19 February 2011

banking in the shadow of Disneyland

I just spent ten days in Orlando, working as part of an implementation team that was launching some software for a bank. Sunday was our only day off, and whilst sitting by the pool, chatting with co-workers, I pointed my cell-phone camera up and took this photo:
Since the other nine days of the trip were spent working 10-15 hours per day in windowless rooms lit by fluorescent tubing, it seemed a well-deserved break.

Per company policy and my own ethical standards, I can't tell you about the people I worked with (although they were all, to the last one, excellent, wonderful, and lots of other positive adjectives), or any details about the implementation (except to say it went very well). But I can tell you what I was thinking about during the few hours when I was awake, not working, and not with co-workers. I was thinking about Baudrillard's assertion that Disneyland exists to obscure the fact that America is Disneyland.

The hotel we stayed at is in the heart of the tourist area. Partly that's because tourist areas are where the hotels are, and partly that's because data processing centres for banks tend to be in less-expensive parts of town — which in Orlando's case means they are close to the major amusement parks. Every morning, just as the sunrise was making the eastern sky pale, I would pile into an SUV with my colleagues and watch the strip malls, countryside, and orange groves slide by, the same way you watch the singing animatronic models slide by when you're on the "It's a Small World" ride. We would leave the office after sunset, and pick a restaurant to eat at with a different theme from the previous night's venue, the same way people staying at the Disney resort do.

The motels I stayed at as a kid in 1978 are all long gone, but the architecture of their outdoor, terraced room entrances is echoed in the newer hotels, which were all built around ten years later:

The rooms were designed for families with children to stay in, or for university students who wanted to save money by bunking together. They are all suites, with a living room (the sofa folds out into a bed), kitchenette, full bath, and full-sized bedroom:
This living room area always reminded me of the Florida scenes from Jim Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise, even though its decor is the faux-luxe of the mid-80s rather than the leftover-from-the-60s portrayed in the film.

And that's how everything outside where we were working felt: like a film set, like an amusement park. The Floridians I worked with had some wry comments about "tourist Florida" versus "living Florida", and I believe them.

The exact border between the end of the parks and the start of the real, unsimulated Florida was impossible to pick out.