A Beer Short of a Full Mickey
Trip Start Apr 01, 1979
62Trip End Ongoing
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I felt like a moron, there in that darkened room, trying to enjoy what was honestly a painful experience. My head hurt from the noise, and embarrassment crept into my psyche. Around me sat hundreds of families, crammed into a western themed venue. A guy dressed in overalls and a flannel shirt with a bandana tied around his neck had come to take our order. “Do you have any alcohol?” I asked. “I could really use a whiskey and coke or a vodka tonic.”
His faced crinkled a bit at the question. He paused before speaking, taking enough time to steal a glance at the 2-year-old sitting in high chair about five feet from my table. “Well we don't have that type of stuff, no sir. But we do have beer and the finest sangria you’ll ever drink.” That was quite a promise. I recalled sitting in a café in southern Spain, sipping on a sangria (some people called it zurra there, but it was the same concoction) and gazing into the dark eyes of a girl I’d met in Barcelona two days before. The sweetness of the sangria made me remember the sweet taste of her kiss the night before. That was a good sangria. For some reason, I doubted that at a dinner show at Disney World with thousands of children jumping in their seats at 5 pm in the afternoon while I was noshing on 'down home cooked’ chicken and ribs, I could possibly have a sangria to match that one a few years before. But life isn’t built on guarantees.
“Okay, I’ll have the sangria. And the beer.” He was again perplexed. His brow furrowed, and it made me angry. I did not understand his total incomprehension of these basic words dripping from my mouth. It was like talking to a bench made out of recycled plastic. You can talk to it all day, but it isn’t likely to comprehend a single word, and less likely to talk back. This one talked back but the level of comprehension was clearly the same. His bewilderment made his head look like a raisin, wrinkly and small. His brain couldn’t be larger than a walnut. I was tempted to reach up and squeeze his face, screaming my order directly into his cashew curved ear.
Finally he replied, “You want both sangria and beer?”
YES!!! “Yes,” I answered meekly. It would only take another 15 minutes for it to arrive. Five minutes after that and I wanted (NEEDED!) more. Of course old walnut brain was nowhere to be seen. In fact, he wouldn’t show his face again until midway through the second act. I was stone cold sober and stone cold bored.
Again that ludicrous chorus, “Hoop Dee Doo, Hoop Dee Doo, Hoop Dee Doo Revuuuuuue!!!!” If the show had been called anything but the ‘Hoop Dee Doo Revue’, perhaps I would have been more critical of their lyrics. Yet simply put, what else could they say? So they bumbled, stumbled, danced, sang, and pranced about us as we tried to eat, and as I tried to order more beer. This was my trip to Disney World in a nutshell. I always seemed to be trying to order more beer, and coming up just a little short.
Before I continue with my tale of woe, perhaps I should answer the little voice in my head. “Why in the heck fire were you at Disney World, Daniel? I mean, you are a 25 year old man, surely there are other places to go, perhaps some place that is a little more age appropriate…hmmm?” Well voice, I can answer that quite easily. It wasn’t my decision. My mother (yes that’s right, I’m about to blame this on my mom) is a strange old bird. She works for the U.S. government in the field of education. Of course, no one actually believes that she works in that field. You have to wonder how many educators who work for the Department of Defense actually spend the majority of their time in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar and Kyrgyzstan, but that’s beside the point. The point is that she rarely graces the shores of the United States, and when she does, once every year or so, she wants to spend time with me and my sister. So one fine day I opened up my email and saw this little blurb of text from mommy dearest:
I was sitting in one of the bomb shelters after the air raid sirens went off, and I thought, maybe we should go to Disney World this year. I really can’t wait to see you and your sister.
I wrote back, “Sure Mom, anything you want. That sounds like a great idea!” How could I argue? She thought of it in bomb shelter for crying out loud! That’s like when I was asked by my high school sweetheart if I thought she looked good in the dress her dead grandma had given her. What am I supposed to say? “Nah baby, your dead granny had really bad taste. Maybe you should wear something more modern that a person who actually is alive might recommend.” I can’t say that. I have to nod and smile. That’s what people do. That’s what I did. So I was stuck in Disney time, in this Disney place. While there, I figure I might as well make the most of it. It can all be bad, can it? I like roller coasters. I like water parks. When I was a kid, I would beg my parents for a trip to a place like this. So why not? My mom was even paying for the whole thing and my sister was bringing her husband so therefore I was allowed to bring my flavor of the season as well. So let the good times roll…
(A quick aside: I shan’t mention my ‘flavor of the season’ again in the rest of this piece. She wouldn’t be ‘of the season’ if she was still around today. Alas, they may come and go, but I always stay the same.)
As I mentioned above, I actually like water parks. I think I have more fun in a good water park then I ever would in an amusement park. The slides are taken individually, not with a large group of strangers. It becomes a man v. the elements situation, or this case a Dan v. the waterslide situation. I can recall going to water parks as a kid, and enjoying every minute of it. One such location, dubbed Fantasy Lake, had slides and ropes and swings, everything a boy could want. It was basically a dirty lake carved into a farm with nasty water and nastier people, but I still always had a blast. Sure I was much more likely to find a beer can floating in the water than a fish swimming in it, and certainly the red neck population of giant fat gutted, beer guzzling morons with stupid kids and stupid names (when did Cleetus become an acceptable name for a person?) were off-putting, but that’s never a reason to dampen one’s day. Fantasy Lake was, in many ways, my fantasy world. A water park at Disney World conversely, pristine and perfect, was heaven on earth.
Of course, I can’t really swim, so the fact that most of the water is only waist deep makes it easier for me. In fact, this may be a bit of an understatement. So let me say it again loud and proud, “I do not know how to swim.” There have been those who tried to convince me that I could learn, and many have waded into pools with me convinced that they could make my flailing arms and legs work in some sort of coordinated effort. They assured me that all those who had tried to teach me before didn’t do it quite right, but they would set me on the path to aquatic glory. Each time they failed. Each time, I told them they would. Each time, they didn’t believe me. Water and me just don’t mix. I am like a huge barrel of oil. One way or another, we are going to be separate entities. When I was a kid, my parents spent countless dollars sending me to swim class. I would try my little heart out, trying to make things work. Eventually, after a strange incident with a water noodle (we’ll save that story for another day), they gave up. I did too. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not afraid of the water. I just don’t do too well moving through it. My labored motions and strokes only serve to get me by without drowning. Nothing more, nothing less.
So we went to two water parks on this trip, each delivering both joy and sadness. The first of these parks was called Blizzard Beach. This fascinating place was a water park in the hot Florida sun, dressed up like a ski resort. It reminded me of my Uncle Willard from Tennessee. No matter how hot it got outside of Chattanooga, Uncle Willard would never for one moment think of wearing anything but his coveralls. He would work in the dog days of summer fully clothed from head to toe. If I went out in such attire it would take me about 30 seconds to overheat, pass out and die a painful death as a burnt up piece of marshmallow, bubbly and smoldering. Yet Uncle Willard always seems to be just fine. Blizzard Beach, full of white plastic snow and blue glass ice was my Uncle Willard in the form of a water park.
I on the other hand, was dressed for the weather. Since I usually bundle beyond belief all winter and stay hidden behind closed doors with air conditioners set on the frigid setting during the summer. When I found out about Disney World I had quickly set about buying the necessary utensils for such an outing. Shorts, t-shirts, swimsuits, sunglasses and sun screen of varying SPFs (what does that mean anyway?) were all added to my collection. I had also invested in the mythical beach towel. This towel, which apparently is built for beach use, might seem like a regular towel but in fact it’s far different. It’s actually bigger! That’s right, beach towels are normal towels made in bigger proportions. Fascinating, I know, but rather than call them ‘big towels’, I guess beach towels sounds like a lot more fun. Anyway, I brought that too. I was ready.
One feature of my new summer shopping bonanza was a pair of swimming trunks with a nice set of pockets with Velcro seal on either leg. These gray and red designer short pants were purchased at the always extravagant Old Navy Clothiers and surely would’ve made even a lesser man look attractive on the beach or shall I say, at the water park. I didn’t need such help, but as a slave to fashion I couldn’t resist. With these useful pockets, I decided to carry my ids, along with the ids and credit cards of my entire family, in a plastic bag that was then sealed, folded, and Velcro-ed into my shorts pocket. I could think of no safer way to preserve these important items. Alas, fate had a different idea.
The very first slide I rode, not 15 minutes after I entered the park, was called Summit Plummet. It’s a ridiculously high gush of water that drops its riders straight down. The great part about the ride is the wait in line leading up to the climactic leap of faith. Since only one person is allowed to go down at a time, the line often leaves the patrons waiting for significant periods of time. Since the line is mostly a stair case leading up to the top, we were all subjected to a litany of sliders in front of us, each leaving a few seconds after the one before and each screaming uncontrollably on the way down. And yet, no one got out of line. We all wanted to experience that obvious discomfort.
When I finally made it to the front, I looked over the edge of the drop. At that point, it was quite clear to me that I was jumping almost straight down over 100 feet. But of course as a man, which I purportedly am, I could not turn back. I counted to three and jumped on two. About 2/3 of the way to pay dirt I actually made contact with the slide. And it hurt, a lot. I had nasty marks on my back afterward from the sheer friction, despite the blasts of water. My legs, which were supposed to stay crossed, were forced open sending blasts of water up my legs and shorts and against my sensitive man parts. I won’t lie to you, fair reader. My scrotum was damaged. Yet that was the least of my worries.
Somewhere on the way down this slide, the Velcro on my fashionable shorts came open, and out floated the bag of ids, credit cards, and park admission cards. The water, confounding me once again, decided to then close that same Velcro. When I instinctively tapped my pants to check for the goods after I arose from the ride, I felt only a closed pocket. I did not know anything was wrong.
Two hours later, that knowledge arrived. I reached down again to feel my pocket, and there it wasn’t. Since it was now around lunch, and I had ridden several rides in the interim, I knew nothing of its location. Needless to say my family was less than enthralled. And so the search began. We asked every lifeguard, searched every entry and exit of every ride, checked lost and found, and even asked Mickey himself to no avail. The bag was lost. After an hour of searching, with precious water slide time lost, my sister, brother-in-law and I were all ready to give up. (My ‘flavor of the season’ which I said I wouldn’t mention, had long given up. I’m sure she was floating in an inner tube on the lazy river. I of course, would soon give up on her, so I guess it’s all fair.) Yet dear old Mom, survivor of air raids in war zones, was ready for one last try. Her voice rang out, “You know I bet it was that big slide. I’m going to ask again.”
My sister and I protested. “Mom, we’ve already tried there. We asked two lifeguards on three different occasions and no one has seen it.” But Mom, dear old Mom, insisted.
Fifteen minutes later she returned, and apparently through faithful intervention, the ids and credit cards were in her hand. We were stunned.
“I’m stunned,” I said with my jaw hanging low. My eyes, glazed and reddened from the chlorine were wide and bright. My sister simply grabbed the nearest credit card, turned towards me with a venomous look and walked swiftly to the closest restaurant. Her curiosity had obviously been overruled by her hunger. I couldn’t wait, though, and demanded the story.
My mother began to speak, “As I was walking over there I said a little prayer.” My eyes rolled. “I got up to the lifeguard and asked if there was any way that the ids could be here. The lifeguard said that sometimes things get caught in the drain, but a small bag like that would probably go right through. I asked if I could look in the drain and she said the ride would have to be turned off. I then waited. She looked annoyed but picked up her radio and asked for maintenance. I few minutes later a man came up, told them to stop sending people down and turned off the water. He then opened up the drain, reached in and pulled out the bag. ‘Is this it,’ he said. I gave him a hug on the spot.” And so it was. My mom, with a little help from above, had come to the rescue. And, incidentally, the cards were completely dry. Thank you Ziploc.
A few days later, at water park number two called Typhoon Lagoon, it was a body bag rather than Ziploc that was destined to play a part in my afternoon. You see, Typhoon Lagoon, a sprawling tropical themed park that is supposed to recall the aftermath of a hurricane, has this great, massive pool that drops 6-foot waves on its guests. The waves, which come at 2-3 minute intervals, often bring back hordes of guests who have decided to brave the deeper water and ride them back to shore. I quickly decided that I wanted to get out in the action, close to the waves, and likewise ride them back into shallow water. The problem is, as I explained above, I don’t really swim so good. Nevertheless, my adventurous (should I say reckless?) side took over. I splashed my way out into the deep stuff, and waited… Passing my time by treading water, I plotted out my course of action when the next big wave came along. I’d frantically splash my arms in the water, and then ride that sucker on back. It’d be awesome, and hey, people might even cheer. Well somewhere out there in the real world, the Disney folks didn’t get the memo. Because as soon as I ventured away from the safety of my place with the water at my waist and out into the deep stuff, the waves just stopped coming.
I waited, always treading (When I say I tread, I really mean I fought the water. Some people just kind of glide in the water, whereas I always seem to be struggling. Where they might jog when they tread, I sprint. It becomes really hard work and quickly wears me down). Five minutes passed, and my arms and legs tired. I knew the arrival of the next wave must just be a second or two away, so I stayed. Ten minutes passed, and I could feel the lead seeping into my aching limbs. Two minutes after, I knew it was time to give it up and swim back to shore, but when I tried, my body no longer had the strength for my plodding freestyle motion. I flailed my arms and legs, but they only flopped awkwardly forward. I could no longer move, as the power it had taken for me to sustain my frantic treading had drained me too much. I resumed treading as best I could, trying to slowly push myself back to shallow water, but again Disney didn’t get the memo.
Waves indeed began to come, but not the kind that would push me back to shore, rather several gentle, rocking waves that proceeded to drag me down every time they came my way. I would sink, push up, and gasp for air. Each new little bump pushed me into the blue depths. My lungs began to burn. I started to believe that I might soon attract attention and fear began to come into my thoughts. But friends I was not afraid of drowning. Drowning only brings one final, tragic event, death. And everybody has to die at one time or another. No, fear of death was not a part of my mantra. But there was still fear. For if death comes to us all and therefore is nothing to fear, it would perhaps be the rare events that happen to so few of us that make me truly afraid. One such rare event would be getting rescued by a 16-year-old lifeguard.
I could just see my bloated body (bloated from milkshakes, not from the water) being dragged onto the side of the lagoon. My pale torso would draw screams from the children. My tattoo, black ink drawn into a permanent scar upon my chest would have their parents whispering.
“He probably had it coming,” they would say, and then look knowingly at their friends nearby. Each would nod in agreement and then begin to shake their heads from side to side, disapprovingly.
The pimply face of the lifeguard would then be slowly moving towards mine, seeking, probing for the path through my mouth and throat to insert life-giving oxygen into my lungs. Mickey would have tears in his eyes as he saw me being resuscitated, but I could tell, in my thoughts, that his tears were borne out of shame rather than sadness. I couldn’t let that happen. I pushed slowly, continually fighting the downward dragging of the waves and the tide (okay, I’ll admit there was no tide, largely because it was a pool, but hey it felt like it). After a solid ten minutes of struggling, my right big toe scraped concrete. I used it to propel me another inch, and then another. Soon, both sets of toes held my head above the water, and my rubbery legs were able to walk back to the shallows. My entire body ached, but I had made it. I survived the great Typhoon Lagoon wave pool. Incidentally, the deep end of that pool is nearly 6 and ˝ feet deep. Scary stuff!
I left Typhoon Lagoon immediately. If I’m lucky, I’ll never have to return. Soon, the trip would be over. Yet that was my Disney World vacation. Sure there’s more to it than that, but I have to stop somewhere. I could talk more about how I’m far too old for theme parks, but then again, there’s always Universal Studios, right? So I leave you with this solemn promise. I promise to Hoop Dee Doo, Hoop Dee Doo, Hoop Dee Doo, with all the energy I can muster. I just hope that next time I’ll be able to order those beers when I need them most.