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.