RISKY BUSINESS 


When you're just back from a week's vacation, the last thing you want is a reminder that your city is still a rank underachiever. But Monday's news brought fresh evidence that we're a minor-league metropolis at best. I'm talking concrete, damning data, more injurious to our national reputation than Bill McCollum's haircut or four seasons of Making the Band:

On a list of the most dangerous cities in America compiled by Morgan Quitno Press, Orlando came in a measly 32nd.

That's flat-out pathetic. How can we ever expect to be taken seriously as a legitimate hellhole if we can't play snatch-and-stab with the big boys? Camden, N.J., beat us (it was No. 1). West Palm beat us (No. 14). And we might have done even worse had complete data been available for 21 additional cities that were thus ineligible for the list – including Elgin, Ill., and New Haven, Conn. (Talk about your close shaves. Losing a dangerous-cities contest to New Haven is like letting a guy named Skyler toast your cojones at air hockey.)

To coin a phrase, we need to get tough about getting tough. It'd be nice to think that you or I could up O-town's fear factor all by our lonesome, nudging our beloved burg up the rap sheet by giving in to road rage more often or tampering with a few CVS deliveries. But a turnaround of this magnitude is something the little guy can't manage on his own. It's going to take a concerted official effort to make the City Beautiful a more alluringly lethal place to live, and a tightly coordinated PR campaign to inform Joe Tourist that if he comes here, there's an electrifying chance he won't be going back.

Bury my heart at Space Mountain
We locals like to kid ourselves that our theme parks are a veritable Garden of Death to unwary internationals, but a quick scan of the available case histories reveals that Mother Nature shoulders a lot of the responsibility, too. Most of the time, when an Austrian au pair has an attack on a whizzing coaster, it's ultimately revealed that she suffered from a pre-existing condition. That's not exactly a feather in our assassins' cap – it's kind of like an unarmed mugger warning his victims, "Hand over your wallet, or I'll dredge up some really uncomfortable memories from your childhood." If we can't contribute more directly to the damage – like by outfitting The Magic Carpets of Aladdin with razor-sharp spikes (and I'm not done looking into the legalities of this) – we can at least do everything in our power to increase the chance of vacationer trauma. Effective immediately, all area attractions should triple the velocity of their thrill rides, eliminate height restrictions and begin confiscating prescription meds at the entrance gate. You can't bring a blueberry muffin into Tomorrowland, so why should beta blockers get special privileges?

Go play in traffic
Commuters moan that I-4 is a parking lot, and that's exactly the problem. Cosmopolitan status and roadway fatalities go together like white bread and Velveeta, so it behooves us to goose the pace of motoring while bringing vulnerable pedestrians closer to the fun. Any road-widening project should include a commensurate rise in the speed limit and a provision for new crosswalks – preferably narrow, awkwardly drawn ones, with lights that flash estimated crossing times both intermittently and in Base Eight. Whenever possible, written plans for new streets and roads should somehow incorporate the phrase "precariously swaying rope bridge." While we're at it, we should remove all those memorial wreaths from our busy intersections, where the concept of fair warning has ballooned beyond recognition. How's a driver supposed to rack up a decent kill count in an environment that has all the subtlety of a set on Six Feet Under?

Art for arteries' sake
A zip up I-Drive or across Colonial would seem to indicate that Orlando is a Valhalla of toxic pseudo-food that'll strike you deader than a California ballot initiative if it slithers down the wrong pipe, or even the right one. Well, then, how come we hardly ever hear of an interstate trucker keeling over from cholesterol shock in a Shoney's men's room? Probably because today's corporate hash-slingers aren't doing everything they could to make dining out as exciting and unpredictable as Russian roulette. And that whole "Atkins menu" business isn't helping, either. It's time to deep-six the garden burgers and start smothering Buffalo wings in hot fudge the way God intended. Memo to Darden Restaurants: Bread everything. Even the napkins.

Name your poison
To bring danger back to drinking out, OUC is hereby to cut off water service to all dive bars. Clean glasses are a known impediment to the health and viability of the flesh-eating bacteria; if our intrepid boozehounds need something to mix with their Scotch, there's nothing wrong with more Scotch. Though drinking hours will continue to cease at 2 a.m., the downtown window for copping Peruvian cocaine cut with Toilet Duck will be extended to dawn.

Spreading the disease
A major publicity firm will be enlisted to educate the masses that Orlando isn't a city just for families; it's for people of all ages and backgrounds who happen to value life as shallowly as a pregnant pool-hall hustler in a dime-store novel. Christened "vultural tourism," this PR initiative will position our community as an unobstructed window to the travails of doomed coma patients and death-row inmates on their last legs of appeal. To supplement the aura of invigorating, perpetual peril, the city will change its slogan to "Orlando: Watch Your Ass!" and the Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau will stamp all official materials with the legend "Danger Is Our Business." Meanwhile, local news producers will pitch in by upgrading their broadcasting philosophy from "If it bleeds, it leads" to "If it hemmies, it Emmys" – reflecting the reality that a good cerebral hemorrhage isn't just great TV, but the public image we all work so hard to present.

sschneider@orlandoweekly.com

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