Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Obstacle Course

I always snicker when I read an article about Celebration that says our streets run on a strict New Urbanism grid. If that's true, the grid designed must have been three sheets to the wind when drawing up the plans. If you're trying to find Duloc Manor and miss the turnoff for our cul de sac, you'll soon be dizzy from the twists and turns and the circle that you'll ultimately make.

Not only are our roads curvy and confusing, but they are often an obstacle course. This is especially true during business hours, when the construction crews and landscapers are out. I go walking with a friend almost every morning, and our starting point is on Front Street downtown. To get there, I drive from my East Village enclave, where there is still a flurry of construction. The crews park willy-nilly on both sides of the street, and being anywhere close to the curb is optional. Sometimes I wonder whether I'll be able to maneuver Canyonero through the obstacle course of beat-up pick-ups, trucks with trailers, and piles of construction material and debris. Like a video game, extra "challenges" may pop up at any time, too, like someone abruptly flinging their car door open just as I'm attempting to squeeze my vehicle through an already too-narrow space. Instead of wax, I've seriously debated simply coating my Aztek with a nice coat of slippery grease.

That is the road behind my home, and it's really just a warm-up for the major construction area on East Lawn (the main road in and out of East Village, which intersects with Celebration Avenue). East Lawn is lined with multi-zillion-dollar mansions in various stages of construction, which means various configurations of construction vehicles, trade vans, and whatnot on any given day. It's a narrow street even at the best of times, but during business hours, it often narrows down to literally one lane. Congo lines of cars take turns navigating the single narrow pathway. There is no flagger, but for the most part drivers are quite civil, taking semi-organized turns.

The driving can be hair-raising at times when you realize that both you and a Hummer are trying to navigate the same keyhole space at the same time in opposite directions. But I like taking that street because I enjoy watching the contruction progress on the houses. The only thing most of them have in common is a price tag exceeding the total amount of money that I'll probably earn in my whole lifetime. Other than that, they vary in style from stone-faced to Victorian to Spanish to Colonial. On the same street, you'll find a rambling Spanish villa right next door to a lavendar mansion, with a home fronted by massive white pillars just a few doors away.

My neighbors and I, being curious (i.e. nosy), have poked around the construction sites after hours, and we've been awed by the massive homesteads. While it's a little difficult to picture their true beauty when the drywall is absent, or perhaps just recently hung, and the floors and stairs are still bare concrete and wood. But the Ghost of Mansions Yet To Come hovers near, and with a little imagination, you can fill in the stone fireplaces, curving hardwood staircases, and intricate tile or marble work that will exist someday.

East Lawn borders a lake, so perhaps the best feature of those homes is the scenery right outside the backyards. Almost all of them have a swimming pool/lanai designed to take fill advantage of the view. Many of them have ceiling to floor windows; I can just imagine the light flooding in with the serene backdrop of the lake right on the other side of the glass.

Most of the houses have a while to go, and there are still several vacant lots with "Sold" signs, so the obstacle course isn't likely to be cleared out any time soon.

In the morning, the various landscape companies are busy throughout Celebration, too. Their vehicles and trailers create little surprise obstacles at various points throughout town. As I head out for my walk, I always note the distance droning that sounds like a hive of angry bees. But it's just the raucous symphony of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, edgers and various other motorized gardening devices. Based on my observations, the number of people in Celebration who do their own lawn care can probably be counted on my fingers and toes.

Since I live in a triplex, I am numbered among those with an outside gardening service. For a long time, my yard resembled a jungle; I'm sure that panthers were roaming the savannah-lands of Duloc Manor each night. It's even possible that Jimmy Hoffa's body was stashed somewhere among the knee-high grass. Our monthly fees were boosted, but now the service is vastly improved. They don't pull the weeds too often, but the grass always looks nicely clipped and manicured, and our hedges have even been trimmed twice this year. I planted a plethora of flowers, so I keep their beds weeded myself. The weeds are growing rather wild between our house and the neighbors, but I dub that "protected wetlands" and ignore it.

Even on streets that are free of work vehicles, white-knuckle maneuvering may still be required. In Celebration, the resients are divided into two distinct classes: driveway haves and have-nots. I am one of the lucky people numbered among the haves. We have a decent-sized driveway behind our garage where I can easily fit Canyonero. But only a handful of the houses on our cul de sac, and none of the ones behind us, have parkable driveways. In many parts of town, a typical "driveway" consists of a tiny spit of concrete good for nothing but holding a trash can. People who live in driveway-deprived homes must park their vehicles out on the street. Since many of our roads are narrow, and most households have multiple vehicles, this can create quite a bit of "car clutter." You can easily identify the streets where the homes lack driveways because they are always peppered with vehicular obstacles.

But the obstacles in Celebration are not limited to vehicles and gardening or construction equipment. In the morning, my friend and I often walk down the path that rings Lake Evalyn and then along the lake behind East Lawn. There are lots of ducks and other fine feathered friends that leave their "presents" on the walkway. This takes a bit of maneuvering that can resemble drunken weaving when the birds have been especially busy with their sidewalk artwork.

If we happen to be walking around school time, we must also be on the alert for convoys of children on bicycles. We see a handful on foot or on skateboards, but overall the majority seems to prefer pedaling. Usually they will shout a warning so we have plenty of time to step aside, but every now and then we are taken by surprise as a bike whizzes by on the grass next to us.

It's relatively easy to maneuver on foot, but driving around the various obstacles can be a bit more challenging. I do know alternate roads where I can avoid most of the congestion on the way to and from Duloc Manor, but they are out of the way. Besides, that fun would it be to drive on an open road, free of any surprises and challenges?

They say that, in order to keep your reflexes sharp, you should continually exercise them. In the same vein, to keep your mind alert, it's good to actively seek out mental challenges. The great thing about driving in Celebration is that maneuvering through the obstacle course allows you to accomplish both of those things at once.

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