My extended nuclear family (12 in all) spent six days in the greater Orlando area to close out 2008 and ring in 2009. Besides revealing how much time it would take to catch up on my normal week’s worth of Internet reading and podcast listening (even on a holiday week, way too long), other truths emerged in odd places. Here are just a few.
1) We are all connected, and those joints usually involve suitcases – The weather wasn’t bad on Dec. 27 in Chicago, as a burst of 50 degree air melted all the ice and snow that covered Illinois’ roadways the day before. But delayed flights impeded on our travels, to the tune of a 2-plus hour line just to check our bags (an early arrival and printing our boarding passes the day before did just about nothing). We only made our plane because it was delayed one hour in the search for a pilot. Even then, I found myself running down the automatic walkways with my belt in one hand and my drooping jeans held up by the other just to make the plane with seconds to spare. The airlines (Southwest, in this case) show that things planned the day before, in far off locales, can impact your daily plans. The world felt a little smaller, particularly when crammed into a line that extended outside into the parking garage.
2) Penn State doesn’t fly in extravagance – On the return flight, our connection between Columbus and Chicago was delayed because our plane was delayed in Pennsylvania. It happened to be the one the Penn State Nittany Lions flew home from after a poor performance in the Rose Bowl against USC. It didn’t meet any definition of extra frills, except the air fresheners that potentially masked any lingering old man Joe Pa stink.
3) There is one universal language, and its vocabulary includes “Fastpass”: Anyone who visits Disney World knows how the parks attract visitors from every corner of the tourist world (especially these days, when local economies might be in better standing than the one they are visiting). A trip through the line of Space Mountain can sound like a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. No matter your sexy accent, though, by the end of your trip you will know the word “Fastpass.” The parks use this advanced ticketing system to clear out their lines and provide anal retentive planners a proper outlet for their social shortcomings. Trips to the park take on military precision in their preparations, requiring a knowledge of when the Fastpass will allow access to the shorter line (say, between 1:15 and 2:30 p.m.) and when the next magic ticket can be procured (one hour after receiving the last Fastpass). Do it right, and you’re breezing through the day with the remnant breeze from the Aerosmith Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in your hair. Screw up, and the Jungle Cruise line takes an hour just to get a personality challenged host for your animatronic animal viewing. This understanding crosses all cultures.
4) Playmobil and their weird, weird toys: I grew up in an interesting age for toys. Before my parents allowed me to try and collect all 174 different He-Man figures, I used various barnyard animal figures to play out the cartoon stories I just watched. These horses and such were joined by Playmobil sets, featuring little people with movable limbs and a variety of cars and setpieces. I had completely forgotten about those toys until I stumbled across a few boxes in an Epcot Center Germany gift shop. I laughed at the memories (and the outrageous eyelashes painted onto each female figure) before my cousin Jorie pointed out the most random setpiece I’ve come across. For the kid who has it all … an incubated baby set!
5) Toys have changed, part two: The trip helped us celebrate my nephew Dylan’s birthday on Dec. 31. This smart kindergartener has always been a car kid, when he wasn’t a Thomas the Tank kid. He made the leap into Legos last year, and has delighted in putting things together for his Lego City. He then started listing “Bionicles” on his Christmas list. These scary things are put together piece by piece, and their adventures can be found on the Lego Web site, where you can play games, watch computer-generated videos and immerse yourself in the world without having to wait for a Saturday morning cartoon. Dylan loves the things, which was readily apparent when a birthday trip to Downtown Disney included a trip to the Lego Store. His eyes may never have been as big.