Apropos of Nothing: The Joys of Traveling I-4
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett
Orlando has finally grown up. How, you ask? By making its section of I-4 the best ever. So much fun. Wouldn’t you agree?
It’s time for rejoicing in Central Florida. Orlando, our anchor city, the shining beacon of hope that attracts enough tourism dollars to keep our fair state fiscally solvent, has finally upgraded to become one of the great American cities.
It’s about time.
Founded in the mid-1800s, Orlando was always a bit of an also-ran as cities go. Sanford had a bigger port, and so was a far more important economic hub in the old days. Tampa was on the Gulf of Mexico and had a better supply of hand-rolled cigars. And Miami had topless beaches – which was a huge draw for the tourist trade even then. The kids from the College of William and Mary really made a mess of the place during the spring break of 1868. You might remember, that was the year Virginia State Senator Beverly Douglas was ejected from a wet t-shirt contest at the Copacabana Room, before stealing all the senior boy’s top hats and canes from the cloak room in retaliation.
Tired of living in the shadow of the great northern cities for more than 100 years, the Orlando City Council took it upon themselves to update the city’s infrastructure to bring it into line with what people expect when visiting a city of great importance. They’ve done it, too. Anyone who has driven Interstate 4 through the downtown area can’t help but notice the changes. They’re undeniably invigorating, in much the same way being shot at by drunken rednecks is invigorating.
Ridiculed for years as a dull, benign destination with flat, straight roads that stretched out for miles, Orlando had some catching up to do. Boston had the Big Dig, which snarled traffic for a decade and a half, cost nearly seven times the original estimates, and ultimately pushed traffic into a big hole in the ground, ostensibly never to be seen again.
New York City has West Side Drive, where established travel lanes are a mere suggestion, compliance with traffic signals is entirely optional, and bashing into other cars like NASCAR drivers heading for the finish line is perfectly acceptable behavior. Plus, all shoulders and break-down lanes on New York roadways are required to be blocked off for at least 10 months each year. This simple regulation alone guarantees that an event as pedestrian as a flat tire will back up traffic for miles. This often causes drivers to abandon their cars in frustration, rent an apartment, and relocate to New York right on the spot.
Orlando’s flat, straight, easy-to-navigate system of roads was holding the city back, relegating it to second-class status. Tourists could leave the city swiftly, taking their remaining savings with them. That’s all in the past, though. The changes to Interstate 4 will virtually guarantee a significant number of visitors to our area will be darting off the road in search of the nearest bar, medical marijuana dispensary, or mental health facility. One way or another, they’re staying.
I recently drove the improved roadway so that I might report on the upgrades more accurately. What an experience! Lanes shift to the left for no apparent reason, then careen off to the right again. The pattern repeats randomly, but that’s not all. The vertical component of the pavement has been improved with the addition of dips and rises built directly into the highway. This gives the entire family the ability to share in the fun of a high-speed roller coaster ride that may, or may not end well.
Arbitrary changes in lane width add to the dramatic effect. Taken as a whole, the physiological and psychological reactions one experiences while blasting through the downtown death center really validates the logic behind making these changes. With eyes widened in fear, tourists will now take in much more of what Orlando has to offer with their peripheral vision. Adding to that intrigue you’ll find a smattering of truly aggressive, testosterone-fueled young men who’ve had a few drinks, blasting through traffic at insane speeds, changing lanes indiscriminately, while testing the integrity of the concrete barriers. The shower of sparks that result can be just beautiful.
Yep, Orlando is on the move. The great northern cities of the past have nothing on us. Not now. Because Orlando has transformed itself into a tourist destination that is as terrifying as any major industrial center or financial capital in the world. Orlando has stepped into the big leagues, at long last. Hooray.