Scott Hardie | December 29, 2002
I spent Christmas with my mom in Sarasota, then a wonderful three days at Disney World. Here are some isolated comments and notes:

I spent a long time and a lot of money on Monday to get my car fixed, but I noticed late on Tuesday that it was running even worse than before. It barely made it to Sarasota on Wednesday morning. I tested it Wednesday night and it sounded fine, and when I drove it back on Thursday morning, it sounded and drove fine. What did Firestone do, install nanites? Whether or not I take it back in on the warranty tomorrow will be based on how smoothly it's running after three days in the driveway.

Half the presents under the tree every year are from my mom and me to each other, and the other half come from her sister's family. Well, they really just come from her sister, who puts the other relatives' names on the tags. Usually this results in my mom getting the lion's share of the gifts, even back when my dad was still with us. But for possibly the first time since I was little, I got the most gifts. I still had six or seven left when my mom was done. I don't know what I did to deserve this generosity, but it felt great. I got some badly-needed kitchen utensils. Even though I got more presents this year, three other annual traditions stood:
I. Scott will get a shirt.
II. Scott will not get a video game.
III. No matter how many times Scott warns them to coordinate their gift-giving (since one gets a list from the other), Scott's mother and Scott's aunt will both buy him the same gift at least once.

Seeing LOTR2 a second time settled my doubts over having been disappointed by it the first time. It is less personal than the first film, and the spectacle and visual effects are in service of nothing. And I loved Gollum even more the second time. It would rule to see Andy Serkis get an Oscar nom. I wonder how he would show up on stage if he won?

Even though my car sounded fine, I decided to stay over at my mom's house on Wednesday night because I was just dog tired. Have you ever woken up at night in the guest bed at someone's house and not known where you were? ...Okay, well, have you ever done it sober? That's what it felt like in the dark for a few minutes.

Both when we stopped briefly at my house on Thursday morning and again tonight when I got home from my trip, my cats were not glad to see me, but instead impugned me for several hours, much more than usual. I guess I could have gotten a dog if I wanted affection, though. But man, bring out a cat toy after four days in solitude, and they go nuts.

We still had six days worth of tickets left over from Christmas 2000, so we decided to go together for three days. I thought that arriving at WDW at 3pm on Thursday would limit us to having fun that day, but you know, it was just enough time. We went to Epcot for maybe the fifteenth time in my life, and there's only so many times you can ride Maelstrom and El Rio De Tiempo. It was good to see it again, but I was glad we were only there for seven hours, and sitting in restaurants for three of those hours.

They tore down the Millenial Village that was there in 2000 and replaced it with an "Outpost" which is some kind of generic African display (I guess it's supposed to be Kenya), and a small Spanish villa front. When are they going to break down and just add more countries? They could easily get rid of some that are there, or better yet, build a second World Showcase somewhere else. How cool would Australia be? Or India? Or Cuba? Or Thailand?

I was a little disappointed to see Disney cross-marketing now. After we got into Epcot, we were on our way to make dinner reservations, when a worker stopped us and offered to let us use his cell phone to take care of it. He only mentioned the fact that it was a Motorola Something-or-Other about five times. I also saw a McDonald's pushcart selling fries, and of course all the kids were walking around eating out of those ubiquitous red folding cardboard fry-pockets instead of sampling international cuisine in the one place where they might actually get it. Hey, why try some cooking from Germany or Japan or Morocco, none of which we'll ever visit, when we could stuff our faces with something we've had a thousand times and could get every three blocks in America?

On that same note: I ate dinner in the ritzy French restaurant for the first time (it's my mom's favorite cuisine but my dad would never go there), and it was fucking fantastic. I guess that restaurant is to French food what Epcot's lousy, run-of-the-mill Nine Dragons is to Chinese food, but to my unaccustomed palate, it tasted wonderful. Appetizers of ground salmon on bread and a double consomme of chicken and beef, then an entree of seared scallops, creamy mashed potatoes, a bay leaf cream sauce, and sauteed shitake mushrooms, and for dessert a delicious chocolate cake with delicate white-chocolate ice cream that made me melt in my chair. Really fucking good. I will definitely get French food again soon - especially if I can get someone else to pick up that massive bill again. ;-)

On the way out at closing time, I noticed two cool things: First, a couple of security guys riding Segways. One was just standing in place, but the other was scooting around, obviously for show. Cool-looking, and I want to ride one more than ever. The other was three girls behind me who started singing "The system is down, the system is down, doo-doo-do-DOO-DOO doo-doo-do-DOO-DOO doo-doo-do-DOO-DOO." At first I wasn't sure they were quoting what I thought they were quoting, but then they switched to singing, "Everybody, la-lee-da-DEE-do! Everybody, la-lee-da-DEE-do!" And I thought, fuck yeah!

We spent Day 2 at Disney-MGM Studios, which may as well have for a slogan, "The Park That Makes You Want to Be at Universal Studios Instead." Honestly though, it's pretty cool, my favorite of the four parks, and it was the most fun day we had. We went from noon till almost 10pm and we could have gone for one more ride but unwisely decided to leave. "Star Tours" ruled - I don't know how I never went on that before. (It's a motion-simulator based on Star Wars.) It's not really exciting (hell, the barely-Elvira-themed motion simulator that Dave and Steve and I rode at the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry was more exciting), but the whole thing had a tremendous sense of fun, and I was compelled to uncharacteristically scream and cheer along with the rest of the audience. Great ride.

We also got into the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular early - chalk up one point for the on-site managers. We got a FASTPASS ticket to come back four hours later for the show (it was one of the only ones we wanted to see in the park and it was the first one to which we walked), but my mom dropped her ticket in the crowd within two minutes. Since we couldn't use my ticket without hers and since we couldn't get any other FASTPASS tickets for another four hours, we went back and mentioned the problem to a manager who happened to be standing at the entrance. She promptly gave us two free passes to the immediate show, starting in five minutes. Why don't people make this shit up? The show was good but less Spectacular than the title implies.

Enough Indy already. They've got that stunt show, plus many of the vehicles and props on display in the Backlot Tour are from Indy movies, plus he's got three whole rooms in The Great Movie Ride, plus set pieces from his movies are on display all over the park. I guess they only have so many popular film properties, but they seemed to be milking that one for all it was worth. And where is James Bond? MGM owns the film rights to him, but the only sign I saw of him was one shelf in one gift shop, all old Connery-era mechandise.

Besides the repetitive nature of seeing the same film properties again and again, the backlot tour was pretty cool. They had set pieces from Pearl Harbor, costumes from The Rookie and Santa Clause 2 and Sweet Home Alabama, the houses (fake fronts) used in "The Golden Girls" and "Empty Nest" (I could almost see Joe Isuzu knocking on the front door), props from a wide variety of movies, and an awesome display of villain costumes at the end, including the real on-screen costumes of Darth Vader, Joker, Penguin, Headless Horseman, Cruella De Vil, Wicked Witch of the West, and others. Seeing real stuff used in movies is great. Seeing "The Great Movie Ride" because the guidebook implied it was real sets but having them turn out to be way-overdone fake settings with lousy audio-animatronics was not great.

The "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" game was great fun, but way too short. It made me want to be on that game show more than ever - not Millionaire, but "The Weakest Link," which I enjoy but which was obviously derived from Millionaire, in set design if nothing else.

Today we went to the Magic Kingdom, mostly just for the stuff that was new and improved, since I've been going there since I was a little kid, and my mom's been going there since she was a pre-teen. The makeover for Tomorrowland was a big improvement. I didn't get into the attraction I most wanted to visit, Buzz Lightyear's Ultra-Hyped Laser-Light Show With Sound Effects because the lines were always at least an hour long, even though the guidebook says the lines are rarely more than ten minutes. We did see the Alien Encounter, and it was about as scary as expected - instant shit-in-pants for preschoolers. (Was that Vanessa Williams and Jeffrey Jones in heavy makeup in the pre-show video? I know that stars often do bit parts in Disney shows for fun, but maybe I was just imagining it.) Carousel of Progress was nicely updated with a wonderful look at contemporary technology, but it was a bit jarring to go from 1900 to 1920 to 1940 to 2002. The Hall of Presidents inspired the same feeling now with Bush II that it did with Clinton: We sat through this again just to see a new robot in the line-up? We also took in the Haunted Mansion, which has not been updated a bit in all these years, which is either good or bad depending on your outlook. (Bad in mine.)

I thought some about the costumed characters, especially during dinner, which was interrupted by handshakes and waves with Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, sometimes twice each. I wondered how kids could be so transfixed by the characters (they're now the most popular part of WDW and attract throngs of kids everywhere they go in all four parks), how kids could be so unable to notice anything else around them when a character is in sight, and how adults could be so blasé about them: Not only is it just a person in a suit, but it's not a character that we care about. The whole phenomenon all made sense when I translated it to my own favorite movie characters. I would stop dead in my tracks and the world around me would cease to exist if I saw the Terminator or Neo or Jake Gittes or Jean-Luc Picard or Spider-Man on the street. Mind you, I don't mean some cheesy actor in a costume, pretending to be the character, I mean the real thing, in the flesh, right there, ready for a handshake or a hug or an autograph or a photo or all of the above. That would be the most amazing part of my trip to the park, and the possibility of seeing more of my favorite characters in person would keep me coming back again and again. And that's exactly the effect it has on kids. So suddenly I got it. Wow.

And a complete 180: I bet you there's still, like, one person a year who sees "Huck" scrawled on that partially-whitewashed fence and thinks, Wow, that's just like in the book!

Scott Hardie | December 29, 2002
Oh yes, and I saw another use of one of my vernacular pet peeves: A woman was quoted in the guidebook as saying, "We loved Alien Encounter, but it literally scared our daughter to pieces." Wow, that must be some attraction.

Jackie Mason | December 30, 2002
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