We’re here for the parks, mainly. But no Sea World, not after Blackfish. In my mind I imagined lying on a beach with a book, but Orlando (emphasis on the land) is an hour from the coast. But isn’t it weird that when you think of Florida, the two things you picture are sandy beaches and Cinderella’s Castle? Is that just me?
It was cold here last night. Low 60s with a healthy breeze. I realize it’s December, but I guess I don’t think of Florida ever getting cold. (This despite the fact that the last time we visited, we came in February.) How can a place that I’ve been to before be so mistakenly constructed in my memory? There’s no sandy beaches, no muggy air making you wish you’d never left the house. Walking around, I remember these same rides, these same parks, but it feels like bad déjà vu, like all the physical objects are here but the context is all wrong. Is it just because I’m older?
It’s full of wheels. I don’t know how anyone could live here without a car. Even in the parks, it’s strollers and motorized wheelchairs. I bet Walt Disney would love this shit. One of the parks (Tomorrowland) is supposed to be all futuristic, but since it was built in the mid-1950s, it’s really just full of buildings shaped like rockets and other vague references to the Space Age. Kind of depressing, actually. Like realizing that all of the big dreams we have for the future might just be the object of some kid’s derision fifty years from now.
Exhibit A: There’s a ride here called The Carousel of Progress that was created for the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair. My dad rode the original. We went on it today—it takes you through scenes from the turn of the 20th century to an attempted version of the near-future (there’s a voice-activated oven but the scene is still populated by old-ass animatronic figures, so).
Exhibit B: It was one of Walt Disney’s favorite rides.
We’re doing the usual tourist things: Magic Kingdom, Epcot. It’s fun, but it’s also a little like living inside some version of Orwellian America, where some giant corporation has taken control and branded every flat surface, and where everything you can imagine (water bottles, oven mitts) has been manufactured in the shape of a cartoon character. But, you know, what do you expect?
Nothing feels real here. There’s a saturation of buildings and signs and people to the point of un-reality. Not just in the parks themselves, but on the roads, which are all at least four lanes on each side, with a strip of palm trees down the middle. I don’t know. It feels like a movie set or something. The last time we were in Florida I was about eight. One of my clearest memories from that trip is a rainstorm on our drive to the park one morning. It was raining on one side of the road but not the other. That’s how wide the roads are. That’s how little reality has any say here.
Okay, I feel a little embarrassed saying this, but Harry Potter World is AWESOME. They did a really good job of bringing the books to life. They have Hogwarts, Diagon Alley (including Gringotts), and Hogsmeade, and you can ride the Hogwarts Express between them. There are all these adorable kids in robes walking around with “interactive” wands their parents paid 50 bucks for. If you have one, you can stand on different spots and point your wand at a shop window or fountain and make something happen. It’s a really slick marketing strategy because what kid isn’t going to want a wand to be able to do “real magic”? I’d almost resent how crafty it is if I wasn’t so impressed.
I’ve been trying to write. On the way to the airport I scribbled down: Florida’s like some kind of fever dream, one you wake from dizzied and damp. But really, that’s a little romantic. It’s what Florida wants you to think. There’s so much to look at it hurts your eyes. But not in an achingly-beautiful-island-sunset way. In a neon-strobe-light-explosion kind of way. In a stare-at-the-sun-and-it-blinds-you way. A who-would-ever-want-to-live-here way. You know how poets are always trying to make bruises sound beautiful, like blooming flowers, instead of the spilled blood under skin they actually are? Florida’s like that.