Friday, April 10, 2009

O-Town O-My!

I have lived in Southeast Florida for over 25 years now, having moved here from Ohio in 1982. My domiciles have ranged from Port St. Lucie in the north to Boynton Beach in the south - centering around Palm Beach County mostly. And like any metropolitan area, we exhibit pride in our choice of residence. Part of the expression of pride is to decidedly trash other areas of the state. And the one area that has long be the whippin' boy is Central Florida, specifically the Orlando area.

Land of the Fake, Mickeyville, RatLand...home of overpriced happy meals, tourist traps & horrific traffic. That's the Orlando that we have portrayed. Much of which is, well, true - especially the traffic part. As my friend Lyle puts it, Orlando's the only town where, the fastest way to get from point A to B is to go in the opposite direction. Mind-numbing traffic. (Tip: Avoid International Drive).

Well, due to various sets of circumstances like the desire to not starve, I have been seeking gainful employment in my chosen career path, which led me to a real nice job offer in - you guessed it - Goofyville. And it was with real trepidation that I decided to take the position offered. That was a month ago, and I can tell you that I have discovered an area of Orlando that very much flies under the radar & is not talked much about - the downtown area.

Before I talk about what is in downtown Orlando. let me tell you what's not there. You will not find any souvenir shops, mouse hats, Chuck E Cheese, Japanese tourists, German tourists, hell - Florida tourists, insidious background 'It's a small world after all' music, or 45-minute wait lines for a 2-minute ride. All that is a 30-minute drive to the southwest that locals barely recognize, let alone point to with pride.
What downtown Orlando is, is one of the coolest urban settings I've ever been a part of. My office is smack downtown, and as such, I've been exploring the area - either on foot or through use of an awesome method of urban mobility unique to O-Town: The Lymmo. A cool decorated bus that has its own dedicated guideway & signal preemption. Translation: cars & traffic lights are not a factor - it glides past any traffic. And it delivers you to the center of bars, restaurants, musicians, museums, open markets & a cool/funky environment that, unlike more famous areas of Orlando, is completely organic and natural. Nothing contrived here. In downtown, It's a legit world after all. And there's no subliminal reinforcement needed of that fact.

The other thing unique to downtown is the proximity of great places to live. And by proximity I mean walking distance. Truly. Like 5 blocks away from a thumping night life & great restaurants are neighborhoods like Lake Eola Heights, Thornton Park & Colonial Town. Safe. Clean. A lot of pride exhibited by the residents. Totally freekin' cool as hell.

So there's my little advertisement for downtown Orlando. Coming from a jaded Floridian with long-held preconceived notions of what Orlando is, downtown has been an awesome eye-opener. And my advice to any would-be traveler to O-Town is this - Take the scads of money you would spend on a hotel with a mouse-shaped tub & overpriced admission tickets for the privilege of standing in mind-numbing lines, and stay downtown. Take in a Magic game, stroll around Lake Eola, try the Vietnamese cuisine on East Colonial...and basically enjoy the REAL Orlando.