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Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Sunburned Country

With little else to do today than ignore the incessant, nearly hysterical news reports on Dennis, or the foul weather swirling around outside -- cleaning the house is just not an option -- I will relay to you my whereabouts of the last several days and enjoy a little quiet time with my blistered and slowly deflating feet up on the couch.

Call me a hypocrite, my husband already has, but I took the girls to the Crappiest Place on Earth for Elle's fifth birthday. In my defense (I just typed "dense," how's that for a Freudian slip?) Jorge and I went numerous times as kids and always had a blast, and though I despise the place and everything it stands for now, I won't deny the experience to my kids. After all, we turned out okay. Mostly. Jorge laughed that someone had thrown a switch and changed me from a girl who loves Carl Hiaasen's quote in Team Rodent, that his dream is to be forever banned from the place, into a pavement-pounding, four-parks-in-three-days madwoman.

Hey, I got my money's worth, and they didn't get one extra cent. No mouse ears with our names on them, no tee shirts, no vacation club memberships. I packed a two-liter bottle of chilled water and handfuls of cereal bars for snacks each day and off we went. One small splurge was the lemonade slushies they wanted the last day when the water ran out. We didn't know at the time we ordered, but the straw/spoon happened to have a miniature plastic Pluto attached to it. Yippee. There's your souvenir kids!

The heat and humidity were murderous. After a while I stopped snickering at the tourists carrying their Disney logoed, fan-topped squirting water bottles and hoped to be standing close enough to someone to catch a bit of overspray. We weren't dripping sweat, but covered in a continuously oozing oily sheet of wetness. But that didn't stop me. Oh, no.

Jorge joined us and spent the whole second day with us at Epcot, or NerDisney, where one employee left me to convert centimeters to inches on my own after a query about a ride's height requirement. Not an easy thing to do when your brain is being rapidly brought to a boil. We raced over to The Land to try out the new ride Soarin' which was a very convincing simulation of flying, literally by the seat of your pants. Like Eastern Airline's old If You Had Wings on steroids. When we flew over the surfers, Elle pulled her dangling legs up under her and asked if sharks could jump that high. Then we went on the main agricultural Land boat ride through the various displays and hydroponic greenhouses, which always fascinates Jorge and me. This time, upon exiting, we were approached by Yao Ming's twin brother dragging a wagon with what looked to be a giant cucumber. Sarabelle was the closest guesser among the group of onlookers for the correct weight of the monstrosity, 52 lbs., and was given a free pass for the "Behind the Seeds Tour." The rest of her group, received a 50% discount. Not bad! We were highly intrigued and signed on for the next available tour. With some time to kill, we went over to see the special presentation of Simba Trashes the Human Race. Bad, bad homo sapiens! Yeah, we humans have run roughshod over this poor planet for too long, except of course for the noble savages who only consumed enough to sustain themselves. Grotesque visuals of wasted resources, pollution, and mass consumerism, even so far as showing Las Vegas as a prime example, were splashed across the giant movie screen. They even bashed hydroelectric power when they displayed the Hoover Dam while criticizing the scars man has left behind tampering with Mother Nature. Timon and Pumba were added for comic relief, but the real comedy was the pure irony of Disney preaching conservation. Stunned by the mixed message in that public service bone, we proceeded to our peek backstage.

We learned a little about Disney's use of predatory insects to control pests and the breeding program. It was fun to wander around through the normally inaccessible garden areas. The guide was pleasant, if not thoroughly knowledgeable, she was after all an entomologist rather than a botanist or an expert on aquaculture, but at least she wasn't obsequious like every other park employee we met. I wanted to know how much of what they do is true research and development, if they receive any outside funding, or if it was all really self-serving (i.e. entertainment, good public relations.) Of course there's no response for those questions in the handbook. We saw mutant vegetables and scary genetically altered bass, used to supply their restaurants and entertain fisherman on the Seven Seas Lagoon. (Disney on a Budget Tip: Stay home and fish.) Jorge assured me that the ChickieNobs were over in the next building.

Speaking of creeping us out, Jorge was unnerved by the fact that the automated ticket taking machines at the front gates now require a scan of your index and middle fingers. Our drivers' licenses were also scanned when we purchased tickets. I've been hunting for a copy of their security and confidentiality policies. So far no luck. We ended up in a lame virtual reality exhibit sponsored by GM that Jorge suspects may have been a surreptitious retina scan. Think of the data base they have amassed. Credit cards, photos, fingerprints, licenses, all linked... Our government doesn't even do as good a job, and they certainly have a tougher time with compliance. Maybe Disney should be running things. Maybe they already are. Bread and Circus, anyone?

After leaving Frightening Future World, we proceeded to the World Showcase. The highlight of that jaunt was the theatrical presentation of The American Adventure, or as I like to think of it, We're Still Number One!, mostly because we could sit down and it was airconditioned. This presentation blended moving pictures, photomontages, and syrupy illustrations of our country's history in a rather loose, fast-paced way, anachronistically cohosted by the audio-animatronic duo, Ben Franklin and Samuel Clemens. The employee who gave us the pre-show spiel made sure every knew who the hosts were and challenged the audience to see how many people they could recognize in the montage. I know they all got Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, but how many spotted Edison and Eleanor Roosevelt? My eyes started rolling about thirty seconds into the production with the illustration of a weeping pilgrim woman prostrate across a small, fresh grave, as the rest of the mourners drifted back through the snow covered field to their miserable existence. My first thought, "Mighty hard to dig a grave when the ground is completely frozen and not leave any tracks," set the tone for the rest of the show. America got off to a great start, and accomplished great things in a relatively short amount of time. Oh, sure there were a few glitches along the way: natives, slavery, a civil war, but we overcame them all! And did it to a stirring soundtrack too. And now we're great again! The Greatest!! The juxtaposition of a quote attributed to John Steinbeck, I'm thinking from his essay, "America and Americans" although I cannot locate it, meant as a warning against complacency, described how no great civilization to date, once they have reached a certain level of comfort and success has figured out how to prevent that great inevitable downhill slide, went right by most of the impassive, complacent, comfortable audience. But not us. Another mixed message. But then back to the dramatic, patriotic, red, white, and blue grand finale. There was general cheering and whistling all around. I applauded the aircondition.

When we returned to our room that night, we were shocked to learn London had been hit by terrorists, and we had a major hurricane headed for us. This brought back memories of September 11, 2001, when the girls and I missed the news of the attacks on the Trade Center because we were happily wandering around a museum, alone, in New Jersey that morning. Not that we were so close this time, excluding the U.K. Pavilion at Epcot, but disconcerting to think that while we were all wrapped up in our own happy world, oblivious, major events were occurring.

For the first time ever, I saw local Sheriff deputies at Disney World. Disney, notorious for its iron fisted control, having its own absolute governing authority, is, for all intents and purposes, above the law, so whether they requested the police presence or not would be interesting to know.

We began running into bad weather the minute we left the park last night. Before we resumed listening to Bill Bryson read his audiobook version of A Sunburned Country, I returned a nervous phone call from our friend Johnny. He and his partner live up in Pensacola and call us for every birthday, anniversary, and hurricane update. They're scared. After they lost their home in Ivan, they were helping a friend remove a massive oak that had fallen on the friend's house, which then shifted and fell on Johnny, fracturing his back and shattering his leg in four places. After his surgery, recovering at the friend's house, his partner had the stone slab of the friend's coffee top fall off and break his foot and ankle. So the two of them have been hobbling around their new FEMA trailer for the past few months, and this morning were ordered to evacuate. I reminded Johnny of the Butterfly Effect and told him I'd go outside as the storm passed us and blow it toward Texas or Louisiana. He suggested I suck in and steer it over toward Panama City.

So now, with the house occasionally bumping from a minor wind gust, I'm going to pull out my ILL copy of Nock's The Disadvantages of Being Educated and decide what to do for our next read-aloud.

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