Homely Sweet Home

Orlando, we have a problem with our motto, “The City Beautiful.”

In a survey of 35 U.S. cities by Travel+Leisure magazine, rating everything from food to culture to weather to pulchritude, the people of Orlando were rated the 32nd least attractive, ahead of only Philadelphia, Baltimore and No. 35 Anchorage, where even limited daylight hours can’t hide the ugly truth.

Before you say polls like this are a waste of time, consider that the No. 1 most attractive city in the poll was Miami. OK, now go ahead and say it. I would agree with this commenter on the T+L website:

“Give me a break. Outside South Beach, Miami-Dade is super fat, more like morbidly obese. These people, like Southern Californians, thrive on face lifts, and they look absolutely horrible.”

You can quibble with this poll. It was about as scientific as a fortune-telling Magic Eight Ball, open to anyone who clicked on the T+L website. And the magazine chose the 35 cities to be rated. Not included were Fresno, Grand Forks, Toledo, Mobile and other cities potentially even less attractive than Orlando.

It’s likely that most respondents were Travel+Leisure readers, who are not exactly a Gallup slice of Americana, with a median household income of about $100,000, according to the magazine’s website.

The survey’s biggest flaw is that it ignores the fact Orlando is the No. 1 tourist destination in America, drawing millions of mostly average-looking and not-so-attractive visitors from across the country, thus driving down our resident beauty quotient.

There are beautiful people who come to Orlando, but they are not the people you see on monorails at the airport. They fly first-class, are first off the plane and are in Town Cars on the way to luxury suites while the rest of us in coach are still unloading our junk that may have shifted during flight in the overhead bins.

Yes, Orlando, we can be defensive and quibble with the poll, but I think it’s a much better strategy to embrace being No. 32. There was a time when the rite of passage for Americans was through New York’s Ellis Island. Orlando is the new Ellis Island.

Sooner or later, whether they like it or not, every American comes to Orlando. Just as America cannot close its borders to all but the richest and most brilliant, Orlando cannot afford to post cutouts of Jessica Alba and George Clooney with the message: “You must be this beautiful to visit.”

We can either start wearing paper bags over our heads like Detroit Lions fans, or celebrate our status as the new Middletown, USA. We and our visitors are America—the great bump of less-than-awesome in the bell curve of beauty. Most of us will never win a beauty contest unless we pick the right card playing Monopoly.

In the memorable Saturday Night Live parody, Billy Crystal as Fernando Lamas, the impossibly handsome Argentinian actor of yesteryear, said: “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

That’s fine if you’re Fernando Lamas. But when I look in the mirror, I don’t see Fernando Lamas. More like Cheech Marin. And I’m OK with that. For those of us not living in a fantasy world, it is actually better to feel good than to look good.

For Orlando tourism officials, who have struggled to come up with a snappy slogan, there is grist in the T+L survey. Two ideas: “Orlando: Come as you are—you’ll fit right in.” For a PG hint of naughtiness: “Orlando—where things get ugly fast.”

In the SNL skit, Fernando (Crystal) would always lie charmingly and tell someone like George Steinbrenner, “Dahling, you look mahvelous.” So to America we say: Give us your stressed-out, your poorly dressed, your SUVs loaded with average-looking families yearning to kick back. Dahlings, you look mahvelous.

Just don’t arrive with your dog tied to the roof. We do have some standards.

Categories: Column