On Downtown Orlando and $100 Bills

Orlando, Florida is known affectionately as the land Where Dreams Come True™, so it seemed only fitting that I begin my road trip there.

The flight down to Orlando was surprisingly easy; Newark airport didn’t even make me check my duffel bag!  This, of course, turned out to be both a blessing and a curse; a blessing in that I didn’t have to pay the $25 checking fee, a curse, because I had to drag my enormous blue duffel across the entire airport by myself.  Several kind strangers tried to help me, all of whom instantly regretted offering their services. I was asked if I had a body in there on several occasions (I didn’t).

I arrived in Orlando in the evening, where the rest of the gang picked me up.  As the others helped me load my bags into the car, I held up a Ziploc bag of CDs, smiling from ear-to-ear.

Easily the most sentimental member of the group and on a never-ending quest to make my life feel more like a movie, I took it upon myself to provide at least part of the soundtrack to our road trip.   Keen to set the scene for the day to come, Clare slotted my “Orlando mixtape” into the car stereo as we pulled away from the airport.  Hedwig’s Theme by John Williams, the memorable main theme song from the Harry Potter films blared.  They laughed, but it was kind of perfect.  We drove through downtown Orlando, the sky a brilliant, beautiful, mottled pink.

Food was a priority, but with the evening pressing on and an early start in the morning, we decided to make things easy by pulling into a nearby Burger King.  What better way to start our American adventure together than with the cliché of all clichés?

In hindsight, this was a terrible idea.  We joined the queue behind a couple of terrifying, heavily-built truckers, feeling smug that the line was so short.  Oh, if only.

The burlier of the two men tried to pay for his burger with a $100 bill (and thus received the nickname, $100 Bill Man).  At 10PM, this particular Burger King was understaffed to say the least, with only three minimum-wage student-types running both the restaurant and the endlessly busy drive-thru.  The guy in charge told $100 Bill Man that the safe had rejected his $100 bill, and that he couldn’t accept it.  Predictably, $100 Bill Man was furious.  Loud and large, $100 Bill Man contained about three times the aggro of any normal person, and continued to hold up the queue for almost 20 minutes.

“Haven’t you ever seen a $100 bill?  This is the most money you’ll see in your lifetime!”

Burn, $100 Bill Man.  The poor Burger King dude probably wasn’t authorized to open the safe, but this rational explanation seemed to get lost in translation.  Hungry, tired and unimpressed with $100 Bill Man’s rudeness and mild racism, we started to tire of waiting.

WE JUST WANTED OUR BURGERS.

And we got them, eventually.

After $100 Bill Man’s dramatic outburst, we headed to our hotel, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  Ideally located, it was a 15-minute walk from Universal Studios, and amazingly, it wasn’t a shit hole!  At $15 per night, it was a steal.

The next morning, we woke up early and headed to Universal Studios, where the adventure really began.

*Photographs by Clare Anderson.

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