Thursday, April 12, 2012

An Orlando Primer

So I have now lived in Orlando for over three years, which is an ample amount of time to get a good feel for this place. And to not get lost anymore. Trust me – it is very easy to get lost in this town. I will get into the reasons for that shortly. So I decided to impart the things I have learned about this town on all y’all.
That’s redneck plural.
I love Orlando. I was excited when I first moved here in 2009, and it has just gotten better and better. So many things to see and do. Something always going on. My pet phrase is, if you are bored in Orlando, you just want to be bored…because it is not due to a lack of things available to do. It’s due to your unwillingness to get off your butt and do them.
But it is also a city with a seamy underside. And if you visit, you can certainly stay in your comfy room at the Grand Floridian on Disney property and take the monorail over to Epcot and have a swell time. But if you are feeling adventurous and want to see the city that over two million of us call home, well, read on.
Disney Ain’t Orlando
Nor is Universal Studios. Or Sea World. Or Wet ‘n Wild. Those are our major attractions, and what brings in tourists from all over the world. But that’s not Orlando. The world has gotten a view of the other side of Orlando recently – Casey Anthony, Trayvon Martin. Point being, we are like any other metropolitan area with over 2.3 million people – we have our issues.
So unlike other cities, we are not defined by how we are perceived. This isn’t Cinderella’s Palace or The Incredible Hulk roller coaster. We are a large, sprawling, teeming city filled with excitement…and danger.
Sinkhole City
Orlando likes to boast about all the lakes we have. And we do have a bunch of them. But you want to know what they really are? Sinkholes. Orlando is built on unstable land in the middle of a peninsula. A very high water table, which means there’s a reason we don’t have basements – because they will turn into indoor swimming pools.  And every now and then the land just gives up and falls in. Voila – a sinkhole. And after one of our summer rainy seasons that sinkhole turns into a lake. And two years afterwards, half-million-dollar homes are built with a sinkhole, er, lakefront view.
What the sinkholes also cause is windy, curvy roads. Nothing is in a straight line here. Therefore it is very easy to get lost, and your sense of direction gets compromised – ‘Let’s see…I was heading east, but now the sun’s in my eyes and it’s 7pm….how in the hell did I get headed west?’
Avoid I-4
Traffic is hideous in this town. Anywhere you go – from Winter Garden to Bithlo to Sanford to St. Cloud, there is traffic. Lots of it. And we only have one Interstate – I-4. Now, we do have other highways, but they are toll roads – the Florida Turnpike, 408, 429, 417. So if you want to get anywhere and you don’t want to go fishing through your pocket for change, sooner or later you are going to be on I-4.
I am telling you now. Try not to. At time it’s unavoidable – hey, I-4 is my daily work commute because there’s no other way to get from where I live to where I work. But if you have other options, use them. Please. For the rest of us.
All Cici’s Aren’t Equal
I mentioned earlier that the attractions of Disney, Universal and so on aren’t Orlando. But they are a section of Orlando – the section that we refer to as ‘The Attractions Area’. This is roughly defined as the area southwest of the city, northwest of Kissimmee. This also includes the International Drive (I-Drive) area. I-Drive is a cool place…to visit. But it’s not a place to spend an inordinate amount of time at. Because you will eventually get hungry.
Not that there aren’t places to eat on I-Drive. It is loaded with them, providing any culinary sojourn you care to endeavor upon. The issue is, they’re mostly tourist rip-offs, so expect to pay $15.99 for a cheeseburger. The biggest example of this is Cici’s Pizza – that wonderful chain of all-you-can-stuff-into-your-fat-face pizza buffets. I got two Cici’s within a 10-minute drive of my apartment, one of which is less than a mile from my yoga studio. $4.99 for the buffet.
The one on I-Drive with the exact same selection? $8.99.
You Got A Walmart? We got 10 of them
One of the things that blew me away about O-Town was its proliferation of urban amenities. Whenever I move to a new area I have to identify my amenities – the closest dry cleaner, Chinese take-out restaurant, driving range. Much to my surprise and pleasure, there are about 6 of each. Within 10 minutes of my place.
We also have damn near any restaurant you have where you live, and most likely, multiple locations. Fan of deep-dish Chicago pizza? We got Unos. You a New Yawker that likes his pizza thin and foldable? Good God we got about 150 pizza joints claiming to be ‘authentic New York Style’. Cajun? Try Tibby’s in Winter Park. Vietnamese cuisine? We got a whole section of town – East Colonial – tailored to your palate. Mongolian barbecue, fried catfish huts in the middle of the ‘hood, sports bars, Hooters, Spanish cuisine, Puerto Rican cuisine, Mexican cuisine (each is different), Thai…we got it all.
You want it, we got it. Guaranteed.
Cool Free Stuff To Do
Universal City Walk, Downtown Disney, Leu Gardens, Orlando Historical Center, Wall Street, Lake Eola…to name a few. Believe it or not, you don’t have to spend scads of money to have a good time here, and in many cases, you don’t have to spend anything.
So enjoy your time in Orlando. The City Beautiful.
And stay off I-4.

1 comment:

Mikey said...

While Orlando might not be my cup of tea, (1) sinkholes are so interesting, (2) I saw a concert there that was in my top 5; band wasn't anything to write home about, but the arrangement and everything was uniquely epic, (3) 99% of the battle is loving the city you live in, no matter the reasons.

Cool post!