Virtue & Mischief: The Rorschachiest place on Earth


The three amigos, mama amigo, aunt (Lisa) amigo and I just returned to Greenville from Disney World. That 40 square mile mouse-inspired behemoth is, by any reasonable set of standards, a rather amazing and fascinating place.

Consider: the Disney World complex is the size of San Francisco, our country’s 13th largest city. It employs roughly 62,000 people—the largest single-site employer in the United States (and maybe the world). Last year nearly 56 million people attended its four parks. Magic Kingdom led the charge with 20.4 million attendees. For those of you out of reach of a calculator, that means the parks “enjoyed” over 150,000 human visitors PER DAY.

Here’s one more fun fact. When Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the admission cost was $3.50. It’s a little higher than that now. As I strolled down “Main Street USA” last week, I saw one beleaguered father’s T-shirt and thought to myself, AMEN, brother. It had a silhouette of Mickey’s face. Underneath that it read, “The Most Expensive Day Ever.”

While children are scampering around, trying desperately to absorb – and somehow participate in – the overwhelming flood of smells and sights and sounds, a detached and mildly cynical adult might reasonably ponder all sorts of questions. How much waste is created in these parks each day and week and month and year? Where do they put it all? How do they keep the place so clean (forget about the rides, thrills and atmospherics – to my mind, this is the single greatest accomplishment of the Disney Industrial Complex)? How many tons of food are consumed there on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis? How do they supply their energy needs and how much does that single expenditure cost? What sorts of messes do its security people deal with regularly – drug-related incidents? Assaults? Domestic disputes? Attempted thefts, surely? How do they dispatch with these situations? I’ll bet there is a pretty good book in there, for the Disney cop able and willing to tell it – but surely there are airtight and draconian nondisclosure agreements in play? And what about all the sicknesses and injuries encountered –– how are those dealt with? Is there a Disney World urgent care center (I’ll bet there is)? Given my previous legal career, I can’t help but also wonder about the volume and breadth of lawsuits it faces annually – contract disputes and ride-related snafus and damaged luggage and…. The mind staggers.

Navigating one’s way through the mass of humanity is a challenge. Doing so with five other carbon-based life forms is another thing altogether. Fortunately, Krista, Lisa and I were doing so on this occasion with teenagers rather than babies or toddlers. We didn’t need tethers or leashes or swivel-heads to pull it off successfully. We didn’t have to wrestle with strollers or diaper bags, praise be. It’s a hassle dealing with adolescent angst, ennui and attitude, but those are a relatively small price to pay in exchange for being exempt from the burden of addressing (legitimate and understandable) toddler tantrums or the back-breaking chore of carrying 40 pounds of dead weight in one arm and a stroller in another. In central Florida. In June. Surrounded by 50,000 other souls, each pursuing his or her own agenda(s).

In our posse were three adults and three teens. We could split up in various combinations depending on various demands and situations. If Abby and Luke wanted to go on certain thrill rides and Daniel demurred, we could accommodate those differing tastes. If Lisa, the ultimate Disney-o-phile, desired to stay until park security personnel booted her out, she could do so. Most “needs” were fairly easy to meet.

Still, there are always conflicts and frustrations, and personality tendencies are ultimately elicited there. Nothing brings out a person’s way of seeing the world or his behavioral tendencies like a long day at Disney World. Waiting-induced-boredom, sore feet and mild (or worse) agoraphobia bring out both the best and the worst in people, and we saw and demonstrated it all. Happily, the amigos engaged in frequent displays of considerable patience and magnanimity. I am also thrilled to report that they were much less consumer-driven than they used to be. Put differently, they almost never wheedled or whined for some overpriced-but-nevertheless-oddly-enticing-gizmo. On the other hand, there were a couple of overreactions, instances of tardiness and one or two incidents involving general obnoxiousness. Let the record reflect that I was not the guilty party in ALL of the aforementioned episodes. Now that I think of it, Aunt Lisa was probably the only Mary Poppins (“practically perfect in every way”) in our group.

In the end, we brought home with us dozens of great and unique memories – new thrills and sensations, moments of side-splitting laughter, and slightly stronger bonds than before we departed. I pray we also returned with a renewed sense of what it means to be a family, how to spot situations that cry out for small sacrifices and how to execute those sacrifices without adopting the mantel of martyr. And – maybe – a clearer idea of who and what we are, as individuals and as a group, and a commitment to using our quirks and personality predilections in a way that makes our tiny spot in the universe a tad better.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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