Florida’s Car Culture: Lessons on Drop-Off & Pickup

Alternatives to the dreaded car line
Alternatives to the dreaded car line

We just moved to Orlando from Los Angeles. California is supposed to be the mecca of car culture. It has Route 66 and Disney’s CarsLand and In-and-Out Burger drive thrus and that famous drive to Vegas that we all remember from the movie Swingers.

Florida, however, has serious car culture.

Let me explain.

When my son was in kindergarten last year in California it drove me crazy to have to park the car and walk into his elementary school every afternoon to wait outside his classroom to pick him up. That’s the way they did it at his school in the valley. In the mornings you could park and walk your kid in to or you could pull up and drop him off just outside the kindergarten gate with the help of a hired aide standing at the ready on the curb. In the afternoon, however, you had to walk in to meet your child at their classroom.  Usually the weather in California is lovely but for 4-5 weeks a year it can feel like a veritable desert. Many afternoons were full of temperatures spiking well over 100 degrees. On those days we parents all cursed the school and this horrible pick-up rule. We’d have to fight for parking (which is all parallel parking, mind you) and then schlep in through the outdoor hallways, in the blazing hot sun, to stand and wait outside the door for the final bell to ring. It was tedious and hot and frustrating and annoying. Why couldn’t they find another way? Why couldn’t we just pick up our kids like they do in Florida?

So when we got ready to start the school year here in Orange County, I was thrilled to find out that I could drop my son off in the morning and then simply pick him up in the afternoon. No need to park and schlep in the heat – or dodge raindrops in a thunderstorm. No need to make small talk with other parents or change out of my yoga pants before I drove to the school. I could stay in my car and the school would shuttle my child straight to me. It sounded lovely. Dreamy. Absolutely fantastic!

Until the first day of school arrived. Being the first day and all, I got to walk our son to the classroom in the morning – but in the afternoon I showed up at 2:30 for the 2:45 car rider dismissal. I hung the car tag ID from the rear-view mirror. I thought I had arrived plenty early enough to be close to the front of the line.

I was wrong. Really, really, really wrong. By the time I made it though the car queue to pickup my son it was 3:10pm. My little boy was red in the face from the heat and crying because he was convinced I had forgotten him. And I had arrived early! I was in the middle of the queue. I didn’t think it would be that bad.

The next morning I drove up to do drop-off. School starts at 8:30 so we left the house at 8:00. By 8:10 we were in the car queue for drop off. By 8:15 we had only moved up 3 car lengths. By 8:25 we were finally pulling into the parking lot. By 8:35 he was out the door and properly late for his second day of school.

Seriously. No kidding. It took 25 minutes just to drop him off – and then another 10 minutes to drive out of the parking lot and get back onto the nearby road.

I assumed this was all part of the learning curve and growing pains of the first days of school. Prepared this time, I showed up at 2:15 for the 2:45 pickup. I had ice water and fruit snacks ready for him. Well, 2:15 got me closer but I still wasn’t in the parking lot queue. I was on the street with my blinker going until 2:50 when I finally got into the parking lot. I finally picked my kid up by 3:00pm. A little better, right? He was only waiting outside for 15 minutes this time. And it only meant I had to wait 45 minutes to get to him. That’s not that bad, is it?

This crazy time table continued the entire first week. Despite how crazy it seemed, I continued to persevere. I wanted to be patient. Find ways to pass the time. Maybe I’d make all my check-in phone calls while waiting in the queue in the afternoons? I’d call the pool guy, the moving company to file a claim for the damage, some recruiters to help me find some work, my mother to make plans for the weekend. It would be fine. Productive, even.

By Friday, however, I was done with Florida Car Culture. All I could do was think about how crazy this was. I’m wasting so much time sitting in the car. Thirty minutes in the morning. At least 45 minutes in the afternoon. And this is not drive-time. This is just engine-running, gas-guzzling, ozone-layer-melting, wasting-away-my-life car time.  Stay calm and drive on. Right?

No. That’s when California came back to me.

I told my son we’re done with drop-off. I’ll still leave the house at 8am but we’ll go and park the car and he and I and his baby sister will walk him to the front door of the school. On the way in I’ll see the faces of other kids and parents and we’ll actually say “hello” to each other. At the front door I’ll stop and lean down and give him a hug and a kiss and wish him a good day at school. His little sister will wave goodbye as he proudly walks into the school halls. It will be a lovely moment. Every day. A lovely moment that we were losing each morning in the car line outside the school.

In the afternoons, I told him to be dismissed at 3pm with the other “walkers.” I’ll park the car again, walk up to the front door, again, and stand and wait all of 5 minutes to see him come marching out the doors of the school and into my arms. I’ll grab his always-too-heavy backpack and let him tell me about his day as we walk to the car where his ice water and fruit snacks are ready and waiting. And we’ll drive off to go pickup his sister from preschool, where we will, yet again, park the car and walk in to pick her up. We’ll carry her backpack and ask her about her day. And then we’ll all get back in the car and drive home.

So, yeah, last year I was cursing California’s park-and-pickup policy. Now I’m embracing it. It will take more work to abandon promised land of Florida Car Culture’s Drop-Off and Pickup, but I think this is better for us. After everything is said and done, parking and greeting and walking with my kids is the better choice.


(So have I inspired you to get out of the car line and park your car? Maybe? Give it a try.. Just once. You might like it. Oh, and it’s certainly faster than waiting in the queue. Although Florida doesn’t seem to care much about doing things faster. I’ll save that for my next post!)




  1. You are lucky your school will allow that. Ours does everything they can to discourage walk up pick ups. Here are only some of the many rules for car line:
    Car seats need to be placed on the passenger side of the back seat of the car.

    In the afternoons, parents should not walk up to get their child.

    If you park your car and walk up to get your child, you will be required to go into the school and check out your child.

  2. Sounds like a great idea but she is most likely breaking the school’s rules here. I’ve taught in several Orlando area schools & A) parking in the parking lot & telling your kid to leave with the walkers was always a huge no-no and B) parking somewhere nearby in the neighborhood & walking a few blocks to get your kid as a walker was also always a huge no-no. I live by a school & it is very frustrating trying to get out of our neighborhood at dismissal time due to parents that do this. As a teacher we frowned on parents who broke a rule (car riders go to the car pick up) to do this. Imagine if every parent in the car line started doing this. I highly recommend she & other parents check with the school for their policies before she (& you) encourage other parents to do this!

  3. So, moms… how about your school? (a) Do they discourage this type of walk-in alternative? (b) Are there any ways to avoid this car-line chaos? (c) Does your school allow walk-ins?

  4. Wait, what? You’re not allowed to WALK to pick up your kid? I don’t understand this. What if you don’t have a car? I live in SF and we only have one car, so I’ll be walking my preschooler to and from preschool most days, and hopefully I will do the same if he gets into the local public grade school.

  5. Oh man- this topic hits home hard for me! We just moved here from Iowa, small town family, not use to this hustle- I was not ready for the complete chaos at my girl’s school. Walking and picking up is almost impossible because the only place to park is the schools parking lot, which is in the middle of the car queue! I’ve been yelled at twice now for trying to get out of my car and walk across the way to get my girls, being told it was unsafe. My girls start school at 8:40- we live 5 minutes away, but in order for me to get them dropped off on time we have to leave the house at 8am- 40 minutes early! Then, because I have a 4th grader and a Kindergartner- I have to first go to the 4th grade loop to drop off one kiddie, then make my way pass the 3rd grade line, out of the parking lot and around the corner to the Kindergartner line- where we stay in a single file line until someone arrives at our car to let her safety out and to her room, I am not allowed to get out! School is out at 3:00- so I arrive AN HOUR early to get a good line placement- I was arriving at 2:45 and found myself like you- in the street with my blinker on, blazing in the hot Florida sun! Now, we sill have to fry in the sun waiting for an hour, but I get in and out a lot faster once it’s my turn in line. This school has three pick up/drop off loops (4th/5th – 2nd/3rd – 1st/K) and there is one way in and one way out……..when i said chaos, that was a loose term! They also disable the street light to a blinking red so that we can use the “stop sign” method- and they have three officers directing traffic. It’s really just ridiculous.

  6. I thought I was the only one! I am actually so happy now that my son takes the bus when I was so heartbroken at first. The one and only day we did the car line it took 45 minutes to get to the front of the school. Once we were there, they took another 10 mins to get him to our car. Now we send him off on the bus and I’m back home in 3 minutes. And, at the end of the day he is home almost an hour earlier than he would be if we picked him up!

  7. Your experience sounds just like the line at a school, let’s just call it “RenCharChick,” which Siggy attended in fourth grade. What a nightmare! The first few days I was in line over an hour, some of it, as you describe, sitting on a busy road not even on school property. Ridiculous!

  8. We live in Seminole County (right next to Orange) and we NEVER have this issue. I live 5 minutes from my daughter’s elementary school and we are dropping her off within 10 minutes of leaving our house. Not sure how pick up is because her day care has a shuttle that picks her up but this is NOT the experience we have on the morning.


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