Deep into the wilderness of never ending highways and eerily quaint towns, a immense sense of unease begins to fall upon me. It is caused in part by small armies of dogs at each fenced-in home, woods that look ignored enough to dump bodies in, and empty strip malls fitted out with air conditioners, but no occupants. No occupants. Anywhere.
Where is everybody? There are cars moving around, there are parking lots full of them, but a human sighting seems a rarity. When I do happen to see someone crossing one of the giant intersections that connects doublewide roads, I regard them curiously. Are they really walking to where they need to go? Did their car break down? Do they not have a car? Shock and horror.
Central Florida is a creepy place. Somewhere past Boca Raton on the Turnpike you enter the corridor of crazy that separates South Florida with “The South.” You encounter town after town where nothing much exists past a church and Publix. We’re not in Walmart territory yet, but we might as well be. The overt expression of religion is noticed before you even exit the highway by the plethora of anti abortion posters. The ones below really drew a chuckle out of me.
Perhaps paranoia and journalism go hand in hand, but I couldn’t help thinking that all these little towns had secrets. I learned on my travels that one of the biggest residential facilities for adults and children with developmental disabilities is in Central Florida. Carlton Palms Educational Centre has been in the media recently over the death of a 14 year old girl with severe autism. She was not brought to hospital after vomiting for days because the medical director thought the visit would scare her too much. The owner of the facility, Ken Mazik, has faced years of abuse allegations at Carlton Palms and other similar facilities he owns in Florida and Delaware.
The five main counties that make up Central Florida have all seen steep increases in the number of registered sex offenders that have moved there in the last 5 years. Don’t forget about Miracle Park, a former migrant housing facility turned sex offender village. While it technically lies in South Florida, it considers itself part of “Florida’s Heartland” community which involves central counties that pride themselves on their rural nature.
And then theres the freakish city of Orlando. A noxious combination of consumerism and fantasy, it was built around the church of Mickey Mouse and outlet malls. The pull of the themed parks extends far past the walls of the parks themselves. If you find yourself off of Disney’s beaten path, it’s still a sea of large scale restaurants with flashing neon signs. Orlando is like a docked cruise ship. I don’t see the point of being on it.