For the past few days, I've been watching videos of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover on YouTube. Living in Florida, for some years close enough to Walt Disney World to go every weekend, Tomorrowland was my dreamworld, a possible vision of the future that suited me, basic as it looked compared to other visions.
I liked that it didn't have an entire, demanding, underlying structure. You could walk Tomorrowland, you could go on Space Mountain, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (as it was called in my time), the Carousel of Progress, and let your imagination carry you. You were the future.
The last time I went on the PeopleMover was long before PeopleMover returned to the name (it was originally the Wedway PeopleMover from 1975 to 1994), as if the attraction wasn't already so obvious by its look and purpose. You could hardly mistake it for the spinning teacups in Fantasyland.
I missed out on the TTA at my Grad Nite in 2002, because the powers that be at the Magic Kingdom did not want rowdy, near-high school graduates throwing things from above, or jumping out of the vehicles while they was moving, or a host of whatever else their imaginations conjured, though likely accurate enough in years' past to put me at a disadvantage, given my love of the TTA and the Carousel of Progress, which was also closed because Audio-Animatronics are expensive. (Or at least me and the rest from Hollywood Hills High School were near-graduates. I know that there were other schools who had gone directly to Grad Nite after graduation.)
So the last time I was on the TTA was in 2000, when my father took all of us with him to the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando (According to this article, it took place from Tuesday, February 29 to Thursday, March 2, so I may have missed school then, which was worth it).We arrived early enough in Orlando to go to the Convention Center, see the exhibits, and meet whoever my father knew. (My father also may have wanted to go because Frank Barker of BellSouth was speaking, and even though he was back teaching for four years at that point, my father worked for Southern Bell (which later became BellSouth while he was there) for 19 years, and that experience was still very much with him.)
The next day, while my father spent the day at the Convention Center, my mother, my sister and I went to what was then Downtown Disney, to walk around, see what we hadn't seen in many years, and we also went to the then-AMC Pleasure Island 24, where my sister and my mother saw Snow Day, and I saw American Beauty for the third time (the first time was a press screening at the AMC Aventura 24 (17 miles north of Miami), and the second time was at the Muvico (now Cinemark) Paradise 24 in Davie).
The day after, we went to the Magic Kingdom, and my father said he'd meet us later, since he wanted to spend more time at the conference. Back then, with no cell phones, my mother designated a meeting place to check in throughout the day, and I had to. If only I had tried to convince her that Tomorrowland would be a good meeting spot. That would have been very convenient, because as soon as we got to the Magic Kingdom, and decided where to meet up, I made a beeline to Tomorrowland.
Before that, at the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC), which is also the monorail station, we learned that it was an Early Entry Morning for passholders and hotel guests. We were neither, but after hearing of our experiences going to Walt Disney World every weekend when we lived nearby, and sometimes during the week just for dinner, the older guy manning access to the monorail station let us through. And because of that, and my rush to Tomorrowland, I was able to ride Space Mountain three times before it started to get crowded.
Except for meeting up throughout the day and eating wherever we ate later on, I spent the entire day in Tomorrowland. For a while, I hung out in the arcade that used to be next to Space Mountain, and took advantage of the CD jukebox that played the music throughout the entire arcade. Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do" sounds nice that way when you're walking around and also peeking through the one of the large porthole windows at the back, watching the train chug by.
I don't remember if I went on Space Mountain a few more times that day. I probably went on the Carousel of Progress once or twice, or, I hope, three times at least. I wouldn't have missed that for anything, being one of my dearly favorite attractions.
But one thing hits me now that I wasn't quite aware of that day, or even all the other times I went on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (and I'm sure I did many times that day, because with its constant cycling, which is one of its notable features, there was never a line for it). After passing the taller view of Cinderella's Castle, and turning into a tunnel, you pass an extensive diorama of Progress City, which was Walt Disney's vision for the future, and also inspired EPCOT. What's amazing about it is the dusky blue horizon in the background, which seems like it could stretch even further back.
But after that, on the right, is a portly robot waiting to board a small rocketship called the Cross Galaxy Express, the area of which, in one YouTube video, is decked out in muted Day-Glo colors, and in other later ones, up to at least March of this year, somewhat brighter.
When you're actually riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (PeopleMover is for those who ride it today), it's hard to take in all the details like that, like the sign for the Cross Galaxy Express, not only because you're moving fairly swiftly, but because there's so much going on around you, such as the brief memory of the diorama, and the narration playing above you, and next the windows looking down into what was then Mickey's Star Traders (souvenir store), but is now called just Star Traders. And then you're looking out on the Autopia track on the long stretch to Space Mountain.
It took the YouTube videos to really make me see the details of the robot waiting to board the rocketship, the Cross Galaxy Express name, the Day-Glo poster for Pan-Galactic Pizza, "Hot Delivery - Right to Your Planet." But one thing YouTube videos like those absolutely cannot express is the sheer number of years that have passed and all that has happened within them.
I last rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority in 2000. Since then, I graduated high school (and lost out on riding the TTA at least one more time because of potentially rowdy Grad Nite attendees), moved to Southern California (first year in Valencia, the following eight years in nearby Saugus, all in the Santa Clarita Valley), worked as an AVID (college-facing program) tutor and as a substitute campus supervisor at La Mesa Junior High, where my father taught; attended , and graduated from, College of the Canyons; was an intern and then associate editor and then interim editor for the weekend Escape section at The Signal newspaper, also in Santa Clarita; moved to Las Vegas for five years; worked in the Clark County School District in myriad positions, finishing out my time there as an elementary school library aide; went through all of the stress and worry and sorrow of my father's stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis; moved to Ventura; spent a lot of time looking for work; witnessed my father pass away from the cancer, and my beloved, elderly dogs a few months before that; worked for a failed startup; was hired by Ventura College to work as an Instructional Lab Technician in the Learning Resources Center; worked as an administrative assistant at LIV Sotheby's International Realty in downtown Ventura; finally made it into the County of Ventura government after two solid years of trying, working a temp job in Elections for the Presidential Primary this year; worked again for Elections in early August for about a week and a half, ahead of the November election (there may be more work to come, but I couldn't work in their new, makeshift call center in Oxnard when I was offered because one, I don't have a car right now, and two, I'm within walking distance to the Government Center, where I worked all those times before, and wouldn't give that up); and am hopefully in the running for a few other job prospects.
And that's not to mention everything else in between, including my first book published in 2011 (which is thankfully still on Amazon), all that I clung to fiercely to try to survive in Las Vegas (including the roast pork at #1 Hawaiian Barbecue at the Walmart shopping center next to one of the runways at McCarran International, and the Vietnamese iced coffee at 99 Ranch Market on Maryland Parkway), the five years I volunteered at the Green Valley Library in Henderson, the two times I was a substitute library aide at Paradise Elementary on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) campus, and immediately went to Lied Library in the hours before I had to report to work, and got lost both times on the way back, etc., etc., etc.
And here I am, well after graduating high school, 36 years old, and the robot and the rocketship and the Cross Galaxy Express sign are all still there, still lit up in Day-Glo colors. They never changed. They were spruced up, but their basic functionality never changed. 20 years and it's all still there. That's the kind of longevity we hope for in many things, but we age around it. I know that if I ever went back to the Magic Kingdom, I would still spend the entire day at Tomorrowland. Since 2000, I have added to my interest in science fiction with the Tron movies, especially Tron: Legacy, still hoping for a third one. I love the Blade Runner movies, and at least once a month, if not on DVD at least, I watch clips of Oblivion on YouTube, which also came from Joseph Kosinski, whose Tron: Legacy made him one of my favorite directors.
I'm still trying to actually read science fiction, because I know the imagination can be much more potent than what you see on the screen, but I haven't been able to settle in as much as I'd like to. Other books get in the way (lately, it's a collection of essays by the late Brian Doyle, who I discovered in one of the Best American Essays anthologies, and I'm anticipating new biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt, John Steinbeck, James Beard, Jimmy Carter, and Abraham Lincoln from the library), but I'm also trying to find the right way in for me. I watch the Star Trek franchise here and there, and read it occasionally, too, but I want to be consumed by science fiction. I haven't found that entrance yet, which I hope will be the equivalent of when I used to walk through the entrance of Space Mountain and hear the recorded orchestral introduction that held the inspirational promise of the future. That, and the space music track further into the walkway, are the only two tracks from Walt Disney World that I have on my computer and still play occasionally.
So there's the robot still waiting for the flight. There's the old Tomorrowland Transit Authority logos on the Red Line rocket ship and a nearby column. There's the sign on the lip of the boarding window that says "Watch Your Rollers," before the robot that's in the ship to lift off. And I am older now, with a lot more responsibility, and far more ideas for books and novels and poetry and plays than I had back in 2000 and earlier (15 pages' worth in a Word file). But the wonder is still there. Wonder that the robot sculptures still stand. Wonder that the Day-Glo still glows. And, thankfully, I still remember the wonder I had wandering Tomorrowland, riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, and imagining and dreaming. I can count it as one of the few times I truly felt at peace in my life, and it's something to carry with me as I continue to seek it. To remember that sense of wonder is valuable. I think it's more muted in me now, more attuned to how I can use it in my own work, but I can get back to it whenever I like.
The robots are still there because they're invaluable to that part of the TTA experience. Or upper management hasn't been able to think of what to replace them with. Either way, it's quite a contrast to look back on them on YouTube and realize not only that they're still there, but how far back I remember them. My life wasn't free and easy then, either, but in that day in Tomorrowland, and the other days I was there and went on Space Mountain and the Carousel of Progess and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, I lived my purest life, completely free to imagine, inspired, engaged, endlessly interested in how all of it ran and how that atmosphere was created. It certainly ties into who I am as a reader and a writer today, and I do like knowing more now than I did then, but it was really something back then to feel my imagination expanding as wide as the universe. I hope to have it again.