Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Long Wait

Now that we had finally purchased the perfect home in the perfect town, we were in for a long, long wait. Actually, it wasn't so bad because we weren't under any time constraints. We knew we wouldn't be able to move to Florida immediately and permanently anyway, so we had more patience than most new home buyers who are anxiously waiting to relocate.

It was a bit difficult to know that construction was going on 1500 miles away, and we couldn't be there in person to watch our "baby" grow. This was eased somewhat by our real estate agents, who mailed us occasonal progress photos, and to a kind neighbor-to-be who took pictures nearly every week, which he posted on a web page for us.

Every time he posted new shots, I eagerly logged on to see the vacant lot turn into a foundation, and then to watch the steadily rising walls. Once the structure was in place, it morphed from a skeleton to a roofed and fleshed out building that was starting to look like a real home. Inside, tile, carpet, and appliances were added it as it edged closer to completion. Exterior paint, and then landscaping, finally completed the picture.

We were also very fortunate to be able fly down for a visit every few weeks or so. I am a big fan of Priceline, as I don't mind letting William Shatner choose which hotel I stay at or which rental car company I use. I booked resort-level hotels in the Lake Buena Vista/Downtown Disney area for around $65 a night. I also snagged rental cars so we could drive around Celebration, poke around the construction site, and get to know our soon-to-be neighborhood a little better.

There was so much contruction going on in East Village that it had changed substantially every time we saw it. Some of the homes sprang up in what seemed like mere weeks. Where empty land had been when we initially signed our contract, we now saw houses with people living in them. Every now and then, we would see another family that, like ourselves, appeared to be visiting a place that was under construction, dreaming of a bright and not-too-far-away future.

Each time we visited, we brought our camera and took a new batch of photos. Between those and the website pictures, we had more photos of our house than some people take of their children. When we purchased our condo back north, we didn't have a similar sense of excitement. Even though we visited the construction site a few times, we never bothered to bring our camera. Sure, we were happy about buying a new place, but in a low-key sort of way. After all, we were only moving half an hour away, simply to be closer to our jobs.

We didn't choose our Midwest condo we fell in love with it; we chose it for convenience. We didn't find it through a set of cosmic circumstances. We found it after endless weekends of hunting for a place that was decent, roomy, and that fit into our budget. It met our needs, but there was no emotional attachment.

Celebration was different. This time, we chose the town, and even the state. We knew that our future home was the right place for us because of the way things had turned out. We already felt right at home in Florida, even while we were just visiting and living out of hotel rooms. When we were done visiting our house, we would drive around aimlessly in our rental car, learning the streets, the stores, and the neighborhoods. We also explored the various expressways, including I-4, 417, and 528.

In the past, when we visited Florida strictly for vacation, we had never rented a car. Still, over time, I had apparently developed a vague sense of direction from being there so often. I thought I would have no clue on how to get anywhere if I actually had to drive myself, but when I started driving, I was pleasantly surprised.

I quickly built a new sense of confidence as I learned the lay of the land. I was also getting used to Florida drivers, an eclectic mix of tourists, elderly people, and I-don't-give-a-damn locals. I got used to the fact that U-turns out of left turn lanes are legal, but it was much more challenging to learn to predict the behavior patterns of my fellow drivers. Apparently, if you are in the far right lane and want to turn left, it is perfectly acceptable to abruptly and without warning cut across all the lanes. Making a sudden stop in any lane is also fine, and even common. After all, it's hard to read your map while driving, and the people behind you won't mind the delay (not to mention slamming on their brakes). I soon became immune to these and other driving challenges.

Celebration has its own set of driving rules too. Apparently, in the local language, "Stop" means "Pause if you feel like it, but probably you should just rush through without slowing down." That's certainly how people react when they come to a stop sign in town. The posted speed limit is 25, but in reality it tends to be either 10 (lost tourists) or 50 (locals). Being a foolish Northerner, I abide by the posted numbers, which results in almost constantly being tailgated.

But all of the driving was enjoyable, and we learned more and more about Celebration, Kissimmee, Orlando, and the surrounding communities. Most people think of Orlando as Tourist Land, and they don't think of Kissimmee at all. But in reality, only a few miles away from all the Disney glitz and the many parasitic attractions, there are miles of cow pastures and farmland. It was a surprise to me to learn that Florida is prime cattle country.

We also learned about some attractions that most people never seen, or even here of, like the Disney Wilderness Preserve. We haven't made it there yet, but it's nice to know that there are places where nature still rules.

Even though our home wasn't done yet, we'd already started feeling like residents of Celebration. Every weekend we were there, we had lunch at the Market Street Cafe, and I battled the tropical heat with many scoops of ice cream from Herman's and iced coffess from Barnie's. We'd spent lots of time on the walking paths, and we'd visited every shop in the downtown area more times than I can count. It felt good to absorb that small-town atmosphere, and every time we visited, it simply reconfirmed that we had made the right choice.

Late August was the scheduled completion date, and time was inching along slowly but surely. As it loomed closer, I knew there were plenty of technical details to take care of.

Next time...Details, details, details

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

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