Monday, September 17, 2007

Our Florence Nightingale

We were at Epcot wrappping up our last day at Disney. The plan was to hit the few things we had missed during our 1/2 day there on Thursday and to revisit a few highlights (like Space Mission and Test Track). As we were just walking in, I asked the girls and Ty to pose in front of the dome at Epcot. As I was taking their picture, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a little Disney employee asking if I wanted her to take the picture with me in it. This was one of the very nice things about Disney. Not only the employees volunteered to take pictures with our digital camera, other guests would volunteer as well. So, for this vacation, you’ll actually see some shots with me in them (Ty also took a few). Back to my story, Florence the Disney Employee, after taking the picture asked where we were headed. We said to The Land to check out Soarin’. We had missed Soarin’ (and The Land) on our first pass through and wanted to catch it before dinner. She asked if we had checked out the wait. I was a little taken aback because the park was pretty empty and we hadn’t waited any time for anything on Thursday. She took us a few steps over to the board where the wait times were posted. 45 minutes for Soarin’. We hadn’t waited 45 minutes for anything in the 4 days we had already spent at the parks. She said “Do you want me to take you to the ride with no wait?” My thinking was that she was going to steer us to another attraction that we could get on my more quickly. But, she then said that she was with the Year of Million Dreams team and that she was adopting our family to make our dream of getting on Soarin’ come true.

As Florence led us to the ride, she told us about how long she had worked for Disney and that she was actually a college math teacher who took this as her “fun job”. She alternated between handing out gifts, handing out Dream Passes (a group of six Fast Passes for the most popular attractions, randomly handed out during the day (we had gotten some on Star Wars the day before at MGM)) and handing out this special treat. She led us to The Land, gave us a walking tour on the way there, telling us the story of the handmade inlaid art work done by a guy and his daughter with over 155,000 pieces each (the two walls were identical except for one green stone, he added to commemorate his daughter’s birthday). Florence had been searching for years to find that one stone. As we walked up to Soarin’, I felt like a VIP. Florence walked up to the guy accepting Fast Passes and told him she needed five. He handed her five and we walked through, right past a 45 minute line and up to what Bob Euchre would call (and a line I had been repeating all week “The Front Row!”. Florence asked the girls what each of their favorite Disney characters were and asked if they had gotten into pin trading. They had not.

Kayla was a little nervous about the ride as she is afraid of heights. The ride is a simulated hang gliding experience where you are in a row with about 8 people and are raised up in the air and thrust into a screen that surrounds you on all sides, above and underneath. You really get the true sensation of flying as when you look anywhere in about 180 degrees peripherally and 360 vertically, you see hang gliding scenes taken from the California sky. When you fly over the orange groves, you smell oranges, when you fly over the trees, you smell the forest, etc. It was truly an amazing experience. I comforted Kayla by having her try to get out of the seat before we took off (so she could see it was impossible to fall). While we were flying, she because a little overwhelmed, so I had her look to her left to see the people beside us to get a little perspective and close her eyes when it became overwhelming. She did great. I was so proud of her!

After the ride, Florence gave each of the girls a pin. Donald Duck for Shayna and Minnie Mouse for Kayla. Then, we thanked her and she was off to do her next good deed. As she left I thought of a few things. Was this a life changing experience (aren’t they all)? If I had not stopped the girls and Ty (who were several feet ahead of me) and directed them back to take the picture in that spot, we would not have met Florence. Had we not met Florence, we would not have gotten the opportunity to walk right up onto one of the two most popular attractions at Epcot (unbeknownst to us at the time though). I We would have headed home never having experienced what was an amazing experience for all of us. As a Black man, in a White world, there’s always that little feeling in the back of your mind of how White people really perceive of you. When a 60 year old White lady who can adopt any family she chooses, chooses our family, and not only takes us to the ride, does it with us, talks to us before and afterwards and shows genuine caring and concern for us, it reinforces my faith in people. It was one of those little magical moments at Disney that I’ll always remember.

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