Have you ever had one of those current experiences that make you think back? It’s like a form of wistful remembrances. Perhaps Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young said it best when they coined the song “Déjà vu.” Last week when I visited Universal Studios-Orlando my main thought was to explore how security had changed at our Florida attractions and determine the effect that those changes would have on our tourist based economy. I wasn’t looking for any personal revelations nor did I really expect to have any. True to Murphy’s law these things always seem to happen when “you least expect them.” My girlfriend seemed to think that it was really cool that we were going to two of the bigger theme parks in Florida, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. She was so excited about the rides and attractions that I actually started to look forward to experiencing them myself.
Though born in Georgia, I lived in California for the first seven or eight years of my life. Like most young boys, I pleaded and begged every year to go to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Pikes Peak out on Long Beach. Since no parents can long resist the wheedling of a determined child, every vacation season would find me in Captain Nemo’s Undersea Adventure land or hurdling down Matterhorn Mountain in a flume log. Yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs, life was thrilling and everything seemed so new and fresh. It was the proverbial “never a dull moment.”
I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but it was probably my third or fourth season in the Magic Kingdom. After rushing through two or three of the bigger rides I found myself crying. I couldn’t understand it, but my dad did. You see, as a grown man, he knew exactly what was happening. Ever the subtle diplomat he asked me. “Son, what’s wrong, aren’t you having a good time?” As simple as that question was, I actually had to think about it. I should have been having a great time. I always did before. After all, this was Disneyland, every kid’s dream idea of fun and excitement. And yet, all that aside, my answer was simple. “No Dad, I’m not, and I don’t know why.” So he put his arm on my shoulder and we started walking, leaving Mom, my aunt , and the other cousins waiting in the line of Mystery Mountain. After a few minutes of manly communion we found ourselves standing in front of a game. It was one of those deals where you plunk down your cash and they hand you a machine gun powered by air. The object was to shoot out a red star in the middle of a target board and win a prize. Now, I had never played the games before. It was always the rides and the sights that would hold my attention. But for the entire 45 minutes it took the rest of the family to get off the roller coaster, my Dad and I stood there like fledging Capone's and tried our hardest to shoot out one of those stars… and you know what, I was having fun again. The tears had long dried up. When my Mom asked if we were ready to go, I was right back pitching for more dollars to blast those stars. Of course, all good things come to an end, but I’ve never forgotten my Dad’s explanation when I asked how the rides could be so much fun one year and seem so dull the next. The explanation was hard to understand. He said the rides hadn’t changed, they were still the same, but I had changed. I guess life is really like that. It doesn’t really matter what’s out there that much. It only really matters how we feel about it inside. Maybe Mark Twain said it best when one of his characters exclaimed, “When I was 17 my Dad was the dumbest guy in the world. Boy, I’ll tell you, I just turned 18 and I can’t believe how much that guy has learned in a year.”
If you’re looking for a lesson here, Fawgitaboutit! Because I just turned 45 and when I just got off the Twin Dragons coaster at Islands of Adventure do you think I was crying? Well, I wasn’t. I was laughing my ass off.
Carl Conley, Ed.