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February 22, 2006

Team Rodent

(Two posts in one day! I feel like Stronger...)

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, but I’m staying at the Walt Disney World Yacht Club. It’s a pretty swanky operation.

I’ve never been here before, and the whole enterprise is pretty impressive. Coming from California, I’m used to Disneyland in my youth, now expanded to include California Adventure, but those parks are dwarfed by their Orlando counterparts.

It’s clear that this is the type of setting Walt Disney envisioned so many years ago – a sprawling, multi-faceted resort complex where a family could spend a month and do something different every day, all under the mouse-eared umbrella of the Magic Kingdom.

But here’s the thing - it’s really too big. Everything is too far apart. It takes 45 minutes to go anywhere. There’s no way you can possibly take in everything. And sometimes it’s nice to get away from Papa Mouse every now and then, even if it’s just for dinner and bedtime before you reenter the kingdom the following day.

Which brings me to the first book I’m reading on this trip: Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World, by Carl Hiaasen.

Hiaasen is a Miami Herald reporter turned novelist turned social watchdog, with a special protective instinct for the rapidly disappearing ecosystem of his home state. And he’s not crazy about the Disney Corporation.

A lot of the things Disney did in developing this area were reprehensible: the cloak-and-dagger process by which they lowballed local landowners to buy their property, the backroom deals made with Florida’s government to effectively become a self-governing municipality, and their naively arrogant ambition to conform the natural world to their pristine, idealistic vision.

I’ve been carrying this book with me around the Disney resort like an old man carries a porn magazine; keeping it face down against my body, sneaking looks at it only when I’m sure I’m not being watched. I’m afraid that if someone sees me with it on Mouse premises, I’ll be taken into custody, detained and interviewed in a tiny, dark room somewhere in the subterranean tunnels that underlie the parks.

This whole Florida complex does seem a little overreaching, and a bit Truman Show-like in its manipulation of every detail. Maybe it’s just familiar bias, but I much prefer the smaller, slightly more humble California version.

And even with all its blemishes, Disneyland still provides a pretty good bang for your buck if you have young children. Our kids love it there, and my wife and I love to see the pure, wide-eyed delight they experience when we visit. There’s a lot to be said for just enjoying things because of what they mean to you.

So tomorrow morning I’ll go outside and run some laps on the fabricated boardwalk around the color-dyed lake, looking at the imported sand on the shore and the replica lighthouse in the water, and it will all be good. In artificial or natural surroundings, as long as I get my run in, it will be a good day.

(Assuming I’m not arrested by the Mouse Police…)


stronger 2/23/06, 8:02 AM  

Ha. Ha.

Sounds like you are in utopia Celebration, FL- which is sooo Truman show creepy.

backofpack 2/23/06, 8:50 AM  

I love Carl H novels! Have you read any of the Randy Wayne White books? And of course, my all-time favorite, John McDonald. All Florida based - some day I'm going to have to visit just to see it for myself.

jeff 2/26/06, 7:00 PM  

when i was out there last april, i did a long run that took me around the back side of the park. it was really interesting to run through several of the resorts, all pristine and utopian, and then see the ugly underbelly of the park. dumpsters, maintenance vehicles, employees standing around, smoking.

i'll have to pick up the book. it sounds like a worthwhile read.

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