I stood in my closet at 4:55 AM, wondering which pair of shoes would be less painful.

Every year I buy a new pair of Chuck Taylor’s. It’s the first sign of spring. I prefer a 7 1/2, but not all stores carry half sizes. (“You could get them online,” the clerk usually says. To the customer. With money in his hand. Standing In the store. It’s an odd world.) Since the eights stretch and get too loose, I shift down to size sevens and spend a few weeks wincing as I train them. This year I bought three different pairs, in different styles. (The extent of my annual shoe expenditure is about $160.) All three pinched my soles in different places. I didn’t stretch any of them out sufficiently, and I would even switch to last year’s pair for comfort.  And so I came to pass that I stood in my closet at 4:55 AM, wondering which pair of shoes would be less painful.

I’d be doing some walking in the next few days, after all. That’s why we were up before five: the plane to Disneyworld left at seven. And that’s how it came to pass that I began a trip to Disneyland with blisters already on my feet.

Got up at 4:45 AM to make a 7 AM flight. Yes, a quarter to five. No one went to bed early, either, so we were three surly bleary people all the way up and all the way down. Plenty of bump and drop and sky-time shimmy, too. Usually I hate turbulence, but I was too tired to care, and I slept through it like Hicks on the drop down to LV-426. We landed at eleven, and walked outside: welcome to Florida. It’s hot. It’ll be hotter. Stick around. Stick to yourself, for that matter. See a bug you don't like, step on it; crunch all you like, we'll make more.

(G)Nat was excited but a bit subdued; her ears had refused to pop on the way down, and she had internal head pressure. But the Disney Magical Express does a great job prepping you for the immersion ahead. The video screens on the bus show all the characters having a wonderful time, even though you wonder why Donald and Daisy and Mickey and Minnie are taking a trip to Disney World – don’t they live there? They’re not married, are they? Are they getting separate rooms? Why is Captain Hook along for the ride? Where's Tink?

Why are we here?

The thought shouldn’t occur to you; you shouldn’t need a reason to visit the gosh-and-golly happiest place in the space-time continuum, but this was a bit of a lark. I had a worried a bit about whether we would have as much fun as last year - there’s no way you can recapture the novelty of the first time you do WDW, and this year I’m in a different mood. Last year I was flying off the edge of the cliff with a smile and a strange sense of elation. I expected to be out of work soon; I thought I’d take the buyout and move along to a post-newspaper career. Faced with wrenching career decisions, I did the natural thing: I went to Disneyworld. Well, it hasn’t worked out that way, I’m happy to say. I hung on and things got better. This isn’t an attempt to redo that great last May, but a simple reaction to craptastic weather in Minnesota in May. Two weeks ago I looked at the long-range forecast and said “we’re leaving.” So here we are.

We’re staying at the Coronado Springs, which is also a convention center. It makes for a different mix; among the families, most of which are pasty and mid-thirties with jouncy-belly kids, there’s a big contingent of pasty people in their mid-forties lugging gimme-sacks full of incredibly important material from very important conferences. The women look like managers and the men give the impression of someone who wants to golf, but cannot. The convention has to do with the Humane Society, I think. While checking in I was in front of a woman who had a T-shirt with a picture of a dead pig, and the words AUSCHWITZ BEGINS. I peered at the shirt to divine the full text: “Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they're only animals -  Theodor Adorno”

I suspected that if an actual Auschwitz survivor had approached the woman in the shirt and upbraided her, the woman would have shrugged it off: well, she’s a little too close to the matter to see the deeper meaning. Who the *$(#% wears a picture with a slaughtered pig and a specious Auschwitz equivalence to a Disney resort check-in line, anyway? Who picks that one out of the drawer and says, oh, spot-on?

Incidentally, here's the check-in place:

You don't know whether to pray or hope Grendel doesn't crash the line. I wouldn't say the architecture is subdued, but it's not garish as some resorts or cartoony, and it has that Noble Zorro-period single-minor-chord strummed with drama and dignity appeal:

We hit the pool and baked and swam and somehow made it back up to the stairs to the room, where everyone fell asleep.

The food court was better than last year’s Caribbean resort. (Everything was better, for that matter; it’s just a gorgeous place.) It has large staring statuary:

It's like an Aztec version of the "We Can Do It!" Rosie the Riveter poster.

Dinner was large. The portions are huge. They might as well put the plate down and say “here’s more than you can possibly eat, and here’s nine potatoes on the side. Would you like another gallon of high fructose corn syrup? Okay, well, don’t forget to leave room for six pies.” There’s something a big sad about seeing childless adult Disney fans, lanyards spattered with pins, eating slabs of prime rib thick as a Tolstoi novel, the chairs about to splinter from their enormous fundaments. On the other hand, what gives them happiness? Food and Disney. This is the happiest place on earth after all - even though there seems to be a subset of Disney nerds who appear immune to the very thing they've come to experience. But that's another story for later.

Off to Downtown Disney, which we hadn’t visited before.  Sheer marketing genius: an open-air shopping center designed to extract the last possible penny from every molecule of the Disneyverse. I loved it. As I’m sure I noted last year, you’re either immune to the Mouse or you get it, and if you get it that means the white-gloved hand has closed around something deep in your emotional constitution and squeezed, and squeezed hard. It’s best to get the Mouse and still maintain critical distance, because then you’re not just wallowing in the warm bathos of nostalgia and the murky brew of ersatz Americana, you’re laughing with delight at its innumerable manifestations.

We found the giant World of Disney store, and there (G)Nat was entranced. Me too. Behold the zombie Thumpers, screaming for BRAAAAINS:


I don’t know what to make of this:

Give me the money or the duck gets it. It’s like a naked Phantom Blot.

Or this: by some miracle, the characters have been redesigned to be more infantile than ever before; reduced to the barest of hints. Everyone knows that’s Mickey. In fact, compared to some of the stylized three-circle images, that’s practically rococo. 

We went to the Christmas store, and since we’re at the opposite
No Rolie Polie Olie. There’s no room for him here. It’s as if he was fired for something horrible and no one talks about him anymore.

We also visited Goofy’s Candy Kitchen, ruled over by the angry frozen Abominable Goofi:

It's one of those hard-to-find places in Disneyverse where licensed characters intersect with sugar and plastic. You’re a bit worried at first, since Goofy is stupid and probably not the first choice for a fellow who prepares food (salmaniller? Gawrsh!) But we had the best Rice-Krispee bar we’ve ever eaten. It was Beauty-and-the-Beast branded, Belle-approved and princess-pink.

Around 10:30 we caught the bus back to the report.  G)Nat put her head on my shoulder: verdict. Best First Day at Disneyworld Ever.

If she says so, then that’s what it was. And we’d just begun.

Tomorrow: Epcot, or, the Long March, or What Happened to the Enormous Wizard Wand?


(Note: this was written while on vacation, and posted raw when we returned Sunday night. Late Sunday night. Was up until midnight doing the dang graphics. Back to work on buzz.mn today – see you there!)