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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.

I am not a jock. It is painfully obvious that I am not a jock, and that’s something that I’m actually pretty happy with. Usually when I tell someone that I run, the response is, “Really? You? Huh,” and I prefer it that way. I’ve never been a sedentary person; I used to get up at 5:30am when I was in high school and do step aerobics, but my activity level has always been my dirty little secret. I want people to believe that I can eat whatever I want and not get fat. I want to be viewed as “lucky” rather than “dedicated.” It makes no sense.

My father decided that he and I needed to go down to Florida and run in the Walt Disney World Marathon. He runs marathons and has for 20 years. He is crazy. I ran a 5k last spring. I agreed to do the ½ marathon because I wanted a free trip to Florida.

We were required to be in the staging area by 4:30am. Wayne decided that traffic was going to be a nightmare, so we had to leave the hotel at 2:30am.

“You should really eat something, Annie.” he insisted.

“Wayne, it’s 2:30am, I can’t physically eat at this hour.” Unless I’ve been up all night drinking, but I kept that part to myself.

He kept talking about my time, how long it would take me to finish. “What do you think your time, will be Annie?”

“I don’t know Wayne, I’ve never run more than 5.5 miles in my life. I just hope I don’t collapse before the finish line.”

“Well, I think you’ll do it in 2:20, yup, 2:20.”

That’s 2 hours and 20 minutes. For a free vacation, I signed up to run for more than 2 hours. I barely go to movies that are more than 2 hours.

At the staging area I choked down a free sample of an energy bar, and a vitamin water, met a couple people from Kansas who offered me a pretzels and asked what I thought my time would be, then got in line for one of the 10 million porta-potties. Okay, it was more like 100, but whatever.

At the starting line, people were stretching out in that way that shows they mean business using poles and trees and making faces like they were encouraging their muscles to loosen up “Come on quads, I need you guys.” There were banana peels everywhere, which struck me as very unsafe. An insanely chipper woman was yelling over the P.A. about the tradition of the Walt Disney World Marathon, and this year’s theme “Imagine.” Seriously, imagine. Was last year’s theme “Imagination? Imagineer?” Disney really does make itself into a cliché.

The starting gun went off for Wave A, the runners who are actually going to run the whole race, and everybody cheered. Wave B, the less hardcore group including myself, moseyed toward the starting line and waited for out starting gun. Wave A got fireworks, we just got a loud horn sound, Wave C, the walkers, which started 20 minutes after Wave B, probably just got the perky lady yelling “Ready, set go!” I jammed my earbuds in, and turned my Ipod on. First song of the race: Crazy, by Gnarls Barkley. I just looked around and thought, I will remember when I lost my mind. Why do people pay money and fly across the country for the privilege of running on Florida’s highway system? Then I realized that no one around me was actually running. The crowd of people was so dense that there was no room to actually run. So I took my pristine running shoes that had never been outside before and ran the first 4 miles of the race in the ditch.

Around mile 5, something seemed to shift in my brain. I was running beside a huge group of strangers and I felt completely isolated. The songs on my running mix seemed to take on a new poignancy. I had to skip Faithless’s I Can’t get no Sleep, because it just made me tired. I ran through Cinderella’s castle to Cypress Hill telling me that “in the drug game if someone jerk you, you can shoot ’em and kill ’em.”

Mile 7, and I wanted to die. My guts felt like liquid, my hips ached, and the arches of my feet twinged with every step. I’d had more disgusting yellow Powerade than I thought possible. Someone at a refreshment station gave me some kind of energy goo that was apple pie flavored, but actually tasted like a foot. But I ate it (or slurped it, or whatever you do with something you can’t chew), because I was starting to get light-headed. I started walking, even though I heard my dad in my head telling me “Whatever you do, don’t walk. Once you start walking, you won’t stop.” I walked for 2 miles, slowly.

A little after mile 9, I started trying to psyche myself up. “Just get through it, you’re almost done, etc.” All the little lies we tell ourselves when we’re faced with something truly daunting and unpleasant. Then some girl passed me. That was nothing new, lots of people had passed me by this point. She had her racing number pinned to her back when most people had theirs on their front. I stared at it dazedly for a bit and then realized that this bitch was from Wave C. That wave started 20 minutes after mine and she just passed me.

Just as that thought registered my Ipod flipped to Me Against the Music, and all I thought was “Fuck this, I am not getting passed by a Wave Cer.” Suddenly, just like Britney, my hips were moving at a rapid pace, and I was, in fact, feeling it burn. Thankfully it hurt less than before, or else I was going numb. I left the hateful Wave Cer in my wake, and ran the rest of the stupid race.

The race finished in EPCOT where we looped around the big spiky golf ball and wound up back in the parking lot where we started. Once we got into the park I started frantically skipping through songs trying to find the perfect music to finish to, finally settling on Unwritten, by Natasha Bedingfield. I passed mile 13 and saw the finish line .1 miles away. There were bleachers full of people cheering and screaming. I passed another 10 people who apparently were going to jog to the finish line (again, fuck that people were watching), and passed under the big arch. A medic ran up to me as I was lamenting that I had timed my song out poorly (I wanted it to finish as I did, but alas) and asked if I was okay. She seemed really concerned and I briefly though about making something up to get some free medical attention, but instead I just smiled and said, “No, I’m great.”

For my efforts I got a ridiculous medal shaped like Donald Duck, a t-shirt, a couple orange wedges, and a horrific case of the runs. I spent the rest of the day in bed wanting to die, and when I finally managed to get up and try to eat some food, the first thing my dad asked me was, “So Annie, what do you think your time was?”

My official time was 2:39:50. My personal goal, once I changed my goal from just wanting to finish, was 2:40. I’ll get 2:20 on the next one.

Every time I go to DisneyWorld (or Land), I go on the Small World ride. I don’t particularly like this ride; I even would go so far as to say that I dislike it more and more every time I go on it. My father and I were at Walt Disney World last week, and in my mental list of rides that I wanted to go on, Small World was not included.

For anyone not familiar with this ride, it is located in the Fastasyland portion of the Magic Kingdom. That’s were all the kiddie rides are like the Carousel, the Teacups (Mad Hatter’s Tea Party), Snow White (Snow White’s Scary Adventure), Peter Pan (Peter Pan’s Flight) etc. The ride is a slow boat ride past mechanical children that sing the song “It’s a Small World,” Lyrics: It’s a world of laughter/a world of tears/ it’s a world of hopes/ and a world of fears/ There’s so much that we share/ that it’s time we’re aware/ it’s a small world after all. Lovely sentiment—you only really need to hear it once because after you’re done with the ride you don’t care how much we share.

The children are supposed to look like they’re made of wood, small worldbut I’m sure it’s some scary-ass, space-age polymer developed by Disney Imagineers to not succumb to the ravages of being near water all the time. They represent a bunch of countries from around the world both in dress and backdrop, and they sing the song in various languages. It’s a frightening, frightening thing.

My father and I were going to go on Peter Pan’s Flight, which is a good ride employing a “flying” ship and a lot of blacklights, but the line was advertised as being 50 minutes long. The Small World ride was only a 20 minute wait. My dad looked at me and said “Should we just go on this one and see if that other line has gone down at all by the time we’re done?”

I had a strange feeling of déjà vu as I realized that that is the logic that has made me ride this ride so many times. That exact statement has been made by someone, maybe even me, every time I’ve been to the Magic Kingdom. I’m now convinced that the only reason anyone goes on the Small World ride is because the line for Peter Pan is always too damn long.

I was told that they’ve updated Small World since I was last on it, but honestly, it doesn’t matter. It’s still the same scary ass children singing the most annoying song in the world. My dad made sport of trying to identify the various countries as we floated past them. Spain: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza tilting at windmills, The Netherlands: scary-ass fake wooden children wearing scary-ass fake wooden shoes, and another windmill. Seriously Spain and The Netherlands were right next to each other necessitating two windmills. Couldn’t they just share? Isn’t that more in keeping with the spirit of the ride? I made sport of trying to pick out robot children that were slightly defective: not blinking in unison with their peers, pivoting slightly behind the others etc.

I noticed that there are more Middle Eastern countries represented than I remembered. Unlike Spain and The Netherlands, which are clearly identifiable, these were just kind of generically “Middle Eastern.” I guess most kids don’t recognize famous Kuwaiti landmarks, but it seemed kind of sad because there were displays enough for at least 3 countries, but they all looked the same. Once we floated past some African nations, I was really hoping for a version of the song in that kick-ass popping/clicking language, but alas, it was not to be.

So anyway, we go past all of these countries. Once my father misidentified a couple out loud, he quit talking. Then we floated into the grand finale of the ride, a giant room where all the children from various nations are all dressed in white and singing the song together. Dressed in white, singing in English. In horror I realized that I have floated into the Disney version of heaven. Yes, these children freak me out, but I don’t want them dead! They’re not alive anyway.

Inevitably the ride got stuck there, so we sat in heaven for at least 5 full minutes giving me plenty of time to notice that even though all of these nations have finally gotten together to sing and make merry (in English), none of them are actually interacting. Each nation (obviously not every country is represented here, just the most identifiable ones), exists in a little area of their own. Essentially, Disney took one display from a few countries, made it white, and plunked it down at the end of the ride.

Heaven is where nations exist side by side, but never mingle.