I just got back from Orlando and I think I have to eat some crow and say that it's not so bad a place as I may have thought after my first trip there. Actually, on this trip I had a really great time and the reason is because on this job, I had a lot more free time. On regular jobs, such as my aforementioned first trip to Orlando, you have to pretty much stay near the hotel where the students are staying because on top of being their computer test proctor, you're also their concierge during their week of intense computer training. But this last job was an Onsite, which means that a company has paid us to train their own employees at their own facilities, so all I have to do is show up on testing days, which gave me 3 full free days to find something fun to do. I really like the onsite jobs. My trip to Wyoming was an onsite.
Anyway, I hit the Kennedy Space Center, which was the awesomest place ever. I'd actually been there once before; when I was packing oranges at Vero Beach one year right after my first summer in Alaska, a couple of the guys I was working with and I took a ride up there. That was around 11 years ago though and my memories of it are fuzzy. Anyway I didn't have a camera then and this time I could afford to take the big tour, which is kind of expensive. I got to see the rockets from the Mercury and Gemini missions,
walk around one of the space shuttle launch pads up close,
and see a Saturn V rocket from the Apollo missions.
Awesome. The other really cool thing they had was a Shuttle launch simulator. It was basically a tube with seats that goes from horizontal to a vertical sitting position and shakes around a lot while making really loud noises while an astronaut yammers at you from the video screen in front of footage of the view from a real shuttle taking off into space, but if you suspend your disbelief sufficiently it's easy enough to imagine that you're on your way up there. It even does a passable job of simulating zero gravity when you're "in space" by tipping you on a forward angle so that you're slightly out of your seat and only being held in by your shoulder straps. The Zero-gravity I experienced on my flight in a Mig-25 to the edge of space was a bit better, though.
See? Even the pigeons want to go.
Anyway, I believe that the 60s NASA missions comprised one of the most exciting times in human history, and I really loved getting a sense of what it must have felt like to be a part of that. When I got home yesterday I immediately popped in that movie The Right Stuff. It's really fantastic. I can't believe there's no big movie about the first moonwalk; If you want to see something about the Apollo missions, you're pretty much stuck with Apollo 13, which is great, but it's no moonwalk. There are documentaries I suppose, of which I have several, but they don't really capture the excitement quite the same way a good NASA drama does. The Dish comes closest to that for the Neil Armstrong walk, but it's not actually about the mission itself.
Well I do carry on so. But Space is the Place, man.
On my second free day, I hit Cocoa Beach. It's kind of a famous beach because that's where a lot of the crowds would gather back in the day to watch the Rockets lift off, and I think that's where the astronaut bars were, but I'm not sure. Anyway, I didn't see any of that, but it's a fairly nice beach anyway. Good waves. The next day I had to work in the morning, but in the afternoon I went for an airboat ride on St. John's river and saw loads of alligators and birds and crazy cypress trees with Spanish moss. It was pretty damn cool. Those airboats are pretty zippy.
On that last photo you can see the head and back of an alligator kind of just peeking up from the water by the base of that tree.
On my third free day... well, I did it. I went to the Magic Kingdom. I'd never been there before... I always wanted to go as a child, of course, but when I got older I got cynical and realized how evil Disney is and sort of decided I didn't really want to go as all things Disney tend to be shallow and banal, and they destroy the stories they tell. BUT, I did have this extra day with nothing to do and I couldn't figure anything else out, and also my brother and sister were taken there by my family when they were kids and I never was, so, I figured it was something I had an opportunity to get out of my system. Believe me, that whole morning I was filled with a bizarre emotion consisting of dread, bittersweet, shamefaced excitement. The approach to that saccharine hell-hole did nothing to alleviate it, and neither did almost anything I did there.
The coolest part was Space Mountain. I'd been dying to do that ride all my childhood, when friends would come back from there and tell me about it. And you know what? It's still fairly cool. A roller coaster ride in the dark, only feebly lit up by stars, planets, and galaxies? Punctuated by terrified screams coming from all directions, some of them possibly but not definitely from my own mouth? What's not to like? The Haunted Mansion was also pretty wild, although not scary at all. But the special effects were sweet.
But the rest of it? Everything I ever hated and feared about that place. Every time I saw a parade of some Disney freaks grinning and dancing about, I wanted to smack them and ask them what the hell they thought they were doing, prancing about like happy little idiots. There was one ride that, while being horrendous, was nonetheless quite interesting. The so-named "Silly Jungle Cruise." It's a boat ride through a mock jungle river, filled with plastic animals. It's not a kiddie ride, either. It was all adults on my boat. It looks like, once upon a time, maybe back in the 50s or 60s, it was possibly a high class Disney ride. But I think that fake plastic jungle cruises likely don't have much staying power in this day and age, so what they've done is to turn it into a joke. The boat guide makes fun of everything you see for ten full minutes. A large orange fiber glass snake hangs from a tree, and pretending to be frightened, the tour guide asks what is large, orange, begins with a 'P' and can kill you? "Python!" shouts out one of the, um, adult, cruisers. "That's right," says the guide, "Plastic."
Oh, he had a ton of 'em. But what's interesting to me is that that ride is probably the most honest Disney has ever been with it's customers. A fake plastic safari is set up to give a cheap thrill, which is kind of Disney's over-all philosophy actually, and instead of trying to get you to go along with it, in this case they are forced to cop to how phony and silly it is, because it's really a horrendous ride and there's no hiding it as they do with everything else. Quite illuminating. It's like when Big Tobacco was finally forced to admit that smoking is unhealthy.
I even had a personal moment of clarity on that ride. As we were passing all the plastic, immobile animals, I was thinking to myself how I'd seen these kinds of animals for real in the semi-wild at South Africa Kruger national game park. And then: we came to a plastic temple and the guide announced that we were now passing a Cambodian jungle temple. My mind kind of froze because I've actually been to Angkor Wat and explored tens of actual Cambodian jungle temples, and here I was at Disney, the phoniest place on Earth, passing by a phony temple. I love this:
I love this:
Virtual Magic Kingdom? What, that's in case your mind is so jelly that you can't walk down the street here to the actual Magic Kingdom?
The Kennedy Space Center. Wicked cool.