Local Life and Lore in Orlando

Study up on these insider secrets from Great American Country and get mistaken for an Orlando native.
By: Claudia Zequeira
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GETTING AROUND

  • Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 4 bisect in Metro Orlando. I-4 is probably the most crowded road around (avoid rush hour if you can), but locals rejoice in the fact it’s one of the few free transportation arteries available in the area. By comparison, the Turnpike costs $1.25 each go around (unless you use the SunPass, a device linked to an electronic prepaid toll collection system, which saves motorists 25 cents at most toll plazas). E-Pass, another prepaid electronic toll collection service managed by the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, also offers some discounts.
  • The most frequently used toll roads in the area are State Road 528 (Beachline Expressway), State Road 408 (East-West Expressway) and State Road 417 (Central Florida Greenway).
  • Osceola Parkway links Orlando’s airport to attractions such as Walt Disney World.
  • LYNX, a public transportation system operating a fleet of 290 buses on 65 routes, serves Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.
  • LYMMO is a free, three-mile, dedicated-lane bus system designed to ease movement through small, crowded streets in downtown Orlando. The system is used by office workers and some night owls who frequent the area during evening hours (it operates until midnight on Friday and Saturday).
  • Other major roadways include Orange Blossom Trail (aka OBT), John Young Parkway and Semoran Boulevard (these run north-south), as well as Colonial Drive, which runs east-west.

LIFE AND LORE

Alligators. An ubiquitous species, alligators (the word comes from the Spanish lagarto, or lizard) are simply known as "gators" here. According to the latest estimates, the once threatened reptiles are thriving, with approximately a million of them swimming in just about every body of water found throughout the state. Gator wrestlers are a rarity these days and few places sell gator meat, but the powerful reptiles still fascinate Floridians. Just ask the owners of Gatorland, an alligator theme park where thousands visit each year for a chance to see the mighty creatures jump in the air for food. Incidentally, gator nuggets are served in the park’s concession. “Gator,” by the way, also refers to a student, graduate or parent of same at the University of Florida in Gainesville -- almost always contending for a national title in college football or basketball. Do not confuse with a “Seminole,” an arch enemy who favors Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Stars and bars. A symbol of Southern pride, Confederate flags are common sights in the area. But thanks to massive demographic changes seen in recent years, they now compete for attention with flags from the many nations from which Orlando’s most recent denizens hail. The “Coqui,” a small frog native to Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, is now just as frequently seen hanging from cars’ rearview mirrors as the Confederate flag.

College football. It's practically a religion in Florida. Its three main denominations? The University of Florida Gators, the Florida State University Seminoles and the University of Miami Hurricanes. All other lesser sects clash on Saturdays in the fall in front of much smaller flocks. Football fevers runs so hot here, Tim Tebow, the Gators’ current quarterback, may be the state’s most popular resident. That all came after winning a Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and leading his team to a national championship.

The legend of Spook Hill. Tourists and locals alike drive to Spook Hill in Lake Wales each year to observe a gravity-defying phenomenon: If you park your car in the right place and put it in neutral, it will roll uphill. According to legend, this is because an old Indian chief once killed a bull alligator raiding his village, with the alligator now possibly seeking revenge. If you fail to see the connection, you’re not alone.

Polly want a ... ? Newcomers should be aware the term "cracker" can mean more than one thing. It’s true the word is used to offensively refer to someone of Caucasian origin, but "cracker" could sometimes mean "native Floridian," which is a source of pride for many locals. To muddle matters further, there is Cracker-style architecture. Practical in their design, Cracker farmhouses were once built by Florida settlers struggling to survive in brutal heat and insect-filled bogs. If you’re a history enthusiast, you’re in luck: A few such houses have been preserved and can be visited.

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