Hall of Presidents
June 20, 2005

Something during a Google search today got me to thinking about the trip I made to DisneyWorld when I was seven. (No, this isn't some long rambling post about a vacation - hang on, there's more to this.)

This was back in the day, when you were issued a booklet of coupons and you had to budget the different letter coupons so you could go on the rides you really wanted to go on. For example, I think Space Mountain was an E ride and I hoarded my final E coupon for hours until we neared the famed roller coaster ride.

One of the "rides" that I really wanted to see was the Hall of Presidents. I know, I know. Dude, I've already said it: I'm a geek. I thought that seeing robots was cool and I desperately wanted to see Abraham Lincoln speak. I got a thrill just thinking about watching a lanky robot stand and utter something from the famed liberator. The rest of the family thought their coupons were far better spent on things like the Teacup ride and that cloying Small World ride. (That my sister, who'd begged to go on it. . . what? oh yeah. No rambling. Okay.)

Finally, I pestered Mom enough about this ride that she handed me the map and helped me figure out exactly where the Hall of Presidents was in relation to where we were. Since no one else wanted to go with me, Mom decided that at 7 I was big enough to walk through the huge amusement park alone and go see the show. We were to meet up again at some ride I've long since forgotten after the show was over. Now, Mom was pretty over-protective most of the time and I'm not really sure why she thought that a little kid would be perfectly safe heading across the park alone. I guess because it was Disney World and what harm could come to a kid at Disney World? Or maybe she was just exhausted from my constant updates about how much longer until the next Hall of Presidents show. To quote the Tootsie Roll Pop commercial, "The world may never know."

So, I'm both thrilled and terrified to be heading across the park alone. I mean, this is a rite of passage here: I've got to officially be a big kid if I can navigate my way across this park and see a show by myself. But I've also heard plenty of Stranger Danger commercials and seen enough posters to know that kidnappers can appear anywhere and you have to be really aware of your surroundings. I was mentally trying to look everywhere at once and to try to figure out what Hong Kong Phooey moves I could do if attacked. Hey, it was the 70s, everyone was paranoid.

Finally, I arrive in front of the show's little building and I'm just so excited. I can't believe it. I'm going to hear Lincoln free the slaves. This is the coolest thing ever. I'm practically gibbering to myself in excitement. We'd been taught only that Lincoln had freed the slaves and that he was a great hero -- no one had bothered to mention to a bunch of little kids that the whole thing, that the whole civil war, in fact, was more complicated than that. Lincoln was a hero for freeing the oppressed.

I slide into the big theatre and make my way to a seat kind of in the back of the theatre, but not all the way in the back. I want to be close enough to see my hero. I keep checking my watch, with the little bee's eyes that move back and forth with each second that ticks away. How much longer now? When is it going to start?

Before it does, I hear a couple of people sit down in the row right behind me. I slump down in my theatre seat. Are they going to kidnap me? I'm here all alone and there's no adults I know nearby at all. I risk a glance over my shoulder.

Oh no! They're black.

I slump even further into my seat.

And then my brain kicks into overdrive.

"Now wait a minute," my brain says to me. "Why are you here, exactly?"

"I want to see Lincoln."

"You want to see Lincoln do what?" my brain keeps prodding.

Oh. Oh yeah. What the hell is wrong with me?

I look back over my shoulder again. It's a young couple. Maybe in their twenties - it's hard for a seven-year-old to gauge the age of adults, after all. Yeah, they're black. And young. And in love. They nudge each other and give me a smile.

You know, that was a really simple thing on their part. They could have ignored this terrified white kid, afraid that any nice action they made would have repercussions for them. Being young people, they could have tried to tease me or make me smile with a funny face. But they just gave me a little smile.

I smiled back.

I relaxed. I sat upright in my seat. I was here to see my hero free the slaves. Blacks weren't any different than whites. There was no reason to be afraid of them; they were nice people.

When the show was over and I stood up, the young couple was already gone. I don't think I even heard them leave. I do remember being a lot more confident as I wound my way back through the park to the rendevous point and waited for my family. I didn't tell anyone about the young couple or how scared I'd been. I was embarassed that I'd been scared at all.

I grew up in Texas during the 70s. I read Dr. Seuss books; I watched Free to Be You and Me, Sesame Street and Electric Company. I didn't know who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, but I wanted to be a part of the civil rights movement. Of course, I was born too late - the civil rights movement was over. (I thought it was, anyway.) My Dad used the n-word. The Klan.

And somehow, that one smile solidified my whole outlook to all people. A pretty simple thing, a smile.

. . . to be continued

Posted by Red Monkey at June 20, 2005 11:18 AM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Andy T. said:

Beautiful story; thanks for sharing that one Ender!

June 21, 2005 6:03 AM


Jess said:

I wanted to see Lincoln as well... I even paid with tickets my first time.

Great story.

October 27, 2005 11:05 AM
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