We drove into Adelaide yesterday to have lunch with six of our good Aussie friends — Ray and Polly, Ken and Sue, and Grant and Elizabeth. And that somehow takes us back to Southern California, circa 1966.
I love Disneyland. I’ve probably been there a hundred times. Maybe more. At one time I decided that when the time came I wanted my ashes surreptitiously scattered on the amusement park’s Main Street. It would have been illegal, of course, but my business partner Dan devised a brilliant plan to achieve my final wish by putting my ashes in his specially-rigged pants pocket, then shaking his leg to initiate the scattering process as he strolled through the amusement park. Thanks to his ingenuity, I would have been able to spend eternity in my favorite place. (And watching him demonstrate his technique was hilarious.)
All that being said, as much as I love Disneyland, I absolutely loathe the It’s A Small World attraction. It’s my least favorite ride at my most favorite place.
Many years ago my Rotarian dad came up with what he thought would be an outstanding character-building experience for me. He volunteered me to chaperone a troop of Cub Scouts on Scout Day at Disneyland. “You don’t have to stay with the scouts,” he said. ”Just drive them there and back. You can go off on your own to enjoy the park.”
This will be fun, I thought. I get to spend the day at my favorite place and it will be free.
Well, I was wrong. It was free, but it was not fun.
It was one of those sweltering inland Southern California days, undoubtedly the hottest day of the year, and there were a thousand screaming Scouts standing in line for each and every one of the good rides. The only rides left were the ones no one wanted to take. Nothing but A-ticket rides (if you’re old enough to remember what that means) except for the It’s A Small World ride, which was a terrible ride yet inexplicably cost an E-ticket, the same as all the most popular rides such as the Haunted Mansion and the Matterhorn Bobsleds and the Jungle Cruise.
Nevertheless, I sought refuge inside It’s A Small World because (a) there was no line snaking back and forth in the noonday sun and (b) because it was an indoor water ride I knew it would be cool and shady. But let me be clear — charging an E-Ticket for It’s A Small World should have been a crime. A felony, not a misdemeanor. Being subjected to this ride could only be described as cruel and unusual punishment, which is specifically prohibited by the United States Constitution. The ride was an insipid attempt to show that people are the same everywhere. Peace, love, harmony, Kumbaya.
As the boat slowly sailed from country to country, the It’s A Small World theme song was sung in the language of each country by audio animatronic children dressed in their native costumes. Nothing happened on the ride. Nothing. It was just the same grating song over and over and over again — first in English and then in French and then in Japanese and then in Chinese and so on and so on. Maybe I was a grumpy old man even when I was a teenager, because I hated that freakin’ song and couldn’t wait for the ride to finish. Even the heat of Southern California in July was preferable to hearing that song again in Swahili and Esperanto and whatever other languages Disney’s sadomasochistic ride designers had chosen.
Much to my horror some mechanical problem cropped up mid-ride and all the passenger boats ground to a halt. We had to sit there for an hour while repairs were made. During that time, the incredibly annoying It’s A Small World theme song played over and over and over again and all the international-themed audio animatronic characters continued clacking away until I was ready to scream. And the cherry on top of this sundae? Every boat in that long line of stopped boats was filled with screaming Scouts.
Who knows? It may well have been during that hour that I made the decision never to have children.
But let’s put my teenage trauma aside because no matter how much I may hate that damn It’s A Small World theme song, a number things have since happened to convince me that it really is a small world.
Small World Story #1
Back in the year 2000 we sold our home in Southern California, put everything we owned into storage, and traveled around Australia for a three months.
We didn’t know a soul when we arrived in the Barossa Valley, but we rented Byhurst, a beautiful old stone cottage in Tanunda and really hit it off with Ray and Polly, its owners.
When our trip ended and we returned to California we moved all our worldly possessions from a storage space in Newport Beach to San Luis Obispo on California’s Central Coast. Jamie soon landed a job working for a young real estate developer who was, coincidentally, Australian.
A few weeks later I was trading emails with Ray and Polly when I mentioned that Jamie had begun working for a young guy who was originally from the nearby Adelaide Hills. “We used to live in the Adelaide Hills,” Polly said. ”What is his name.” I told her and was absolutely dumbfounded when she wrote back, “We lived just around the corner from his parents when he was a teenager. He stole our car.”
What are the odds?
Small World Story #2
Ray and Polly eventually sold their beautiful little Byhurst cottage and the buyers made it their home. We couldn’t stay there again, so when we were planning our next trip, we decided instead to rent a cottage for three months in neighboring Angaston. I emailed the owners of Acorn Cottage to find out if it was available.
No one had ever attempted to rent Ken and Sue’s cottage for such an extended period of time and they seemed to think we were some kind of scam artists. He insisted on calling me on the phone to reassure himself by getting a better feel for who we were.
I guess we passed the test because they agreed to rent to us for the full three month period. But they clearly still didn’t trust us completely and insisted on full payment upfront and demanded that we take out an expensive travel insurance policy naming them as beneficiaries in case we flaked out and left them with no renters for twelve weeks.
Then, for some reason, Ken’s attitude did a 180 and he seemed to trust us completely. I thought it was a very odd, very abrupt change, but attributed it to my charming personality. Jamie, the realistic half of this marriage, knew it had to be something else.
Months later we found out that Ken and Sue had had lunch one day with two other couples. Ken mentioned this odd story about an American couple who wanted to rent their cottages for three months. One of the acquaintances said, “Is it Jim and Jamie?” Turns out those acquaintances were the same Ray and Polly who had rented to us in Tanunda years earlier. Polly assured them that we were legit so Ken and Sue rented us their cottage with no strings attached.
What are the odds?
Small World Story #3
I went down to the corner coffee shop one Thursday morning and found Sue, the owner of our cottage, having coffee with several other women. One of them was named Elizabeth.
A few days later we were surprised when Elizabeth knocked on our door and invited us to her house for dinner. We quickly accepted. While chatting over hors d’oeuvres we were absolutely gobsmacked to learn that Elizabeth and Polly have been best friends since they were school girls.
What are the odds?
As you may have noticed, Polly is the common thread that runs through all these stories.
So maybe it’s not a small world after all. Maybe it’s just a Polly world.
In case you were wondering, I no longer want my ashes spread at Disneyland. Dan is off the hook. I now want them scattered in a small vineyard just around the corner from the little cottage here in Angaston. It has a beautiful view overlooking the entire Barossa Valley. Jamie knows the exact spot and has agreed that it would be a perfect final resting spot.
The new location has several distinct advantages over Disneyland: (1) I won’t be tromped on by ten thousand fun seekers every day. (2) I will be neither shit on nor peed on by the massive Clydesdales who pull carriages up and down Main Street. (3) I won’t be scooped up by the omnipresent trash collectors who roam the Magic Kingdom with their little brooms and dust pans. (4) I am unlikely to hear the insipid strains of It’s A Small World in the distance. And, finally, (5) It will be much easier for Polly to visit.