Linux's Witness Ministry
For me, the weather in Orlando is pure torture. Apparently, some people like to be so hot that their brain bakes and sweat pours from their bodies like a swamp being drained for a strip mall. I am not one of those people. Here in Orlando, inspiration for that famous metaphysical theme park known as Hell, there are plenty of ambient BTU's to make every calorie trapped by every follicle of hair on your skin a source of pain.
Here in Orlando the weather is not unpredictable. In fact it is to weather what Swiss trains are to transportation. EVERY morning, the weather forecast on NPR is: "Hot and sunny with a 35% chance of afternoon showers or thunderstorms." This means that approximately three days of every week, there is rain in the afternoons. I'd say that one of these rain days per week is quite an exciting meteorological event with the power going out at least once every two weeks. It turns out that Orlando is second only to somewhere in Uganda for the highest number of lightning strikes in the world. While it is irritating that one can not predict which exact days will have rainy afternoons (another two days per week have merely cloudy afternoons just to make you really wonder) the real weather factor here is absolutely inevitable.
It is hot here. Hot. Hot like your skin during a nasty motorcycle accident. Hot like some Poe variation where the cremation has begun before the death has occurred.
Let's consider some numbers. Everyday, the pseudo-scientists who discuss the weather mention high temperatures in the afternoons to be between 93F [34C] and 102F [39C]. I have a thermometer that does report 32F [0C] in ice water that usually reads 5F [3C] higher than the reported weather. In the sunlight, my thermometer can go well above 115F [46C]. And in a parked car...well, it doesn't go that high. In the apartment, the air conditioning cranks away most of the day. The inside temperature is set to 83F [28C]. Although this feels great after coming in from outside, it still is quite hot and nasty.
I suppose the big factor that distinguishes this rotten weather from the relatively pleasant albeit scorching weather of the US desert southwest is the humidity. It is very easy to be misled here into believing that Orlando is something other than what it is (geographically) - a swamp. This entire area is a humid, jungle and marsh covered swamp. It used to be anyway. It should be!
I'm a big proponent of hanging laundry out to dry . I thought that as long as I put the wet clothes out a couple of hours before the 35% chance of rain, I'd be folding dry clothes by the time the clouds rolled in. It turns out that this isn't quite true. Some things dry nearly instantly in the sun's fury but some things take ages to dry. I've left things out for over 24 hours that never fully dried. I doubt they ever would. They reach a saturation point equal to that of the air and that's that. Don't get me wrong, turning on an electric or gas dryer here is a sin and hanging laundry is perfectly effective on the whole.
On the topic of laundry - there are heaps of it. Why? Here's a hint: Gatorade was invented for the Florida Gators sports teams and I endeavor to drink three litres of it EVERY day! I am a font of unholy sweat. I don't think my feet or underarms have been dry in weeks. Not surprisingly, in addition, I stink. Living in a small apartment so tightly sealed from fresh oven air doesn't bode well for the general smell inside either. Surely a feature of Hell is not being able to tolerate your own smell.
Okay, enough about the obvious - it's intractably hot here. Why then do people live here? The answer is: because they can now, and the reason is technology. There are two factors that I believe have caused this region to become a wasteland of the "Conquestors" instead of the relatively pleasant swamp it used to be. First, air conditioning and second, swamp draining technology. It has been within my lifetime that car air conditioning systems have gone from problematic and rare to essential and ubiquitous. Indeed, it has been only in twentieth century that refrigeration technology has been available to consumers at all. Keep in mind that until relatively recently, not only did fresh meat and dairy products rot quickly, so would have most fruits and vegetables, baked goods, etc in a climate so hot and humid as this.
Obviously refrigeration technology is a key factor in the spoiling of Florida. Additionally, I believe that there have been modern advances in civil engineering in the last century that have allowed incredible things to happen to this region and others like it. I think that the US Army Corps of Engineers has made great advances in being able to turn a rice paddy into a landing strip, if you know what I mean. Seeing the Alcan Highway up close gave me an appreciation for this as well. Vastly improved earth moving equipment and advances in hydrology have allowed humans to reshape the planet as we wish.
So while the ordinary explanation of Orlando's absurd growth is merely the presence of Disney, it is improved technology that made it inevitable for such an enterprise to be here at all. This relatively recent ability of our species to overcome the difficulties of swamp life en masse helps explain why 90% of Floridians have lived here less than 10 years.
Here's my general impression of how the civil engineering works here: dredge sludge out of the deep part of the swamps (we call those lakes now) and put it in the shallow part of the swamps (we call those Walmart now). Swamps are almost exclusively flat and flat can very easily be construed as featureless. Indeed, that's how it appears here. The early colonizers here must have looked out over a vast swamp and when figuring out how to get from one relatively dry patch to another, they just drew a grid of roads. The point is, it doesn't matter what's in the way. It's swamp in the way!
So Orlando and surrounding area wound up with a huge grid of very long and very straight roads spaced between one and three kilometres apart. In between these roads, I suspect that they drained the swamps to the extent possible and installed agriculture (citrus, etc). But you wouldn't know that today! Today a systematic and formulaic process has completely swept over the entire area. As far as I can tell, developers bought big blocks of land between some of the major roads and then planned and constructed their own smaller streets in between. This fractal subdividing continued right up to the driveways of each house or apartment building.
Everywhere I've been here has this similar character to it. A system of major streets bounding a housing subdivision or apartment complex. The geometry is almost completely orthogonal on the major bounding streets. Every once in a while there is a lake to go around (there are LOTS of lakes here). Inside the subdivisions, which are more often than not walled in from the major roads that surround them, the roads can go all twisty. In fact, they are intentionally confusing and dead end. Consequently, very few people ever explore anyone else's subdivision, or indeed, their own. It's like being a blood cell in a foot - just because the other foot is nearby doesn't mean you can meet any blood cells from that foot easily.
And the major streets? There are two classes of them, which I'll call major and minor. The minor roads are also in an orthogonal grid and they connect one major road to another. The astounding fact about the minor roads is that they are nearly 100% walled or otherwise fenced with a high opaque barrier. That is to say that while progressing down one of these streets, the only things you see are a wooden fence on the left a brick wall on the right and the stop light up ahead at the major road a kilometre away. Every once in a while, the view is punctuated with a grandiose entrance to some housing development, apartment or condo complex.
Now on to the roads I call major. These are essentially the same as the minor roads. Both varieties often have four lanes and a divided median. The major roads always have four lanes in addition to a turning lane or a median. This turning lane/median can alternate with annoying frequency along the same road. The minor roads are quite wide, but one of the distinctions of the major roads is ridiculous width. I would not be able to throw a rock from one sidewalk of our major road to the other sidewalk Not even close. Often you can't even see the sidewalk on the other side. Now take this width and triple it making a corridor about 500 metres wide. They are just like the minor streets with subdivision walls running the length of this 500 metre corridor.
Here's the incredible difference. The 200 metres between the edge of the sidewalk and the subdivision wall aren't nice grassy areas. They aren't even swamps. They are nearly contiguous blocks of strip malls. I have come up with a 5k rule of periodicity for this city. When driving if you see a *insert icon of American commercialism here* the next time you see another *whatever* will be roughly 5 kilometres away. Here's a little taste of the flavor of what I'm talking about: Blockbuster Video, Big Lots, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Arby's, Long John Silver's, Albertson's, Wendy s, Winn Dixie, Dominos Pizza, Walgreen's, Taco Bell, Little Caesar's, KFC, K Mart, Best Buy, Burger King, Radio Shack, Walmart, Denny's, Dunkin Donuts, Blockbuster Video, Big Lots,...ad nauseum.
Every morning, almost everybody who lives here drives out of their driveway or apartment parking lot onto a little twisty road that leads to a bigger twisty road that leads to a featureless walled road that leads to a huge circus of brand name capitalism. They drive down these major roads until they get to the strip mall that contains the office or fast food restaurant that they work in.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out what the most obvious result of this layout is - traffic. Nasty traffic. Every combatant is sealed up in their own little insulated, isolated, air conditioned pod. There is a kind of bizarre telepathy at work where every car is inaudibly screaming at another and flipping someone off behind tinted windows. The net effect is that everyone gets to constantly hear someone screaming and see someone flipping someone off, even if it is themselves.
I must say, they deserve it! What a bunch of wretched drivers. I have seen wrecks, near wrecks, stupidity and rudeness extraordinaire. Every major road intersection is littered with broken glass somewhere. Here's the the real kicker: there are no yellow lights here - in the minds of Floridians anyway. When the yellow light of a traffic light is shining, it's light enters the Floridian's eye and somewhere between the optic nerve and the brain, it is converted to green. I think that if I hadn't perceived a yellow light after a few months of driving, I'd go visit an optician.
This is quite...well...terrifying really. For those of us who can detect yellow lights, it's rather unnerving. Before slowing down to stop for a yellow light (that might be hundreds of metres away) one must check the mirrors to make sure you're not being followed closely by someone who wants to run you over when they try to zip through after the light suddenly turns red without warning them. Another ramification is to repress the urge to leave an intersection after your signal turns green. No, no. Patience here. One must wait a few seconds, look both ways and then go. Drag racing turns into a game of who's got nerve to roll away from the starting line first.
There are some freeways here. They are rather poorly laid out, at least for people living in this particular section. To compound problems, they are mostly toll roads which sends people scurrying like rats from a ship to the previously described "major" roads. More people might be willing to shell out bus fare to drive their own cars to work if the freeways weren't bumper to bumper traffic anyway.
I guess the most interesting and revealing thing about the roads of Orlando to those who know me is that I will not ride a bicycle here. I have ridden tens of thousands of kilometres all over the planet and I consider myself rather fearless when it comes to cycling. I have, however, never been anywhere where I feel my chances of surviving a bike ride are so slim. For such a sunny, albeit nasty hot, climate, very, very few people ride bikes. The people who I do see riding are split evenly into four groups. Group one rides on the opposing direction sidewalk, group two on the same direction sidewalk, group three on the opposing side of the road itself, and the fourth group rides where cyclists should ride. These people who are riding where they should are the ones I worry about the most because car drivers here just don't have a clue. Keep in mind that the strategy of "take the back roads" is not possible. The so called "back roads" lead from the entrance of a subdivision to one of 25 possible dead end cul-de-sacs. Traversing real distances on lightly traveled roads is, by design, just not an option here.
I do go running and rollerblading occasionally and I know these drivers pretty well now. I am amazed by my powers of invisibility. If I step into a crosswalk, it seems that my body becomes indistinguishable to car drivers. It's truly incredible. I wonder if I went rollerblading with an aluminum baseball bat, would that be visible?
There is a public transportation system here consisting of buses that seems to work as well as can be expected. I have used it with some success. The sprawled out nature of everything make bus rides just too long, especially when combined with lengthy transfers from one major road to another. I can almost beat the bus and the wait for it with rollerblades.
Here's a weird bit of trivia, Florida has an unbelievable variety of license plates. I don't know for sure if they lead the US, but I suspect they must. First there's the normal one with the little green Florida on it. Then come license plates for EVERY professional sports team. I believe that they have plates for every university. There are save the Everglades, save the manatee, and save the Florida jaguar plates (ecology through driving - brilliant). There is a Space Shuttle plate. There are two pertaining to education. Everyday I see a new style of license plate - today's was sponsoring some police organization.
I'll say one nice thing about driving and the roads here - they are smooth. There are very few potholes or other cracks in the road. The sidewalks are noble efforts, but not nearly as satisfactory as the very excellent road surfaces everywhere here. That and malaria are what being below frost latitudes will get you.
So who lives here? Or should I say, who the hell would want to live here? I had imagined three varieties of people living in Orlando. The first two groups seemed typical to all of Florida, old people and Cubans while the third group, Disney people, were specific to Orlando. Oddly, I've not really encountered any of these groups in a disproportionate number. Although tens of thousands of people work for Disney and associated enterprises, I have actually not met any who admitted it. As for the old people- maybe they'll show up as winter sets in up north. For now, I consider the median person at the grocery store to be rather young looking.
There are no doubt Cubans here since probably fifty percent of the population speaks Spanish. That's right - 50%. But for every reference to Cuba, there are 20 references to Puerto Rico. This is quite incredible. Everywhere from the bank to the grocery store to McDonald's, the $6 per hour employee is marvelously bilingual. It's kind of weird to say "Hi" to a Hispanic looking person. I get the impression that they don't really know how to respond to a gringo sometimes.
Maybe there are a lot more old people and a lot less Puerto Ricans than I suppose. Maybe it's just the things I do that tend to encounter less white collar/color and retirees. When I have an EVA (NASA talk for Extra Vehicular Activity - leaving this apartment is like venturing out into the harshness of space), I go to the video store or the grocery store or I ride the bus somewhere. Even just staying home in the CM (Command Module=our apartment), I get to encounter the "pest control" guy, the UPS guy, the poor bastards that mow the grass here, etc. Almost exclusively Hispanic.
Actually I think most of our neighbors are Spanish speakers. I'm not eavesdropping or anything, but the proportion of Hispanic looking people around our apartment complex seems higher than more expensive looking yuppieplexes and is certainly higher than the random people I encounter back in the subdivisions filled with numbingly alike houses. I guess I'm being racist with this conjecture, but my fellow pasty white males will just have to forgive the fact that I would guess that a statistically insignificant proportion of houses overlooking golf courses are owned by Hispanics. Again, I don't mean to malign non-Hispanics.
Here's a weird thing. Another group of people I expected to be tripping over with every step but that I haven't really encountered at all are tourists. I can't say that I've conclusively stumbled across a single one since disembarking my plane here from Manchester which was packed with British families hoping to remind themselves why they're glad England is as cold as it is. I do suspect that the tourists are handled a bit like livestock and are corralled down in the Disney corner of the city. A corner which I'm not real keen on visiting. I did run into a large concentration of tourists when I went to see the Space Shuttle take off. That is, apparently, a very touristy thing to do and not really in Orlando anyway.
I have decided that Floridians by and large will possess a character trait so contrary to my way of thinking that it will be almost impossible for me to make friends with them or even respect them. The basic problem with these people is that they thought it would be a good idea to move down south to Florida and live in air conditioned modules. Notice that this doesn't apply to those people who have lived here all their lives - I'm sure they hate it as much as I do and wish everyone would just go back to where they came from. It also doesn't include most of the Hispanic groups who, presumably, moved up north to Florida to (among other things) escape some of that oppressive hot weather back home - I can relate to that. Anyway, such people still think of themselves as Puerto Ricans and Cubans and so do the Floridians.
Fortunately, I don't have to worry about this issue. First, I don't (yet) speak Spanish and secondly, all the real Floridians want to live undisturbed in their cloned houses, their cloned cars and their comforting cloned office cubicals. So I rarely encounter them. I do see them standing in line as I skate past the dry cleaners and such - just enough to notice them, but not enough to be directly interactive with them. Oh well.
When I am a tourist, I always want to see the worst places a region has to offer. I like to see the sewage treatment plant, the coal burning powerplant, the industrial sector and the prison. The reason is that if I know about the worst of a place, I have a better idea of the best and the average. Going to a touristy place with a false facade is like a Disneyland experience where reality is not relevant. I am very much a person who seeks what's really there. Fakeness to me is sophistry and a waste of time.
I've been to many places in the US and only Houston, Texas comes to mind for being worse than Orlando, Florida - and that's just because of the similar conditions yet more prevalent cockroaches which, mercifully, haven't been an issue here. I feel that I now possess a very clear and definitive idea about what is good and what is bad (for me!) in the world and Florida is definitely going to embody the properties I will seek to avoid.
I feel sorry for the hardy folks whose families have toughed it out here for generations only to see outsiders flood to the area, totally and irrevocably changing its character. As for the rest, I feel that it is a sin to live here. To embrace or even to tolerate a lifestyle that demands an outrageous consumption of energy and the very heavy use of refrigerants. To blithely drain swamps forgetting the fact that the other name for swamp is "wetland". This swamp is doubtless critical to the ecosystem we take for granted now. Even to far away places - what happens when that migratory bird that keeps bugs away up north loses its winter nesting grounds?
Furthermore, I don't know if I've yet encountered such urban sprawl as I have here. The effects of this are a high disparity of living standards, an environmental nightmare, and a cynical unfriendly population mistrustful of everyone. Perhaps worst of all, this mistrust that manifests itself in walled subdivisions, handguns, and totally isolated residents amidst a huge population density, is not without basis. When we move towards the community structure that Orlando showcases, we lose the community, neighborhoods, and neighbors. It's us against them and we don't even know who "we" are. Many people seem perfectly satisfied with the arrangement here and at the least are complacent. I can only comprehend this in the same way I can comprehend the fact that dogs can be trained to salivate when they hear bells. I don't salivate when I hear bells (I hope not anyway!). As for me, I'm going to work my ass off to get the hell out of here and to cast my vote saying, "I reject this sort of place and I will expend great effort to avoid it in the future".
|Return to Main Page *** Return to Main Travel Page|
|This page was created with only free, open-source, publicly licensed software.|
This page was designed to be viewed with any browser on any system.
|Chris X. Edwards ~ August 1999|