Saturday, May 10, 2008

A House of Mouse Primer

I have been to the Walt Disney World parks in Florida more times than I can count, literally hundreds of times, and I have never once paid for admission. The three times I went as a kid, my parents obviously paid. And then I moved to Central Florida in 1990 and got a job working for the Mouse. My friends and I were in our early twenties, broke, and all worked for Disney, so the cheapest way for us to spend an evening or a day off was to go to the parks. Even after I left Disney, through the friendships that remain and comp passes I had amassed, I have never had to pay to get into the parks.

As is pretty typical for your twenties, there is a lot of baggage around my time spent with the Mouse, but I left the company after almost five years with some great friendships that have remained strong despite life, family, and geographical changes over the last 15 or so years. I was pretty jaded on Disney when I left the company. Although I appreciate what the company represents to so many people around the world, I also recognize it as a money-generating corporate machine based largely on manipulating emotions.

Yet contrary to what my brain tells me, I can't deny I have many good memories associated with Disney. That first family vacation there when I was nine, and camping at the Fort Wilderness Campground. The first date between my wife and I was a blind date at the Disney-MGM Studios. (My close friend, who would be the Best Man in our wedding almost three years later, got us into the parks that day.) Our then-four year-old son's first visit to the Magic Kingdom with my wife and me and my parents a few years ago. Incredible, treasured memories.

Why share a glimpse of my personal history with the company? I'm currently rereading one of my favorite books, James B. Stewart's DisneyWar. I first read it two years ago when I went on a Disney book reading jag that encompassed six books and fairly effectively told the story of the Walt Disney Company. To accurately paint the picture, I would recommend reading the books in the following order:

1. Walt Disney: An American Original - Bob Thomas
As a former employee, there wasn't much in Thomas' book I hadn't already picked up about Walt's life over the years living in Central Florida and working for Disney, but it was a good refresher none the less.

2.
Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando - Richard E. Foglesong
Rollins College professor Foglesong's book takes a magnifying glass to the complicated relationship between Central Florida and the Walt Disney Company. This book offers some great insight into how these two entities came together and who benefits from their now-inextricable link.

3.
Storming the Magic Kingdom: Wall Street, the Raiders and the Battle for Disney - John Taylor
The summer before I first moved to Florida, I read Taylor's great book. It deals with the fight that led to Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold successfully saving the company in 1984. The story is compelling enough that it reads more like a novel than non-fiction. When I reread it two years ago, I found that it has held up well over time.

4.
DisneyWar - James B. Stewart
The perfect unofficial sequel to Storming the Magic Kingdom. After a brief recap of the events in Taylor's book, this incredible tome picks right up and takes the reader through an in depth exploration of the Eisner years -- the success, the hubris, the fortunes made, the egos, the tragedy, all of it. If you're only going to read one book on this list, this is the one to go with.

5.
Work in Progress - Michael Eisner with Tony Schwartz
Laughably self-indulgent and one-sided. Not necessarily a must-read, it does give you Eisner's messed up point of view on much of what you have already read up to this point if you're working your way through this list.

6.
Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World - Carl Hiaasen
More biting than Dave Barry,
Hiaasen is where native Floridians go for their humor. And Team Rodent is his brilliant skewering of the Mouse. Hiaasen claims he had hoped this book would have resulted in his being banned for life from the Disney parks. An admirable dream, and somehow appropriate if you have any familiarity with the man or his work.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Drinking to be Melancholy

On the drive home tonight, XM '70s on 7 played "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor followed by "Changes in Latitude" by Jimmy Buffett, and that sent me back in time a bit...

In college, circa 1989, I made a tape called "Drinking to be Melancholy". Side A was Jimmy Buffett's
Songs You Know by Heart, side B was James Taylor's Greatest Hits. In my mind at least, a ridiculously appropriate pairing of albums. What's most intriguing about the tape, though, is the fact that I was firmly entrenched in my punk phase at the time -- Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, The The, Front 242, Joy Division, Jane's Addiction, the Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb... you get the picture. So it's strange that I would even go there musically at that point in my life.

I had actually never heard a Jimmy Buffett song prior to that year. I was dating a girl who was pretty "All-American" compared to me with my purple hair, multiple earrings, black lipstick and eyeliner (think Bender's "Wouldn't I be outstanding in that capacity?" line in
Breakfast Club to frame the relationship properly). She had the CD, and the music grew on me enough that I made the aforementioned tape. At one point that year my dad picked me up to drive me home from college (possibly spring break), and I played the "Drinking to be Melancholy" tape on the drive -- and I remember being surprised that he knew the music, let alone liked it!

James Taylor is an artist where I can tell you exactly where I was the first time I consciously heard his music: a charter bus on the way back to Northeast Ohio from Bloomington, Indiana in August 1987. My friend Francis and I were the most unlikely delegates on our way back from
NAJAC (the National Junior Achievement Conference) that summer. I honestly have no idea why we were selected and don't believe I got anything of value out of it. There were competitions or something, though Francis and I certainly never prepared in advance for any of that or took it seriously, and I frankly don't recall what the competition was about. I remember a big auditorium we often gathered in on the Indiana University campus, where the conference was held, and that's about it. Anyway, Francis had JT's Greatest Hits on cassette, and I borrowed it during the bus ride home and never managed to return it.

I think it's time to head over to iTunes and set up a playlist...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Geek Weekend

Because our Cavaliers couldn't finish off the Wizards in Game 5 on Wednesday night, we ended up missing the Cavs' convincing win in Washington on Friday night because we were out with good friends seeing Iron Man. Wow, what a great movie! It lived up to both the hype and my personal expectations. Robert Downey, Jr. was born to play Tony Stark, taking the character seriously while never losing sight of the fact that the source material is a comic book. (And while I never would have pictured Tony Stark of the comics listening to Suicidal Tendencies while working on his armor, it was absolutely appropriate for Downey's Stark to be doing just that at one point.) Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard all were fantastic in their respective roles as well. The A.I. Jarvis was a little disconcerting to me until I read a post on the Marvel Noise forum that pointed out that it allowed Paltrow's Pepper Potts to take on a "keeping Stark's life in order" role, which helped make that dynamic even more satisfying. We stayed until after the credits for a scene I didn't much care for. I'm not a fan of Marvel's Ultimate Universe, so the Sam Jackson cameo was more off-putting than exciting for me. In all, a fantastic movie, and based on the weekend's numbers, it looks like we should be treated to at least a sequel, if not a franchise!

Saturday was
Free Comic Book Day, so my son and I went to the local comic shop to stock up on some of the freebies! I came away with Hellboy, G.I. Joe: Sigma 6, X-Men, and Dan Dare, while my son scored with Sonic the Hedgehog, Little Archie, Donald Duck, and Gyro Gearloose. He also got his picture taken with Batman on the way into the shop, and on the way out Batman came up to the car window and told him to stay in school. Sage advice, indeed, from the Dark Knight.

Sunday I surprised my son with a trip to the Canton Comic & Sci-Fi Convention. These shows that
Jeff Harper puts on are a far cry from the mega-super-duper events that have taken over the industry. Jeff's conventions are designed for collectors and fans to fill collection holes and find some real bargains, and are family friendly. For a couple of bucks my son hauled in a Superman Adventures, a Spider-Man/X-Men Team-Up, a Web of Spidey with Venom, a Sensational Spider-Man with Swarm, and a Bone Holiday Special. As a bonus, when he opened the Sensational Spider-Man he found an Iron Man trading card inside. Double prizes! And when he saw the animation style cells Brett Pinson over at Boomtown Press was doing, my son was completely sold. He decided to buy one of Pinson's small animation style cells of Darth Vader. And the weekend was complete!