Sunday, October 13, 2019

tangled up in blue

I am on vacation this week, but please enjoy this story from my illustration blog originally published in 2013. The topic of my father came up recently and I was reminded of his penchant for stretching the truth.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!”
Marmion by Sir Walter Scott

My dad was a liar. And not a very good one.

In the long ago days before the internet, when facts were a little tougher to confirm, my dad made up shit left and right. He loved to tell of how he cut school as a child and sneaked off to a Phillies game. He claimed he witnessed a no-hitter, but couldn’t tell anyone because he’d get into hot water for skipping school. He loved telling that story. Years later, after a minimal amount of “Googling,” I discovered that the entire tale was fabricated.

By trade, my father was a butcher. He was employed by a local supermarket chain for many years, until he worked himself up to the corporate level. A suit and tie replaced his bloody apron as his regular work attire. At this new level, he was rubbing elbows with (in his eyes) the “upper crust” and was entitled to be included among the attendees of an annual corporate executive convention and banquet. My mother, at the time, established herself a little business of transporting neighborhood children to kindergarten at the nearby elementary school. For a mere three dollars per week, she’d stuff twenty toddlers into the open space of her station wagon and — seat belts be damned! — deliver them to their preschool. A little jostled and shaken-up, but relatively safe. My father, however, had told his colleagues that his wife was otherwise employed. He had told them that she was a teacher. But, he did not corroborate his deception with my mom. She was not embarrassed by how she earned her pay. (She was proud, as a matter of fact!) So, while mingling at a pre-dinner cocktail hour, my mom was confused when my dad’s boss asked what subject she taught. With a look of momentary bewilderment, she corrected the man, explaining that she was not a teacher. My dad was livid, despite not briefing my mom on the bullshit he’d been shoveling at the office for the past eleven months.

When my son was born, my wife and I continued the Jewish tradition of honoring a deceased family member by naming a newborn in their memory. My son would be carrying on the symbolic names of my wife’s beloved grandfather and my beloved maternal grandmother. The official naming was done at the brit milah (circumcision ceremony). During the proceeding, the mohel (one who performs a circumcision) announced our child’s Hebrew name to the small congregation gathered in our home. My father’s mother leaned in to my dad and asked who our baby was being named for. Then she asked who my older brother was named for. My dad replied, “Max (my brother) was named for Pop (meaning my father’s father).” This, of course, was not true. My paternal grandfather was still fourteen years from meeting the Grim Reaper when my brother was born. Jews just don’t that and my father knew it. He also knew he was lying to his elderly mother.

My father became very sick very suddenly in October 1993. Actually, he was sick for a long time, he just didn’t let anyone know — so, it was sudden for the family. My father was keeping company with a very nice woman who filled the void in his life left by my mother’s passing two years earlier. As my father drifted in and out of consciousness in a hospital bed, my immediate family — my brother Max, my wife and myself — entertained my dad’s lady friend’s future plans. With sparkly eyes, she spoke of arrangements and promises that my father made — how they would marry in the new year, how she would move in with him. She continued to explain that my father justified the enormous amount of money still owed on a thirty year-old house was due to a second and third mortgage being obtained in order to pay for my art school education.

“Whoa!,” I interrupted before another word was uttered, “I paid for art school. Me! No one else!”

We all stared at each other across the little semi-circle we had formed in the hospital hallway. “What else did he tell you?,” Max asked. She had been told by my father that he was a partner in the current supermarket in which he was employed (he wasn’t). The place had just experienced a devastating fire and he was concerned about the cost of rebuilding (it was not remotely a concern of his).

We were dumbfounded. After 36 years of lying to my mother, my dad had the opportunity to make a fresh start in a relationship. Instead, he chose to continue on the path that he was used to.

I love and miss my father. He taught me a lot, but he had no idea how he was teaching me.


Sunday, October 6, 2019

highway patrol

For nearly twelve years, I took public transportation — specifically the Philadelphia Regional Rail line — to work and I was admittedly spoiled rotten by the convenience. I hate to drive, so letting someone else do the driving — while I read or slept or took pictures of people blatantly ignoring the policy of keeping bags off of seats —was perfect for me. I got a discounted rate on a monthly transit pass and my car sat in front of my house six days a week, only taking it from its curbside resting place to pick up dry cleaning on most Saturday mornings. Well, my daily train commute ended when I was unceremoniously separated from my center-city employer. After a long absence, I was thrust into the nerve-wracking, white-knuckle world of driving to work.

I started a new job in August 2019. My office is located just ten miles north east of Trenton, New Jersey, in a small community called Robbinsville. It is not in close proximity to any single mode of public transportation. So, I have no choice but to leave my house at ten after seven and navigate through unpredictable traffic to arrive at work for an 8:30 start of day. In the first week of my new employ, I tried several different routes, including a stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike that collects a six dollar toll in both directions. I finally settled on a course that costs a dollar in only one direction and takes me past the 6100-seat Arm and Hammer Park, home of the Trenton Thunder, a Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. I also see an alleged homeless guy, displaying a handwritten plea scrawled across a piece of corrugated cardboard, wandering in and out of the traffic waiting to make a left turn on to Route 29. He wears different clothes and a different baseball cap everyday, leading me to believe that he is no more homeless than I am.

I am actually getting used to driving. I have mentally broken down my commute into sections, checking my dashboard clock and figuring what kind of time I am making based on where I am at a particular time. Sometimes, I ignore the clock and just happily listen to the radio.

Then, of course, there are those times when the traffic comes to a grinding halt. It's these times that makes me hate driving. If I am stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for a period of time longer than a few minutes, I get anxious and antsy and frustrated. I hate inching along, closing up the gap between my car and the car just ahead, as though those few extra millimeters are accomplishing something. And, when the traffic snarl finally breaks and the pace resumes to regular speed, if I don't see a twisted hunk of sheared metal that used to be a car or a mass of bloody, mangled bodies littering the blacktop with severed limbs, I am genuinely disappointed. If traffic is stopped, there better be a goddamn good reason for it.

Damn this traffic jam!
Just this week, I was tooling south on Route 1, hitting my each of my regular milestones at the times that let me know I would be parking my car in front of my house at the usual time. Suddenly, just ahead, I could see the faint illumination of brake lights. As I approached and decelerated, the steady glow of brake lights increased as more and more cars were slowing and stopping across both lanes. I tensed up, my hands gripping the steering wheel tighter. I moved a tiny bit outside of my lane, trying to see if I could identify the cause of this slowdown, but I was too far back from the cause. So, I sat. Sat along with a crush of other folks who just wanted to get home in a reasonable amount of time. The knot of cars slowly... slowly... moved forward. After a few long minutes of crawling an inch at a time, I spotted the top of a large, electric sign parked in the far left lane. It was flashing a large, electric yellow arrow, obviously indicating that all traffic was to divert to the right traffic lane. This was quite a request. It was approximately 6 PM, the peak of the evening "rush hour" on a piece of highway that is heavily traveled by both cars and trucks. Big trucks. I could see exasperated drivers craning their necks as they jockeyed their vehicles out of the prohibited lane. I could see truck drivers leaning out of their cab windows checking their massive mirrors to see if they were clear to merge. After a few more long minutes, I finally reached the source of the obstruction.

There was a crew of a dozen or so workers, decked out in florescent vests and scrambling around like beavers all over the highway. They were installing shiny new pieces of the guard rail that divides the northbound traffic from the southbound traffic. AT 6 O'CLOCK IN THE EVENING! RUSH HOUR! Someone who works for the Department of Transportation must know that this is rush hour. Yet, it was determined that this was the optimum time to replace the guard rail. Was it decided during a road maintenance meeting that it was much better to disrupt the busiest traffic time of the day than to wait until a time when the road was relatively empty, when it wouldn't inconvenience too many people?

The next morning. I passed the part of the road —from the opposite direction —where the guard rail was replaced. It was beautiful — gleaming silver and expertly installed.*

I still hate driving.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

* That there is what you call your "sarcasm."

Sunday, September 29, 2019

this year's girl

This past weekend*, Mrs. Pincus and I were, once again, basking in the beautiful weather and beautiful sounds of the Xponential Music Fest, an annual three-day outdoor event on the Camden, New Jersey waterfront, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The festival is put on by my favorite radio station (and current employer of my son) WXPN-FM. My family has always loved live music and we are avid concert-goers. This festival is a massive logistical undertaking, yet — year after year (and there have been 26 of  'em so far) — it appears to be effortless.

In recent years, there has been a partnership with the mighty Live Nation concert promoter to cap a couple of nights off with a major act that happens to be playing at the giant venue next door to the natural amphitheater where the festival is held. At around 6:30 in the evening, after a full day of performances, those with the proper admission ticket package can pack up all of their stuff and head over to the BB&T Pavilion (or whatever it's called this week). Past years have featured indie darlings Wilco, the Godfather of Quirk David Bryne and even the venerable Bob Dylan. This year's feature was a double bill of Elvis Costello and Blondie.

As the sun set over Philadelphia, my wife and I, along with a gazillion other faithful XPN listeners made our way over to the BB&T Pavilion for the last two sets of the evening. Through some creative methods that I won't elaborate upon at this time, Mrs P and I usually spend our time at the BB&T Pavilion on the "River Deck," a special VIP section provided by show sponsors Subaru. The River Deck offers a panoramic view of the entire venue on one side and spectacular sight lines of the skyline of The City of Brotherly Love on the other. Subaru puts out a spread of snack foods, including homemade potato chips and Philly staple soft pretzels. After Blondie's set, which played out like a greatest hits performance, we were approached by a Subaru representative and, as fans or the Grateful Dead say, we were "miracled." He handed us four tickets for a reserved box waaaay down near the stage. XPN Festival passes include admission to the BB&T Pavilion, however your "seat" is actually whatever size patch of grass your butt occupies on the sloped lawn behind the actual seating area. We happily took the tickets and started down the steep walkway towards our new seats. At first we offered the tickets to folks we knew (including our son and his friends), however all attempts were graciously declined. It seemed that everyone was comfortable stretching out on the lawn in the balmy twilight that now enveloped the South Jersey area. With the help of a young usher, we located our seats... two of which were currently occupied by a woman who, by the looks of her immediate surroundings, was working on her fifth or sixth beer. She explained in a roundabout, slurred and somewhat incoherent manner, that her friends had tickets in a different section and would be joining her. We smiled and said we only need two seats, even though we had four tickets. We slid past her and nabbed the last two seats at the end of the sequestered row. The woman got visibly annoyed when my wife put her bottle of water in the cup holder at the end of the communal armrest. Mrs. P pointed out that there was another cup holder that could be used, but the woman wasn't happy about having to stow her beverage on her right.

When the show began with the opening drum beat of "Pump It Up," our inebriated seatmate leaped to her feet, swaying her hips in a too-wide arc and splaying her arms out of her personal space. In the dark, we watched her fumble around in the purse that was swinging from her wrist, finally extracting a cellphone to snap a series of out-of-focus pictures and record some blurry video that she would never ever watch. For the entire 70 minute set, Elvis Costello had an audience of one — and she was trying to remain upright nearby Seat 6 in Reserved Box 220. This woman next to us was the only one in attendance. She had to have been, as she threw herself from side to side, spread her arms wide in pseudo-crucifixion and jumped up and down, not always making a three-point landing. Her behavior was quite annoying — to us, to the couple in front of us, even to the friends that finally arrived from their other assigned seats. At the end of the encore, with the entire house on its collective feet, our concert neighbor jumped and screamed and took pictures of the venue's ceiling. It took several polite "excuse me"s to get the attention of this woman before we were granted access to the aisle to exit... and even then she was not happy about it.

We had a good time. The concert was great. Someone, however, had a better time at the expense of everyone else.

* Note: this post was written at the end of July 2019.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

we'll have a gay old time

So, when I came home from work on Wednesday evening, my wife greeted me with an unusual question. She asked me if I wanted to go to “Gay Bingo” on Saturday night. “I guess so.,“ I replied with a shrug, “Sure.” 

I know what those two words mean separately, I just wasn’t sure what they meant put together, in that order. But, apparently on Saturday, I would find out.

A little preliminary research led me to the official website, where it was revealed that, previously unknown to me, Gay Bingo has been going on in Philadelphia for the past 20 years. It is a monthly event, with a different theme every month. The event is hosted by the self-proclaimed BVDs (Bingo Verifying Divas), a troupe of drag queens who perform under the auspices of AIDS Fund Philly, a charitable organization that promotes awareness, while providing comfort and assistance to those living with AIDS. The BVDs inject their adult-oriented, double entendre-filled humor into the evening’s activities. There was singing and dancing and commentary and jokes. Bingo, it seems, was an afterthought.

The perfect combination
This month’s theme was “Judy Garland” and attendees were encouraged to dress in their best approximation to the singer-actress and unlikely gay icon. With only a few days to prepare, Mrs. Pincus put together a Judy-inspired take on the popular “Disney Bounding” trend. (“Disney Bounding” was established by theme park visitors to skirt Disney’s strict rules for adults wearing costumes. Instead, folks sport the colors of their favorite character — blue shirt, white scarf and yellow sneakers for Donald Duck — and accessorize appropriately — like topping off with a sailor’s hat). I wasn’t going to let opportunity pass me by. I dressed in black from head to toe, including a sporty fedora cocked at a jaunty angle. It was my homage to Judy’s role in the musical “Summer Stock,” specifically her performance of the song “Get Happy.” (As I would later find out, our friend Kathy, who actually offered us the invitation to the wondrous world of Gay Bingo, would dress as a pre-“Get Happy” Judy. This was not prearranged and a total coincidence.)

My wife and I drove down Broad Street (no pun intended!) to Rodeph Sholom, a synagogue with origins dating back to the 18th Century, which serves as the unlikely hosting venue for Gay Bingo.

Forget your troubles, c'mon get happy.
To my surprise, the synagogue’s basement utility room was packed with eager bingo players, a generous mix of regulars and newcomers, both gay and "breeders." The long, school lunchroom-style tables were laden with bingo cards and stampers, along with a veritable banquet of various foods that attendees were encouraged to bring. More anxious players filed in to the room. I was disappointed (and, again, a little surprised) that the overwhelming majority had chosen not to attend in costume. However, the hosting queens more than made up for it. Before the rules were reviewed and then games began, we were treated to what can only be described as an overture. The BVDs gathered at the center of the room to grace us with an impressive choreographed performance of the best of Judy Garland featuring lip-syncing to a selection of tunes that spanned Judy’s career. The spectacle was received with wild applause and soon we got down to business.

Tell me more!
Each game had a different predetermined pattern to create from the called numbers. The host, who introduced herself as “Carlotta Tendant,” announced each letter-number combination between some chit-chat with someone from the AIDS Philly family. “BINGO” was shouted fairly quickly during each game, prompting audible groans of dismay, especially after a designated BVD verified each winner. The games progressed at a pretty steady clip. Midway through the proceedings, a brief intermission was called. Players took this opportunity to stretch their legs, chat and mingle. Mrs. Pincus, ever the perfect hostess, offered a sampling of the vanilla brownies that she brought to those seated at nearby tables. She struck up a conversation with a nice young man who was wearing bright yellow sneakers. He explained that they were from the noted designer Christian Louboutin and retailed for thirteen hundred dollars — although the style was now discontinued. He proudly told us that he managed to snag his pair (red soles and all!) for a mere eight hundred. He also tried to convince me that this was a bargain.

The break ended and we were treated to another floor show featuring the BVDs sporting new, Judy Garland-inspired costumes with more lip-syncing to more songs from Judy's movies and recordings. The second half of the evening continued in pretty much the same fashion as the first, except I won a fifty dollar prize in Game Number 8 — coincidentally called by our friend Kathy. (I was hoping that there would be no accusations of “collusion.” There wasn’t and there wasn’t.)

The final game was played and the crowd was thanked. It was a really fun diversion for a Saturday night — a night that Mrs. P and I would have otherwise spent watching reruns of forty-year old episodes of “Password” on Buzzr-TV. We got our “game show fix” anyway… and it was fabulous! 

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

Sunday, September 15, 2019

good morning here's the news


“I hate the news!”  Roger Rabbit

I stopped watching the news in 2016, just after the last Presidential election. I lost faith in the caliber of reporting offered by the major networks including CNN. I grew irritated with the news anchors, reporters and guest commentators. They were no longer reporting the news. Instead they were creating sensationalized stories that were introduced with jarring teasers that ultimately ended with empty non-stories. In addition, all news broadcasts became political quagmires and it was making my head spin. So I stopped watching. I switched to my local newscasts, only paying attention to Philadelphia-focused stories, weather forecasts and tales of how poorly the Philadelphia Phillies were performing. Otherwise, I never watched any television news broadcasts.

This doesn’t mean I was uninformed. I still read headlines on Yahoo’s homepage on the internet, electing to read further if a particular headline caught my attention. If this occurred, I would only read two or three sentences, which was usually enough to get the gist of the story. I also stayed informed by logging on to Twitter, where a “hot button” topic was presented, critiqued and hilariously mocked by the select group of sarcastic assholes (and I mean that with the highest respect) I choose to follow.

During the (now anticlimactic) Mueller Report, I began watching CNN with my wife again. Nothing had changed. It was the same rehashing of extreme commentary and blown-out-of-proportion reporting that we had previously turned off in disgust.

It's the end of the world as we know it...
I have only seen bits and pieces of the right-wing propaganda mouthpiece that is Fox News, mostly in clips shown during pointed jabs on HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver." I consider myself a liberal and have only ever voted for Democratic candidates in any election*, so I naturally gravitated towards news reports that appear to be more left-leaning, but I have come to the conclusion that CNN is no different from Fox. They both use the exact same methods and tactics to report the same stories, except Fox takes the extreme right view point and CNN takes the extreme left view. Otherwise, they are identical.

So, I stopped watching national news again. I was sick of politics.

...and I feel fine.
My wife and I are preparing for another cruise with stops in the Caribbean, including Freeport in The Bahamas. At the end of August, that part of the Caribbean was hit – and hit hard – by Hurricane Dorian. We watched The Weather Channel in horror as live pictures of hundred-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains ripped through the frail structures of Freeport, obliterating everything in its path. At one point, Mrs. P changed the channel to CNN. There was nothing political about a hurricane. We expected straight reporting about a weather phenomenon. We wanted to see professional, qualified reporters offering insight and documentation of the devastation occurring in a major tourist area – one that we would be visiting shortly. Instead – and keeping with CNN’s “lowest common denominator” style, we heard sensationalized editorializing that would have been more suited to a live report about Armageddon. We have seen reports of this nature usually reserved for winter storm predictions. But now we were witnessing solemn-faced news anchors with wide eyes and slow, deliberate deliveries, make vague blanket statements, leading viewers to believe that the entirety of the Bahamian Islands were, at this point, merely a memory. In reality, Freeport and the surrounding areas suffered the brunt of Dorian’s wrath. However, the Bahamas is an archipelago of 700 islands. Nassau, a popular stop for many cruise lines, sits on the island of New Providence, 130 miles away from Freeport. While Nassau received its share of the storm, it only experienced minimal damage. CNN made it seem as though the Bahamas were wiped from the face of the earth. They showed the same footage of flooding and played the same audio of people pleading and crying, without once clarifying that this was limited to the Freeport area and that most other parts of the Bahamas were spared. In my opinion, this was inaccurate and irresponsible reporting.

Network news has become entertainment. The focus is on ratings – getting the viewer to stick around and not change the channel. Reporting the actual news is waaaaay down on the priority list.

I won’t be watching the news anymore. Besides, it cuts into my Andy Griffith Show time.


*mostly due to residual feelings about the Republican-leaning voting records of my bigoted father and my bigoted grandmother.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

questions 67 and 68

Mrs. Pincus and I are the veterans of many a cruise. As I write this, we have just returned from one a few weeks ago and are currently planning to depart on another a few weeks from now. Yes, it seems that we have become the people that I made fun of on our first cruise. I originally balked at the thought of taking a cruise, but now, after seven (soon to be eight), I actually look forward to a week at sea. Not so much the "sea" part, but the week itself.

Cruises offer many things to many people and you can do as much or as little as you like. Each day, a list of activities arrives at your cabin, making it easy to plan the day ahead. There is literally something for everyone — from physical activities like table tennis and wall climbing to seminars about aging or pain management to art auctions and jewelry shows. Of course there are workout rooms and swimming pools and several hot tubs available. We, however, participate in none of those. Hell, I have never brought a bathing suit with me. I don't even own a bathing suit. We lean towards the activities that exercise the ol' noggin — trivia quizzes. Every day, in an informal setting, there are organized trivia contests that test passengers' knowledge of useless subjects like "One Hit Wonders" or the finer details of various television shows or just obscure general knowledge. A host from the ship's "entertainment" staff reads a list of twenty questions on a particular, pre-determined subject and participants scribble down the answers on a sheet of paper. After the last question is read, the answers are revealed and the correct answers are tallied — usually on the honor system — and a winner is crowned. Carnival Cruise Lines award winners with the coveted "Ship on a Stick," a plastic, gold-toned replica of a Carnival ship resting upon a pair of laurel branches affixed to a base emblazoned with the ship's name. These "trophies" are inexplicably, yet highly, sought after. When Mrs. Pincus and I sailed on the Carnival Sunshine in 2016, we played a lot of trivia and took home eleven of the little trinkets. We answered questions about Seinfeld and Star Trek and James Bond — pulling out answers we didn't know we knew. We showed up late to a session of General Knowledge, missing the first five questions... and we still won a trophy. On Day Three of our trip, my wife and I were getting ice cream from the 24-hour-a-day soft serve machine (yes, you read that right), when we were approached by a couple that we did not know. The fellow asked us if we were going to the "Harry Potter" trivia the following day. We smiled and said we would, but admitted that we knew absolutely nothing about the young wizard and his adventures. He exhaled in relief, adding that maybe now he'd have a chance at winning a trophy.

On our most recent cruise, we garnered eight "Ships on a Stick" (or is it "Ship on a Sticks?") by week's conclusion. We totally blanked on quizzes about The Office, The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones — three very popular series of which we have never seen a single episode. Even with some assistance from two generations of younger cousins (who were also sailing with us), we did terribly on Full House and Friends trivia. The questions were too "episode specific," although the eventual winners scored in the high double digits. And for the ubiquitous Harry Potter trivia quiz, I answered "Hogwarts" for every question, expecting to get at least one correct. I scored zero.

On our penultimate evening, Mrs. P and I carefully packed up our faux gold spoils along with our clothing and toiletries. We were congratulated by a few of our fellow passengers, some of whom we even remembered from various trivia sessions throughout the week. We arrived home, unpacked and our glory faded away.

Mrs. Pincus is active in a few cruise groups on Facebook, including a group for our upcoming cruise. The discussion in the group turned to the elusive "Ship on a Stick." Some folks express their disappointment at not being able to secure one of their own. Others lamented that some people won more than their fair share. Accusation of cheating began to be bandied about. There were claims that participants who paid for the pricey shipboard internet package were covertly "Googling" the answers, thus unjustly acquiring their plastic ship. Mrs. P and I were offended by this notion. We do not cheat. We just know a lot of stupid, useless stuff that comes in handy as conversation starters — or enders, as the case may be. We watch Jeopardy! every night and regularly have in-depth discussions about the intricacies of television programs that have been off the air for decades. (yeah... that's our life and we've been married for thirty-five years, so go pound sand!) We just know stuff. Besides, why on earth would we cheat? To win a piece of plastic and bask in the glory and admiration of a bunch of people we will never ever see again.... in the middle of the goddamn ocean?!? Someone else in the group suggested that the cruise lines should offer cash prizes for winners, instead of a worthless trophy. I can tell you that will never happen. It appears that some people don't know how to relax and enjoy the absurdity of the whole thing. If we don't win (and there are plenty of activities that we don't win), we still had fun. Whether it was silly fun or friendly competitive fun, fun is fun. Everyone is on vacation. Leave worries and concerns and real life behind. That's what a vacation is for.

On one of our first cruises, we were playing a silly stunt game with a bunch of passengers that we did not know. Based on the recent game show Minute to Win It, teams were chosen and a series of timed games were played for points. After the third or fourth round of play involving the stacking of empty soda bottles on plastic rings (or some such nonsense), a frustrated young lady on one team loudly announced that she was quitting. Realizing that her team was behind in points, she growled, "I will not be on a team that isn't going to win! I have to win or I won't play!" and she stormed off. The other participants were dumbfounded. The games continued. A team won and the other team offered congratulations. We saw the young lady several times throughout the course of the cruise and pointed her out, relating her actions in hushed tones to other cruises who had become our "cruise friends." We have brought up her story on subsequent cruises, as well.

In a few weeks, we'll be boarding another ship for another cruise filled with consecutive days of trivia, perhaps more trophies, and, of course, fun.. 

Oh, and there's a buffet, too. I can't forget the real draw.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

yahoo! hoop-dee-doo!

There's a blog called Tips from the Disney Divas & Devos that I follow. The blog publishes information and personal experiences for the Disney fan — both die-hard and casual. It is chock full of tips and reviews of rides, food, hotels, activities and experiences available at domestic and overseas Disney theme parks, cruise lines and other destinations. It's pretty comprehensive and offers guidance to those who need a place to start planning a Disney vacation, as well as helpful and interesting information for the seasoned enthusiast. And my friend (who goes by the name "Canadian Diva") is a contributor to the blog... and no, that's not a plug.

Different Devos
Recently, the Tips from the Disney Divas & Devos blog published a story about the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, a long-running dinner show that is performed nightly at the Fort Wilderness Campground in Florida's Walt Disney World. The story gave a brief overview of the show, mostly as a helpful "should we do this on our trip?" summary for folks who are planning a visit and may not be aware of this sensational offering. Considering that the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue (or "Pioneer Hall Revue," as it is officially known) has been staging three shows nightly since its debut in 1974, it is surprising that even the most knowledgeable Disney traveler hasn't heard of it. I admit, when it was first proposed to me, I had never heard of it. But "Disney Magic Diva's" blog post got me thinking and I realized that I had a decidedly different Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue experience almost four decades ago.

The theme song for my senior prom was "Do You Know Where You're Going To? (The Theme from Mahogany)" by Diana Ross and a more fitting song could not have been chosen. When I graduated from high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I really didn't want to waste my money on a college program that held no interest for me. (My parents had already informed me that they would not be contributing a dime towards college tuition, if I chose to go.) So, while all of my friends went off to college, I worked as a cashier in a women's clothing store while I figured out my life. I saved my money and when the first summer after my friends' freshman year loomed ahead, we made plans for our first trip without our parents. My pals, Alan and Scott, campaigned for Walt Disney World, the five-year old East Coast counterpart to Walt's successful California theme park. I was set against it, opting to convince my friends that Fort Lauderdale was the place for us. I heard sorted tales of the streets overflowing with beer, girls and more beer... and that's where I wanted to be. I didn't want to be in an amusement park going on rides and rubbing elbows with a giant mouse. We debated and argued until finally, it was two against one and I lost. Resigned to the fact I was going to Walt Disney World, we began to plot out our trip. Since this was 1980 and Al Gore had not yet perfected the internet, we consulted a local travel agent who detailed and arranged our week-long adventure. We were booked into a room at the International Inn, a multi-story hotel dead center in the bustling, 24-hour party that was Orlando's International Drive. We also finagled a car rental, carefully skirting the "over 21" rule. We were told by Fay, our maternal yet shrewd travel agent, to "play dumb" if and when the rental agency asked our age. Our park passes were secured and, as expenses mounted, the three of us realized we needed a fourth to bring the costs down. After mulling over our options, we settled on Wayne, a friend of Alan's that Scott and I knew, but were not particularly fond of. However, his inclusion brought our individual price tag way down, so Wayne was welcomed. We continued our planning, talking to people who had actually been to Disney World and finding out what there was to do, besides rides. One of Alan's parents' friends told us about the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, an Old West dinner show that featured singing, dancing, comedy and all-you-can-eat food and all-you-can-drink alcoholic beverages. BINGO! Now, I was interested in this trip. For the somewhat exorbitant fee of $21.00, this all-you-can-eat-and-drink deal could be all-I-can-eat-and-drink! We were told that the event fills up pretty quickly and that reservations could be made thirty days in advance, by phone... and not a day sooner. With all of our arrangements wrapped up, we ticked off the calendar and  soon gathered around Alan and his telephone exactly thirty days out from the commencement of our trip. Alan dialed and spoke to someone who was actually in Walt Disney World. We got reservations for the latest (8:30 PM) seating. As Alan replaced the big receiver into the cradle mounted on his kitchen wall, the excitement grew.

Home away from home.
We landed in Orlando (my first ever plane ride) and found our way to the airport car rental desk. Not only wasn't our age questioned, but they inexplicably allowed us to rent a brand new Chrysler Cordoba, the same car that Ricardo Montalban seductively promoted on television, enticing the viewer with its "rich Corinthian leather." We would make sure that the rental agency regretted this decision for years to come. We loaded our luggage into the spacious trunk and followed the complementary map to International Drive. As Scott guided the luxury vehicle past the first of several IHOPs that dotted International Drive, we spotted our hotel just ahead... directly across the street from a 7-11 that sold beer. As a matter of fact, it seemed every store sold beer, a concept foreign to those of us from Pennsylvania, the land of steadfast and antiquated liquor laws. We stopped at the 7-11 before checking into to our hotel and stocked up for the week. Eventually, we settled in at our hotel only to rush out again to get a taste of vacation.

Our destination was Disney property to check out the Lake Buena Vista shopping area, a quaint, quiet little oasis with cute stores and a few restaurants that has since evolved into the themed-heavy, tourist sponge Disney Springs. We discovered a lounge just inside the majestic Empress Lily, the faux steamboat/restaurant that was permanently docked shore side in man-made Bay Lake. Taking velvet covered seats, we ordered beers and watched a lively banjo player deliver American songs and corny banter to the delight of the small crowd. We stayed for a long while, basking in the early wave of what has come to be known as "chillaxing," a term that would not exist for another thirty years.

All you (or I) can eat
The week continued with our first immersion (of the allotted two) in the Magic Kingdom. We would make the most of our two-day passes (this was two full years before the opening of EPCOT). The night after Magic Kingdom Day One spent at the Luau on the beachfront theater at the Polynesian Resort. My friends and I ate and drank as a warm-up for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue the next evening. I was pulled up onstage by a bevy of grass-skirted hula dancers who selected me, I supposed, based on my slowly failing physical coordination.

JPiC and
the "Oh, Shenandoah" Girl
(I think she's holding me up.)
Finally, our adventure reached its pinnacle. We drove out to the Contemporary Resort, fibbed to the guard at the gate that we were meeting some family members at the resort (at the time, Disney was very, very strict about allowing non-guests the use of their transportation system). We parked the Cordoba in the Contemporary's lot and made our way to the hotel's small marina. We boarded a water taxi (the first time I had ever heard that term) to take us to the Fort Wilderness Campground. We followed a dirt path to the rustic Pioneer Hall, a strikingly majestic structure built from logs (probably fake Disney logs). We checked in with the hostess at the podium outside the entrance. She was decked out in typical Western garb — overalls, flannel shirt, red bandanna, straw cowboy hat. We were granted admission and led to a table midway on the first floor, very close to the stage. Our table was outfitted with pewter place settings upon a cheery red tablecloth. A large hammered pewter vessel held great chunks of cornbread and another similar container was filled with a simple salad, glistening and visibly inviting (even for us non-salad eaters, a status that has since changed). Our waitress arrived, introduced herself and asked our beverage order. We requested sangria — one full pitcher each — with the added request to "keep 'em comin'." Our first round (of four thousand) of sangria arrived and we got to work drowning our cornbread and salad in sweet fruity wine. The show's cast arrived, barreling trough the hall's rear doors and explaining that they just got off the stagecoach, apologizing for their lateness. The cast of six was comprised of three pretty women, similarly costumed, but with enough differences to establish individual personalities — a sassy blond, a demure brunette and a spunky redhead all in color-coordinated gingham. The men were two ruggedly handsome, square-jawed fellows and a dorky guy tagged for comic relief. They all joined in on some rousing, crowd-pleasing renditions of Americana staples, including a riff on "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain," while asking random guest from where they hailed. Then, the cast announced that "Mom" was out in the kitchen preparing a "mess o' vittles" that would be out shortly. A song or two later, our waitress was dropping (literally dropping) overflowing pails of fried chicken and barbecued spare ribs onto our table, along with corn, baked beans and some green vegetables that no one touched for fear it would cut into our fried chicken and spare rib capacity. As we stuffed ourselves, the brunette in yellow serenaded the diners with a soaring take on the traditional 19th century folk song "Oh, Shenandoah," her powerful voice shaking the (possibly) wooden rafters. The food continued to come out and we accepted the challenge, rising to the age-old test of every all-you-can-eat format restaurant — to make them rue the day they ever made this offer and to put this place out of business once and for all. We packed the food in as only 19 year-olds are capable. The chicken and ribs were doused with an overabundance of sangria and refills remained plentiful.

My very un-PC stage debut.
Some members of the cast mingled through the dining room/show floor tables, greeting and chatting with families. They were also recruiting supplemental players (read: willing or unwilling audience members) for the next act of the show, a slapstick version of the Davy Crockett story. The brunette "Oh, Shenandoah" Girl daringly approached our table and, after a bit of friendly exchange, grabbed me, in my inebriated state, to portray a 1980, insensitive, politically-incorrect Indian (a part I cannot imagine is still included in current incarnations of the dinner show). I was hustled backstage, told to roll up my pant legs and fitted with a buckskin loincloth and a headband with a single feather. I was part of a group that included a young lady that was given a saloon dancer costume, a bald man who was forced into a tutu and translucent fairy wings, a little boy who had a comically giant cowboy had put on his head and an equally giant lawman's badge affixed to his shirt. We were all assigned a few lines of some simple stage instruction. Luckily, I was told to merely growl and grunt. This was good for me, since I was so filled with sangria that my attempt at memorizing complicated dialogue would have been disastrous. The skit started and I was pushed out onto the stage. I grunted and growled and tried to keep myself from taking a header into the front row of tables. The little boy in the giant cowboy hat approached me from the opposite side of the stage and fired off a couple of shots at me from his cap gun. As previously instructed, I hit the stage... but that would has probably happened in a few minutes anyway. The little play continued with the young lady doing an embarrassing dance to the whoops and hollers of her nearby family and the bald man uncomfortably flitting around the stage in his tutu. I, however, spent the entire length of the play (save for my brief "growling" bit) face down on the floor (and my friends had the pictures to prove it). At the conclusion, I was helped to my feet and escorted back to my table... where I unwisely consumed more sangria.

Acknowledgement of my performance
A very cute interactive song was performed by the troupe announcing the strawberry shortcake that would be served for dessert. Not being a fan of strawberries, I downed more wine until I was ultimately carried out of Pioneer Hall by my travelling companions. My friends dragged me down to the Fort Wilderness pier where they tossed me into a waiting water taxi before climbing in themselves. Then I was helped back through the lobby of the Contemporary and to our rental car then back to our hotel. (We did have a slight delay as we nearly turned into the entrance of the Florida Turnpike.) When we arrived at our hotel, Alan realized that we forgot to tip our waitress. We collectively (well, not me... I was passed out by this point) decided to return the next day and deliver the proper tip. We didn't want to be "those guys." With a pounding hangover, I forced a few pieces of toast into my mouth while my friends chowed down on a full buffet breakfast. We, once again, piled into our car and drove over to the Contemporary, then the water taxi, then the dirt path and right up to a calm (and closed-looking) Pioneer Hall. Alan tapped lightly on the huge wooden door a few times until it ominously creaked open. A woman stuck her head out and asked if she could help us. We explained that we felt bad about not leaving a tip for our waitress the previous evening, but we were otherwise occupied. With that, my friends all turned and shot me a collective dirty look. I shrunk sheepishly. The woman at the door popped her head back to summon our waitress. She was pleased and humbled by our return and happily accepted our generous wad of folded bills (actually more than we would have left the prior evening, had I not been a giant monkey wrench). We were thanked again and we left, looking for more vacation adventure... or trouble... whichever the case may be.

I returned to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue on subsequent trips — on my honeymoon and several more times with our son (including a short-lived breakfast hour version of the show). By this time, my family and I no longer ate meat outside of our home, as we observed the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher). The folks at Disney were very accommodating, offering us extra helpings of vegetables and salad that were just as satisfying. And I no longer drink alcohol.

It makes me do funny things.

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