As we rode across some man-made pond, that was surely littered with the bodies of anyone who dared to break character in the park, Cinderella’s castle came into focus. I started beaming with a smile that stretched as far as New York to California and was lifted up to get a better view of a symbol of hope, dreams, and hostile corporate takeovers. Then the words, that have become our family mantra – my mom still swears that Disney should use them in an ad campaign – “There it is. There it really is!” were said by a five-year-old me with the clarity and panache of a copywriter at Ogilvy.
We made landfall and ran off that boat with the same enthusiasm and fear that the soldiers who stormed Normandy on D-Day did. Our assault pushed us forward as we made our way toward the gates, doing all we could do avoid the bodies that littered the ground while protecting ourselves from getting shot by the strategically placed “DPT” or Disney Photo Team.
I remember appreciating their tenacity and dedication but also making note that my picture is currently hanging in the home of some family I got accidentally lumped into while we were herded like sheep being lead to the slaughterhouse.
Disney World is magical and set up to royally fuck over any family with young children. The overabundance of visual stimuli, sugary treats, and bottomless sodas ensure your child will be more hyper than a coked-up stock broker in the 1980’s. Their plan worked perfectly as I held on to those Mickey ears until my parents agreed to pay the egregious $35 for felt and plastic that was constructed by a three-year-old girl in a Taiwanese sweatshop that was getting paid two-cents a week.
I was easily scared as a kid which must’ve been torturous to my parents. Prior to entering Disney World my family went to Universal Studios so we can take in all the glory that is Central Florida. For a state that is stuck in the 1980’s it didn’t seem out of place at the time seeing men with pony-tails and women with mustaches both in matching jean-short, tank-top outfits and the obligatory fanny pack. Universal Studios, the poor man’s Disney World – we were one with the commoners that day – was jam-packed with people fitting the description above, some even operating the rides that would ruin the rest of the trip for me.
Despite the scratch-marks on the walls and my bleeding fingernails, my family thought it would be fun for me to experience “The Flintstones in 3-D!”
Instead the 3-D adventure, where I was strapped into a chair like the guy at the end of “A Clockwork Orange” forced to watch images of inaccurate historical periods, continues to haunt me to this day. The rest of the trip was ruined for me as I dreaded going on rides which, in turn, made me the least favorite child as now my parents needed to be with me constantly and buy things to keep me happy.
Some of the best memories of this trip came from the time we spent in Olde Towne – I’m adding the “e” because even if I’m wrong it still showcases the type of environment we were in. Olde Towne was an exact replica of what Salem, Massachusetts looked like in the 1600’s right down to the stocks and burning posts. Of course there was a Ferris Wheel, Olde Towne needed to make money somehow and there were only a few trips every year that would visit the “blacksmith” who also happened to be the “candy shoppe owner.”
Olde Towne was the type of place you didn’t want to go to at night because I’m pretty sure that’s where local politicians would go to score drugs and prostitutes. We had a pool at the hotel we stayed at and our parents wouldn’t swim with us, sometimes the ignorance of a child is a good thing and sometimes the contents floating in the pool resurface in your memory years later when you realize it wasn’t a deflated balloon.
Our last day at Disney was the most fun I had on the trip. Family members were tired of walking so they didn’t mind that sitting with me when everyone else went on rides. I did get talked into “It’s A Small World” and I remember thinking at the time, “this is a little heavy handed.”
The majority of the day I sat around waiting for people to come off rides, ignoring those annoying costumed characters, and taking in the parades these minimum wage workers were forced to march in despite their suits being at least 120 degrees inside.
Suddenly off in the distance something grabbed my attention. The faint sound of a rumbling engine called out to me, drawing me closer to the sound like the unnamed character in “A Tell Tale Heart.” I needed to find the source of that sound. I ran off on my own and made whatever family member I was with chase me down. Despite the abhorrent nature of toddlers whose parents have them on a leash I can totally understand the necessity of one in that situation.
I finally located the sound – well, to be fair, my father did – and the pure excitement that came over me was like a stranded explorer lost in the Sahara desert seeing an oasis. My face lit up when I heard the roaring motors circling the track at speeds I couldn’t even fathom at my young age.
Next thing I know my father and I are sitting side-by-side in a red convertible ready to take this track down. My father took off and had the wheel before he relinquished control to me when we were out of view of the high school drop outs in Mickey Mouse Race Team uniforms who were praying it was their smoke break every five minutes they checked their watches.
We continued to pick up speed as we raced around each curve, the car barely gripping the pavement as we were on the edge of losing control and spinning into the guard rail. I would learn later in life that the car was connected to a track and my turning the wheel did absolutely nothing to the car itself.
As we closed in on the finish line I felt the wind blow through my hair, I closed my eyes and tilted my head back to feel the warm Florida sun hit my face. I was in my glory, every ounce of fear that I felt because of Barney Rubbel and Dino was gone in that moment. I finally knew what freedom was and I didn’t want it to end.
And that’s when it happened.
Roaring toward the finish line I pulled a Thelma and Louise – minus the canyon. I didn’t slow down, I didn’t even consider for a moment stopping when the acne-scarred face of a Mickey Mouse Race Team member held up his hand letting us know one lap was all we were allotted that day. This wasn’t going to happen to me, not today, not now, not when I was having the time of my life.
No one tells me to stop.
I continued forward, pushing the pedal to the floor and hitting the maximum speed of seven miles per hour, nothing would get in my way unless a piece of cardboard got stuck under the car then we were doomed. The brave Race Team member stood his ground commanding me like an officer of the law to stop at once but his order was ignored as if he was talking into the microphone at a closed drive-thru.
The manboy, presumably going for the Employee of the Month title, jumped onto the car to get me to halt my progress but I didn’t listen to his wishes that quickly turned into pleas. Finally he jumped off and jogged slowly on the side of the car and once again tried to mount it by putting his foot on the hood. I pushed even harder on the pedal and much to my surprise – and his – the car sped up throwing him to the ground where he rolled like a whiskey barrel.
I looked back at him with a big smile on my face as he dusted himself off, stood up and walked back to the finish line. I was a reckless child with a taste for questioning authority and sticking it to the man even if “the man” was a teenager who appeared to not have showered in a few days giving credence to the horrible acne scars spread across his face.
We pulled into the finish line for a second time and there my nemesis stood with his hands up telling us to halt. I adhered to his order and got out of the car. “Enjoy the rest of your time at Disney,” he said to me without the slightest hint of sarcasm and a smile that matched mine. An irksome feeling fell over me in that moment as I realized I felt bad, not for running this guy over, but for the fact that he needed to be nice to me no matter what.
For about 10 minutes that day I had no fear and anytime I’m even a little scared I think back to the time I fucked over Disney and almost killed one of their employees.