Friday, December 20, 2013

Deja Disney

$100 to get in? This couldn’t possibly be worth it, could it? Well, we are in Orlando. Why not? It’ll be a recon mission. We will find the answer to the question. Will we ever want to take our kids to this horribly expensive and crowded “happiest” place on Earth?

As we board the ferry to cruise over to the Magic Kingdom, I’m already thinking the answer will probably be no. I feel like an immigrant fleeing Cuba, heading for the sandy shores of Florida. Getting off the ferry even tests our patience. There are people who can walk, but they’re riding in motorized wheelchairs. They are all over the place. They expect you to jump out of the way for them.

Now we are on Main Street. It’s a sea of strollers and rascals. There are odd groups of people walking around. They all have the same shirts on. As I study them throughout the night I realize they are wearing family reunion shirts. Some of the shirts have the dates of the trip on them. Another one read 4 generations, 4 parks, 1 magical Disney vacation. It appears to be a trend to have a family reunion here. I am suddenly so thankful Orlando was never a family reunion destination for my family, my wife’s family, nor will it be for our family 40 years from now.

We are at Magic Kingdom for the nighttime Christmas party. Crowds are apparently thinner during this time of year. It doesn’t feel that way, but the lines are short. Thank God! We ride on every attraction that is remotely interesting to us. We even walk through a giant tree. Decent headroom in that thing. Kate sits out two rides. The Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain coasters. On the latter, I hop in the rollercoaster cars with a mom and her three kids. It’s really awkward. I’m sitting right behind her. Everyone else is talking to each other, naturally, because they know each other. I’m just the silent, extremely huge person sitting right behind you who is thinking he should probably duck a little bit during this ride. Last time I was on these tracks I was a lot shorter.

Peter Pan’s Flight is insanely short. The coolest part for us comes as we fly over a miniature London. It’s beautiful, with little lights darting here and there, mimicking cars. Cars have never moved that fast in the real central London. But then this is Disney, everything is magical, like how the hell did they manage to attract two adults to this park so we could pay nearly $200 to stand in line for 20 minutes to ride this one minute flight?

As we exit another ride I see two adults yelling at a Disney employee. They tell her to get the manager on the phone. I hear her say, Okay, I will, because I haven’t done anything wrong here. It just makes me sad for some reason to see the adults throwing a fit. I’m sure what ever happened wasn’t that big of an issue. You’re at Disney World for crying out loud, get over it! I feel for the employee. Dealing with the American public in a customer service setting like that is poisonous. It can make you a little cynical. Can you tell I’ve been there before?

It’s a whirlwind tour of Magic Kingdom. We pretty much see everything. It’s after 11pm and we are dragging ourselves down Main Street one last time. We aimlessly wander into a few stores, don’t buy anything, and carry on toward the gates. At last, we exit and now I feel more magical than I did while I was in the kingdom. That’s not what Disney intended, I’m sure.

And we have an answer to our question. The recon mission was a success. We both don’t foresee us taking our family here. Certainly, the youngest we would take a kid to Disney World would be five-years-old. Younger than that, and you are spending $1000s on something a kid won’t remember when they are 10. But even with, say, an eight-year-old and a five-year-old, would we travel to Orlando to go to the Disney parks? Maybe not. There are many other places we would want to go with kids instead of here. Going to Kauai with two kids for a week would likely be cheaper than taking them to Disney World. Actually, without a doubt, Kauai would be cheaper and insanely more magical than any Disney park.

I guess right now, we are both people who want to take our kids on really awesome vacations, but we also want those kids to remember those vacations for much of their lives. I don’t expect either one of us to change in this regard. So, as a Disney vacation is one of the most expensive trips we could envision ourselves taking with kids, it will certainly not happen until they can grasp its significance and remember it years down the road.

Even with older kids, a less manufactured weeklong getaway would have a stronger appeal to us. For my wife, that’s because the most memorable family trips for her were to the Oregon coast, where she could explore tide pools with her dad and sisters, where they could return home every evening to a beautiful house they rented for the week and make a wicked family meal. For me, that’s because the most memorable vacations I had when I was growing up were ones of exploration, where there was no admission price, no walls, no massive crowds, just God’s good Earth laid bare in its many beautiful forms, all enticing to a boy who wants to climb, swim, get dirty, and run down a path without having to dodge fat people on rascals.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Best Newspaper Read of the Year

Since Monday, the New York Times has featured a daily article in a series called Invisible Child. The stories, written by Andrea Elliott, chronicle a year in the life of Dasani, one of thousands of homeless children living in New York City. Dasani, along with her six siblings and parents (Chanel and Supreme) occupy a 532 square foot room in one of NYC's worst homeless shelters. Yesterday, in part four, Elliott wrote about Dasani's 12th birthday party. She received no material gifts. However, her mom tried to make the day special for the little girl by presenting Dasani with a beautiful white sheet cake, which Dasani did not know was stolen from a local Pathmark. Later in the evening, a neighborhood teenager, who was flirting with Dasani's uncle, a much older man, gave Dasani a $20. The girl's joy was palpable, even through the written word.

Reading through the articles while vacationing in Orlando, Florida, made Dasani's story especially powerful. Orlando's theme parks, such as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World, are teeming with kids who have no clue that children like Dasani exist. While these kids are concerned about getting in line to meet Belle at Disney's Magic Kingdom or line up to ride the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, Dasani closely follows city politics, calculating how much more money the family would have to spend on soda if Mayor Bloomberg's soda-size limiting proposal becomes law. At present, one super-size soda is shared among the entire family, but if the proposal had passed, Dasani's family would have faced a significant increase in the cost of soda for the family.

Throughout the week, the articles have become a bit of a devotional for me. If there is a better time of year to reflect on Dasani's life and the lives of the homeless throughout the country and world, I don't know of it. We are bombarded during this season to narrowly think of our own wants and "needs." Yes, we get excited to give presents, but how much of that excitement is rooted in the knowledge that we will get some gifts in return? Jesus encourages us to give with no thought of reward. He encourages us to be blind to a person's outward appearance or material possessions. He encourages us this season to think of the neediest, to reflect on our own blessings, and then to make a difference. And it is not important if the world thinks you are making a big difference or a little difference. To the recipient, the difference will always be big and that is all that is important.  

I am writing this blog to spread the story of Dasani and her family. It is dreadfully tragic and reading the articles represents a big commitment of time, but I believe they are rewarding. Even if you can't do something about it this Christmas, this Christmas will still be more meaningful if you come face to face with Dasani's struggle and remember her and others like her as you bask in the blessings of this holiday.

You can find part one of the series at this link.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Sochi Olympics Under Putin's Law

Last month's issue of Outside Magazine has an excellent article about the havoc and destruction brought to Sochi by the preparation for this February's Winter Olympics. I'm not surprised that Putin is doing whatever he wants in this supposedly public and protected corner of Russian wilderness, but to read many first-hand accounts of Putin's forces crushing various attempts by citizens to end illegal construction or bring attention to previously protected natural habitats is astonishing. One such mission by these concerned citizens is to investigate an illegal compound (named Moonglade) on or near a Unesco world heritage site. It is rumored that Putin has built one of his palaces there. At the moment, everything and everyone going to this palace is flown in by helicopter. Russia has already been warned by Unesco to stop the construction of one road, but it is reported in Outside's article that another road is under construction, this one coming in from the other side of the property.
It's embarrassing that the Olympic Games are awarded to countries (really their leaders) that are going to permanently destroy homes and natural beauty to put on a sporting event for two weeks. Sochi will never be the same and the people of the region, if they profit at all from this, are eventually going to be left poor with a nice selection of bulldozed-over nature preserves.
Thank you, Outside, for bringing to your readers a better understanding of Putin's dirty methods.