Well, the Great Exodus From Texadus is over and we are back from the magic of Walt Disney World, left to wallow in our misery and warm gulf coast air. You know you’re almost back in Texas when you pass into the hideous stain of Louisiana, traveling west along Interstate 10. The smell of refineries begins to permeate the air and the odious stench passes into your soul through your nostrils, even as it concurrently settles on your body like a death shroud, seeping into your skin and settling itself deep into the warm and squishy parts of your favorite bodily organs. Breathe deep, and you get the cancer. Touch your flesh to any exposed surface, and you get the cancer. Drink the water, cancer. Eat the food, cancer. Hell, just thinking too hard about such a gangrenous carbuncle of a state is enough to make you sick, so if you have to pass through it, at least do it quickly. Don’t linger.
However, it’s not like things improve all that much when you get into east Texas, mind you. My particular corner of The Lone Star State is as much of a whore to the whims of industry as is Louisiana, with the only difference being that we’re just happy to not be Louisianians. We live in Texas, after all, where we at least have decent roads. The only roads with passable surfaces in the whole of the wretched Pelican State are in and around the casino areas, while the rest of the territory languishes in potholes and poorly implemented, Lightning McQueen-styled blacktop resurfacing jobs. They’re bumpy and broken and bad, and it doesn’t help that nine out of every five Louisianians have no clue how to operate a motor vehicle. For your average Louisianian, speed limits and turn signals are things that happen to other people, while abusing the gas pedal and leaving the high beams on at all times are standard operating procedure. I couldn’t have been more thrilled at any two points in our trip than the rapturous elation I felt upon crossing the Louisiana state line both going to Disney and coming back. It truly is a terrible place to experience, unless you limit yourself to air travel and minimize your exposure to the natives by confining yourself to the New Orleans french quarter, where 98% of everyone there comes from somewhere else.
Aside from my disdain of passing through Louisiana, the rest of our vacation was an enjoyable time filled with the magic of childhood innocence and wonder, along with a heaping helping of muscle strain, endoskeletal fatigue and plain old exhaustion. It was also cold – bitterly so at times – yet we soldiered on in our bundled clothes and with our chapped lips, and we gave Trey a vacation that he will never forget. To his great credit, he never once got whiny or threw a temper tantrum, and was instead the perfect model of perfect perfection that anyone could ever expect from a toddler. He thanked us constantly for every little thing we did, kept telling us how glad he was to be “home”, and only ever managed to get pouty whenever his father called to talk to him. However, one can hardly blame a kid for not wanting to gab on the phone when there are theme parks to explore, and his mood generally bounced back fairly quickly. Mostly, he ran and played and jumped and danced and climbed and laughed and was, in a nutshell, enjoying being a kid. And we were enjoying it right along with him.
Early on in the vacation, it became apparent that Trey had developed a curious fondness for The Little Mermaid, to the extent that we held nightly viewings of the subaqueous superstar at the end of each day. We’d shuffle back to our “hotel house” after a long day of walking (or, in Trey’s case, being carried) and collapse into the bed for all of five minutes, before Trey decided that it was bath time. Once the bathing was done, we’d put on our footie PJs (Yes, I have footie PJs. Don’t you judge me. They rock!), make an always-exciting trip down to the vending area to refill our ice bucket, then amble back into the room and climb in the bed for a late night snack while we watched “the mermaid movie” for the ten bazillionth time. It was, in a word: enchanting. I think those nights with the three of us piled into that bed, eating junk food and watching movies probably make up my happiest memories from the entire vacation. Trey was handing out liberal doses of sweetness and hugs and kisses, and it was just a great way to end the great days we were having together as a family. I loved it.
Of course, the trip didn’t always go quite so smoothly as I might be making out. It is me I’m talking about here, and everyone knows that something always goes freakishly wrong with anything I ever plan. And, now that Brittany and I are together, the particularly unlucky version of luck we both seem to share has combined into one loathsome entity of an indivisible and inescapable horror the likes of which only the imagined lovechild of Ann Hodges and Henry Ziegland could potentially rival, and even then it’s unlikely. For example, both Brittany and I possess a negative amount of whatever esoteric stuff it is that allows normal people to navigate from point A to point B. It’s not that we have no sense of direction – it’s that we have less than no sense of direction. Even armed with a GPS, a substantial chunk of the trip was spent with me being yelled at by an angry little device with a deceptively friendly name. Tomtom, I have come to learn, does not like you deviating from his scheduled routes. Not one bit.
We also have a terrible time ordering food. It always comes out wrong, if it ever even comes out at all. Fortunately, this specific deficiency in the delicate art of food acquisition was not much of a problem at Disney World. Unless, of course, you count our experience in the Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Trey was the only one in our three-person party to eat all of his food and receive a Clean Plate Club sticker, while the waiter force-fed Brittany her vegetables in the time-honored parental tradition of The Airplane as I skated by on my charm and my ability to hide my unwanted food. Granted, the whole idea of the Prime Time Cafe is to be transported back to a 1950s dinner at Mom’s house, so being humiliated by the waiter disciplining you for not eating your vegetables or for having your elbows on the table is all part of the schtick. Still, it’s always funnier when it’s happening to someone else, rather than yourself. At least, I think that’s how Brittany was feeling as we were all laughing…
Naturally, even our best laid plans often crumble beneath us. Having missed our reservation for a character breakfast upon our arrival (due to our unforeseen delay in leaving Texas), I secured us another reservation at another venue that had an opening for the next morning. Trey was, quite naturally, very excited at the idea of meeting his favorite Disney characters – and he remained excited, right up until any of them came within five feet of him. Once the enormity of their freakishly large plastic heads invaded his space, it was instant shyness mixed with apprehension and fear. He was more than happy to shove Mama and I into harm’s way, however, so most of the pictures we took with the characters have one of us in them rather than Trey. All was not lost, though. Near the end of our trip, we had one more character dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom, and Minnie Mouse was successful not only in achieving direct body contact with Trey, but she also managed to give him a hug and a kiss, as well. Victory!
It should be noted that Trey did not have a single bathroom-related accident the entire time we were gone. He might have come close on one occasion, though. We were standing in yet another interminably long line to meet more characters that Trey insisted he wanted to take a picture with, but from whom he would invariably retreat into cowering docility once they punctured the sacred space of his personal bubble, when he suddenly announced a dire need to “Go more teetee again!” Regardless of the fact that we’d already made significant headway in the lengthy serpentine cattle pen leading to the characters, we forced an immediate extraction to the nearest rest room, where Trey then proceeded to regale the various visitors to the ladies room with his own special version of an all-nude review as he stripped down to nothing in order to pee. He does this. We’re working on it.
And finally, I’ll wrap today’s essay up with a note of caution to anyone planning a vacation to central Florida. If it gets cold and rainy, or hot and rainy, or in any and all other ways just generally too unpleasant to be outdoors, do not – under any circumstances – consider, even for a moment, going to the world’s largest McDonald’s PlayPlace. Oh sure, it might seem like a good idea at the time, and you may have seen it featured on the Travel Channel, but nothing can prepare you for the lurking horror that is the reality of a visit to the terrifying place. Now, during non-peak times, this might actually be a pretty nice place to visit, at least as far as a McDonald’s goes. It’s got a “bistro gourmet” menu featuring all sorts of fancy-sounding (and surprisingly decent looking) foods like various sandwiches and pastas, but we didn’t get to experience any of this finer fare. No, what we finally ordered when we eventually managed to locate the cashier counter, was nothing more exotic than the standard McDonald’s NotFood that you can get anywhere in the world. Of course, that was only after we managed to get inside the building, which we could only do after we navigated the unnavigable parking lot.
In a strange twist of fate, the world’s largest McDonald’s PlayPlace also features the world’s smallest and most infuriating parking lot in existence. It didn’t help that we arrived at the peak of the lunch hour rush, but the behemothic size of the building was definitely not proportional to the Lilliputian parking lot. To make matters worse, just when I thought I’d finally found a parking space, a claptrap version of the Partridge Family tour bus pulled in ahead of us, taunting me in that special way that only the Baptist Tabernacle Church Choir can. They puttered down the impossibly narrow lane in search of a parking space that couldn’t hope to contain the girth of the aging vehicle, before finally forcing me into a sixteen-point turn in order to avoid hitting them as the driver attempted to coax a thirty foot bus into a ninety degree turn. Luckily, a space opened up that I was able to pull into, or else I think we might still be there right now, stuck between that terrible bus and whatever car was certain to drive up behind us at any minute.
The evil did not end in the parking lot, however, and it didn’t even end with the food. No, the real pain was to begin upstairs, in the world’s most poorly designed toddler play area. It was one of those big, plastic hamster-trail type of deals, with opaque plastic tubes running hither and yon that little kiddos enjoy climbing through and exploring. The only problem was that the network of tunnels was so vast and so hidden, that no parent had any idea where his or her child was at any time. The most any of us could do was to simply wait while in view of the two exit points and hope that our children would come spilling out at some point. After a time, however, any parent begins to grow concerned over the welfare of their child as they linger in the hidden tubes of the PlayPlace for far longer than they should. We get worried, then we get stressed, then we get nervous and upset. Then, if you’re Brittany, you start to freak out a little and, if you’re me, you start trying to pretend that you’re not also freaking out a little. Eventually, you spot a bit of a familiar coat through one of only a handful of portholes made of transparent plastic that have been fiendishly scattered about the tubing with a miserly distribution, and you breath a little easier. Then, you try and yell over all of the other kids who are playing and ignoring all of the other parents who are, in turn, yelling at their own children who are ignoring them, and so forth and so on…
IF your child hears you, and IF he’s agreeable to the idea, you MAY be able to talk him down to one of the exit points; that is, IF he’s even able to hear you over the discordant cacophony taking place all around him. Fortunately, Trey did hear my pleas and honored them, although I made sure to sweeten the pot with the promise of some video games if he came down the slide. Once he’d made it to the exit, I scooped him up and we all went out into the game area, where we could actually see Trey playing. However, just to keep the travesty going, none of the machines dispensing point cards (the new version of tokens and quarters) were accepting debit cards. And, as Trey grew increasingly impatient with my repeated attempts to find a working card machine, I spied an ATM machine at the bottom of the steps.
Having found a way around the debit card problem, I jaunted downstairs to withdraw some cash to bring back up to the card machine so that I could finally purchase some points that would enable Trey to play some of the games I’d promised him he could play. However, after a ludicrous terminal fee was applied, I could only withdraw increments of twenty dollars. So, I withdrew twenty bucks and, after deciding that I was ready to leave this horribly overcrowded and obnoxious McDonald’s as soon as possible, I then took my twenty dollars and purchased a single small soft drink for which I then had to wait to pay in a queue for at least ten minutes, while a bewildered pack of little old ladies busily counted out seventeen dollars and forty-seven cents in loose change ahead of me. Eventually – finally – I was able to run back upstairs and shove a ten dollar bill into the gaping maw of the point card machine, and Trey was finally able to play some games.
Naturally, we found the most expensive, point-consuming games in the arcade very quickly, and tried to steer him towards those. Fortunately, one such game is a favorite of his back home, and involves a simple motion seat and large screen to simulate roller coasters and various exciting scenarios. This was a few hundred points a pop, and we’d gone through the credits and were making our way back out of the door and into the scary parking lot in no time. Hooray!
Much more happened on our little easterly excursion, but I’ve run too long today, already. I’ll fill you in on some of the more exciting things with Thursday’s essay, things involving copious amounts of Trey cuteness and the bizarre behavior of your average native Floridian. After that, I should finally return to some good, old-fashioned, hate-filled ranting starting sometime next week. See you real soon!