I've spent the last several days in an alternate universe. Well, it was really just a theme park, but it seemed like a "whole new world" (cue song, please!) Yes, I've been in Disney World, fighting my way through crowds of hot, irritable people, standing in endless queues, paying far too much money for overly large portions of average tasting food, and attempting to convince myself that I'm having a good time. I am not unfamiliar with the American theme park experience, particularly the Walt Disney World Experience, and there is no doubt that Disney does theme parks very well. The attention to detail is amazing, and there is a huge variety of experiences on offer. No mindless roller coasters for Walt's parks- even the "thrill rides" have a theme. The newest entry in this vein is Mission Everest, a huge replica of Mt. Everest with a winding miner's railroad that scales the peak in a hair raising journey, hauling you hundreds of feet into the air before sending you careening to the bottom once again.
The difference on this trip was the presence of an eight year old child, which meant we couldn't just meander desultorily through the parks for an hour or two, and return to our hotel for drinks around the pool. We had to really do the park -mingle with the masses, ride the rides, eat the food, brave the heat.
What struck me most about the crowds on this trip was the single minded determination to have a good time, even if it killed them. Late one afternoon, I overheard a mother complaining about her whining five year, saying that he had been "like that" since they got there at 7:00 a.m. that morning! American's can be greedy, and we don't really know how to pace ourselves. This is never more evident than at Disney World, where the game plan is to experience as much as possible as fast as you can.
But in spite of the crowds and confusion (and just plain misery sometimes) we came away feeling as if it were all worthwhile. By the end of the trip,we were laughing about getting soaked on the Kali River Rapids ride, and missing the 11:00 showing of Stitch's Great Adventure because we were standing in line to get a "fast pass" for Splash Mountain. Or not being able to get an ice cream cone because there was a parade going by and they wouldn't let us cross the street to get to the ice cream parlor.
Maybe our ability to find satisfaction in the face of adversity is also an American trait. One of my favorite shows at Epcot, The American Adventure, quite beautfully depicts the traumas of the first American settlers, and reminds us of the work it's taken to get this country where it is, brash, bold, even rude, but always seeking happiness and a good life experience. I guess that's the spirit that keeps us plugging along, through theme parks and through life in the 21st century. Hopeully, that same spirit will provide the guts to keep us in glory for centuries to come - the spirt that sets us apart from the rest of the world.