While I have mostly lived in small, rural towns in North Carolina, I have also lived in the large cities of Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh. They all have extraordinary amounts of traffic. If you’re impatient and have a lead foot like myself, traffic can be one of the most insufferable aspects of life. That vehicular congestion and long commute times to destinations only a few miles apart are probably why I only lived in Raleigh for a summer and Greensboro for a single college semester. Charlotte was always a fun destination for activities while my family lived in the quiet suburbs 30 minutes away.
Based on my experience in those cities, I thought I knew what traffic was.
Then, I drove to Orlando for a day.
My cousin is an accomplished dancer, and one weekend, she participated in the Orlando Ballroom Showcase at the Hyatt Regency Hotel near the International Airport. My cousin has lived in Melbourne all her life, and since I’ve been in North Carolina, I’ve missed many of her great accomplishments, such as dance performances, her high school graduation, etc. When my aunt told me about the showcase, I thought it would be worth seeing even though I’d spend four hours in the car that day driving from Arcadia to Orlando and back.
Setting out, I wrote down directions from Google Maps so I wouldn’t have to use my cell phone data for a map app until I got to Orlando. I figured at that point I’d need an electronic voice talking me through the many red lights and lane changes as I was driving through them. My first mistake was opting to leave U.S.-17 to cut through Avon Park to avoid the toll roads. FL-64 E wasn’t bad, but once I turned left onto U.S.-98 N in Avon Park, the red lights, congestion and headaches started. I got stuck behind so many trucks, U-Hauls and other slow-moving vehicles that by the time I got up to speed from the last red light, I’d hit another one and would have to brake. I kept driving and driving, and I thought I’d never make it through the stop-and-go traffic lights. Finally, I saw a big green sign with that familiar blue and red logo.
“Please, be I-4,” I begged.
Sure enough, it was the merging lane for I-4 to Orlando. Now, the directions from Google Maps told me to take Exit 72 for International Airport and Cape Canaveral. Instead, I decided to turn on the GPS on my cell phone, which is not Google Maps, just to make sure. My cell phone had very different directions. It had me take an exit 10 miles earlier than Exit 72. I trusted the phone. It hadn’t led my wrong before.
I ended up on International Boulevard, the road where I knew the hotel was located. Then, my phone told me to cross a highway and get back on I-4. Wait, what? I was just on I-4. I followed the phone’s instructions, which involved crossing the highway at a place that was not safe for me to cross. What my phone thought was a crossing on both sides was actually the end of turning lane for the other side of the highway, and I was nearly T-boned by another car trying to turn in my direction as I skedaddled across two lanes like a clueless tourist.
I got back on I-4 right in the middle of stop-and-go traffic for Disney World. When my phone told me to exit for Sea World, I said no. I wasn’t falling for that again. I drove on to Exit 72. Turns out Exit 72 is also an exit for Sea World, the more popular of the two if trying to get to see Shamu and all his friends. I nearly crunched the front of Little Honda into the back of a huge van because the exit ramp was backed up at a complete stop up to the highway as people tried to turn left to Sea World. Mouth open, I gaped at the blocked intersection under the ramp I was sitting on. Never had I come to a complete stop while on an exit ramp for traffic.
I eventually made it to the Hyatt and saw my cousin dance in four heats of the competition. Unfortunately, I missed her receiving a third place medal for her dances earlier in the day, but still my family was delighted that I attended the competition. My cousin was awesome, and we took a bunch of silly pictures together with the showcase’s logo in the back. I don’t regret being there, but now I know to never take “just driving up to Orlando” lightly.
Just so you know, I did make it safely home by taking I-4 to U.S.-17 through Bartow and Wauchula. As my luck would have it, I drove through two major thunderstorms. I’m proud to say that I did not pull over like a North Carolinian but powered through them like a true Floridian. Now, people may have been passing me on the left as I crawled forward at 25 mph, but … I didn’t pull over!