“Let’s go to Disney World!” Clay announced excitedly as soon as school was out. This was over a month ago. I looked at him for a good long while and considered. I’m not a roller coaster person…or a crowd person…or a children person…or a walking in the hot sun person. Frankly I don’t really do vacations, and was nervous at the very thought of it. Growing up, our family vacations revolved around gigs or writing assignments, so I never understood the high-falutin luxury of having a day off. My “dream vacation” is to be left alone undistracted to read a book start to finish. You want to take me to the happiest place on earth? Lock me in the library over the weekend. I imagined myself sitting on the floor crosslegged in some Disney store corner, reading David Sedaris surrounded by a protective fort of plush Dumbos. But Clay loves Disney World, so I agreed. It might be fun, I thought. And anyway, I had 3 books I’ve been wanting to read.
I’ve never been to Disney World, and always joked that Clay has taken literally hundreds of girls there (as a band director on school trips) but has never taken me. The one time I had the opportunity to go to Disney World was way before I ever met my husband. It was my freshman year in high school. The San Marcos Band had planned their school trip there. I had a fair to play that weekend, so I opted out. That year, nine members of the band, including a drum major, several band officers and the kid of a school board member were arrested for shoplifting and taken to – believe it or not – Mickey Mouse Jail – which I can only imagine is part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The band director was meandering around Downton Disney and all of the sudden the mushrooms that had been piping in the music all day started talking to him, “Will Johnny Martinez of San Marcos High School please report to the… err… Mickey Mouse Jailhouse.” When the band went back home, they left the jailbirds behind for the parents to go their bail. SMHS Band was banned from Disney World for the next several years, and it became a warning/horror story/wives tale that was told prior to every school trip after. I decidedly did not bring my letter jacket.
After arriving at the airport at 7am for our 8:50 flight, we were delayed five hours (5 HOURS!!!) Clay stared up at the tv monitor dazed. “Is that what that really means?!” he asked, dumbstruck. Held together with what later looked like bread ties, our plane was broken down and stuck in El Paso. With no other options, we made the best of it and spent the first day of our vacation as Austin airport looky-lous. We searched – to no avail – for the Dad book (Kent Finlay, Dreamer) at all the book stores, had tomato soup for breakfast, and got a couple of 20 minute chair massages (which is a little awkward all out in the open for passers-by to see). It wasn’t the worst airport we could’ve been stuck at for five hours. I once spent the night in the Dallas Love Field airport. All the stranded and shipwrecked aimlessly wandered back and forth between the bar and the What-a-Burger, zombie-like. The Austin airport was much more interesting. People-watching is top notch. Best of all, I managed to read an entire book before we even boarded. Things were really looking up!
When we finally arrived in Orlando, we were whisked away to the water-slide hotel Clay planned to use for his band trip next year – a paradise for anyone between 5 and 16. It was dark when we got in, and the street was lit up with tourist shops, liquor stores and fast food joints. The big McDonald’s across the street advertised on it’s big flashing neon sign that it was the “World’s Largest Entertainment McDonald’s.” I envisioned low light, exotic dancers and super-sizing of things until Clay explained that they meant the indoor playground…you know, for the children. Slightly disappointed, I closed the blinds and cracked open a book.
Going through the security line at Magic Kingdom the next morning, I set my bag and bright yellow parasol on the table to be searched and prodded and waited in line to go through the magical metal detector. “Come on in, Princess,” the security guard said, gruffly. Instinctively, my head snapped back and my eyes cut across to him: “EXCUSE me?”…and then realized that yes, we were entering an actual castle, and yes, he was probably being nice and Disney-like. Clay thought it was incredibly sweet and laughed so hard when I told him that I gave the poor guy a dirty look.
The parasol I brought was initially intended to keep my head from burning, but soon I found myself wielding it defensively like an umbrella in a busy Brooklyn subway tunnel.
I don’t do crowds. My mother tells a story about shopping in the packed-to-the-gills grocery store the day before Thanksgiving, and in the middle of the congested cheese aisle, some woman just went bat-shit crazy, screaming at the top of her lungs, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!” while using her basket as a battering ram, running people over and splitting the crowd in two. I have to admit, there were times I was wishing I had a shopping cart, and for the first time, I envied the people with strollers.
I don’t do children. Well, I don’t do other people’s children. I love my niece and there are a handful of other small people I can deal with for several hours at a time. But I don’t do stranger’s children – especially when they are over-familiar, over-stimulated, and completely over-the-top. Regularly, the overhead announcement kept asking me to “take small children by the hand” which seemed more than a little forward and made me feel more than a little guilty – as if I would stand back and watch Suzie Q trip and bite the dust within arms reach. Mr. Announcer reminded me tirelessly over a dozen times a day, least I forget. Okay, okay, I get it. I will. Let’s talk about something else. I have a friend who ends all of her emails, “Be good to each other.” And while I love the sentiment, it always makes me feel like she just caught me rough-housing with my brother. “Settle down now, and you two just get along.” Aw, come on. We were just playing.
I don’t do roller coasters. From the time my brother and I were 8 and 10 until we were about 12 and 14, we spent all our weekends and summers performing at countless fairs and festivals across the Southwest. We played them all – Border Fest, Gator Fest, Cotton Gin Festival, Strawberry Festival, Red River Fest, Cantaloupe Fest…you name it, we were there. Since we were just kids, the head of the carnival thought it was charming to “tip” us with Farris wheel rides and funnel cakes – believing, I’m sure, that we’d consider it a rare treat – not realizing that we were three days in to a seven day festival run. But we’d smile and thank him and strap ourselves obligatorily into the faded and dented up cars. This stopped directly after the “Tilt-a-Whirl Incident.” The Tilt-a-Whirl was a popular fair ride in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It spins your car around and around in a little circle while making a big circle around its hub…sort of like a drunk on the dance floor. At one point I looked over at Sterling and was shocked to see that he was the color of guacamole. I am not even exaggerating. Considering I was downwind, I was seriously alarmed. It was our last ride. And last funnel cake, for that matter.
Clay was totally in his element at Disney. This was definitely his kind of place, and I got a kick out of the silly grin that spread across his face ear to ear. He suggested we go “old school” and ride the “Small World,” a river boat that takes you through what appears to be the inside of a German music box, where child-sized puppets dressed in costumes from around the world sing the same song over and over and over. In line, we all looked sweaty and dreary, like drones sunk headfirst into our iPhones as we were slowly herded through the corral as though waiting to be branded “WD” by Tinker Bell’s magic wand. I can’t lie – the actual ride scared the crap out of me. If you have ever ridden it and it DIDN’T scare the crap out of you, you, my friend, have not seen House of Wax. I imagined we’d hook a left and the lights would dim, the music would slow down and get all minor-y and the puppets would begin to melt into bloodsucking demons. (I watch a lot of horror movies.)
In line at the Be Our Guest restaurant, my friend Curtis texted me asking how I was doing. “I’m in Orlando,” I responded. He texted “Does that mean not good? The association of horrible mass tragedy has replaced the prior association of theme parks.” But I explained I was in actual Orlando, theme parks and all. And it suddenly occurred to me that there had been no mention of the Orlando massacre in the parks. I guess there’s no room for tragedy in the happiest place on earth. Around that time, the shadow of the Dallas shooting fell upon the world. From Orlando, it seemed both very close and very far away. It’s a small world after all, I thought.
Later that night, we Ubered to Epcot. I got a picture that looks like Clay is hitting that big golf ball over the water – nice drive! We ventured all over the world: Italy, England, Africa, Germany… sauntering into the little shops to buy trinkets and memories. We finally made it to Morocco to enjoy kabobs and couscous and a real live belly dancer who circled around the room like Mariachis on the River Walk.
We took more Ubers than I have in all of my life, and it was really wonderful. We made one guy take us by the place where that alligator ate that kid – a tourist destination for sure. I have a weird habit – that only applies to taxies and Ubers. When the back door is opened, I get in and sliiiide all the way over. And where we get to our destination, I sliiiide all the way out. I never do this in a friend’s car. And though I’m pretty sure both doors work, when it comes to a person I’m paying to drive me around, I’ve never try the door on my side. I don’t know where it comes from. It’s like those people who speak perfectly good English but can’t pronounce Worcestershire.
We began the next day with lunch at Cafe Tu Tu Tango – recommended by my friend Bert from the Forgotten Coast. Cafe Tu Tu Tango is a fabulous cafe full of local artisans and sharable small plates. I bought a refrigerator magnet that was painted to look like a giant green eye. Brian’s parents came up – a two and a half hour drive – and it was great to see them. We laughed and visited for a good several hours.
I didn’t buy a wand. Tell me I didn’t need to buy a wand. It was a really good one. Probably works and everything. Made by a real Hogwarts wizard. Any Harry Potter fan worth her salt has to have an official wand. It was $40. I did the math and figured it equalled about 5 bottles of cheap wine, which goes a lot further in my house than it used to. So I didn’t buy the wand. Even thought I really wanted it. What’s the opposite of buyer’s remorse?
So yeah, Universal finally sold me. I ultimately begin to buy in to the whole experience. We went to the world of Harry Potter and I became as giddy as the 12 year olds squealing and jumping up and down next to me. I drank a sugary butter beer made of cream soda and cake icing. Cake icing! I even rode a roller coaster – a scary one in 4D – which pitched me around and dropped me at a free fall several stories, truly making my chiropractor have to earn her keep next week. I wanted to buy everything. I NEEDED a Hello Kitty lunchbox. I NEEDED a Gryffindor robe. I NEEDED a Mickey Mouse keychain. I NEEDED a wand – a genuine wand with real magic in it made by an actual wizard. Gimme, gimme, gimme, I thought frantically, as the sugar rushed to my head. It took all I had to refrain, calm down, and keep my billfold jammed way down in the bottom of my bag.
In line at the Hard Rock Cafe – our last bullet point on the itinerary – the pudgy middle-aged guy in front of me was wearing bright white Mickey Mouse Adidas and a brand new fuzzy Minions backpack. Whoopsidaisy. The Disney Store got him, I thought. I imagined that he bought the wand.
The last morning, I sat in a shady poolside lounge chair oblivious to the shrieks of children I could not handle earlier in the week, carefully editing stories and recipes I’m working on for a couple of cookbook projects coming up, promising myself to dedicate a full day to them next week…okay, maybe half a day. I made an extensive list of things I needed to tackle when I returned home – feeling invigorated, restored and energized to get back to work. It was only four days of vacation, and I can’t say there weren’t glitches and hitches in the road, but I managed to settle in. I managed to get some work done. Bonus: I managed to read all three books!
Maybe I can do vacation after all. It’s really no big thing. Just a walk in the park.