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

The year was 1975 when I first went to Disney World, and I haven’t been back until now.
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Photo by David Guerrero on Pexels.com

The year was 1975, and I was a small boy on in Florida with my family. My eyes were wide in amazement at the spectacle in front of me. Looming larger than life, a wide windowless building spiraled up towards a single gleaming spire pointed to the stars. This structure was my life's raison d'être. And it was the reason we'd traveled seemingly endless miles to Orlando Florida in the back of the largest passenger car ever made by General Motors — the 1973 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, our Chevy Impala Station wagon 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 characters on them.) And, besides, it was summer.

So proud, patriotic 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.

a large castle with a lot of people around it
Photo by Younho Choo on Unsplash

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.)

The run-up to our trip to Disney World.

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 .

Not just because we were going to Disney World, but because this was the year Space Mountain opened! The ride to end all rides, according to the countless TV commercials I saw for it. A ride so amazing that word had even traveled as far north as 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 stepped up and 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 father's shoulders that read “World's Greatest Dad.” Tears began to well up in my eye as we waited patiently in line.

Mountains With Crepuscular Ray
Photo @Min An

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 since my dad had all three, I never got to go into that mystical place.

Photo by @METRO96 | CC BY-SA 3.0

There was no one to blame, but still, I was crushed, nay traumatized, for seventeen long years. Until last week. Now, as an adult without a heart condition, high blood pressure, or a bad back—and tall enough to ride!—there was no stopping me.

By Kaleeb18, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=119407315
Photo @Kaleeb18 | CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1992, I once 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 large man who needed neither chaperoning nor parental guidance. (But, fortunately, my 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 on my previous visit to Orlando Florida.

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—is Mountain a good amusement park ride?

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 a 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 gigantic jerks.

The lines at Disney World were longer than I remember.

Finally, we were standing in the staging area, about to conquer Space Mountain. Still flush with anticipation, a strange calm fell over me—it was happening. Our spacecraft arrived and we got in. 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 we climbed in, they lowered the padded bar over the waist to hold us down (a sure sign of a life-threatening ride). Locked tight, we were off. Beyond the staging area, our spacecraft zipped along the tracks into darkness. There was no turning back. There was no way out. This was it.

Photo @Benjamin D. Esham | CC BY-SA 4.0,

I finally climb Space Mountain, metaphorically, at least.

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 to the gods of entertainment. And then the ride began in earnest. Into the first drop, I expected the worst, and I got it.

I found myself screaming involuntarily. Things like “This is it…?!?,” “Wow, this sucks!” and “I waaaant myyyy monnneeeyyy baaaaccckk!”

—Adult

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.

Of course, Space Mountain was disappointing, but that didn't really figure into it. The dream now, as an adult, was only to achieve closure. And I did. But, honestly, I didn't think the ride was going to be quite that lame.

Back in 1975, Space Mountain was probably a killer 'coaster.

All this just proved to me that I had grown up. I was no longer a child, and I must move on with my life. 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. Come on, it's 1992, for Pete's sake. Walking into “Tomorrow World” is like stepping back in time, ironically. Wait, what is that, an IBM XT computer?!?

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

Pirates of the , 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 ! 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 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.

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