Look, saying, “the Internet isn’t real” is some great advice, but more often than not, I’ve found it difficult advice to take. Way back when I was lonely and living on my own, I discovered the Internet and it fixed things, at least temporarily. I fell in with faceless people who seemed to understand me … or at least to understand the things I’m into. I know I’m more than the sum of the things I dig, but for much of my life, the things I dig have been the things that have gotten me through, have kept me sane, have helped define who I am. That’s why I have the tattoos I do; they all describe the stuff that, put together, makes up some of the more interesting parts of who I am. My friend Duncan put it most succinctly: “Kevin, you have a lot of jams.” Indeed I do, and when I take to the onlines, I try to find other who share my jams, and who want to talk about them.
But there’s that dark side. There’s a turn. I’ve been both its victim and its perpetrator. What happens when the awesome thing you and your online friends share starts not working for them? What happens when they start feeling betrayed by the thing they love? What happens when they use the forum with which you became friends to start decrying that thing that still means so much to you? When you’re me, you take it personally – the exact opposite way you should react. Way back in 1996 I took it personally when some tool on my Stephen King message board said that the new King book looked like nothing but a “laugh-out-loud joke” (you never forget your first troll). More recently, I took it personally when the rampant negativity of the Disney fan community started to affect how I was seeing the parks. Suddenly, it wasn’t, “Oh, this is awesome” or “this needs some help” or “wow, I can’t wait to go back.” My enjoyment became defensive. My tweets started with an implied “here’s why you’re wrong” and ended with quotes I’d mock.
I began to look forward to Disney articles so I could pull out choice ideas that were stupid, to pick apart rumors that were dumb. I’d go on Twitter feeds … no. No. I’d fucking troll Twitter feeds, looking for awful comments, so I could hold them up for derision. It seemed fun to me. I was good at it. And I was on the side of the light, so what I was doing wasn’t wrong.
Did it all come to a head when I was “outed,” and the community at large figured out that the nice guy behind my Kevidently Twitter handle was also the ubersnark dick WestCotCenter? Or when people started using my regular Twitter name as a hashtag in the hopes that it was somehow get under my skin? Or when someone created a fake Twitter account based on mine, specifically to call me an asshole? Maybe yes to one, maybe yes to none, maybe yes to all three.
I don’t know when it got too much to bear, but I know when I decided I wanted it to stop. It was at the Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure. I’d had too much to drink. I was surrounded by friends and feeling something I never allow myself to feel: calm. I was surrounded by friends, real friends who liked me, and I’d been drinking, and my friend Dave was talking about theme parks, because he works for theme parks, and I was hanging on his every word. I realized then that this was what I wanted out of my Disney experience. Friends. Calm. And to be awed by these worlds I’d fallen into.
* * *
Joe sleeps in.
One of the things Joe and I figured out over our previous fourteen trips together is that while our personalities meshed well, our personality types sometimes clash. I like to do stuff. Like, always. Constantly. I sleep because it’s a necessity. Joe sleeps because it’s vacation.
“You know you don’t have to wait for me, right?” Joe asked on our fifth or sixth trip.
“I don’t want to wake up at the crack of way too early. You do. When we’re together for these, why don’t you get up early and I’ll join you when I’m ready.”
Paul, on a different finger of the same hand, also likes to sleep in, but more on the, “hey, I’m getting up at a sane time, cool?” tip. It was cool, because while I don’t think I’d be as fired up for solo trips as I used to be (that one trip I went on to cure my depression kind of just ended up curing my desire to be at Disney parks alone), a few hours? Especially when it was Extra Magic Mornings? Oh, I could do that.
Which was how I found myself on California Screamin’ with my new buddy Chester at quarter of eight in the morning on my first full morning at Disneyland. Chester’s wife was also sleeping in. We hesitate longer than normal at the launch before that first big hill. The California sun hadn’t yet risen high enough in the sky to make the air oppressive, and boy howdy does Paradise Pier look lovely first thing in the morning. The Fun Wheel turns lazily, seeming to dip below the water, and the faraway Silly Symphony Swings and Golden Zephyr do their perambulations in sweet circle circuits over the water. The Boardwalk is empty this early, no lunatic lines yet at Toy Story Midway Mania. The air jostles with good smells: axle grease and cotton candy, churros and the smell of the water of Paradise Bay. It’s not quite the smell of the water at Pirates because nothing is. We hold in stasis, strapped into our cars, calliope music wafting over us like its 1914. Maybe it’s 1914. Maybe this is a dream.
Then we’re off, speeding like light into that first hill, and man oh man it’s great to be alive.
* * *
I texted Joe after tooling around California Adventure by my lonesome for an hour or so. Grizzly River Run had both managed to reopen after a brief refurb and soak me to the bone, all in the course of an hour and a half. Good thing I’d put my shoes and socks in a big plastic bag and ridden barefoot, even though you’re supposed to keep your shoes on the whole time, which is a rule I totally did not know and further did not willfully ignore until the cast member at the ride exit noticed and barked at me to put my sneakers on.
“Hey, Joe,” I texted, “are you awake yet?”
“Ohai, at Matterhorn with Mike Tupper!” I blinked. Did I know Mike Tupper? Joe was at the Matterhorn? Joe was awake?
One of those things that’s sort of better in Disneyland than in Disney World is you can be at the back of one park and get to the center of another park in like 10 minutes. Going from, like, Morocco in Epcot to Expedition Everest takes two maps, a Sherpa, three camels, and a universal translator. I caught up with Joe and Mike a little after nine and a little more than three-quarters through the line at the Matterhorn. It was a good thing, too. I was willing to share Joe’s first time on this mountain, but I’d introduced him to Everest in Florida and I was damned if he was going to ride this first without me.
After: “So! Did you like it! Did you love it! Was it the best!”
Joe: “Yes, I liked it.” Joe is inscrutable.
Me: “Yes! Disney history! Walt! My back hurts!”
As it turned out, I did know Mike Tupper, sort of. I think. Look, LiveJournal was awhile ago. You ever meet someone who’s all like, “by the way, the reason I’m this hot is because I go to the gym like 3 hours a day,” and you’re all, “well, I go two hours a day, that counts, right?” and he’s all, “I don’t really eat cupcakes.” At some point, you either have to accept who you are or go crazy trying to be someone you’re not. PS I had a cupcake at lunch. And a churro.
By that point, Paul had joined us – the only time he’d slept in later than Joe – and we did the whole thing straight up. Radiator Springs Racers. The Mark Twain Riverboat. Tower of Terror. “it’s a small world,” where we all pointed out the characters and continued to hum the song for the remainder of the day. At one point, I went back to the room to “rest,” by which I meant put on my Animal Kingdom shirt without the sleeves because in no way did I need to prove that I also go to the gym every day, and wow when you’re honest about your motivations sometimes you sound really shallow.
Mike took off as the night came down, and Paul went to go get his fiancée Steven settled into the room. Left to our own devices, I decided to take Joe on one of the quaintest rides in Disneyland, the Storybookland Canal Boats. There isn’t really anything comparable to it in Disney World, and I wanted Joe to be amazed at the miniatures and see how pretty they were all lit up at night.
Then something amazing happened.
“All right, passengers,” the perky cast member said from the captain’s seat at the back of the boat. “We’re going to be stopping here for just a little bit while the fireworks go off.”
I blinked. “Wait, the fireworks are going to go off … above us?”
She nodded. “Yes. We’ll be able to hear some of the narration if we’re very quiet, too.”
We were quiet, me and my buddy Joe next to each other on the Storybookland Canal Boat, sitting in the water as those lights exploded above us, like a celebration of our enduring friendship, and of our fifteenth Disney trip together. The fireworks show is called Magical, and no matter how corporate or how synergistic or how anything that is, when it comes to sitting in the water on a boat and watching fireworks go off above your head, that’s a pretty apt name. I was happy to be there with someone I like. All that online negativity seemed so far away.
* * *
Dave arrived early the next day, and it’s always good to see Dave. Especially when it’s your third day and so far you’ve been the only Type A. Dave takes charge of a Disney trip swiftly and happily, and no one ever complains, because Dave doesn’t just bring the party; Dave is the party.
We ended up at the Carthay Circle Restaurant, Dave’s last thing with us until he had to take off. It was cool. He’d be back the next day. Now, if I’d had a meal like the one I had that afternoon a few years ago, I would have gone stir crazy and antsy and probably ruined everyone’s good time. But years and experience have mellowed me. The Pimm’s Punch didn’t hurt, either.
We talked of things – cabbages, kings, sealing wax, I don’t remember exactly – but at one point, I brought up something that the world of online was going nutso over. Some hot-button topic that had all the tempests in all the teapots. Dave leaned back, cocktail in hand, and went about explaining the motivations, the reasons, the ideals, the concepts. He regaled us with tell of Big Picture Thinking, and This Too Shall Pass conceptualizing. “Disney is doing fine,” he said.
Something broke in me, right then. Hearing it all spoken out loud, calmly, as fact and not rumor or reaction, changed something in me. Something in the back of my mind whispered, I don’t have to be that guy. Don’t I know that? I don’t have to mire myself in the negativity in order to fight against it, because it’s not my fight. It has never been my fight. There’s no reason it should be my fight. All this will take care of itself. All I have to take care of is being happy, and that’s great, because I’m really good at being happy.
Do what you’re good at, right? Do what you’re good at.