Friday, August 16, 2013

Uncle Walt's Insane Dream

Wednesday dawned and I wandered into the living room to discover that the sofa was now unfolded into a bed and some sort of unidentified life form had made a den in it.

I was on the point of alerting Mrs Stevie to a possible badger infestation when I remembered that the Boyfriend was staying the night, and that Ipsum Loren this must be what it looked like when it was aestivating. Blech. I decided to shower and re-assess the tactical situation with a fresh eye and fresh everything else.

I was somewhat bothered by numbness in my legs, a problem I have when I've been walking and standing for extended periods of time, and one which is accompanied by intense pain under the numb area if I stand too long once it begins. I know that doesn't make sense, but it is pure misery once it starts and I wasn't too happy that symptoms were manifesting so early in the vacation, what with at least two more days of walking- and standing-intensive "entertainment" plotted by Mrs Stevie. Oh well, I'd play it by ear. Leg. Whatever.

Showered and shaved1 I re-entered the world of snooze and started rousing everyone. Then I drove to a nearby pharmacy and used their ATM to withdraw lots of money to cover expenses during the Great EPCOT Adventure and returned to the Villa de Stevie. We would not need cash for tickets since we had leftover "never expire, no ID" park hoppers from the year we came with the family2 for Mrs Stevie and me, and an ID branded never expiring park hopper we got for the Stevieling a few years later3 so we were good to go.

We breakfasted on eggs and toast and stuff and Mrs Stevie perpetrated The Great NASA Zero-G Room Hoax4, then we piled into the Mrs Steviebus bound for fun, adventure and fun6. Just before boarding Mrs Stevie asked me to reimburse the Boyfriend who hadn't been able to get a discount ticket after all due to his being too tardy and not getting a bloody move on. Apparently, while I was distracted by spaceships and spacesuits and space rocks the Stevieling had negotiated an alternate plan by phone with Mrs Stevie, in which they would buy a full price Park Hopper ticket for $1407 and I would supply the funds from my Special Bottomless Money Bucket.

Mrs Stevie, having delivered the news, climbed behind the steering wheel and let me have a few moments to myself, as is her custom.

"I say sir, what was that jolly dervish-like dance you were doing just now?" the Boyfriend asked when I climbed into my seat. "It had elements of Australian Aboriginal tribal hunting dances I saw on the National Geographic channel - I noted the stabbing motions you made with an invisible spear toward this vehicle as you stamped and whirled. I did find the ritual grimacing a little hard to watch though. I thought for a minute you were having a seizure of some sort. Very effective, the way the enamel flaked off your teeth like that, though I suspect gnashing them so hard is not conducive to their longevity."

"It is a creation of my own. I like to perform it whenever we share family outings with others to drive away evil spirits. I hope no-one minds if we stop off at the pharmacy so I can get some cash?"

"What's that smell?" asked the Stevieling.

"It's the lining of my wallet. It must have caught fire somehow. Luckily there was nothing in it."

We drove to EPCOT with only a minor shouting match when Mrs Stevie couldn't read the new road signs Disney has put up sometime in the eight years since we last cared to visit and requested directions from her half asleep passengers, and I paid extra for "preferred parking" so we would be only half a mile from the gate should the old legs start giving me problems. The others were also talking of moving over to The Magic Kingdom8 once EPCOT closed (it closes around 9 pm, hours earlier than the other park) so having the bus close by was favorite. In our joy at arriving Chez Fun we neglected to note the car park name, rank and spot number we had parked in. A rookie mistake that many years ago had me on The Sad Train, an experience I was not in a hurry to repeat.

Should you ever visit Disney in a car, you will see that all the parks have placards on which Disney characters are pictured and named prominently, and these also have a rank number on them. Consider that in order to accommodate the bajillion guests that turn up each day, the car parks must be huge and many. So huge and many that Disney operates special road trains called people movers to get folks from a point near their car to one near the gate and back again later that night.

This seemingly daft labelling practice is in fact a very clever thing indeed. It is relatively easy to remember "Goofy 150" and thus be able to find your car when you are tired and so are the kids, but in order for this quite clever number and rebus solution to a problem in the making to work you must take the preliminary step of actually looking at the placard nearest your car while your brain is switched on.

Those who fail to do so will be confronted later on by geography made different by darkness and exhaustion, and face the prospect of trying to find their vehicle among more cars than they ever thought moved on the face of the Earth. Not only that, the People Movers are constrained to set routes. If you don't know which Disney character you car is parked with, you have minimal chances of locating your car no matter how loudly the kids scream.

At about one o'clock in the morning, Disney operates one last People Mover that travels every route through every car park. It slowly zigs and zags across the now mostly barren fields of tar, with the occasional cries of joy as a passenger discovers their vehicle sitting in the middle of nowhere and everyone else groans as they cannot see theirs. I call this The Sad Train, because I know well how one feels when riding the bloody thing. Many years ago I took my Mum and Dad on a trip to Disney, where many things went wrong including me making The Rookie Mistake and us riding The Sad Train until almost the last stop9 as a result. Never Again I vowed. I will pause while you regain your composure.

We got to the park gate where we were directed to go back to Guest Relations and exchange the card tickets for plastic fingerprint-ID branded cards. Mrs Stevie was a little put out that we couldn't keep the voided card tickets as they were apparently a souvenir of our family get-together (why we needed a reminder of it other than our memories I have no idea) but eventually we trooped over to the gate and got fingerprinted again and were let into EPCOT.

Walt Disney was a visionary man, but could take wrong turns with the best of us. EPCOT is what was left after one of those wrong turns was narrowly missed.

Originally designed as the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, it was to have been a working community of 20,000 living with and working with state of the art technology, that visitors could peer at as they went about their day-to-day lives. There is a description of what was intended in the Wikipedia which matches what I remember reading in Omni magazine when the park was being built. Fortunately, this vision was lost when Walt Disney died (I mean, can you envisage the psychological stresses of living in such a place? In my first job the computer operators freaked out because of a letterbox-sized window that allowed passers-by to gawk at them in the course of their work) and EPCOT was re-envisioned in its current form (or damn near; there have been one or two changes over the years).

The park is essentially two quite different parks glued together. At the front there is a collection of pavilions dealing with various aspects of life such as energy, technology, earth science and so on, each containing themed attractions (usually a ride of some sort), restaurants and gift shops10 and at the back, surrounding a lake, the World Showcase in which pastiches of various countries have been assembled for people to wander through and interact with young men and women from each country modeled and buy crap from in the many themed gift shops11.

I know that right now people are scrunching up their faces, but remember, this isn't for the benefit of those who already live in those countries, it is for vacationing Americans to get a Disneyfied view of them. If you cannot get into the spirit of the Disney Thing you should not waste your money. I don't have the Disney buy-in of the women of my house, but I can ride with it when I have to and EPCOT is my favorite park of them all, being a very sedate experience on the whole. Not only that, I have fond memories of a visit when the Stevieling was about two or so.

On that occasion we were sharing our vacation with my in-laws. One day we suggested to them that they visit EPCOT on their own and that we would join them later for dinner. We got tickets for them and on the appointed day they eagerly drove forth and we settled back for a nice day of "just us".

I forget where we went that morning, but I have a clear memory of driving back into Orange Lake Country Club around 1 pm and saying to Mrs Stevie: "You know, I bet they are already back and waiting for us." I dunno why, but I was certain of it.

Mrs Stevie laughed off this stupid suggestion, but when we turned the corner to the Villa Stevie there was the Mrs Steviedad's car parked in its spot.

We went in and asked them why they were back. "We did everything" said the Mrs Steviedad. We expressed incredulity that this could be the case in such a short period of time. Allowing for travel they had spent maybe three hours in the park, if that.

Closer questioning revealed that they had actually not experienced anything but the World Showcase because "everything was being remodeled and was boarded up, and your father was in charge."

Okay, we said, we'll have some lunch and a rest and we'll take you back for another look. They grudgingly acceded to this while the Mrs Steviedad did some grumbling that there was really no point. There followed one of those sweet experiences life occasionally serves up.

Like many men, I am not well thought of by my father in law and never have been, so the chance to show him to be wrong while openly being helpful was a powerful narcotic. Accordingly I suggested we park in the Magic Kingdom car park and ride the Monorail into EPCOT, as the high perspective offered by this would allow me to see over the plywood that Disney had covered some stuff with while they remodeled and get a better idea of what was and was not working. The key to the fun to come was the Mrs Steviemom.

I began innocently asking her as we swooped over the various bits of EPCOT: "Did you do that Dinosaur ride in the Exxon pavilion over there?" "No." "There's an interesting presentation in the Land pavilion, that one there. Did you see it?" "No." "Well you must've ridden the Spaceship Earth ride. It is right at the front of the park." "He said the line was too long." Each of my questions caused a paint-blistering glare in the Mrs Steviedad's direction, of course. "Well never mind, we'll do them all now. The lines will be short at this time of night."

By the time we got off the monorail the Mrs Steviemom had steam coming out of her ears and wasn't speaking to the Mrs Steviedad, and he was looking very sheepish indeed. Result! We toured the park and made everything "better", and everyone was happy by the time we went back to the car. But that monorail ride was the best ride I ever took with my father in law, and the sweet nectar of the memory has carried me through many troubles.

Better days. Better days. Back to the present.

Used to be that everyone would crowd into Spaceship Earth, the giant golf-ball shaped thing front and center in the park, so Mrs Stevie and I would head over to the exact opposite end, into the America portion of the World Showcase and The American Adventure. In the huge Colonial Period mansion you can often listen to choirs of period-dressed people singing music from the Colonial Period, and The American Adventure is also the name of an animatronic presentation on the history of America (a very superficial one it has to be said but then one must remember the audience is on vacation and time is short). Upon viewing it Paul the Globetrotting Wargamer announced it made him feel proud to be American, even though he wasn't. Parts of it are very impressive still from a technical standpoint even though the mechanics date from the very early 80s. When it opened, I recall Disney were inordinately proud of their ability to make Benjamin Franklin's animatronic self climb a small flight of stairs convincingly.

Where was I? Oh right.

We would then work our way round the various countries until the crowds started to join us, at which point we would go back to the entrance and do the rides everyone else had queued for an hour to get on. It worked very well.

that is no longer an option, since they now only open the World Showcase part at around 11 am, so we were forcéd to rub shoulders with the hoi-poloi. Bah.

First up was the Energy pavilion so we could visit the (now cheesy) dinosaur animatronic ride. I had to sit through a movie presentation starring Ellen DeGeneres who is not my favorite comedienne with an energy-themed plotline that was like toothache in parts. When this ride was put together we still thought that oil came from Dinosaurs (apparently it doesn't, it comes from algae according to late breaking science) which is the justification for the display. The movie used to be a delightfully dated thing leading a cheer for gasoline usage in the classic Disney Mode that positively reeked of the 1960s, but I guess they thought it was time to modernize. Boo hiss.

The dinosaurs are still there, though. I dote on this sort of laughable animatronic stuff. My only reason for visiting the Magic Kingdom is the Pirates of the Caribbean ride12 which is another cheesy animatronic ride past its sell-by date14 but much-loved for all that in my case. Nothing says fun like a mind-bogglingly elaborate animated display of life-sized dummies, and no-one can make this stuff work as well as Disney. In a world increasingly in love with CGI it is a dying art too.


I love those Brontosauruses15 at the start of the ride. munching greenery in the early evening, the first thing you see when the chairs you watch movie from convert themselves into a train and truck you through the dinosaur bit before re-assembling themselves into a theater at the end. The rest of the dinosaur exhibit is no much to write home about to be honest, but the Apatosauruses16 are neat. Yes you can do a better job with CGI. Yes you can spot the joins in the "sky" if you look. To harp on these concerns it to miss the point and the spiffiness of what has been done. Get off my lawn.

After that we raced to The Land pavilion so we could try out the new "Soarin'" ride, which is a wraparound vision simulator ride of reasonable niftiness. The Stevieling and I had a great time poking fun at the frequent disorienting scene shifts. One moment we would be over the desert, the next zooming over the sea, then an orange grove. Our cries of "Wait, what?" and "Disney should stop putting LSD in the drinking fountains" were not enjoyed by Mrs Stevie who just likes to ruin other people's fun and harsh their mellow and like that.

This ride adds a new dimension to the usual motion/vision trickery by having perfumolators pump appropriate smells into the area as you soar over orange groves, the sea etc. (I wonder what the hyper-asthmatics who seem more numerous each year have to say about that). I think Disney should add footage of flights over the littoral left by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Dioxin Springs New Jersey and the Staten Island landfills. That would sort the men out from the boys, stench-tolerance wise. Only when the riders exit coughing, eyes watering after having swooped through the plume left by a Union Pacific Big Boy17 under full steam will this ride be said to have achieved excellence.

We staggered off that ride and limped over to the fast-track ticket machines and got ourselves on the Push-Ahead-Of-The-Proles list for Fast Track, another ancient ride but a rather neat one, and were told to bugger off and come back around noon by the smiling young man in charge. I'm never quite sure whether Disney clones these up or builds them from cogs and gears, but they never fail to smile18.

Disney has the best express-queuing mechanism of all the park operators. I believe they were the first to offer the feature, which involves no extra expense above and beyond your ticket and allows you to get on a special fast line for a ride provided you agree to come between certain times. A computer keeps track of capacity and when there is no more it refuses to issue express line-jumpers for that ride. Contrast this with Universal Studios who ask you to pay almost double the price of a single entry ticket which gets you on express lines throughout the park, but there is no capacity control involved - there can't be since it is a park-wide optional thing. The express line can get quite long in that park.

Anyway, we got ourselves a reservation for Fast Track, my absolute favorite ride in EPCOT19 and then nipped over to Mission to Mars, totally the best ride ever invented20. We first encountered this ride the last time we were in EPCOT, nearly a decade ago, when it was in shakedown, and it rocked.

We had been issued an express line ticket (I seem to remember it wa for the Fast Track ride but it has been a long time and Mr Brain is not my friend) and on the back was a printed invitation to "join us for Mission to Mars". Only thing was that although there were signs for the ride, advertising it as "due soon", they were plastered on huge plywood walls enclosing whatever Mission to Mars involved. I loudly opined it was a mistake21 and we proceeded with our park consumption but as we were leaving, around an hour before the park was due to close, Mrs Stevie said "lets go and have a closer look".

We went for a closer look and discovered a small doorway in the plywood with a young woman on guard in front of it. I started to explain why we were there and she waved us through without a word. Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.

The ride we entered was an elaborate space-themed thing and had lots to look at while you waited for the line to diminish, which we weren't required to do on account of there being a grand total of about twelve people in a ride designed to accommodate a thousand or more. The ride itself, explained Gary Sinese from two dozen TV screens, was a rocket trip to Mars. Reading the small print, we found it was a simulator ride (of course). We would be enclosed on a small "capsule" which was itself part of a centrifuge that would provide the gravity effects, as I could see when we began boarding.

The Disney engineers were in the process of tuning the ride to discover how hard they could push things before people started throwing up or having coronaries and strokes, and the ride we got that night was intense, to the point I thought I was going to die on the thing, but it was so convincing and so much fun I didn't care and was laughing for joy of the whole affair. So much fun we ran around and did it all over again when it was over along with the other riders who were grinning like idiots too.

The ride is boffo, tricking the riders with a very convincing bumpy ride to the pad, a launch, booster separation lurch and crash landing effects. It is more fun than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and I recommend it to all.

In the interval between our rides on it Disney had come up with a compromise of sorts; they now offer the ride in two flavors, intense and not so intense. We, as veteran pretend space rats, picked the aneurysm line. Naturally, the ride was not as we remembered, being less intense and shorter than memory insisted it had been all those years ago22 but a good time was had regardless and we left the ride grinning like idiots again.

We decided then to go book our lunch in Germany and try to get in a ride on Spaceship Earth before we had to report to the Fast Track ride, and we made contact with a Disney representative who, after a brief chat took care of the booking and then kindly walked us to the front of the Spaceship Earth line. When we didn't understand what he was going to do he said, "I'm going to V.I.P. you into the ride folks!"

"Hurrah!" I cried, flashing on Sunday's "Sales Presentation". "We're V.I.P.s again and not idiots like we are at Orange Lake!"23. Mrs Stevie tearfully thanked him for his kindness and boarded the ride's little four-seater car under the resentful glare of those less fortunate and who had experienced the line in all its glory in a properly regal manner befitting one on whom had been conferred the lofty status of V.I.P.

"You look like The Queen" I snarled. "Stop waving to everyone in that regal manner."

"One must acknowledge one's inferiors lest one loses touch with the masses" she murmured, carefully adjusting her pose so the invisible tiara I knew she was wearing would catch the light properly.

"You're going to cause a riot! Stop it before they throw us off the ride!" I yelled.

"Let them eat cake!"

"That only works if you say it in archaic French, and then it only gets your head cut off by the masses you are waving at!"

"All right! All right! Fuggeddaboudit!"

Spaceship Earth is a sedate ride through an animatronic look at human technological progress through the ages24. I recall that it used to feature many more visual simulator effects that made it feel like it was zooming around at high speed, prompting Disney to advise people at the entrance that the ride never exceeded 4 miles per hour, but those seem to have been dialed back in favor of more dioramas, but again, old memories at work here.

And then it was just time for Fast Track. Ha!

Fast Track is a lovely little number. First you get to use nifty touch screens to design your car25. Mrs Stevie an I paired up to design the most perfect car in the history of automotive design, partaking of state of the art materials and incorporating many visionary design elements while at the same time building on the wisdom of others and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Sleek, powerful and bright red, it evoked the lines of the old Corvette Stingray with a soupspoon of Thunderbird Three. Perhaps he most controversial design element, the face-level jet engines mounted in the blind spot were entirely justified by the design goal, and not just a way of getting cyclists of all types to stay where the driver could see them in his/her mirrors.

The Stevieling and Boyfriend also paired up and managed to half-build some lame yeast-powered ecomobile, but they ran out of time because halfway through they hit a major design issue that split the team ideologically: they couldn't agree on the right shade of green. They also messed around attempting to paint flames on it for some bizarre reason. I, mindful of the fact that although the Stevieling is fully grown now I am still her father and one from whom she occasionally seeks approval, roared with laughter and mocked their puny pseudo-Prius loudly and often until Mrs Stevie told me to shut up.

Our designs were "recorded" on a card which we took with us.

Then we were made to stand in line. The cars we were about to ride are six seaters, three front, three back, so some interlopers were placed in our happy bickering group. We were told to put our cards next to a sensor in order to "transfer our designs" to the test vehicle. It was claimed that our designs would be compared to each other as the test car went through various maneuvers, to determine the "best". Ho hum.

Then, those words actually penetrated Mr Brain and a fiendish plan formed. As "our car" pulled up I leaned over to the Stevieling's row and tapped our card on her team's sensor. Now we would be comparing the Parent Sport Annihilator26 with ... itself! The Stevieling howled with rage as I executed this brilliant plan and madly tapped her card against the sensor to undo my perfidious parental perfidy. "Not cool, Dad! Not cool!" she snarled as the sensor refused to flash its lights.

It transpired that either the plan did not work or that her frantic ameliorative card tapping was effective because the computer displayed the fact that indeed the Parent Sport Annihilator would be up against the Yeastmobile after all. I dunno about the interlopers. They didn't speak English and probably had not gone through the motions of getting in on the action.

Mrs Stevie and I grabbed front seats on the grounds that we were the parents and older and were bigger and faster than everyone else. The Stevieling grabbed the seat behind mine so she could kick it and yell at the back of my head on the chance she could thereby induce vomiting from vertigo. And we were off!

The car swerved this way and that as it went through various "steering tests" and "brake tests", but I wasn't paying attention, nor was I worried about whatever the computer decided about how our "designs" performed. I was psyching myself up for the last bit, the whole reason for getting on line.

Eventually the shenanigans were over and the car emerged into the bright sun on a track that runs around the outside of the pavilion the attraction is housed in. One small hump-back hill to set the scene and the car took off on the "speed test", hurtling around the track at Warp 7. As we approached the end of the track a speedometer claimed we were doing almost 65 miles per hour and it was just great. Consider that we were inside something only slightly larger than a go-kart, about fifty feet in the sky with no windshield to speak of, on a banked curve so you could feel the Gs piling on. And the acceleration is wild on this thing too. Those last few seconds (it must be around 20 or so but I was too busy grinning to time it) are worth the annoyance of the rest of it. I recommend a hearty "Yeeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaaaaaa" as the perfect accompaniment.

And so on to the World Showcase, and Mexico was first up since we were going clockwise round the lake. I love the way that when you go inside the Mexican display from the hot, bright outside you walk through a small museum of artifacts and then into a market plaza in the cool of night. On the horizon a volcano is burbling, and behind the worlds largest gift shop is a plaza restaurant overlooking the river, which houses the ride. This used to be a boat ride along a river with some light Mexican history extolled in an amusing way. Inoffensive and educational for the little ones you might have in your party.

It has been "improved".

Now it is a lame ride-long cartoon show featuring The Three Caballeros, Disney characters possibly popular in Mexico, possibly not. Who cares? One look and I was fretting about what might have been done at Norway, possibly the best of the showcase attractions.

Of course, the attraction isn't the entire point of each "world". Outside, the whole thing is a mock-up of some local architecture that provides excellent photographic possibilities, there are several options when it comes to dining (Mexico has at least two: The plaza restaurant and a more formal one across the street) and various local snack options abound. Everyone on staff is young, in the prime of health and kitted out in appropriate national costume (not necessarily The National Costume). There are also several gift shops, which is part of the point of the place. Mexico has a huge market with stalls of stuff I've never been tempted to browse.

Norway has the best architecture in my opinion, and the still-great Maelstrom ride in a "Longboat" through Norse myth and history (lite). The trolls in there terrify the kids, and I've always been fascinated on how Disney folded the ride up the way they did to cram so much into such a small space. The scenery is wonderfully evocative. The gift shops feature a wide range of inclement weather clothing and local-themed portable crap, along with Viking-themed stuff for the kids. Not too offensively Disney. Plus, there's all those blonde young women staffing the place27 to liven the day a bit, which is why Mrs Stevie always hurries us out of the place I suppose. For some reason we've never dined there.

Disney Norway was relatively empty this day and so we had the run of it, more or less. We rode the ship with a terrified child who took one look at the big troll and went into a conniption fit. Then we got admonished by a large animated one-eyed floating head of Odin and shot backwards for a bit so the kid could be terrified into three years of bedwetting & nightmares. It was just great.

All the young people staffing the place were speaking with dots over their "o"s and everyone was blonde except me. Outside in the "authentic" Norwegian street there were Norwegian snacks to be had, Norwegian statuary to gawk at and architecture sort of like Viking Tudor to my uneducated eyes. Every so often the stern of a little Longship would burst out of the "mountain" above us, then have second thoughts and disappear back in again28 accompanied by the screams of the younger crew fresh from Odin's Savage Visage.

We gave all the countries between Norway and Germany a miss (the Stevieling and Boyfriend pulled faces because they wanted to go into China and I did not. I wasn't in the mood for more than one 360 degree movie29 and Canada at the extreme other end of the circuit30 had dibs because of the Stan Rogers31 soundtrack. I pointed out that we could always split up and explore independently and smiling broke out.

Germany has a nifty restaurant themed as a beergarten in a Bavarian village, with the tables looking out onto the "square" - a dance floor - and a stage where every so often a band plays a set featuring traditional German drinking songs and polkas and stuff. They even have an Alpenhorn. And in Disney Germany they sell beer in litres, of which American wives have no idea of the size and readily agree to allow British husbands to buy them from the fraulein in the strange costume. We also had all the delicious German food we could eat served buffet/carvery style. The obvious danger here is overeating to bursting point, then going out into the tropical heat of a Florida afternoon.

We were careful and only overeat because the food was delicious, not because we were cheap and desperate to get value for money (as so many of the Englishmen I know would instinctively do). I recommend you do Dinner rather than lunch if you try this out for yourself. That way, as you stagger around the park groaning at least the heat will be manageable.

After Germany we split up, the Stevieling and Boyfriend heading off to Disney China and Mrs Stevie and I heading for The American Experience. After the show and some Singing Without Instrumental Accompaniment (aka Acapulco Singing) by women in Period dresses far too heavy for the heat we went outside and partook of Period lemonade while some men with a flag and some drums and fifes did patriotic things in public in swelteringly hot Period Dress Uniforms (If we British had cracked the secret of the Hawaiian Shirt and Surfer Shorts kit a bit sooner we would have put George Washington and the Swelterin' Mutineers to flight in two shakes of an Imperial Fist (of benevolent rule). Oh well.

Somehow, we all rendezvoused in Disney Japan, where I wanted to check out the Kimonos in the back end of the gift shop (the Japanese gift shop has a sort of price slope - the further back the deeper the debt). Ever since I found out I cannot replace my Mitsukiku kimono32 I've been keen to find a stand-in for it. I found a somewhat less impressive one of similar design, but then the Boyfriend ruined everything by dashing into theater and trying on every kimono I had deemed acceptable for me. I couldn't wear anything the Boyfriend had been seen in, even if only as a lark. Bah.

The Stevieling tried on a kimono with the help of one of the young Japanese ladies staffing the store (all the men were banished to the things going on outside because they screwed up the ambience or something) and looked so beautiful in it I bought it for her. She needs all her cash for college, and Dad's are supposed to buy stuff for their little girls. And Mrs Stevie told me I had to so that was that.

I had thought I had managed to lose that vile harridan but it turned out she was only round the corner watching another Japanese lady sculpt candy into animals. Once the smell of me enjoying myself was in the air she homed in like a starving shark to chum.

We dallied for a bit in Disney Britain, where a rock concert was underway in what looked like a Kensington Mews. If it hadn't been for the total absence of litter and the leavings of dogs it would have been completely convincing. We've eaten in the "English Pub" once, and the food was okay, but I've never understood why I find so many Englishmen in and around the pub as I walk by when there are so many other options for a good drink (Disney Germany stands out, but I think all the "worlds" serve beer somewhere with the possible exception of Canada, which I don't think has any restaurants in it - could be wrong though). The beer isn't that great and English style beer is hopeless for relieving the Florida Afternoon Heat Wave: if you chill it enough to work you ruin the taste. Plus: pints vs litres. I recall I had steak and kidney pie with trifle to follow that one time we ate there, many years ago33.

It was here in Disney Kensington that my legs started to play up in a big way, and I began to dread the rest of the afternoon and the evening plans for Walking Disney Until Midnight™.

I made it as far as Canada, where they make you climb up through scenery reminiscent of Quebec, to a waterfall in a rock diorama evocative of the types of features we saw surrounding the Columbia Ice Field, thence to a fake gold mine and the entrance to the 360 degree movie "Oh Canada!"

Mrs Stevie conferred with a young Canadian staffer who it turned out came from the same area where my Mum and Dad have settled small world and all that and reported back that the movie had been changed since we last visited. Argh! I demanded to know if the soundtrack still featured the late, great Stan Rogers34 but she didn't know. I sang a few bars but she begged me to stop, as did the three dozen or so tourists lining up to see the movie.

It was okay. Martin Short does a funny intro that dispels the stereotype "blizzard filled" Canada Americans usually picture and the new movie certainly shows off the wildly varied scenery to be found across Canada.

But there was no Stan Rogers35, and I miss the part from the old movie where you were in the cockpit of an aerobatic jet and could look around and see your fellow teammates flying alongside, in front and behind you, separated by lethally short amounts of distance - and it was all real, not a simulation. There were places in that old movie when the scenery banked and people would have to hold onto the grab bars or fall over from the illusion of movement. All excised from the new film, though in compensation there were remote places shown that Mrs Stevie and I recognized because we'd been there.

We aren't very adventurous. The idea of climbing Everest leaves me cold, even though it is a sorta-tourist affair now rather than a fraught man-vs-nature in a World Gone Mad one. I prefer my excitement man-made and escapable at will, as does Mrs Stevie37, but if you holiday in Western Canada civilization can mean door flaps on the tent and hand-painted warning signs directing you away from the bears. In Western Canada one is never more than five minutes away from spears made from a stick with a knife tied to the end and banging rocks together in the hope they will catch fire.

So, to the amazed disbelief of all around us, we had indeed stood on the same river bank as the camera operator as the glacial runoff roared along in grey magnificence behind us and the Rockies soared vertically into the sky wherever one cared to look, and we'd stood looking at the Athabasca Falls in much the same spot the camera operator chose to stand38. We didn't think much about the rough conditions and rugged life style at the time. It was just how things were in Alberta. Traffic may have to wait until the Elk herd wakes up and moves off the highway, and they may choose to wander through town and eat the contents of one’s flower beds of an evening. My Mum has chased a yearling bear off her back deck with nothing but an improvised squirt gun gussied up from bicycle pump and a bucket of cold water. That's how it goes. Life, Western Canada style.

In the Disney version, any bears you see will likely be wearing dungarees and floppy hats, and will pose for a jolly photograph and not attempt to eat you once, and if the weather is inclement Disney will likely figure a way of changing your experience of it into something not unpleasant instead of letting it kill you.

This marked the end of my tolerance for EPCOT and parks in general, and I begged to be allowed to go home and sit in a hot bath to soak my legs. Mrs Stevie decided that this was an excellent plan as she didn't want to be lumbered with me and my "moaning and dripping" during her Magic Kingdom experience, and so we suggested that the Stevieling and Boyfriend to go over to The Magic Kingdom while we went to get the Mrs Steviebus.

It was at this point that the fundamental Rookie Mistake was discovered, and the Disney staff were treated to that most rare sight, a couple locked in the ballet of synchronized Bonehead Dances. Admittedly, mine was a little off due to the leg problem39, but the onlookers were very impressed.

A quick consultation with a Disney Guest Security Assurance Operative in which we bickered over what the details of the walk to the gate involved, scenery-wise and he made helpful suggestions which we interrupted and argued with followed, in which we gradually reached the consensus that we were parked in the car park in front of us - somewhere.

Mrs Stevie boldly strode forward with renewed resolve toward sure and certain car findage. I staggered from side to side, bouncing off other people’s vehicles and the occasional Disney employee40 moaning piteously41 while my beloved bolstered my spirits by swearing at me. Only the fact that she had been driving was restraining her usual line of attack on my parents' lack of a marriage certificate at my birth and speculations as to how closely they were related. If I hadn't been suffering such debilitating torment I could have made much of this situation, but I was already in monumental amounts of discomfort and didn't need a kick in the hurtybits as garnish.

I gave up looking after ten minutes of fruitless searching, sank to a grassy embankment and began to weep for my lost bath, moaning how hopeless it all was and that I thought I might be ready to "let go" and gain some surcease from this interminable agony of life.

I was just getting into my stride, self-pity wise when Mrs Stevie hit me over the head with a bag of souvenir anvils and told me she had found the car by the expedient of telling a Disney Car Park patroller when we parked, and he had used some sort of electronic calculating machine of the future to tell her the rough area in which the Mrs Steviebus had to be located. Twenty minutes later I was soaking in a bath42 and Mrs Stevie was heading for The Magic Kingdom in a cloud of smoke and swear words.

I have no idea when they all returned; I was sound asleep.

  1. I've had a sort of Nigel Green Victorian Facial Hedge for a couple of years or so now which demands a daily scrape of the neck and chin. As soon as I run out of razor blades I'm going back to a full beard on account of it's quicker to look after and I'm lazy
  2. The year of the Barely Clad Brazilian Women Misunderstanding
  3. Disney used to sell tickets good for all their parks without requiring they be tied to a person by ID. They also sold these tickets good for multiple days, which never expired. If you bought two five day park hoppers and only used two days, you had three tickets to use the next time you came no matter when that was. When the Stevieling was around six or so they started branding the tickets with a photograph ID. A year or so after that the tickets started expiring after a few years. I have no idea how long a ticket lasts now, since the expiry date, ID branding and cost mean that it is extremely unlikely I shall buy such tickets ever again
  4. They bought it with stunned admiration for our daring and wistfulness at their having missed a turn. We never told them it was a gag so they remain convinced that NASA can just turn off gravity when they feel like it5
  5. A delusion shared by Ron Howard when he was negotiating for access to make Apollo 13 by the way. The implications of this dimwittery depress me utterly
  6. fun fun til her daddy etc
  7. Quel snip!
  8. Another Disney park
  9. Back at the park entrance. I've often wondered how many end up there and what their next step is
  10. Of course
  11. Are we sensing a trend? In a very real sense many of the attractions to be found in the Orlando theme parks are simply an elaborate lobby for a gift shop. All the ones in Universal Studios are
  12. And Space Mountain. Two. My two reasons for visiting The Magic Kingdom are The Pirates of the Caribbean ride and Space Mountain13
  13. and the Runaway Mine Train. Aaaaaaamongst the reasons for my visiting The Magic Kingdom are: The Pirates of the Caribbean ride, Space Mountain, The Runaway Mine Train and ... I'll come in again
  14. Unless it has been modified in light of the success of the movies of course
  15. Or whatever it is fashionable to call them now
  16. New name for Brontosauruses
  17. It's a humongous steam locomotive. Look it up for yourself for Stephenson’s sake
  18. Under pain of "retirement"
  19. Two. My two favorite rides in EPCOT are: The Dinosaur Thing and Fast Track
  20. Among the rides I count as among the best in EPCOT are such diverse contenders as: The Cheesy Dinosaur Thing, Fast Track, Mission to Mars ...
  21. Another win for my powers of prediction
  22. It occurs to me that the memories in question had just been spun and crushed under high G forces and were possibly affected by same
  23. When Orange Lake Country Club was stating up, owners like us were referred to as "V.I.P. Members". Now we haven't bought anything from them in fifteen years we are "You Can't Park There I'm Calling Security"
  24. Or the Disney version of it at any road
  25. Riiiight
  26. Working title pending something more awesome
  27. Also some polite young men
  28. this is where the boat transits the switches that fold the ride on itself - an engineering finesse of some cleverness
  29. The viewer stands in the theater surrounded by a ring of screens on which a full circle panoramic film is projected
  30. You know what I mean, dammit!
  31. ♪♪Who will know the Bluenose iii-iin the suuuuuuun?♪♪
  32. A magnificent black thing with a red lining and a Dragon embroidered in gold thread coiling along the entire back of the garment
  33. Because when I get the chance to eat from a "genuine English" menu I invariably go for Kate and Sidney pie. The trifle was Mrs Stevie's idea
  34. ♪♪Knooow the Bluenose in the sun know the Bluenose ii-in the suuuuuuuun?♪♪
  35. There was a very short piece of footage of the Bluenose36 that survived the change
  36. A replica Grand Banks Schooner. Look it up
  37. She says: "If God had meant us to go camping and crap in the woods, why did he allow us to develop The House and Indoor Plumbing?" I find her argument persuasive, backed by the threat of ultraviolence as her arguments so often are
  38. a precarious walkway carved into the rock by wind and rain, guarded by iron pipe handrails secured to the rock by hope and prayer
  39. The ritual cries of rage were in my case replaced with groans of pain
  40. They aren’t allowed to complain of minor collisions, but recent Human Rights Park Statutes allow them to attach humiliating Disney character stickers to persistent offenders.
  41. Mrs Stevie pronounces this "pitifully"
  42. Jaccuzi-style

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