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Going to See the Mouse

January 10, 2003

I discovered that planning a trip to Disney World is very much like getting on one of the Disney rides. Almost anywhere you sit in the Magic Kingdom, you find a chrome bar settling across your lap, and then they’ve got you. The theme music revs up, the gears engage, the little carriage or hollow log or space ship you’re in lurches forward, and there’s no getting off until you reach the gift shop. Similarly, once you let anyone at the Disney Corporation or its subsidiaries or affiliates know that you are even thinking of going to see the Mouse, the brightly-colored wheels start turning. Someone with eight big fingers and a taste for white gloves types your name into a computer, grabs the red ball at the end of a long lever, pulls down, and presto! You’re on Walt’s mailing list.

Before we could say Jiminy Cricket, beautiful envelopes started appearing in the mail. They contained glossy pictures of wonderful amusement park rides, dazzling hotel pools, and spotless street corners where famous cartoon characters stood larger than life among their young human fans. Next a free videocassette arrived, and we quickly found ourselves washed over by joyful sounds and images of family life under the palm trees. After watching the video I felt more nostalgia for Disney World than I thought a person could feel for something he’s never experienced. With our emotions engaged, the trip took on a momentum of its own. Nobody could remember any longer whose idea the trip had been. Nobody knew how much it would cost. But it appeared that neither my wife nor I was strong enough to just say no. It appeared that we were going to see the Mouse.

I went on the web and got prices for flights and hotel and park tickets and food and souvenirs. The total was shocking. Then I figured out how many hours we’d be there, divided by the number of family members, and came up with a round figure of $10 an hour. To get our money’s worth, each family member would need to have $10 worth of fun every waking hour for the entire time we were in Orlando. Could the four of us have $40 worth of fun every hour? How much fun is that, anyway? I didn’t know what to make of these figures, but, frankly, I wasn’t sure an old-fashioned Midwestern family should be having that much fun. So I marched down the hall and offered the children $500 each not to go to Disney World. They turned me down. I suspect that someone in white gloves had tipped them off that I could have raised my offer quite substantially and still come out ahead. Now more than ever, it appeared we were going to see the Mouse.

I went to the public library and checked out books on how to visit Disney World properly. I was alarmed to learn from these books that there would be a rush at the start of each business day, with crowds of people running up Main Street U.S.A. to be the first in line at the most desirable rides. I learned that you are supposed to run on the right side of the street if you want to start the day in Tomorrowland and on the left side if you want to head for Frontierland. I learned to say Disney World’s new mantra, Fastpass (Fastpass, Fastpass). That’s the computerized ticket system that saves people hours of standing in line for rides and gives them that much more time for opening their wallets in the gift shops.

My wife will deny it, but it’s true, we went to Disney World and it was everything I imagined it would be, and more. Did I get to meet Mickey? All I can say is this: when our very early wake-up call came on that last morning in the hotel, just before we headed back to the airport, I heard a wonderfully familiar high-pitched voice on the other end of the line. He was saying, “Rise and shine, Buster, there’s big doin’s planned for today.” By the time the children ran over to hear that magical voice, he was gone.

A Michiana Chronicles essay by Ken Smith, aired January 10, 2003 on 88.1 WVPE. Archived original and other radio essays by K. S.