The last resort

"Blame Canada," the anti-Canuck anthem in the South Park movie, probably hasn't done much to pull Canadians across the border of late. Nor has the typical American sentiment that "Canada doesn't count anyway, it's not even a real country." Having written for a Canadian newspaper for years now, I know that Canadians already suffer from a middle-child, Jan Brady-style inferiority complex, with the U.S. as Marcia-Marcia-Marcia, flipping our California hair around hard enough to crack our neighbors in the face and make it sting.

But they wouldn't feel that way if they saw how we react when it's announced that Canadian tourism to Florida is down by 18 percent, as a friend in the hotel industry just called to tell me.

It makes sense that some of us worry about this kind of thing: Our economy depends on tourists. Hoteliers and attraction execs take it financially. I take it personally. Don't they like us anymore?

What a blast

A more logical explanation, of course, is that Canadians are saving their money to vacation on Mars. No, that thought wasn't triggered by the implant the Greys put in my head. (Although I have been thinking about the fact that aliens are forever doing anal probes. I finally figured out why: They think that's where our brains are. Sometimes I do, too.) It was triggered by a Reuters news story about how space travel for civilians could be closer than anybody thinks.

No less a figure than Buzz Aldrin stated at a recent Washington conference that shooting tourists out of the atmosphere was not such a far-fetched notion. Aldrin said that initially space exploration was "so bold and our subsequent efforts so timid that the energy of those years seems like a youthful dream," and that had the momentum continued, "we'd have walked on Mars 10 years ago, or certainly five years ago."

What I like about this is not so much the idea of walking on Mars, but of an astronaut sounding bitchy and bitter, like a wife that's fed up with her lazy husband: "You said we'd have a hotel on Mars five years ago and where is it? Still in the garage. If you made half the effort you did before we were married ..." But I'm sure Buzz is right. If a government orchestra were to play the Minute Waltz, it would take 42 days.

So the government can't be counted on. But a German company called Space Tours is so gung-ho on the prospect that they're already planning to catapult today's explorers to infinity and beyond. And plenty want to go. A recent survey reports that one-third of Americans would pay $5,000 for two weeks in space. That means people are willing to spend five grand to go someplace where the big attraction is that not one other human being will be there.

Since most of us have to save up our money to go on a trip to the mall, and since our economy is dependent on tourist dollars that seem to be slipping away, it's worth considering the pros and cons of a vacation in space versus one in Florida.

Space's greatest advantage is that it's new. Florida hasn't been new since Ponce de Leon thought he could get hair plugs here. His fountain of youth didn't work, which is why there are so many old people, Florida's other drawback. You might think you could have gotten away from them in space, but after John Glenn, space as fossil hostel already has entered the popular imagination. And old folks could drive all over the moon and never once jump a curb and kill anyone.

The bland tour

In space, tourists wouldn't have to worry about bugs or the water park being closed. There are no bugs, and there's no gravity to keep the water in the wavepool. But they might have to worry about boredom. Floating and staring at rocks are fine, but the novelty would probably wear off of both fairly quickly: Have you ever seen an enthusiastic fish?

Until Buzz's dream of any old amateur boarding the shuttle comes true, no one will have to make the decision of moon over Miami. The lag time means that maybe there'll be something to do once you get there. After all, it took Orlando 20 years to go from a cowtown to a bigger cowtown. By 2020 they may not have the orbiting hotels people project, but they'll have a Wal-Mart and a Bob Evans if the "Cocoon" crowd has anything to say about it.

After considering all this, I checked into that leaden plunge in Canadian tourism. It turns out the figures were for 1998 -- the year that most of Florida was on fire. So we can't really Blame Canada; the drop was an anomaly and may not happen again. Still, it doesn't hurt to stay on our toes so that the moon doesn't win out as a destination. I'd suggest more nude beaches. The Sea of Tranquility isn't good for anything but golf.

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