I’ve always wanted to leave Orlando. If you know me at all or have read the opening copy of this blog, that’ll come as no surprise to you. It’s not that there was anything I heavily despised about this city—though granted I do complain incessantly about how we have too many bugs and how I-4 sucks and how most of this urban sprawl feels more fake than real—I’ve just always had an urge to be somewhere else at all times. Having lived here for basically my whole life, I got tired of driving through Disney to school every day, passing by the tacky tourist gift shops on the way to get groceries, hearing the reverberating bangs of theme park fireworks as I tried to fall asleep.
It all felt as if the city were one big show, that those of us who lived here were just putting on an act for eager tourists. Of course, I never let that notion interfere with me living my life and having fun; heck, I even joined the audience with my trips to Disney or I-Drive or Universal. But I always had that feeling of inauthenticity hiding at the back of my mind, the feeling that we weren’t a real city.
And then Pulse happened, and we all came together. That was when I realized how wrong I had it: we weren’t putting up a façade to please some sunburned Northerners so they’d pump money into our economy—we were far more layered and dynamic than that. Like a real city. No—literally a real city.
It’s sad that I’m realizing this right as I’m about to move away to college—it’s a classic case of “you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.” But in a way it also feels reassuring, like I’ll always have a real home to come back to now instead of just a city that my house happens to be located in.
So I guess I’ll actually miss the drives to school. How I drove through that famous ‘Welcome to Walt Disney World’ sign every morning, immune to the giddiness that tourists feel when they see it.
I’ll actually miss the obnoxiously painted, subjectively named gift shops on 192 like “World’s Greatest Gift Shop” or “World’s Best Gifts.” But my favorite has to be the one with a giant wizard sculpture sticking out of it, holding up a crystal ball. Just, who even thinks of that as the storefront of a gift shop?
And I’ll actually miss the fireworks. When I used to go to bed at 9:30 (ah, those were the days), they’d almost rock me to sleep. I could never see them from my house, but boy could I hear them. Other times, we’d be driving home late through Disney. We’d open the car’s sun roof, and they’d be exploding directly above us. Those were moments so surreal and awe-inspiring that the thought to document them with a photo or video didn’t even cross my mind.
This blog started out as a way for me to document my vacations. Then it became a vehicle for my travel daydreams. Then, after I got busy and started going on vacation and dreaming less, it became an incoherent procession of philosophical word vomit, random trip reports, and ultimately several attempts to make Orlando a staycation-esque travel destination for myself.
But Orlando doesn’t need to be fresh and exciting for me to be able to tolerate it or even love it. It just needs to be home. Coming off of my proverbial cloud of trying to experience it as a tourist and simply looking back on all the memories I’ve made here has made me realize (however cliché it may be) that Orlando has been home all along. Let the “fresh and exciting” come at Northwestern and beyond. For now, this city of lakes and Disney cast members and gay club-goers and I-4 complainers and mosquito smackers and pretty sunsets will be something truly magical to come home to.
So yes, I’ve always wanted to leave Orlando. But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss it. As the mouse who’s responsible for most of our economic activity says: “see ya real soon,” Orlando.