Exotic Orlando

by Brian on May 5, 2006

in Just For Fun,The Old Country

Here are two words you don’t normally hear in the same sentence: “Exotic” and “Orlando.”

Exotic is more frequently associated with places like Tahiti and Thailand or even Monte Carlo. Orlando, on the other hand, is heavy on such decidedly non-exotic offerings as Early Bird Specials and Premium Outlet Malls.

But for me, on a recent business trip to the U.S., Orlando was as exotic as they come.

You see, it had been nearly three years since I was last in the States. In the twelve years since I immigrated to Israel, I’d never taken such a long gap between visits. During my first nine years in Israel, I traveled across the Atlantic frequently, whether on business or family vacations. It was part of an unwritten contract I made with myself before coming here, that I would never be too long without touching base with “the old country.”

It’s not like I didn’t travel beyond Israel’s borders at all these last years. My family and I have had some very enjoyable – and objectively much more exotic – vacations recently: We’ve been to Prague, Italy, Turkey, even India.

But America…I missed the country of my roots. And absence – combined with a healthy dose of subjugated culture shock – has the power to transform even the most typical slice of suburban America into a wild ride only somewhat less invigorating than a dash through traffic in downtown Delhi.

Truth be told, I was also itching for a break from Israel. My difficulty with Hebrew, the lack of anything one could reasonably describe as “customer service,” the insane driving behavior … it all adds up. Despite the fact that Israeli Independence Day was just this week, I didn’t feel unpatriotic. I just needed a little distance, that’s all.

My introduction to “Exotic Orlando” began even before I left, when Daniella, the ten-year-old daughter of my friends Yuval and Hilorie, caught wind of where I was going.

“Can you get me a prize?” she asked in all earnestness and with great enthusiasm.

“A what?” I asked.

“A prize. They give away prizes at Disney World.”

I had offhandedly mentioned that I had decided to take a day off to “play” as part of my trip. My brother arranged to fly out from California to meet me and we had planned an excursion to Disney’s MGM Studios theme park.

“You know, I’ve been to Disney before and I’ve never gotten a prize,” I said.

“You’ve got to be sad,” Daniella went on. “They give away t-shirts and these things that shpritz water and have a little fan.”

“But I’m not planning on being sad. I’m planning on being very happy.” Disney World doesn’t bill itself as “the happiest place on earth” for nothing.

“You could pretend to be sad.”

“Anyway,” I added, “How could I bring you back a prize and not get one for my own kids?”

“You’ll have to look very sad.”

Well, I’m sorry to report that I did not get Daniella a prize. But my brother and I had a great time. We rode on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride three times and the Aerosmith Rock ‘n Roller Coaster twice.

At the end of a long and action packed day, America seemed as far away and foreign from Israel as a ride on a gondola in Venice though we could have done that too, sort of, if we’d had time to visit Disney’s neighboring Epcot park.

The next day, my business meetings started with a “get to know you” team-building kind of event. The locale for our group bonding: “Gatorland” – lovingly described in literature and signage across the copious gift shop as “the alligator capital of the world.”

And so it was. A 110-acre theme park with thousands of alligators and crocodiles of all sizes, Gatorland is most famous for its “Gator Wrestling” show and its “Gator Jumparoo” where the poor gators are enticed to leap four to five feet out of the water to snatch a dead chicken hanging from a pole on a string.

My daughter, the recently converted vegetarian, would have been appalled. But I thought to myself: It doesn’t get better than this.

When my business meetings were over, I had a little time left to prowl the mall. I drove past a sea of McDonald’s and stores selling sofas and hardwood floors, past the IHOP and the Waffle House and the “Steak and Shake.” I caught a couple of flicks at the multiplex, and channel surfed until my remote finger was too pooped to click.

At the end of a week, my suitcase was stuffed with Dockers and Geoffrey Beene shirts bought at half price, toiletries from the Wal-Mart Super Center, a stack of computer equipment and one lonely bag of (half-eaten) Krispy Kreme mini-cruller doughnuts.

All during the trip, everyone was ever so polite. Salespeople hustled to help. The highways were wide and modern, and I didn’t hear a word of Hebrew my entire stay.


Not quite. No one moves to a place just for the shopping (or do they)? But as a temporary break from Israel in a land of endless vistas (and endless shopping), big cars and low taxes, it was quite welcome … if not truly “exotic” in the purist sense of the term.

On my plane ride back to Israel, I was seated next to a group of young Israeli adults. They were loud and boisterous. They refused to stay confined to their seats. They slapped each other on the back and high-fived half the flight home.

In short, they represented everything I had wanted a break from. But that was before my trip. Now we were fellow travelers, returning from vacation. Of course they were filled with unbridled energy. Who wouldn’t be after a trip abroad, and in particular to Orlando … which will forever be known in my personal travelogue as “the most exotic place on earth?”

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: