Monday, January 21, 2013

Hall of Presidents

One of them.

New Year's 2011 my family and my folks took a vacation at Disney World. The girl was almost eight, the boy was five and a half. They are each, by nature or nurture, cautious. The boy has a healthy streak of self-preservation; when he senses danger (from perhaps an ominous musical cue) he will choose to remove himself from a situation to avoid being scared. These things have changed recently, as they each are exposed to the thrills of fantastic literature or movies with a lot of action.

So, it was not a weekend of thrill-rides or anything even approaching a roller-coaster. Even one look at Goofy's Barnstormer was enough to make the girl shake her head and walk away.

We were meeting my parents for lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern (an 18th century-inspired family dining experience no doubt refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants) and had time beforehand to experience what Liberty Square had to offer. Somewhere along the line, however, my wife decided it would be fun for she and the girl to take in the Haunted Mansion.

There was no question that the boy was too young for that. Instead, we chose to explore the Hall of Presidents. Now, I had visited WDW three times before (really? that many?) in 1982, 1990 and 2000. Previously, the idea of watching an animatronic pageant of our white male chief executives struck me as only slightly more interesting than sitting in on a board meeting at British Petroleum.

Roll call of Presidents, early 2008.
Notice the cheers and boos around 2:49

But the boy loves history, like his father. Like his grandfather. And there would be life-size robot puppets. After spinning in teacups and the horror that is woozles (aaugghh ... the woozles ...) sitting in a dark room to watch sounded like the right thing at the right time.

Now, it has been suggested that Walt Disney World is attended largely by white people and international tourists. I am not going to get into any urban legends as to why this might be the case. Perhaps it is enough to say that, upon observation, I did feel that the percentage of people of color attending the parks, at that time, to my unscientific eye, represented something less than the national average, How's that?

However, upon entering the oval-shaped waiting hall for the exhibit, I was immediately struck by something blatantly obvious. The room was full of people, and with African-American and other people of color representing at least half of the crowd. Having never stepped into this exhibit before, I cannot vouch for how popular it usually is. But it was still morning on New Year's Day and the park was not yet at teeming capacity. Was it usually this popular, among a diverse crowd? Or was there something ... different?

Oh, yeah. That happened.

I am not going to make any sweeping generalizations about why this president is different, those are obvious, some might say irrelevant. Our visit was in the middle of Obama's first term, perhaps at the nadir of his popularity (actually, that would come later, in August when it reached something like 38%) and one must be judged on their accomplishments, or their perceived accomplishments, anyway. As the man whose day we celebrate today once said, it's character not color, stupid.

However, when you are being taught the history of America, and at the top of the list of special people whose names you must memorize there are 43 men who look an awful lot alike, and with few exceptions come from backgrounds of privilege, to wit; money, well there are a large number of people who may feel that they have little or no interest in that. Not in general, certainly not on vacation.

But when that small minority or minorities who do make the pilgrimage to Buena Vista, Florida all make a point to see the same attraction, you have to wonder whether or not they are saying, with their feet, this is important. This means something. It's not about him. It's about us.

And they, and me, and so many others, said it again on November 6. Happy Inauguration Day, America.

One footnote ... the Haunted Mansion broke down, stuck in the middle of horrifying exhibits which keep repeating and repeating and repeating. My daughter was traumatized. But it could have been worse. It could have been on It's A Small World After All.

I snorted milk through my nose.

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