Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Class and Queues in Kissimmee

The sharp class divisions in America that usually hide in neat little geographic units are all illustrated by a vacation to central Florida.

Heaven help me, I do love nice things. I grew up sharing one room with my two brothers, wearing cheap clothes that had passed from boy to boy until they got all shiny and thin, etc, etc. So I hope to be forgiven for my fondness for five-star resorts. Who wouldn't want to stay in beautiful surroundings with fountains and waterfalls; golf courses; tennis courts; spacious rooms fully equipped with all the amenities of luxury living like Jacuzzi tubs, balconies and decks, a tv in every room, full kitchen, attentive staff, etc, etc.

If it were not for the attentive staff, and the knowledge (in the deep recesses of the back of one's mind) of the maids and groundskeepers and janitors making minimum wages to clean up behind us; if it were not for them, the underclass would truly be invisible in Kissimmee. But if you hang around your suite and check out late, you can't help but run into teams of smiling, seemingly happy, friendly women with crooked teeth. They are mostly Hispanic, and you see them pushing carts laden with rolls of toilet paper, bottles of cleaner, linens and feather dusters.

But the underclass never makes it to the theme parks that draw millions of visitors each year. At least, not on their own. With parking, a single day admission for one person actually costs roughly two full day's labor at minimum wage. For a family of four, a week and a half of work covers the price of just one day at the park.

People blithely accept the divisions between middle and upper income; divisions Universal Studios capitalizes on by segmenting the market within its two parks. Patrons line up in two queues at nearly all attractions in those parks, a short queue and a long queue. For an additional fee, nearly equal to the day’s admission price, anyone can purchase an "Express" pass and use the short queue. "Skip the regular lines!" say the ads.

That part of Florida is dotted with toll roads, in some cases running exactly parallel to "free" highways. The limited access of a toll road provides a faster trip, avoiding the traffic massed at stoplights and construction zones.

It strikes me as odd how we see line jumping as rude and boorish, except when extra fees pay for the privilege.

Well, not that I would be above paying for the privilege of moving to the head of a line. And I used the toll roads this vacation, to save time. In fact, I have seriously considered the purchase of those express passes and would definitely do it if I ever get caught down there during the peak season (again.)

It’s just that it all seems somehow so … unfair.

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