Gangster Rap

There are certain things I should know by now. Hollywood Studios is, what, 22 years old now? You’d think I have a good understanding of how some of these things work. But sometimes stuff slips by me. Simple stuff. Last Friday, I just noticed something for the first time, and if it weren’t for the CM overplaying her role, I would still be in the dark.

Okay, so hopefully I’m not spoiling anything for any of you when I say that midway through the Great Movie Ride, your ride vehicle gets hijacked. This can happen in either the gangster scene, the cowboy scene, or in one memorable and life-scarring scenario, the Mary Poppins scene, where a whole slew of chimney sweeps descended on my car and forced me to Step In Time.

In the gangster scene, a gangster known as Mugsy draws a gun and tells your tour guide to “get over here.” Your tour guide, being the overacting college theater major that she is, obediently puts down her microphone and hastens off to the side, where she and Mugsy exchange words. They are interrupted by a gang hit, which leaves your tour guide ducking for cover, Mugsy returning fire, and you wondering if you should leave the gun and take the cannoli.

Mugsy shoots the red light (“I hate red lights”) and drives off into the… wait a second. Did you hear what I said earlier? Your tour guide puts down her microphone and hastens off to the side.

I’m usually good about catching stuff like this, but it never occurred to me before that even without her mic, we can still her our tour guide’s exchange with Mugsy clear as day. Is she wired? Take a look at this:

The door and staircase on the right is where Mugsy appears. He comes down those stairs (triggering a nice startled cat effect as he does so). He motions our tour guide over to the left, where she stands just to the left of that crate of junk. Behind her are Mugsy’s two henchmen (we only ever see their heads and shoulders).

See that nice round pipe jutting out of the junk crate, at approximately, oh, I don’t know, mouth level? There’s your hidden microphone.

I don’t know if it’s been there since Day One, but my wife swears it’s been like that forever. If my tour guide on Friday hadn’t been leaning forward trying to project her voice into the pipe, I still wouldn’t have caught on.

And now I’ve spoiled it for the rest of you.

The Bird Room

The World of Disney Store is a weird confluence of Disney imagery. Fairy Godmothers paint your daughter up like Miley Cyrus, a giant blue alien spits at you, animatronic pirates rattle their cages, and giant faux chrome characters loom overhead like nightmarish Macy’s Day Parade balloons.

Photo by Loren Javier

For creepy sculptures, none beats the soul-less form of John Smith, resting comfortably in a rocking chair, clutching what is either a paintbrush or a torch for burning witches, with a teacup floating magically at hand. Kids, if John Smith ever turns his icy stare on you when he’s in a painting mood, you best say a short prayer. And then you better run.

Yet the store is not without its fun details. My particular favorite is what I call the Bird Room. Maybe it has an official Disney name (The Celebratory Magical Memories of Wishful Dreams and You Room). It consists mainly of polo shirts. And also a ceiling mural, which I can stare at for hours. Okay, maybe not hours. That would be weird. And give me a heckuva neck ache.

I guess the reason I like it so much is that it is one of those rare nods to the whole pantheon of Disney characters — not just the latest Princess or wise-cracking sidekick voiced by the comedian flavor of the month. They’re not all birds. There’s some squirrels scattered about in the mural, a few dancing bugs, at least one talking tree. They do have some of the more familiar birds. Iago and Zazu both put in an appearance, and with the closure of Under New Management, this is now the only spot you can still see them together. And it’s even better than the attraction, since neither one of them speaks.

I love the obscure references to some of the old short films. We have characters from Who Killed Cock Robin? and The Grasshopper and Ants. There’s even a gag ripped straight from The Three Caballeros, where a bird with a scissor tail is frozen in mid-snip, having just given an unexpected trim to a rather vain blue specimen.

Here is a comprehensive look at the whole mural, made possible through some lazy Photoshopping. Clicking it should embiggen the image. How many characters can you name?

4 Haunting Disney World Smells

My first trip to Walt Disney World was in the early 70s. My family would go every year. We lived in Indiana, so needless to say, we drove (the first airplane was not sighted in Indiana until Reagan’s second term).

My childhood was spent marking time between Disney World visits like a prisoner making notches on the wall — fitting, since my mother often compared my bedroom  to a subterranean dungeon. We had a large family, so park time was limited to one day per trip. I would devise touring strategies down to the second. These were usually rendered obsolete by my sister’s need to use the bathroom every thirty minutes.

The Disney trip was the highlight of my year, and as I grew older, I came to recognize that the strangest things could ignite sudden flashbacks to that magical day in the park. They say the sense of smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers. To this day, there are four scents that will instantly trigger a fond, sepia-toned, bell-bottomed memory deep within my soul.

The ironic thing is, three of the four are probably considered unpleasant smells by everyone else in the known universe.

#4 – Exhaust

This can happen almost anywhere. I’m standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street, and suddenly a diesel engine will belch out a noxious cloud of fumes. As pedestrians drop like flies, hacking and coughing from the overwhelming pollution, I stand in the calm center of calamity, inhaling deeply. For there is nothing quite like the smell of a parking lot tram in the morning.

Where the magic begins.

This is the smell I associate with the very height of anticipation. If you grew up like I did, you weren’t staying on the resort line. You were parking in the Chip’n’Dale lot, standing dutifully by the post, waiting for that gorgeous orange snake to make its way from the Transportation and Ticket Center to your aisle, while your kid brother squirmed in his stroller. When that tram hissed to a stop and you caught that first whiff of exhaust, you knew you were almost there.

The corollary to this is the smell of asphalt baking in the summer heat. That harsh scent of melting tar, shimmering in a stifling, sultry tropical air. This is when you knew that your parents were too cheap to spring for hot dogs, and you were back in the parking lot, with your lunch coming from the cooler in the van.

#3 – Sunscreen

To this day, I think sunscreen is the finest cologne a man can wear. Nothing feels more like vacation than the application of sunscreen. Remember, I’m from Indiana, where 9 months out of the year, the sun is something you read about in history class.

“The Beach” cologne is by far Kramer’s best idea.

I truly do not get why some sunscreens advertise themselves as having no scent. What is the point in that? I don’t care if I develop cancerous growths on my largest organ, or if my shoulders resemble Harvey Dent at the end of The Dark Knight. As long as I smell like coconut, I’m good.

I’m sure part of this sunscreen love comes more from the pool and beach time than walking around the parks, but it’s still a symbol of fun and frivolity, and I confess that in the dark days of winter in the Midwest, I would sometimes use it instead of hand lotion, just to make myself feel better about the fact that the stupid groundhog kept seeing his shadow.

For the record, Coppertone is the best.

#2 – Air Conditioning

Not just any air conditioning. It needs to be the kind of air conditioning that gets condensation pooling somewhere in its bowels, which turns foul with some kind of mold, so that it can pump out the smell of dirty socks into every corner of the room. It’s the smell of a bayou swamp, mixed with the frigid air of a Swedish laundry, and if possible it should blasting you full in the face.

In other words, it’s the smell of Future World.

I don’t know who had the AC contract for Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, Horizons, World of Motion, Imagination, or the Land, but whoever they were, they created an odor so distinctive that I will literally pause in the tepid blast of some paper mill air vent and fill my lungs with the fragrance of tropical blossoms rotting in the freezer.

I had a car once that came very close to recreating the Future World smell. My dad once recommended I get the AC cleaned. I laughed him off and just played the Epcot soundtrack nonstop until the stereo ate the tape.

Famous for its dueling scents of oranges and day-old jockstrap.

#1 – Cigarette Smoke

My parents didn’t smoke, their friends didn’t smoke, nobody at our church ever smoked (at least not on Sunday mornings), and if my teachers smoked, they had the good graces to do it in their private lounge. So as you can imagine, the only time I was every really surrounded by a thick cloud of cigarette smoke was in the middle of Fantasyland.

Smoking was not only socially acceptable, it was darn near required. You couldn’t do it on indoor rides, of course (the AC exhaust was probably flammable), but you could smoke everywhere else, including waiting along Main Street for the parade, riding up the elevator to Star Jets, and dangling over the Speedway in your Skyway bucket. I don’t remember even being conscious of cigarettes when I was at Disney World. All I know is that it is the definitive smell of my childhood trips.

My wife is super sensitive to cigarette smoke. While she is apt to move to the other side of the street to avoid following a smoker, I am more likely to duck walk behind them, breathing through my nose, trying to recapture my childhood. When they call the police, it takes awhile to explain that my addiction is to Disney World, not nicotine. Sometimes they understand. And sometimes it takes a few applications of sunscreen before they’ll let me go.

Don Draper, Roger Sterling, and Pete Campbell were frequent passengers on the monorail.