For no readily apparent reason, they canceled our flight to San Juan. There was no way to rebook all fifteen of us together to Orlando, so we were separated and put on all sorts of different, exciting combinations of flights. My family ended up going to Miami, then changing planes for Orlando. We landed in Miami at Terminal C, and realized we had twenty minutes to change planes. . . in Terminal E.
It's a good thing we're New England types. We motored through that airport as only New Englanders can motor. Up, down, around, through hairpin turns, tossing aside slower pedestrians with roller suitcases, we arrived at Gate 11, Terminal E, with seconds to spare. We inserted ourselves suavely into the boarding line, only to be told that our seats were invalid. So we raced to the desk, and with much shouting and waving of hands, asked the desk attendant for help. It turned out that the ticket agent in St. Thomas had accidentally double-booked us on a very full flight. She monkeyed around on the computer for a while, we could feel the seconds ticking away, then drawled that she had seats for us. She moseyed over to the printer and printed our new boarding passes. We snatched them just as Final Boarding Call was announced. We scooted onto that plane, the very last ones aboard. Mom Pony is sure that the door nearly clipped Little Sister Pony's behind as it shut. But still and all, we arrived in Orlando, ready to be delivered into. . . the icy corporate hands of Disney.
I don't know whose idea it was to hold the wedding reception at Disneyworld. Given that the bride's family is from Jacksonville, I suspected that they might have planned it, but Mom and Dad Pony suspect that Cousin Halbarad has suffered a temporary injury to the good taste centers of his brain. In addition to being slightly tacky, a wedding reception at Disneyworld also turns out to be expensive. We picked the cheapest of the hotels on offer and wound up at the All-Star Sports Resort.
It's designed for eight-year-olds, and there were hordes of them running and shrieking all over the place. We were four tired, hungry, grouchy adults, and at least one of us felt like grabbing the noisiest of the rugrats by the legs and bushwhacking a path to our rooms. The pricey food in the hotel restaurant was described as "tantalizing." After you get hungry enough, anything will fit that description. We had a brief nap, then Uncle Pony invited us to a nicer dinner at a more upscale restaurant.
All of this, by the way, was set well within the bounds of the giant hunk o' real estate that is Disneyworld. The whole Disney enterprise in Florida probably covers more square miles than the entire island of St. John. Florida highway signs are green; Disney highway signs are purple. You are no longer on U.S. soil once you enter the Magic Kingdom; you are in the Wonderful Realm of Whimsy, and you will laugh and be merry or else.
I actually chose the "or else" option. I have a college friend who lives in Pensacola, and he arranged his vacation schedule such that he could travel to Orlando for a few days and visit with me. He picked me up at the hotel, where we decided that, after he had taken me out for the day, there was no reason why we shouldn't make him a cousin and bring him to the wedding reception that evening.
Off we set. First, we drove to downtown Orlando. This is an area that looks as though it had been designed for human beings by space aliens who had read about humans but had never actually met one. "A" for effort, certainly, but the whole area looked kind of. . . off. The fact that it was midday on a Saturday afternoon and the streets were utterly devoid of life might have had something to do with that. Not much to see there.
So we drove off, down the highway into a land which was utterly flat, completely covered in strip malls, where every store was a national chain. It was like entering the Plastic Dimension. I'd never seen any place quite like it. My home town in New England wasn't like that, nor was the Fairest College Town. There are chain stores in Chicago, but they are nicely interspersed with neighborhoods and real-people places. And then there is the People's Republic of Grad School Town, where people talk about Wal-Mart the way they used to talk about Moscow during the Cold War. I'd laid eyes briefly on the exterior of a Wal-Mart once, but I'd never gotten close enough to one to go inside. So my friend decided to take me on my first journey into the superstore dimension.
Wal-Mart is enormous. There's an entire supermarket inside the place, and then there are aisles and aisles and aisles of everything. Shoes, clothes, firearms(!), bolts of cloth, furniture, sporting equipment, cosmetics, toys, a bank, a travel agency, an optometrist's, car parts, videos, hardware. The place just goes on and on and on, consumer goods as far as the eye can see. It boggles the mind to look at the inside of a Wal-Mart. You could easily get lost in there and not find your way out for days. And there are smiley faces shining down relentlessly at you at regular intervals. Even a shopping mall isn't like it. Shopping malls may be all indoors, but they are at least separate, comprehensible little stores. Wal-Mart is like a department store on crack. If this is the future of America, then Canada is looking more attractive every second.
After we escaped Wal-Mart, we listened to Rasputina, a band of women who play Goth music on cellos, while we looked for something to eat. Amazingly, in this chain-store wasteland, we found a nice non-chain Indian restaurant, and restored our spirits over curry and mango lassis. Then it was time to return to Disneyworld for the wedding reception.
The wedding reception was in the convention center of the Grand Floridian, yet another of Disney's many hotels. The Grand Floridian, as the name implies, is a relatively classy place. A larger assortment of family and friends showed up for the reception, and we got my college friend in with no trouble at all. Cousin Halbarad looked more gangster-like than ever, and the Bride reprised her wedding dress.
A few words about the Bride: she's twenty-five (younger than I am; Cousin Halbarad is forty), from a relatively conservative Catholic Southern family, and a fairly conventional sort of person. She wanted all the typical, somewhat tacky trappings of a standard American wedding party, and she had them. She wore a standard white poofy wedding dress with a veil, and she wore it to both the wedding and the reception. There was a bossy DJ. The menu for dinner was, again, Random Chic cuisine. The Couple's First Dance was a slow dance that involved the couple mainly just rocking from foot to foot while everyone watched.
As the evening wore on, there was a bouquet toss, which yours truly avoided like the plague, and a garter toss. That, to me, is the Silver Standard of Tacky, especially the bit where Cousin Halbarad ended up rooting around under the Bride's dress. Ew. At least they didn't smash cake into each other's faces (Mom Pony said that Cousin Halbarad asked his best man whether he ought to do that; fortunately, the best man advised him not to). That's the Gold Standard of Tacky.
But fortunately, there were also moments that were more special, and more "us." Uncle Bernie was there, hobbling after his mini-stroke at the previous wedding, but still saucy. We danced the "Y.M.C.A." for Uncle Pony, and we did the Chair Dance. The Bride is an avid hiker, absolutely fearless in the wilderness, willing to walk up and pet sleeping bears, bushwhack her way through unfamiliar territory, adventure in strange places -- but get her up there on a chair carried by mildly tipsy cousins dancing a freylach, and she screams like anything.
The wedding reception happened to fall on the same night as the first NFL playoff game. Jacksonville was playing New England. The Bride's family is from Jacksonville. The Pony Family is strongly based in New England. Something had to be done. Dad Pony suggested that a television be installed in the ballroom so that no one (including the groom) would have cause to abandon the party. The Disney people saw the wisdom of this suggestion and commandeered a TV. There are some cultures where the bride and groom play little games to determine who will "rule" the marriage. We had the playoffs. New England spanked Jacksonville, 28 - 3.
Then it was all over, all the dancing and adventuring and traveling and exploring. I now have a new cousin, memories of a fantastic vacation doing so many things I'd never done before, and a pirate T-shirt. Now, I'm back in Grad School Town. There's a ball in Chicago this weekend, and then school starts. I'll be back to my ordinary, grad student self once more.