New Routes in America
1977 TAFF Report: Peter Roberts

Chapter 8 illustrated by D. West

Published 1980 in Out of the Blue 3 ed Harry Bell & Kevin Williams
Rekeyed by Pam Wells

8 • Pirates, Parrots & Pizzas

Tuesday morning, as the throngs of Baptists milled and grimaced in the Fontainebleau lobbies, Rob Jackson, Joyce Scrivner and I made our departure from Suncon and the tinsel wonders of Miami Beach.

It had been touch and go. Not having planned anything as sensible as an itinerary, I'd been humming and hawing and changing my mind about what I was going to do next. However, my own display of indecision was completely overshadowed by Rob's, who was out-dithering me at every step. Was he flying north to Ohio or travelling south with the Mearas to the Everglades? The Mearas and the Ohio fans said yes, and so did Rob. So, was he catching a lift to Cincinnati or visiting Disneyworld? Yes, said Rob, definitely yes, though maybe ... or possibly ... or ...

In the end we just grabbed him and bundled him into the car. Weighed down with the last of the Mayas, he didn't put up much of a fight.

After that, we hit the road and sped off into the morning sunshine, singing happily and heading for the distant delights of Disneyworld.

We were still singing when a pleasantly flashing patrol car stopped us and Joyce got booked for speeding.

We took it philosophically. Life is full of little surprises ...

Anyway, Joyce didn't seem too worried since she wasn't planning on returning to Florida, and that meant she could safely ignore any speeding tickets that might come her way. So she claimed. Apparently this is known as using State Rights to your own advantage and is an interesting side-effect of the federal system that I don't remember being taught at school (we only did Washington, and the Civil War, and things like that).

All this excitement left us feeling hungry, so after the patrolman had replaced his sunglasses and left, we drove slowly off the main road and stopped at Frank and Margie's Sub and Pizza Take-Out for breakfast.

Frank and Margie's Sub and Pizza Take-Out was a smashing place, just like the cafes you see in 1940s {?} Hollywood films where you sit up at a counter and ask for malts and doughnuts and mysterious things like that.

We talked to Frank and Margie who were impressed that we'd come all the way from Miami (we knew you were from out of town, said Margie, looking pleased). Joyce said that Rob and I were from England, but that didn't seem to ring any bells. Anyway, wherever we were from, Frank and Margie invited us back real soon, and since Margie had gigantic subs, we said ok.

Before leaving I tried a root beer which is something I'd been looking forward to. It tasted of tarmac-flavoured saccharine and, according to the label, contained no real ingredients at all -- just water and an assortment of chemicals, all painstakingly listed. Not even Joyce, who was brought up on noxious drinks, would touch it. We also bought a Sunday paper -- just in case the Suncon had got a mention -- but after the first twelve supplements we got tired looking. I tried to find some overseas news, but apparently the world outside Florida had ceased to exist over the weekend, though 'America' was referred to once or twice. On page 212, I think.

With loose sheets of paper billowing round the seats, we headed north, admiring the pale scrub and the swamps steaming gently in the heat. At some stage, being fannish, we stopped for a drink and I found a beer that no-one had ever heard of -- and, indeed, never will, since it tasted of little but tin and claimed to be made out of Florida rice. Whilst drinking it I admired the local wildlife which consisted of American blackbirds which don't look at all like real blackbirds and bounced around in an unnatural and unfamiliar way, as if secretly powered by clockwork.

Musing on such wonders of nature, we continued north and, somewhere near Orlando, round about mid-afternoon, started seeing road signs to Disneyworld.

Road signs to Disneyworld are queer things, especially when mixed up with mundane places on big official notice boards -- rather like driving up the M6 and seeing a turn-off to Wolverhampton, Stafford, Never-Neverland, and Stoke-on-Trent. My tenuous grip on reality began to fade.

Disneyworld, when we got there, was huge and appeared to consist of a vast highway in a wilderness of parkland. More odd-looking signs advised us to tune our car radios to a certain waveband -- which we did, discovering neatly broadcast messages of welcome, plus instructions on where to go and what to see. Amazing. They should try that with real cities.

After several miles of this steady cruising the empty parkland turned into a gigantic carpark, roughly the size of Wales, in which we found a space. Getting out of the car, there was nothing to see but more cars and distant trees. No sign of Donald Duck or fairy castles or anything.

Rob and I looked around bewildered and close to tears, until Joyce maternally led us to a space between the cars and pointed to an approaching train that was weaving and snaking around the carpark picking up passengers.

Memorizing our block of cars (which a cartoon said was Dumbo Row 8, or something similar) we boarded the open seat runabout train and chuff-chuffed towards our destination wearing smug smiles of anticipation.

The perimeter of Disneyworld proper appeared, looking like a fortified border crossing. Whilst Rob and I jigged up and down in excitement, Joyce used her special vouchers and Magic Kingdom Club membership to get us tickets entitling us to Fun.

Disneyworld itself was still hidden in the haze of distance and, having made it through the gates along with streams of other tourists, we had to select a Mississippi paddlesteamer or a 21st century monorail to take us right into the heart of things. Our first agonizing choice. Close to tears again.

Controlling ourselves with difficulty, we remembered we were sci-fi fans and climbed the ramps leading up to the monorail.

The monorail, when it arrived, was streamlined, smooth, and just what the future was always supposed to be like. Reclining in our 21st century seats we glided off and whizzed high above the parkland, the thin ribbon of rail curving cleanly in front of us, skirting the edge of a lake on which giant toy paddlesteamers floated like drowning bees.

Bouncing out at the other end, we climbed down from the future and found ourselves in the hot bustling clamour of Main Street, USA -- a treacly cute scaled down replica of an imaginary nineteenth century high street. It was crowded, and neat, and stank of popcorn. My lips curled into a sneer.

Joyce took us both in hand and led us off to our first ride, which was something to do with pirates and looked pretty stupid and yo-ho-ho-y and not a lot of fun.

Having lost Rob (see previous chapters), we handed in our tickets and embarked on a sort of floating train, whose open boats or shuttle carriages were gliding automatically over a shallow underwater track. Our shuttle steered itself off and we began our programmed pirate adventure, disappearing into an underground maze of plastic caverns.

Slumped cynically in my seat, I was totally unprepared for what followed. As we oozed casually round the first corner, there was a rush of noise and bright lights and the whole incredible subterranean fantasy world roared into life.

Giant automatons cavorted and chortled around us, moving about, talking, singing -- animals pranced around -- pirates attacked us -- cannonballs splashed in the water -- buccaneers waved and scowled and scratched their beards ... And there was I, wide-eyed and gaping ... And by the time it was all over, I was stunned and amazed and wanted to go on the ride all over again.

Rob emerged from the boat behind ours, grinning like a five year old.


So this was the real secret of Disneyworld. This was what lured millions of sane adults to a remote and swampy amusement park.

Bloody hell.

Rob and I now became quite genuinely childlike and demanded more rides quickly. It was only beginning to dawn on us that Disneyworld really was big and that we didn't have much time, since Rob was due to pick up a lift to Ohio (that had been the ultimate compromise back at Suncon) early in the evening. Joyce and I promptly decided to return to Disneyworld the following day, which relaxed our appetites somewhat but still left Rob in a state of what-to-see-next anxiety.

I think, therefore, we must have scurried around for a while before making it to the Haunted Mansion -- an authentic Hitchcockian edifice looming in its own corner of the park.

After queuing for some considerable while, we managed to enter as part of a batch of expectant tourists and were communally herded into a locked room which promptly began to sink into the bowels of the earth.

That seemed a good way to start.

Down below we trooped forward under dim lights and were crisply strapped into giant armchairs -- no, I'm not making this up -- which then started off in pairs down a dark corridor.

Engulfed in gloom, we creaked along the passageway like lunatics till, without any warning, our deeply padded chairs picked up speed and lurched headlong into a series of ghoul-infested rooms.

Automatons howled and gibbered -- wailing apparitions floated around -- a holographic ghost sat beaming on the arm of my chair -- disembodied heads chatted away -- doors slammed -- skeletons rattled -- and the pre-programmed armchairs whirled and plunged in an astonishing imitation of utter chaos.

I flinched and ducked with the rest of them, and came out into the sunshine beaming like an idiot.

If it hadn't been for the queues, we'd all have gone back for more, but after a couple of less memorable trips and a bit of mooching around dusk was upon us, and it was getting time to mount the monorail and whiz off into the sunset for a meeting with Brad Balfour -- Rob's Cincinnati chauffeur.

After some waiting around, Brad duly turned up in an MG, demonstrating a peculiar slap-cum-handshake which he assured us was the in-thing amongst urban blacks -- which indeed it probably was. We attempted to learn this, without much success, whilst speeding off in convoy for a farewell supper.

Brad was an ebullient bloke -- I'd met him briefly at Suncon -- dedicated to a certain degree of trendiness which had Rob looking mildly apprehensive. We all seemed to get on happily enough nonetheless, and chatted away contentedly till evening came on and it was time to separate.

We shuffled about, saying goodbye and nodding and waving a lot till the MG roared off into the night, carrying Rob (and the last of the Mayas) to separate encounters in the Mid-West (which he'll probably tell you about if you buy him a drink sometime).

Meanwhile, Joyce and I found a convenient motel with a swimming pool and splashed about in the dark for a while before retiring in anticipation of a full day in Disneyworld.

Next morning, after a breakfast of eggs and grits, we sped back to the Magic Kingdom and the popcorn stench of Main Street, USA.

Plunging into the crowds, we immediately bumped into Peter Mabey looking vaguely bemused by his eccentric surroundings. Since Suncon was a couple of hundred miles and subjectively several hundred years in the past, we exchanged mutual surprise and made several remarks about the strange vagaries of coincidence and things like that.

Leaving Peter, we turned a corner and collided with Eddie and Marsha Jones. So it goes. You look for Mickey Mouse and you find British fans ...

Anyway, perhaps the strangeness of these meetings affected my sense of judgement, because I happily agreed to Joyce's innocent suggestion that we visit the Tropical Serenade. Since this was in the sector known as Adventureland and was the attraction closest to the Pirates of the Caribbean, this seemed to be an ace idea.

We queued up and stared at some unpleasantly garish flowers, plastic fountains, and mock-Polynesian statues. Ahead of us lurked an unauthentic native longhouse. Gazing idly at the South Sea flummery, I noticed a small door opening above the tinkling fountain. A plastic parrot popped out and cheerily began to chat to us about the delights of the Tropical Serenade and the wonders of grapefruit juice.

Something about this last sentiment prompted vague pre-Suncon memories. I looked at the Disneyworld guide:

'TROPICAL SERENADE (Enchanted Tiki Birds) Sing along with birds, flowers and tikis in a musical luau. Presented by Florida Citrus Growers.'

Shit. How had I let myself in for this nonsense? I glowered at Joyce, who was smiling sweetly at the plastic parrot, and then looked for the way out.

There wasn't any. Crowds had formed behind us and, attracted by the parrot, were crushing forward, blocking the path. Steel barriers prevented escape from the side.

Like a lost soul in a Lovecraft saga, I peered ahead and saw the great carved doors of the longhouse swinging horribly open.

My forlorn cries drowned by the eldritch singing of plastic parrots, I was swept forward into the dreadful and interminable horrors of the Tropical Serenade ...

Not all of Disneyworld is fun.

Joyce bought me a fruit slush after the ordeal was over, and we looked around some of the Adventureland shops which were selling all sorts of curious items, supposedly imported from Polynesia and Hawaii and also -- for no apparent reason, except a vague hope of being 'ethnic' -- from Spain, Africa, the Middle and Far East as well. The fruit slush tasted like a fruit slush. Americans drink some curious things.

Anyway, we had a tour on the old-fashioned railway and a ride on the paddlesteamers (where we met some more fans that Joyce recognised) and generally soaked in the Disneyworld atmosphere which, in a word, is bogus.

Everything in Disneyworld -- from the artificially blue coloured lakes to the buildings, the transport, the animals, and the flowers -- is a fake. A sub-authentic reproduction. Wandering around is like being in a Phil Dick novel -- so much so that after a while you begin fingering things and looking at people intently and searching through your stock of memories of the real world for half-remembered references.

At one point, up in a scenic ski-lift, I pointed to a spectacular cloud formation hanging low in the sky. 'That's well done,' I said, and then, after a moment's thought, banged my head lightly against the safety rail in an attempt to re-enter reality.

Similarly, paddle-steaming around Tom Sawyer's artificial island, waving at the automaton 'Indians' and admiring the tail-flicking, ear-twitching, furtively drinking electric 'deer', I heard cries of amazement at some strange event in the blue dyed water below. Turning my attention from the sham 'paddle-wheel' churning at the back of the 'steam' boat, I peered over the side and saw a bewildered duck splashing through the shallows. Dozens of cameras clicked and whirred ... Was it real? We all stared at it speculatively, waiting to see if the cycle of splashing was repeated.

That's the way things are in Disneyworld. It wasn't till several days later that I finally shook off the feeling that everything around me was a complete fake, and stopped eyeing things quizzically.

Meanwhile, despite -- or partly because of -- the eeriness of the place, we were bouncing around in some amazement and generally having fun.

We sampled the attractions of Fantasyland -- Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Peter Pan's Flight (which broke down, leaving us hanging for several minutes over 'moonlit London' whilst a stentorian voice boomed out, telling us not to worry), and Captain Nemo's Submarine World (which Captain Nemo is welcome to).

The Mission to Mars in Tomorrowland was authentically boring -- rather like a 1950s sci-fi film -- but the Space Mountain was something else. By coincidence, I think, we met up with Eddie, Marsha, and Peter once again as we were going in, so we took the trip together, though Eddie said he didn't fancy it and sat in the sun outside.

Eddie's disappearance made me check the booklet. Once again, I'd left it too late. The Space Mountain was nothing more nor less than a giant roller-coaster -- a form of entertainment that utterly terrifies me.

Arriving all too soon at the front of the queue, we were manhandled and crammed into cramped shuttles -- rather like those manned torpedoes they had in World War II -- and shoved off into the long and perilously steep slope upwards. Just as we were leaving, one of the wedgers told me to take off my glasses or risk losing them, which really boosted my confidence.

I don't remember much of what happened after that, but we certainly travelled at an absurd speed and at ludicrous angles through what I'm told was an outer space environment. With my newly limited vision, this meant it was pitch black and I didn't see any of the plummeting drops and vertiginous heights, for which I'm eternally grateful. When it was all over and the squealing and shrieking was at an end, everyone looked pretty stunned and shaken, except me, I was looking blind and puzzled. Fun comes in strange forms.

Anyway, Joyce and I wandered off again and I bought a Mickey Mouse hat, which is something I've always wanted since I was a kid, and we met yet more fans that Joyce recognised, and we saw America the Beautiful -- which is an incredible 360 degree all-around-you film -- and tried a few minor trips, and poked our noses into a variety of places, and finally ended up in the Hall of Presidents, sometime towards evening.

This all-American entertainment started off with an amazingly inept patriotic film which had me laughing despite nudges from Joyce and revolutionary glares from nearby members of the audience. As this died down, with flags waving, eagles flying, and several people standing up clutching their hearts, the screen lifted to reveal a vast theatre stage on which were assembled all the American presidents, some seated, some standing. I was stunned for a moment, and then did another Disneyworld double-take as I realised that these too were automatons.

Washington introduced everybody, and they waved, bowed, or nodded, according to their presidential whims, and then Lincoln got up and made a speech whilst the other automatons gazed vaguely into the audience, picked their fingernails, swayed on the balls of their feet, jingled their keys, and whispered to each other rather covertly. President Harding kept looking straight at me and winking ...

Anyway, when it was all over, I was still sitting in my seat, gasping in awe and astonishment. A complete set of automaton presidents. Good grief. Makes you wonder about Nixon, Carter, and the rest ...

And that just about completed our day. We took the monorail to the Disney Contemporary Hotel for a meal in the Grand Canyon Concourse, just to put a finishing touch of weirdness to the whole fantasy. The Contemporary Hotel is shaped like an open book with the spine uppermost and the rooms -- 1046 of them -- tiered in the inward sloping walls. The middle section is entirely open -- the Grand Canyon Concourse, in fact -- and the monorail (wait for it) goes right through the centre, over the heads of restaurant diners on the Concourse floor.

The Disney Contemporary Hotel is a very, very strange place. We stayed there most of the evening, chatting and eating and staring at the sights. Eventually we took a final nighttime ride on the monorail and left Disneyworld for good.

The next day we got our feet firmly back on the ground and took a trip to the Kennedy Space Centre.

But that's worth another chapter ...