Columns > HappytownHappytown
It was not unlike watching an anthill-kicking in reverse last Friday, when all the little people of the City Beautiful scurried en masse to the epicenter of all future Orlando activity, the new Amway Center. Boosters with ties and parents with baby carriages and cheerleaders with cameltoes and gays with hair products clustered next to the giant reflective box, which heaved and throbbed with more civic potential than the city could ever deliver on its own. But guess what? We were all staring at ourselves in the mirrored building. We are the Amway Center! Soylent Green is people!
Anyway, the event was scheduled for 10-01-10 (a number we fed through our handy binary code decoder ring only to find that it’s some kind of complementary dyslexia issue that totally ruined our Friday) because this is a simple city about to become a world-class city and we can’t stop it. Mayor Buddy Dyer took to the podium just before 10:01 a.m., natch, and talked about how he had just purchased a fancy new suit and tie for the booster bust in the town square. Something like “doesn’t it fit real nice?” fell from his mouth before he started talking in dollar signs and told the crowd how you too could own a “Magic tie” if you just walked through them there reflective doors and threw some cash down at the souvenir shop. Unfortunately, we misheard him as saying “magic top,” which would have made this a much more week-appropriate story (gay!). Then a green plushie dragon (Stuff the Magic Dragon, apparently) rode by on Segway scooter and we passed out.
Except we didn’t. Everybody was so excited to watch all of the civic leaders (who appropriated $480 million of your dollars for 270 million pounds of concrete and 9.4 million pounds of steel) finally cut the blue ribbon (that for no reason whatsoever read “ENTERLEGEND”), that nobody even knew who they were anymore. Strains of what at first sounded like an orchestral take on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” (that then fizzled out) filled the air with anticipation, and then it happened: The world changed.
After everybody had been crammed through the front doors and pushed up the escalators past giant tapestries of Magic players and Tom Petty, the mayor unleashed the beast: his 2010 State of Downtown address. Typically, these things are stuffy lunch affairs for rich people (last year it was at the new downtown movie theater that didn’t save downtown), but this year it was for the people! Maybe that’s why the mayor didn’t actually reveal anything more than a big thank you and misappropriated hamburger speak: “Usually we hold this event in a slightly smaller setting, but for this special day, we super-sized it!” Hurrah! Fat!
What followed was a dull rundown of everything that went into the center – how every “t” was dotted and every “i” crossed making it the most perfect process ever – and a whole lot of thank you, thank you, thank you. The mayor breezed past the recession, took a joyride on the new railroad of the future and hand-jobbed the partnerships that will bring us “better days” ahead. But what could the big surprise be? The mayor is always like Daddy Warbucks on a bender at these speeches; would he give us anything better than a huge box reflecting ourselves?
“This morning I am proud to announce that Bon Jovi will play two dates this spring!” he said. Then everybody died. The end.
Except it isn’t, of course. Thisis a very special all-arena, all-the-time episode of Happytown™! After members of the staff of the Orlando Sentinel were given a tour of the new Amway Center on Tuesday by Mayor Buddy Dyer and Magic president Alex Martins, the new arena was promptly doused in digital drool, ranging in consistency from chest-poundingly giddy to quietly converted. (To the paper’s credit, Scott Maxwell offered the most concise description of the new arena ever written: “awesome venue, rotten deal.”)
As expected, the old venue – which does not feature a $27,000 ice cream machine in the press room – was left in Rich DeVos’ Golden Pleasure Dome™’s glittering dust, given at most a backward, pitiful glance by the Sentinel-ites.
Still, it looks like the old Amway Arena will be with us for a while to come, considering the fact that demolition has yet to be scheduled for the forlorn hulk of concrete. A March report by WESH-2 News on the fate of the old venue stated that the city is considering selling chunks of the arena’s seats as souvenirs to offset the $500,000-a-year bill for maintaining the ghost facility. “Why would anybody want to buy a block of 21-year-old seats from Amway Arena?” asked one of the story’s commenters. Evidently the person had not read the beginning of the article, where the always-reputable “visitor” had pointed out that the building “tops Madison Square Garden anytime.”
Or any other arena for that matter! What else hosted the Predators triumphing over the Kats for a national AFL title, followed by a Turner Cup for the Solar Bears the very next year? What other arena saw Triple H induct “Nature Boy” Ric Flair into the WWE Hall of Fame? And how could the Magic forget their childhood home and all of those losses? Sigh. Goodbye, sports-like notoriety.
With the city unveiling its Amway Altar and Orlandoans getting high on the fumes of the attention it drew, it seemed only fitting that 500 people donning black and yellow would assemble to form a giant smiley face on the roof of the new arena’s parking garage. The city was celebrating World Smile Day by taking a stab at the record books. Not satisfied with recently breaking the record for most distracting interstate billboard, the city wanted to attain the Guinness World Record for largest smiley face ever assembled.
“This is a free-for-all where people can express themselves,” said event spokesman Gary Sain of the event, which required that all participants wear the same thing and stand in designated positions. In order to break the old record of a 261-member face set by Baltimore earlier this year, the 500 participants were required to stand shoulder to shoulder for a full 10 minutes while a Guinness representative, strapped in some heavy-duty harnessing (which, from a distance, resembled a bagpipe), counted and supervised the crowd from atop a cherry picker. We suspected that Guinness was losing its legitimacy when it verified the loudest female burp in history, but after seeing the Guinness representative descend the lift and chat with a dark and handsome city staffer before the required 10 minutes had been reached, our fears were confirmed.
Also among the yellow-and-black throng were 67 foreigners from around the world who had been flown in by the city. The lucky 67 had won a contest in which they had to really flex their bullshitting muscles: that is, sharing how Orlando – a city that they’d presumably never been to before – makes them smile.
Sain says that word of the contest simply “went viral” and brought in more than 20,000 entries, but a cursory glance at the release shows that “Orlando Smile Ambassadors … searched the world for 67 smilers to bring to Orlando for a unique smile-inducing experience.” That makes us wonder – flying Smile Ambassadors out of the country to find smilers, flying international smilers into the country, paying for their accommodations and admission to our culturally rich theme parks, paying for the photographs taken from a helicopter … how much did all of this cost? (The campaign claims to have raised $19,825 charitably which will be used to provide “more than 70 cleft lip or cleft palate surgeries for children so they can smile,” according to a press release; the average cost of said surgery is $5,000, though).
Sain didn’t know the cost, but encouraged Happytown™ to look at the bright side. “Keep in mind this will bring us millions of dollars in free publicity,” he said of the “international brand” that is Orlando. See you at the outlet mall.
This week’s report by Jeff Gore and Billy Manes