I’m sitting in a plastic booth of a chicken store, that offers more deep fried seafood than anything poultry related. It’s a small, hole in the wall kind of place, where the only colour of food on order is a deep fried yellow. A mangled newspaper is on the table in front of me, open to the page of recent arrests in the city, with mug shots and the various of felonies committed. Across from me is an incredibly young family. The parents couldn’t be more than eighteen years old, the mother looked up from her smart phone every now and then to exclaim something in a deep southern drool. Sirens rang from outside, the police were screaming up and down the highway and screeched to a halt a ‘hotel’ just across from me. I had only just walked passed, to me it seemed less hotel and more abandoned abattoir. Out charged the police, guns drawn, TV had just turned into reality. Everyone in the store acted as normal, this was clearly a regular occurrence for these people. This was Orlando, the city of dreams, the city where magic truly exists, it is Disney. So why then was I in an episode of Cops?
The Real – The Bar Where Everyone Knows Your Face
Orlando marked the end of the road trip. We had driven a car from San Francisco, down through the South and can now pin that medal to our chests. We drove one of the ultimate road trips in the world. We were apprehensive at the start, but after arriving in Orlando we realised how easy it was. The States was designed to be driven across, and to eat Subway every few miles. We said goodbye to our car ‘Little Red’ and got an Uber to our final Motel 6. Uber drivers, always fantastic for a conversation, this time, as we pulled into the motel we got; “You guys seriously aren’t staying here are you? Do you know how dangerous this area is?” We were only fifteen minutes away from Disney World, and Mickey Mouse doesn’t carry a concealed weapon.
It did look sketchy, but it wasn’t that long ago that I was in Guatemala City, where every corner had a security guard with a shotgun. I wasn’t too concerned. We had stayed Motel 6s plenty of times before, we knew what we were expecting, rough, but cheap, and probably cigarette and semen stains in the room. At check-in there was a guy who had hit hard times, begging to be allowed to stay, offering to clean the place, just if he could stay there for cheaper than the already bare price it was. He was refused and we were allowed to pass with our fully functioning credit cards.
We weren’t there for long, and were back at reception to get out of there and hit a bar. We’d found out early on that the only way to enjoy a new town was through the lens of a beer glass. We started talking to the manager, she thought we were comedians, no, this is just our Australian accent and how we normally talk. Our fatal error was that we told her we were about to book an Uber, ‘No, don’t do that, I’ll call Freddy, he can take you into town.’ Freddy was the perfect example of why people aren’t getting taxis anymore. Ashtrays full of cigarettes, possibly functioning seat belts and Freddy himself who didn’t seem like he’d showered in days. He seemed comfortable enough to tell us how many blowjobs he’d received on the job as payment instead of cash. Not even in Bolivia were taxis this outrageous. Soon enough we escaped out the side of Freddy’s sex van for twice the price as it would have been in an Uber.
It was the typical scene, two Australians, a few businessmen, and then the crew that is too beautiful to be hanging out at a bar at midday. Several beers in, after organising to go to an NBA pre-match with the businessman we realised we couldn’t stop looking at the beautiful crew in the corner. Their photos were everywhere around the bar, were they famous? No, as soon as one of them left the table and walked behind the bar it became clear that they were all staff. This bar was their hangout, and they’d taken a whole heap of photos of themselves and put them up in the bar. Was it real? Or was I in a reality TV Show?
The Unreal – Celebration
Over the next few days Orlando revealed itself to be entirely unreal, a fantasy that the plethora of tourists buy into and Orlandians willingly provide. Over a million of them work in the theme parks, and the part of Orlando that I was staying in, entirely ignored as leftovers. We bought into all of it, and it was incredible, Disney World, Kennedy Space Centre, Universal Studios. It was an escape into another universe. In Harry Potter World, over a Butter Beer, we marvelled at kids using Bluetooth wands to activate all of the hidden secrets behind the walls and windows. The next day I shook hands with an astronaut and was literally star struck. It was a Fantasy Utopia.
It was all what Walt Disney wanted, a Utopia. But the theme parks weren’t enough, Disney wanted to create a community for tomorrow, an example of unabashed neo-urbanism, and he would call the suburb Celebration. The idea was simple and the Disney corporation sold it with the ad ‘the destination your soul has been waiting for.’ Everything was over-engineered to have that feeling of the perfect and authentic small town America; ‘We ended up designing not only street signs and shop signs, but manhole covers, fountains, golf course graphics, park trail markers, the sales center and even that pattern book for the houses.’
Throughout my days in the theme parks and checking out Celebration I was left with the question. Can you synthetically produce the American Dream? If you buy into this, then are you leading a real life? Even in the stores of Celebration the sales people are called cast members. After spending so much time in this country this idea of the American Dream started to become clearer. Everyone was chasing this idea of perfection, but the idea is something that is sold to us. There seems little joy in being content, and if you can’t have what you want then the idea of happiness simply vanishes. The only person who was genuinely happy was an anarchist I had met in Austin. Maybe in the 21st Century the dream has become bigger then what reality can offer?