A Very Fun Thing I'll Do Again Very Soon (an ode to David Foster Wallace)

I just got back from a trip on Monday. A whirlwind would be a better word. Most trips are for Jake and I, because we're on a tight budget when we travel. So we typically have to fly in and out the day of whatever we're doing, get a rental car with Paypal money, save up freelance checks, that sort of thing. But that makes it more fun for me, paying in advance, not having to go into debt. Anyway, that's beside the point.

The point is that I was reading David Foster Wallace before and during this trip. Specifically his book, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again", and in that book there's an essay of the same title in which he talks about journeying for freelance work. He went on a cruise. We went to some theme parks. (Which we do a lot if you know anything about us or our webisode Park Geeks...it's kind of our "thing".) His opening chapter even talks about flying over the Mid-West, which I was reading while flying over the mid west, totally by accident.

So this will be a blog structured similarly to Wallace's trademark style, because if there's anything I've learned from Don Hahn it's that emulating things you love is good...and I love Wallace's ability to ramble on and on and cover every angle of a memory or a time period. So I'm going to ramble on and on. My only regret is that I don't have the space for footnotes, which Wallace uses sometimes as over 50% of his books.

Most of this trip will end up covered by our webisode series Park Geeks. So for more info you can visit our website and click on all the links at the top of the page to get updates. I'll also be writing a blog about the experience for Orlando Attractions, so there will be more in-depth coverage later.

The things I see at theme parks are sometimes similar, sometimes one-of-a-kind, and sometimes stand in stark juxtaposition to what a theme park is meant to be. But it's the sights that stick with you in your memory, when winter has come and summer seems like it's gone forever. It's the mental snapshots that you'll look for on the gray days, under the blanket of winter.

Flying this time to Orlando, sitting in between my best friend of over a decade, Lindsay and my husband Jake, I have laughed myself into oblivion. I have giggled so hard at my best friend's ability to calm me down (nervous flier that I am) that I have actually shed multiple tears and lost the sound of my laugh as it disintegrated into the sound of an old man wheezing in my head before my ears have popped clear however many thousands of miles into the sky we're soaring.

It's not right that humans should be zooming around the atmosphere in a metal tube. It's just not right. But it is cheap and fast, especially if you don't check a bag. And I am equally as sure that I will die in a car crash when we rent and drive, so we simply exchange one horrific phobia for another trip after trip. Flying and driving, flying and driving.

Lindsay says to me, with her gigantic brown eyes and always perfectly smooth hair in the middle of one of my trademark panics, "No need to worry," in a mock melodic tone, "That's just the sound of the landing gear..." mechanical sounds vibrate underneath my feet as I grip my inch wide arm rests, "...falling off the plane." The tension is cut. We laugh so hard and I lean forward so quickly that I squish my nose against the seat in front of me as I think to myself, "It wouldn't be so bad to die in a plane crash (knock on wood) if I could be laughing like this all the way down."

We are a pleasurable mystery to Jake. How we can begin speaking our own language so quickly, like Vaudeville performers trading jokes onstage every night. Like we've been doing this for a hundred years. And it's all humor. Subtle in-jokes, movie quotes, what-if scenarios, and little sounds that indicate them. Our world is a cartoon one, where everything is a set-up to a joke. It always has been. When you're with a best friend, you get to narrate life as it should be, not as it is. Though I do wish sometimes that I could get Jake an Audrey and Lindsay translator...but he picks up on most of it.

On this trip, I have seen a son coo desperately to his father and younger brother on a water rapids raft ride, "I don't like this ride!" His father responds, "Then why did you come on it?" with an incredulous facial expression. The kid doesn't waste a second, "Because you made me!" The father is embarrassed and we all look away.

I've seen Disney World full of costumed inhabitants, but because it was Halloween, they weren't just the big fuzzy Goofy and Mickey and Chip and Dale citizens. They were Edward Scissorhands and Cinderella's evil stepsisters and mother and the Flintstones and a thousand tiny Buzz Lightyears. Jake and I ruled over the park as Caesar and Cleopatra. All night long, people kept hailing Jake.  Something about him dressed as Caesar seemed suspiciously correct to me...his face would do well on a coin or dollar bill. (My sister-in-law says when we find pictures of people that look like Jake from a hundred years ago that this is how you discover that someone is actually a vampire.)

I've seen a grown man holding his infant son nearly start a riot in the Haunted Mansion line when the ride seemingly shut down. Holding his son high like a bowling trophy, he started people shouting, "Let us in! Let us in!" The son looked me in the face like, "I don't know...sorry, this guy, you know?" The mentally handicapped girl next to me played with the beads on my Cleopatra headdress, then plugged her ears and began to quietly moan to herself when the crowd joined in with the man, "Let us in, let us in!" He even pounded on the front door to the Haunted Mansion like it was his house. I half expected him to pull out a pitchfork or a reinforced log and organize the troops. We left the line...I was angry. What a jerk, doing that to his kid...to that poor little girl. Someone always has to ruin the fun.

I have seen two, count them, two separate production crews who just so happened to be shooting different projects at the same time that we decided to go swimming at our hotel pool. One was an orange juice commercial with a sweet little boy and a beautiful mother in an orange cover-up. She wasn't really his mother, just an actress. In between takes, she and the little boy didn't speak to one another as she checked her hair and he looked longingly at his real mother off camera. The other crew was shooting a pitch video for an independent movie. We chatted with them, talked cameras and audio and used all the technical words we could muster. "I'm a real boy," we told them. "What a coincidence, we're real boys too," they said. I mean, in a roundabout way. We were all happy to meet one of our own kind, but also maybe a little insecure...because everyone moves to Florida or California to do production. Because the sun is always shining and the weather is always beautiful, you can't fail if you're shooting there. Of course, there's also the peripheral appeal of the theme park magic happening all around. A few square miles of performers and illusion and music and dance...Vegas' got nothing on Orlando...nothing.

I have seen a man in front of us in the ticket line at Universal fall ill out of nowhere, leaning on one of the poles that carries the chain link that sets the boundaries. He vomited slowly and quietly, right then and there, his friend had to hold him up and take him to First Aid. And I recalled in that moment a million more medical maladies at theme parks. I remember seeing a young teenage girl pass out right in front of Cinderella's castle, and I rushed around in a panic trying to find someone to help, a custodian looked at me like I was nuts. "Someone's probably on the way already," and then a golf cart pulled up to take her away and he went back to street-sweeping.

This time, I saw the First Aid building myself from the inside. When a gigantic glob of mascara gave me wincing pain in my left eye, I went to sign in and they gave me eyedrops. It looked like the school nurses office, and while I applied the drops and the black mascara ran down my face, I overheard the nurses giving Jake and Lindsay Halloween candy and telling them the best spot to see the Headless Horseman ride down main street, and I thought to myself that out of context this would be a really odd thing to overhear.

I saw a guy lean over the railing after we boarded our car on Space Mountain to hit on Lindsay. He was trying so hard to catch her attention, saying over and over again things like, "This is my favorite ride, I first rode it in blah blah blah, is this your first ride, blah blah," and Lindsay smiled at him politely and screamed, "Oh my gosh, can you believe this guy?!" at me with her eyes.

Then we went zooming through Space Mountain in the darkness and stars and in between the roar of coaster on metal and sound effects, Lin and I could hear each other alternating screams and laughter hysterically. Just like on the plane...

Jake said he learned one thing from Lindsay on this trip, that I am very fun to tease and that he has been missing out on this. He said it clicked with him after I asked Lindsay after lunch, again as though I were setting myself up for a joke, "Do I have anything in my teeth?" Lindsay, completely straight-faced said to me, "No. Nothing except that black stuff gathered around your bottom teeth in your gums." My sharp and surprised intake of air as I drew my hand up to cover my mouth made her smile. She didn't even have to say, "Just kidding," before we all started laughing and mimicking my surprised face.  

We all welled up tears from joy or inspiration at some point. At a parade, at a ride, at the ridiculously technologically advanced line for, "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey", when I stretched out my hands to wave them through the projection of an enchanted ceiling and was astounded to discover that snow...real snow...was landing on my hot hands. The line...snows.

I sat with the camera at the end of the day at Universal while Lindsay and Jake rode a coaster called, "The Hulk". This is becoming a ritual with me, something I love to do, try to capture the people I love at the end of the day having fun. Trying to freeze the moment in time, feeling fulfilled from a day of theme park thrills and tourist joy, I just want to sit in the cool dark of a summer (autumn, winter, spring) night and press record and try to catch a glimpse of my husband and best friend feeling one-hundred-percent happy as they twist and turn through the square frame of the camera on the bizarre Suessian metal giants we've created for ourselves. Humans are weird.

But the relaxation didn't last. When they disembarked, I sheepishly asked if we could ride Harry Potter one more time, and they ran with me. Behind me. Since I took off like a rocket, convinced that if I could get there first I could hold the line.  All the way across the park, hot and sweaty, we high-tailed it like professional theme park guests. I even took a wrong turn at one point, down an unfamiliar bridge, but I kept going. So I caught up with them in Hogsmeade, they were looking for me unaware that I was looking at them and it warmed my heart. Hands over their eyes to block bright lights, they were searching for me, assuming that I had zoomed past them at the speed of desperate and was already in line. I got to come up behind them and surprise them as we got to the line together, I asked one of the ubiquitously be-vested line attendants with my heart in my throat, "Is it closed?"

"Not yet," he said with a genuine kindness and not the typical end-of-day, I want to go home tone I might've taken if I were him. So we stowed our belongings in a locker and we walked through the labyrinth that was the totally empty line, enjoying the special effects, thanking each other for a good day. We were the fourth to last people to ride. The second to last ride vehicle to depart, and we walked almost silently out of the park. Exhausted. Happy. Wishing that the rest of our families had been there to enjoy the fun.

I see a lot of things at theme parks. Happy things, worrisome things, entertaining things and sad things. Angry parents stressed out by heat and money and lack of sleep, happy families enjoying relaxing vacation time, live stunt shows and festive parades, but nothing beats the sight of the people I love, the people who are the other half of me...searching for my face in a crowd or laughing hysterically as a coaster crests a hill. That sight is worth all the bumpy flights and last minute hotel changes and angry mob crowds in the world. Times ten.