From the beginning I have never been a great fan of The (Disney corporate) Mouse but there have been five exceptions. One was the ability of Peter Pan to fly and the other four were equally divided beneath two mid-1950s T-shirts, each sporting developing projections just under the names of “Annette” and “Doreen”. Other than that, I was suspicious of all the Disneyesque morality plays and squeaky-cleanliness. My cartoon preferences were strong in another direction; the Looney Tunes and the Crusader Rabbit group. In those world views, the bad guys could also be heroes and at the same time, be much more entertaining.
When the Disney World megacomplex in Florida came into my stream of consciousness, it was probably 20 years after its 1971 grand opening. Even then, in my early forties, I still clutched close to my heart, the cynicism of Holden Caufield, who I’d first met in high school English class.
I told Lovie, “If I want to experience other cultures, we’ll go to those places! I don’t want any sanitized, Mickey Mouse version of what some right-leaning-cartoon-producing corporation thinks it should be.”
As Holden might say, “Ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of phonies!” We didn’t go.
We did actually travel and experience a few different places where the cars were different, the smells, sounds and look of the street litter were extraordinary to my senses. We spent time in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Mexico, Canada and even 2 hours in de Gaulle airport for a layover where I bought Lovie a French fashion… (A T-shirt, probably made in China – I am sooo international!). Our travels have been self-limited to western cultures. I’ve clearly remained too insecure to venture into other places where even my dear German/Austrian Liebkins cannot translate the menus for me.
My inner Holden Caufield remained the strongly protected sentinel of my worldview.
But then things changed. Our first born and her husband moved to Florida, an hour’s drive from the three-fingered giant mouse. So with my Holden-O-Meter set on orange alert, we planned a visit that included a 2-day stay at Epcot. (I still don’t know where they came up with that name, I have yet to Google it).
We drove the 38 miles on the black ice of a Michigan February to the Grand Rapids airport, flew to Atlanta, changed from one airplane to another that seemed so far from plane #1 that we might have been back at our point of origin, and then into Melbourne, FL. On board amenities? …the .42-oz. bag of peanuts was delicious! Holden sighed with pleasure.
With daughter and hubby, we began a great visit and then took off for our 20 hours at Disney World. Holden quickly took to the back seat of my mind as we pulled into a parking lot the size of Connecticut. The tram into the park was handy and welcome. My rental of an electric cart was a blessing and necessitated the quotes in the title of this piece.
With our first steps out of the car, we “walked” in with the smartphones measuring the steps of the electricartless in our party of four.
Day one – we did the science and technology sites.
In some ways it reminded me of a Casino – no clocks prominently displayed. There was a white noise of buoyant music played throughout the park (like the intentional hum of the machines in casino). My cynicism was fed with that discovery and a big black checkmark went onto my mental clipboard. I smirked as Holden might have done. “Gotcha on that one!”
Yet the commercial kiosks and shops were not as “in your face” as they are in other theme parks. The cross-section of cultures among visitors – middle class and above – from around the world were good to see and overhear. The corporate logos and their related alpha-male chest pounding tactics were much lower-keyed than I anticipated. Holden was shrinking.
Night fell and Epcot took on an entirely new personality. The lighting effect against the very accurately reproduced architecture was impressive. The night air cooled to just about cold, the fireworks and light show over the lake began. Holden awakened suddenly with the voice-over narration of the show that was accompanied by new age music and Amy Grant-style vocals yet the visual displays held Holden at bay.
The hike back to the tram/parking lot at closing told us it’d been 10 miles of walking that day. I smiled and parked my electric cart.
Day 2 – Around the world as we’d like it to be. The International village around a lake was impressive. Holden trembled as I began to buy into it all. The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, Norway, China each had appeal. The workers – even the clean-up people were veritable green-card carrying citizens of the places they represented. Each enclave featured a significant glimpse into its history and current-day culture along with a small museum, detailed architectural renderings of their traditional structures, “gifts,” music and food offerings. Even though each area was sanitized, (there were no street urchin-pocket-picking hustlers, blaring sirens and finger-flipping cab drivers one might encounter in the real places), each place represented the idealized vision of what it is striving to be. Even though it lacked perhaps some of the visually gritty, aromatic soul of its true existence – I could hold that on the back burner, relax and enjoy.
Who am I to judge? I and where I come from are certainly not perfik and neither are other people and places.
If I had to put a sports-score tally on the board about this visit, it would be,
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse – 22
J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caufield – 2