fun … or at least funny. Oh, and come visit me in the ‘burbs – it’s pretty great out here.

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