Orlando Florida: We pay homage to “The Rat.”

Orlando Florida: We pay homage to “The Rat.”

The year was 1975. I was but a small boy—eyes wide in amazement at the huge structure in front of me loomed larger than life. Its wide girth spiraling towards a single gleaming spire pointed at the stars. This was my raison d’être. It was the reason we’d traveled seemingly endless miles to Orlando Florida stuffed into the back of the largest passenger automobile ever made by General Motors — the Chevrolet Impala Station Wagon.

Orlando Florida is a short grueling drive from New York.

Avocado green with a rear-facing backseat and an eight-cylinder gasoline-guzzling monster under the hood, that burned an entire gallon of gas for every 12 miles it traveled. But in 1975, gasoline was free. They gave it away at stations all across the country. (Sometimes, they even gave out glassware with cartoon characters on them.) And, it was summer.

So proud families like mine packed the young ’uns into huge rolling behemoths and hit the open road to discover America. This year, my father decided that we would go to Florida. And, not just Florida….but Disney World.

As he said the words, I remember the rain stopping and the clouds parting overhead. Birds began singing and two angels came down in flowing white gowns and placed a banner around my father’s shoulders that read “World’s Greatest Dad.” A tear began to well up in my eye. Surely, there could be no peak experience in the life of a young boy more exciting than Disney World. (This was before Crack became readily available at public schools, of course.)

My parents tolerated great hardship over the several weeks it took a family with five kids to complete the journey. But somehow, we made it intact. It was the culmination of all my hopes and dreams. Not just because we were going to Disney World, but because this was the year Space Mountain opened! The ride to end all rides. A ride so amazing that word had even traveled as far north as Western New York. And I was going to go!

My plans, however, did not coincide with the rest of my family’s. Much to my disbelief, when we finally stood face to face with the childhood equivalent of Mt. Everest, none of the spineless wimps had the guts to go on it!

Now, this would not have been a problem, had my parents not deemed it imperative that I be chaperoned. I was outraged! Surely, I was completely capable of making this sojourn a cappella.

In a desperate move to quell future obnoxious whining, my father, offered to take me. Again the rain stopped and the clouds parted overhead. Birds began singing and two angels came down in flowing white gowns and placed a banner around my fathers shoulders that read “World’s Greatest Dad.” Tears began to well up in my eye as we waited patiently in line.

Then, just as I was convinced that I was about to undergo a life-altering experience, it all crashed to the ground. In an effort to ward off any legal retribution, the pansies at Disney had erected a sign “suggesting” that people with heart conditions, high blood pressure, or bad backs not go on this ride. And so, I never got to go into that mystical place. There was no one to blame, but still, I was crushed, nay traumatized.

Until last week.

Seventeen years later, I again stood at the base of Space Mountain.

That gleaming structure was every bit as inspiring as that fateful day in ’75. But, this time I was no small boy. I was a man, who needed no chaperoning or parental guidance. (But, fortunately, my college roommate was there just in case.) This time, there was nothing standing between me and Space Mountain. Except upwards of 15,000 screaming kids. But I could wait. I had waited 17 years for this moment, I could wait another four to eight hours. As I passed The Sign, I couldn’t help reflect.

Today, I thought, I would have my satisfaction. Today I would close a chapter in my life. Today, I would answer one of the many questions of my life. Once past The Sign, a hallway led us up a long ramp, past images of space as recent as 1975. At the top of the ramp was an huge, open room. With a roped-off bank line about a 2.3 miles long. It was like a maze. I felt like a rat. We kept passing the same people as they progressed around us. We made some friends, but most all agreed that the two guys ahead of us were really big jerks.

Soon, we were in the staging area, about to conquer Space Mountain. Still flush with anticipation, a strange calm fell over me. Then, our craft arrived. It held only three, one behind another, attached to a second similar car of three. I was in the middle of the first car, close to the action.

Once in, they lowered the padded bar over the waist to hold you in. (A sure sign of a life-threatening ride.) It locked tight and we were off. Beyond the staging area, the craft zipped along the tracks into darkness. There was no turning back. There was no way out. This was it.

The craft turned and then jerked to a stop, followed by the all too familiar ratcheting sound of a roller-coaster climbing the first hill. The tension mounted. At the top, I mouthed a silent prayer. And then it began. Into the first drop, I expected the worst and got it. I found myself screaming involuntarily. Things like…“This Is It?”, “Oh, this sucks!” and “I waaaant myyyy monnneeeyyy baaaaccckk!”.

When I finally awoke from my involuntary nap, the ride had ended. The craft had pulled up next to scenes depicting all seven planets discovered thus far, propped by the guys who did the original Star Trek TV series. To consider it disappointing, did not really figure into it. My dream was only to achieve closure. Although, frankly, I didn’t think it was going to be quite that lame.

In 1975, that was probably a killer ’coaster.

All this just proved to me that I have grown up. I am no longer a kid. I must go on. As someone famous once said, “You can’t go home again.” But you can go to Disney World again. And it’ll be EXACTLY like you remember it. I mean those guys haven’t spent a dime to renovate the place. I mean, come on, it’s 1992 for Pete’s sake. (Ironically, walking into Tomorrow World is like stepping back in time.)

Still, it was fun to relive the ’60s again.

Pirates of the Caribbean, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Haunted House, Congo River, Thunder Mountain (a new ride down a mine shaft themed roller-coaster—again pretty mild), and the ever-popular Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. One disturbing realization I made this time as an adult, was how much smaller it all seemed.

I could’ve sworn everything was…..I dunno….. bigger. And more believable. Geez, 20,000 Leagues didn’t even have any real fish! What a rip! They were all plastic models (no doubt really accurate representations of the real thing, except for the fact that they were stuck on a wire in the ground).

Heck, I don’t even think the lake was a naturally occurring body of water! What a rip-off. If I hadn’t gotten the Florida Resident discount, I’d have been really disappointed.