For all of the faults and quirks that my parents have, one area I feel they really succeeded in was making sure I see AMERICA. My dad is one of those guys who I suspect is always humming Proud to be an American silently in his head (ain’t no doubt, he loves this land), and he and mom made it a point to see as much of the lower 48 states as possible (apparently, they have no interest in Alaska or Hawaii).
When I was growing up, we took a major family vacation every summer, usually in the car. We saw all of the roadside attractions: Storybook Village, Storybook Island, Olde Tyme photo places, Flintstone Village, the Wisconsin Dells, the place where Al Capone died (or maybe it was just where he hung out), we took DuckBoat and Trolley Tours, and a whole lot more. They were also willing (albeit reluctant) to occasionally fly places, which is how, at the somewhat snarky age of ten, I first found myself at DisneyWorld (which is the one in Florida).
At DisneyWorld’s sister theme park EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow– bet you didn’t know that, or its rather hilarious, and true in the early 90s acronymal nickname Every Person Comes Out Tired), they celebrate the world of the future as well as the world most people who long for a vacation at DisneyWorld are less inclined to seek out– the rest of the world. The World Showcase Pavilions. You can experience a country in 15 minutes and speak to people who are actually from there. Drink beer in Germany, buy tea in England, eat pasta in Italy, and get heckled by vendors in Mexico– it’s all there!
EPCOT’s popularity has been dwindling in recent years because the entire premise of the park (besides the World Showcase), is the marvel and wonder of the future. Unfortunately for the park, the future is now, you can’t build rides fast enough to keep up with things, and videophones stopped impressing people years ago. One of my favorite bits is The American Adventure. While the other countries are merely named as what they are, American becomes an adventure complete with a 1/2 hour movie about the history of our great nation narrated by animatronic Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.
As awesome as that is, it really pales in comparison to the Hall of Presidents at DisneyWorld. Located in Liberty Square, which was called New Orleans square before Katrina (seriously, kick them while down), Liberty Square is where you go to buy all manner of Americana and take in the greatest animatronic spectacle ever.
I first took in the wonder and majesty of the Hall of Presidents with my dad choking back sobs next to me, and I do think that we had to re-visit before the end of that vacation. He occasionally still talks about the experience in hushed tones. I was more dumbfounded by the fact that they had created robot replicas of every single president (even the crappy ones), and all of these robot replicas moved and twitched and seemed to really resent Lincoln as he got to get up and made a speech while they were forced to just sit there and fidget. So, many years later when I visited DisneyWorld with friends, I insisted that we re-visit this hallowed space.
I was with a friend who is generally a good sport, a former history major, and a friend who can’t read. I thought the non-reading friend would be the loudest complainer since all of the rides at EPCOT had been “too talky” and “fucking boring” for her. Turns out all three were equally vocal about their displeasure, and that was even before we were told that we’d have to wait 35 more minutes until the next presentation.
I don’t regret forcing my friends to wait 35 minutes, maybe they didn’t appreciate seeing Calvin Coolidge bob his head, or Franklin Pierce stand in the back looking confused, but I think my joy was enough for everyone.
Now I’m reading Sarah Vowell’s Partly Cloudy Patriot, and she’s mentioned that at the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Library there’s an animatronic LBJ who tells folksy jokes. I immediately started thinking of ways to get myself to Texas, which is an urge I’ve only ever had once.
It’s a bizarre fixation, and a misunderstood one, but the friends I made visit the Hall of Presidents with me admitted that it wasn’t as bad as they had thought. Perhaps others will come to feel the same way.