Day two: Epcot. I know it’s all about The Future, but the bones of the place are so seventies it makes me feel young again, in an old, bittersweet, distant sort of way. It’s this:
Could have come from the storyboards from a failed post-Trek Gene Roddenberry series.
Off to the exhibits. Nothing says Epcot like an enormous interactive educational exhibit about trash disposal. Waste Management sponsors it, so it has a nice pro-landfill approach that probably appalled some. First you give yourself a name; we went with Team Magnet, which got mistyped:
I gave it a French pronunciation. Trash Ma-zhay!
First you calculate your average weekly trash amount. Then they wheel a small truck to your spot, filled with the garbage you must dispose by recycling, sorting or burying. When the guy in the green shirt pushed the cart over, I held out a twenty, leaned over, and said “I’m a friend of Tony’s. Dump it in the Hudson.”
He liked that.
Other notable achievements: drove a Segway around. Felt like a dork on a stick. Looked like a dork on a stick. Did the Firedrill test, where you run around the most poorly-wired house in America finding fire hazards; reminded me that the house was probably burning down right now, because the looters had torched it, because I’d left the garage door open -
No. THE DOOR WAS DOWN.
Hit the free Coke-products-from-other-nations exhibit; I enjoyed some Beverly, the bitter after-dinner drink the Italians use when they want to throw up and make room for the next course. We didn’t do many rides, because we’d shown up late and couldn’t get in to the popular ones. The place was jammed. But we did do Test Track. It’s a bit of a dud for most of the ride - you start by zooming up a hill, as you do in many rides, but that’s supposed to be an actual discrete thrill, part of the acceleration test. Meh. Then you ride over bumpy pavement - according to the fellow who gave you the video instructions, you’re getting both German and Belgian pavement, although you can’t tell the difference. You try the brakes; you go through a slightly warm room to test the paint, then a slightly cool room, and finally mist that’s supposed to be caustic acid but obviously is not, for legal reasons. It only comes to life at the end, when you speed towards a wall - it parts, shoots you outside, and whips you around a track at 64 MPH. Great screaming fun, but it all ends in a showroom for GM cars: awkward.
Ate at the Nine Dragons, one of which was the lady at the check-in counter. My wife had checked in first while we were coming back from Test Track; I gave the name, and the lady glowered at me. “She go,” she said. Luckily, she come back, so we sat and ate rather good food. But if I’m going to pay those prices, I’d prefer that the meal not arrive 65 seconds after ordering it. My Kung Pao chicken tasted like nothing I’d ever had under that name, so I assume it was super authentic. The coffee was stone cold; it was followed by a cup so hot someone must ahve microwaved it on KILL for a minute. My wife had the Nineteen Noodles with Forty-seven Sauce or something with an equally evocative and numeric name. It came in so many dishes it took her half an hour to assemble one bite. Daughter had the appetizers. It was a heavy-menu place, so it set us back - but I insist on one civilized meal per day.
The highlight was the Kim Possible mission, though - this is pure genius. You sign up to join Team Possible, and you’re given a cell phone with an RFID dongle. You have to go to a different country in the International Area of Other Countries - I forget the exact name - and press keys on your cell at various locations, whereupon things happen and you’re given other instructions. O to be a kid these days: Natalie was having the time of her life, and for good reason: you’re sent to a door in the Chinese sector; the character on the phone says he’ll try to unlock it remotely - and when you press OK to enter the code, the door buzzes, opens slightly, and you hear an argument on the other side. At one point you have to enter a gift shop, head to the sword counter, and ask the clerk for a secret code; she gives you a fortune cookie with code hidden inside. You finish your mission in a secluded water garden, and when you enter the right code the All-Powerful Jade Monkey Statue emerges from the water. What fun. In every country you saw kids huddled over cellphones, looking for the clues, searching the facades for the proper window or doorway or sign.
I tried to take pictures, but Natalie complained: it’s a secret mission, Dad.
One of the missions involved foiling an evil inventor who had rigged a lethargy ray at the top of the Eiffel tower, threatening to turn Parisians into apathetic people who didn’t want to work much. Made me suspect we’d head over to the Italian pavilion to foil a plot to make them drive like maniacs and poison rivals.
Later in the day: we’re in line for a corporate-identity-shaped frozen confection. Natalie had been looking forward to a Mickey Ice Cream Bar on a Stick, but once she apprehended the prospect of an Ice Cream Sandwich, which was much thicker and studded with choco-nodules and hence better in every possible way, she said she wanted that. Mindful of our daily intake of CRAP, I said no, hon, the ice cream bar. The other’s too much.
The large sunburned fellow in front of us turned halfway around. He looked like Charlie Daniels: the Devil went down to Florida edition.
“Shun’t have said that,” he said.
I said nothing.
“Now ah’ll have t’ get it for her.”
He grinned. A flood of beer breath washed over me.
“That’s okay,” I said. “It’s not a matter of money. It’s just too much dessert.”
He stared straight ahead. “Ah know. I have two little ones. Three. Sev’n. They’re all I want that I want that and their momma’s all CRSH.” That was the sound he made, presumably to indicate Momma exerting some sort of authority. Well, by God, if he couldn’t stand up to her, he’d stand up to me. “Three bahrs, oh, Bud laht.” he said to the ice cream lady, who to my surprise produced three bahrs. He ordered other items for his family then handed Natalie the ice cream sandwich.
At which point I really wanted to say “look, you half-hammered sh*tkicker, I appreciate the generosity, but it’s cockeyed and sloppy and rude. This isn’t your choice. It’s mine. If I wanted her to have a compressed kelp bar with a tofu center, that’s what I would get her, for whatever reason I saw fit. You’re not Santa. It’s not your call. But I'm going to stand down because you're huge and full of liquor, and I have no idea what sort of tension my child would sense if this escalated just a bit. So I'll compensate for the temporary loss of face by slagging you when you've stumbled away."
But no, I said “thanks, bud.”
The lady behind the counter said to Natalie: “Did you thank the man?” Jiminey Judas, is everyone against me today?
Natalie said “thanks” in a strained voice.
“He was kinda scary,” she said after he lumbered off.
"He had too much beer," I said. "You don't pick fights with people full of beer."
She nodded. And enjoyed her ice cream sandwich. Lesson: you take advantage of people full of beer. Augh.
Then we went to see Peter Noone, who looks 30 from a distance, which is also kinda scary, but good for him. Update: something still tells him that he may be on to something good. Such a nice happy song. We left after that one, because an ‘Enery the Ate Oi Yam Oi Yam singalong was surely nigh. Be a shame if the fellow died by being chopped in half, and they had to take him to the cemetery in two identical vehicles. Second hearse, same as the first!
Next: the American Whatever, a panoramic movie with robots. I liked the place right away, for this greets you:
Surprising to see Randianism thus enshrined. It’s an impressive building, done in the colonial-classical style. A small museum has Actual Items Owned By Actual Historical Figures - Mark Twain’s ear-cleaner (he invested and lost thousands on it, I understand), Lincoln’s inkwell, Edison’s kinectopanoptican-ola (a forerunner of the more successful panokinepticon) and other items. When the show begins you’re guided through doors into the world’s largest staircase built expressly for the purpose of moving you up three flights; it came in two flavors, stairs for the Hardy American and those newfangled auto-steps that move on their own for the Modern, more indolent type who probably won’t appreciate the stories of hardship they’re about to see. (I took the latter. Long day,)
The reviews of the show in the great Unofficial Disney guidebook are mixed; some people were annoyed that the film didn’t show the dark side of American history, and presumably would not be content until an animatronic George Washington knocked an Indian down and slit his throat. I was surprised they let robot Mark Twain wave a lit cigar around. It was general and uplifting, horror of horrors - one of the comments in the book said they left the show pretending they were Canadians. Life must be so hard for these people. All the time. I imagine they went over to the French exhibit and demanded to know where they kept the models of the trains they used to send the Jewish kids to camp. And don’t get them started on the English exhibit. WE’VE BEEN TO ANIMAL KINGDOM! WE SEE THE COST OF COLONIALISM!
When we got outside, sunset over the International Lake of Comity and Progress.
I love that place when the sun goes down. Plus, you walk a bit, and you’re here:
The pavement sparkles under your feet, lit from below. So that answers part of the question of why I go there. (There were questions about that in the comments - why do I return, when the world holds so many interesting venues with actual history and actual architecture. Well. It’s simple:
1. Child is a kid and likes rides, and as long as she gets a grin from seeing Mickey, and is perfectly content to make mocking faces at the happy-talk prerecorded messages, and wonder one minute how the guys in the costumes must be hot and then light up when she sees Donald, that’s where we’re going.
2. The Disney-thing we joined has many programs that go abroad, and in the future I intend to use them, but that’s another story.
3. Time. When you have four or five days, Rome is out of the question. At least Rome done right.
4. Variety. One day you’re seeing this: civilization.
And the next it’s this:
Over there, a mirage of the future we didn’t get:
(Upside down shot of a lagoon.) In between, a dozen other things, from people-watching to studying the skill with which the illusions are constructed. It’s like a jaunt around the world for people with ADD.
Went home, as we now thought of it, and walked to the main hall to get fixings for breakfast. Quiet and warm and green and fragrant. Miles away from any of the daily cares - and that, after all, is what a vacation is about. NEXT: it’s a bright new beautiful tomorrow. Providing THE DOOR WAS DOWN. The door was down, wasn't it? Of course it was.