I just experienced my first sports-free week in as long as I can remember. (Memphis 55, SMU 52??) The irony is that I came as close to the life of a Super Bowl MVP as I ever will. I went, you see, to Walt Disney World.
If there are Five Feats of Fatherhood that earn us our angel wings, I assure you one is spending an hour in the Magic Kingdom -- to say nothing of five days -- without losing our children. I've been to hundreds of sporting events, in arenas large, small, and in-between, but until last week I had no idea what a crowd was. (When I asked a ticket-taker how many people -- ballpark -- visit Disney World on an average weekend day, I received some very un-Disney corporate speak: "They only know that in upper management.") Safe to say, that average figure would fill more than one SEC football stadium.
A fine sociology thesis could be written on the extraordinary crowd-control system Disney utilizes from open to close every day. From its fleet of buses (between the four theme parks and several hotel resorts), to each attraction's entry and exit, to the miracle of Fast Pass (an automated, authorized ticketing method for cutting in line at specific times of day!), Disney long ago figured out that the key to its business is herding people like sheep, but making them feel like kings and queens as the lines move. A nice trick, Walt.
There are three rules for thriving (and surviving) at Disney World. The first is to be curious. If we must suspend disbelief when we go to the movies, a visit to Disney World requires a more pro-active corollary: the energetic willingness to believe, whether it be singing meerkats, flying elephants, or simply happily ever after. When my daughters posed for pictures with Mickey (himself!), there was no other creature -- "real" or otherwise -- I'd rather have in that frame.
The second rule is to be patient. The lines and shuttles move, indeed, but they are lines of people. Small, large, with strollers or wheelchairs, enthusiastic or exhausted. If you remind yourself that you'll reach your destination -- be it Splash Mountain or the restroom -- you'll find the mass movement to be working with you. And this is part of the fun: when you finally reach Pirates of the Caribbean . . . you made it!
The third rule is to be in shape. I'd conservatively estimate that my family walked five miles each day. (And hats off to my 5-year-old, Elena. Nary a whine or walking gripe the entire trip. Again, there's always a destination at Disney World.) Nothing can prepare you for the geographic patch of central Florida upon which Disney World has been built. While it was a sports-free week (Arkansas 50, LSU 48??), it wasn't without athleticism. Enjoy that midday brownie sundae. You'll have it walked off before sunset.
Dreams -- and wishes -- do come true, just like Mickey tells us. They come true in the form of our children. (Took me 38 years and two of my own to solve Walt's riddle, but I did it.) Last Thursday -- Thanksgiving, remember -- we started our day's adventure at the Animal Kingdom, and went first to Mickey's greeting hut, to meet the Mouse himself. Just before us in line was a young, mentally challenged woman with her parents. When her turn came, she sprinted to this pop icon and hugged him the way you would -- if you could -- a long-departed parent. But what had me fighting a lump in my throat was the way Mickey Mouse simply wouldn't let her go. It was quite possibly -- no, it was the most magical hug I've ever seen. Mickey signed her autograph book -- the young lady covering her eyes with her hands in affectionate disbelief -- and waved goodbye as she left with her parents, the mother straining to remain composed herself.
And my family was next. Still each shy of their 10th birthday, my daughters flanked Mickey, who gestured for my wife and me to join the photo group. Only trouble was, how do you smile with tears in your eyes?
Thanks Mickey. See you again someday.