11/16/2012 2:15:00 PM Kingdom is more magic if you've got bucks to spare
By GREGG BONELLI For the Daily News
We recently returned from 10 days of cross generational child-rearing, taking our 11-year-old grandson to Florida.
I had very little say in the planning, and none at all in the decisions about what he could take with him. Things would have been different if I had, but mothers being what they are, the attempt to insulate the little fella from the harsh idioms of grandpaism were piled on.
He scootched down in the back seat with his DSI electronic game platform and his Pokeymon book of character traits and let the miles roll by. Now and then, when you pointed out some significant landmark like "there's the ocean," you might get an "uh-huh," mostly inaudible, and a check in the mirror would reveal he had not looked up. If aliens ever want to take over, all they will have to do is send down a device to mesmerize the population half as well as these things do kids, and its over for us on this planet.
Still, there was no denying that we went through a great many states and noted them for him so he could say he had been there. And although we made concerted efforts to shun the big chains in favor of local fare, he still managed to restrict his diet to chicken nuggets and French fries whenever possible. (I wonder what part of a chicken is the "nugget?")
I do have to give him credit for not being cranky or disagreeable, but that's only because he did not take the trip we did. He rode in the back of a comfortable air-conditioned car without worrying about anything more dire than whether the battery on his gizmo would run down before we got to a hotel so he could recharge it.
Once at our destination, I insisted on some historic visitations, so we saw the old fort at St. Augustine, America's oldest city; the lighthouse; and the beach. Since his gadget wasn't waterproof, it had to be left in the car, and some local charm was actually observed, although he was careful not to let it slip that he was having fun.
From there we made the obligatory pilgrimage to Disney, and for the fifth time in my life I stood in line for a child to ride a mechanical device intended to evoke an experience of somewhere else. I hope that obligation is now ended.
Nowhere was there a ride that said "Hey, we're in Florida!" which was puzzling. Florida was great, the weather was superb and pretending constantly while there to be elsewhere just made no sense to me. That feeling got worse when we left the Magic Kingdom and went to Harry Potter land. It is three roller coasters and a bunch of shops selling stuff licensed by the owners of the book's characters at stupefying prices, surrounded by a parking lot, near downtown Orlando. A piece of plastic that looks like a tree branch and is labeled a "wand" goes for $35. Odd that it didn't really work for that much, but still, you have to pretend. Next time I think we'll pretend about being there; since he didn't want to ride any of the rides, it ended up being a day for paying too much for things that didn't really work at a place I didn't really want to be.
My annoyance peaked as I was beginning my second hour in a line waiting with a couple hundred of my closest acquaintances. Just as I finally get to the platform to get on the ride, another line from somewhere else appeared, full of happy people who didn't have to wait but got to cut right in and go ahead of us. What? It seemed impossible but there it was - the purely un-American idea of privilege, institutionalized by Disney itself. If you pay more money than those who only paid to be there, then you get to go ahead of them.
I don't know how much extra it costs and don't care. It's not a question of value for me - how many rides in a day would be worth how much more if you didn't have to stand in line. I was still having trouble with paying $100 for lunch at a place where you didn't get to pick the menu (but yes, as a matter of fact, he did still manage to get chicken nuggets), and then came this new affront of smugness from the head of the line just as I about to pat myself on the back for having been patient and waited my turn.
Do we have to have a special line for richer people at the place we take our grandchildren so they can imagine that their dreams really can come true? If you spend more money than someone else, you get to go first - now there's a lesson I want to teach them as young as possible.
I did love going to the ocean for all the opposite reasons. Rich or poor, high station or low, your sand castle is swept away by the tide just the same. It is eternal, and fair somehow, that the greater attractions that God makes are there for everyone to enjoy just the same. Disney didn't plan it, but by comparison man's great achievements pale next to all that nature shows us for free. I would not trade a day at the beach for a week at any man-made attraction, even if I did have the special pass and the privileged status it brought me. Now, if I can just get my grandson to feel that way.