Saturday, October 15, 2005

American Dream Town

Once again, Celebration is in the running for the title of American Dream Town. Last year, we came in second, narrowly edged out by Braselton, GA (they got 3572 votes, while we managed to rack up 2739).

Since my ice storm trauma in Georgia, I am especially miffed to have been beaten by a town in the Peach Tree State. But this year we can come from behind to claim the title...that is, if enough people vote. The election is like those I was used to in Chicago: You are encourage to vote early and often.

The voting website is, so if you are from Celebration, or are even a fan of our little town (or just a fan of this blog), please give us a click! You are able to cast a vote every day from now until the contest is over on November 30th.

It would be cool to claim the official title of American Dream Town, but even if we are edged out once again, I know that we're still a great place to live. Tonight was one of the events that proves it: the annual leaf drop. Most of us in town are transplants who left parts of the country where the leaves would turn lovely shades of orange, red and yellow in the week or two of autumn before winter roared in to take over. Now, in Florida, we're surrounded by green all year 'round. "That's a good thing," as Martha Stewart would say, but just in case we get homesick, we are treated to a weekend of tissue paper leaves being blown out of boxes Market Street every half hour.

Yes, I know that sounds totally corny, but that's what makes it cool. The kids all have little paper bags in which to stuff the leaves they catch (and the adults can watch for shiny "discount dots" that are good for discounts of up to 20% at the downtown stores). Every half hour, from 6 p.m. till 9 p.m., people gather in anxious little knots under each of the leaf blowers. All heads are craned towards the sky as we all wait to be showered by green, yellow, red and brown paper.

The downtown area is barricaded off from traffic for the event. There is a band and other entertainment, hay rides, food booths, face painting, pumpkin painting, etc. We have all the fixin's of a good, old-fashioned fall festival with none of that annoying chill in the air.

My husband and I didn't make it to the leaf drop yesterday. That afternoon, the pumpkin shipment arrived at our church for the annual fund-raising sale. Basically, that means there was a semi-truck crammed with thousands of orange spheres that all needed to be unloaded and stacked on pallets. Hubby and I joined the other volunteers in the pumpkin production line. By the time we were done with that, we were ready for a hot shower and a good meal at Joe's Crab Shack with friends. Then we headed home to soothe our aching muscles in the hot tub. We made it an impromptu hot tub party, so that didn't finish up until midnight.

Today, we were determined to make it, even though we had a busy schedule ahead of us. In the morning, we wanted to go to the annual Rotary pancake breakfast, which is held at the fire station in conjunction with a safety fair for the kids. We somehow managed to drag our carcasses out of bed and get to the breakfast by 8:30 a.m. I would have slept in and gone later, but I had promised to work a couple of hours selling at the pumpkin patch right afterwards.

The pancake breakfast is a very popular event; nearly everyone we knew in town was planning to attend. It was more like a big meeting of friends and neighbors. We had managed to get one of the last semi-prime parking spots, but by the time we left, the parking area was crammed with vehicles as far as the eye could see. One lucky soul happened to be pulling in just as we were leaving, so he instantly grabbed our spot.

Fortified with a tasty meal of pancakes and sausage, hubby and I put in our time at the pumpkin sale. Since it was early, I thought it would be quiet, but we managed to sell quite a few. Somehow I managed to sucker my husband into donning the scarecrow costume that sits behind the counter, awaiting brave souls who don't mind making a spectacle of themselves. I dared him to wear it and wave to the conga line of cars passing by on Celebration Avenue. He did put it on and go down to the street, but he refused to blatantly wave them in.

The costume turned out to be a good idea; one group of people made a generous contribution to take a photo with the odd-looking scarecrow that was wearing sandals and sunglasses.

At noon, our relief showed up, so we got some lunch and then headed home to get in a few hours of work before "leaf time." I had volunteered for a 7 to 10 p.m. shift at the fest, so we figured we'd catch the 6 p.m. drop and then have a light dinner at the food booths before I started. My husband wanted a new Celebration golf shirt, and I wanted a spare front door mat, so we were gunning for the coveted magenta dots that would earn us a 20% discount.

One of our friend's sons had studied the leaf drop schema, and he warned us that the discount dots were first out of the box. If you didn't managed to snare one within the first few seconds, you were out of luck. We each positioned ourselves at a different box, and when the paper swarmed in the sky, I was ready. Sure enough, the dots were in the first wave, so I managed to grab a magenta one. Hubby did, too, so we left the street swarming with busy youngsters stuffing their paper leaves in bags and popped into the Village Merchantile for the shirt and doormat.

Next up was a lobster roll and clam chowder from the Town Tavern for me and a salad from the Columbia Restaurant for my husband. We munched on our dinner and watched as the crowd literally swelled right before our eyes. Although it is not as popular as the soap-snowfall, the leaves draw in a respectable crowd of both Celebrationites and tourists. The line of cars snakes all the way from 192 to the heart of downtown as people jockey for coveted parking spots or try to figure out if they're even in the right place. Often, my husband and I bike to the special events, and we're inevitably stopped by lost tourists plaintively pleading for directions. Fortunately, it's usually easy to get them pointed towards downtown; once they get close, they can't miss it.

After filling my tummy with seafood, it was off to the information booth to receive my assignment. Actually, I didn't have far to assignment turned out to be the information booth, which was also selling t-shirts, tote bags, and lighted pumpkin pins. Amazingly, the little $2 pins were the smash hit of the festival. For most of the evening, they sold literally as fast as we could put them out. Their little LED lights must have been spelling out "Buy me! Buy me!" in Morse code.

I have to admit that the pins had an ingenious fastener. Rather than an actual pin, they fastened with a magnet. This allowed a few enterprising kids to use them as earrings, too. As darkness fell, the success of our sale was evident: there was a cheerily blinking pumpkin on nearly every chest.

Between the pins and brisk t-shirt sales, the time whizzed by at warp speed. We were running a special: half off a t-shirt or tote bag with a two-can food donation to the Second Harvest food bank. Happily, many people took advantage of the deal. By the end of the night, there were several boxes brimming with donated canned goods.

In between customers, I got a kick out of people watching. We were in a central location, right across from Max's restaurant, and it was so much fun watching the families flit from booth to booth, enjoying the fest and the gorgeous fall day. One little boy proudly showed me his bag, brimming with paper leaves. He was so cute, and his excitement was contagious. It was impossible not to get caught up in the festive spirit of the evening.

I saw quite a few friends from town pass by, and I even met a blog reader who recently purchased a home in Celebration. That's always exciting because one of the main reasons I started my blog (besides its therapeutic value) was to help prospective residents and visitors. I still remember what it was like, waiting with baited breath for our home to finally be ready. I also remember wondering what the real town was like. I just knew that it had to be something much different than the slick marketing brochures and the hackneyed stereotypes.

Now, I really enjoy it when I can help out people in the same situation or when I can give them a glimpse of what it's truly like to live here, both the good and the bad. I never want to lose the sense of joy I got when I finally became a Celebration resident, and it's renewed for me every time I see it again through another person's eyes.

Before I knew it, it was nearly 10 p.m. Time to put everything into boxes, fold up the table cloths, and call it a night. I called my husband to run by and pick me up in Canyonero (our trusty Aztek). I had planned to soak my aching tootsies in the hot tub, but I ended up being too lazy, so that's on the agenda for tomorrow.

As I reflect back on the weekend, I realize that even if we don't win the award, Celebration will always be an American Dream Town to me. I can't even imagine events like this in my old home town, let alone actually wanting to get involved. Now, we live among active people who pull off events like the breakfast, pumpkin sale, and falling leaves on a regular basis (this year, we still have the wild Halloween celebration coming up, not to mention Founders Day and the nightly soap snowstorms). I enjoy being in the thick of things, and it reinforces the fact that I'm glad we moved to Celebration. No matter what the numbers say, we are a Dream Town, and I wouldn't want to live in Braselton, Georgia or anywhere else.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

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