After 40 years of being classically overworked and underpaid, my lovely bride retired happily from teaching special education, and from dealing with all the trials and aggravations created as a bureaucratic byproduct. I wanted to take her somewhere special to celebrate her newfound freedom. Key West, her first choice (and always my first choice) has become too damn expensive. Hotel rooms that are ordinarily $300 a night now cost between $600 and $950 a night, even during the off season, due to hotels overcharging (price-gouging, to be honest) in order to make up for their losses during the worst of the pandemic. (Their greed not only made us change our immediate vacation plans, but I had been hoping to have a reunion with some of my best friends from my days at the University of Miami, in both Miami and Key West, in either 2020 or 2021. The pandemic changed those plans once; the prices in Key West changed those plans a second time. It remains to be seen if we’ll be able to have a reunion any time in the near future. Almost $1000 a night for a hotel room worth $300 is simply insane. Is something wrong with Florida? By the way, rental cars that are usually about $35 a day are now about $100 a day. The FUCK?)
After Key West (our perennial favorite vacation location and my spiritual home), our go-to place is Lake Buena Vista, Florida, where other big kids like us will find a manufactured world of fantasy that adults enjoy just as much as children. And so we flew to Walt Disney World in July, settled into a perfectly-cooled air-conditioned room at Disney’s Beach Club, and enjoyed four nights of fun, food, and spending way too much money (but at nowhere near $600 a night).
Here’s the sad thing:
We never should have gone.
Don’t get me wrong. We had a wonderful time and loved Disney World, as usual. We’d never before experienced the Food and Wine Festival at EPCOT, and we had a great time noshing on tapas and small bites all around the world, having a Bass Ale at the Rose & Crown, exploring the new Riviera hotel (not all that impressive, sorry), drinking at Jake’s Bar in the House of Blues while B. B. King played in the background, watching the disappearing act at the Abracadabar, and imaginerding out at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, in the still beautiful Polynesian Resort (our honeymoon hotel).
But after we got back to RVA (a day late, thanks to American Airlines—and we’re still waiting for our reimbursement. However, our United flights from Richmond to Orlando were PERFECT!), Maria and I looked at each other and realized that, if we hadn’t made our vacation plans months in advance, we wouldn’t have gone.
See, after experiencing the unexpectedly huge size of the Disney crowds, it seemed to me that the fantasy land of Walt Disney World is actually Ground Zero for COVID.
Even with some rides, attractions and restaurants still closed, due to the pandemic, I have NEVER seen the Magic Kingdom so crowded, except on New Year’s Eve. I sincerely believe the spread of COVID from Florida is like a crime evidence board webbed with red strings . . . and it emanates directly from WDW . . .
From the maskless idiots weaving through the queues in the Orlando airport to the maskless idiots packed like sardines in the queue lines of the Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion, the virus is thriving like Dengue fever in the subtropical fantasy landscapes of Florida. I don’t know if tourists think they’re immune on Disney property—I know, there are still some who don’t believe there are snakes or alligators on property—but it wouldn’t surprise me that they think nothing bad could ever happen here at Disney World. No masks; no social distancing. It is no surprise that, now almost four weeks after we got back, Florida leads the U.S. in COVID cases.
After experiencing the daily, unexpectedly huge crowds at WDW last month, I can only conclude that Disney World is a super-spreader—a super-spreader not just for Florida, but for the entire country.
Think about how the unmasked flow into and out of the Orlando airport; congregating at Disney World, mixing and mingling, maskless despite the TSA regulations demanding masks in the airport (there were too many without protection)—and how many unvaccinated?—then returning from days of daily, uninterrupted exposure in the theme parks to the overcrowded Orlando airport, to get lam-packed onto airbuses and go back to their homes.
How many vaccinated are carriers? How many unvaccinated are infected? How many have connecting flights and layovers at the country’s airports, where they mingle with thousands of other tourists?
Why would any of us take a chance traveling like this, madly, carelessly, if we don’t actually have to?
Red strings. Long, red strings, spreading across the map.
Like I said, if we hadn’t been locked into the vacation we wouldn’t have gone. As it was, after we got home, we both worried for a few weeks if we had done something wrong; if we had been exposed and were carrying the virus unknowingly.
We’re safe, thankfully. Science is a good thing, and our vaccinations are working.
But we can’t get vaccinated for the disease of greed.
Here’s how to understand Florida gubinator, DeSantis:
Florida depends on dollars. Tourism dollars. Disney dollars.
If Florida’s own governor doesn’t give a damn about the lives of his own constituents, then he certainly doesn’t give a goddamn about any out-of-state tourists.
“Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida announced this week that park guests will no longer be required to wear face coverings while outdoors, including on outdoor attractions and lines. Masking in these areas is now optional, according to a report by ABC News. The easing of restrictions only applies to Disney’s Florida parks; visitors at Disneyland in California are still required to mask up.
Everyone who enters Disney World ages two and up must still wear masks while indoors, including while waiting in any indoor queues. The announcement comes as Florida reported a record-high number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.”
Why would Disney relax their masking requirements? Perhaps to make people feel more comfortable (despite the facts)? To make potential guests feel like everything is normal in Disney’s World?
The Walt Disney World company is focused now on making the parks ready for the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, which begins officially on October 1, 2021.
That’s less than two months away.
Nothing can be allowed to go wrong. Right?
Like the guy said in Stephen King’s Cujo—you know, the horror story about a rabid, murderous, unstoppable monster—“Nope. Nothing wrong here.”
My last blog post was on May 14, 2019. See, I ran into a writing complication two years ago: I had a little heart attack and that knocked me off course. Nothing major; I felt a burning sensation in my chest for a few days, thought it was indigestion, and my cardiologist’s nurse said, “Nope, let’s get you to the ER.”
Dr. Appleton, a cardiologist and surgeon non pareil, came in an hour later, put a line through my wrist instead of through my groin (for which I will be eternally grateful), cleared out the blockage, and now I’ll be on Eliquis and Crestor the rest of my life. I’m eating more fish and chicken, and I’ve cut back on Red Bulls and too much coffee because they can make my heart skip. I will not give up an espresso or two every now and then. Don’t ask too much of me. Come on.
Anyway, I’ve got a new novel coming out in the spring, Ghostflowers, a Southern gothic to be published by Journalstone Books, and one of the things we writers are expected to do is to create a website and build interest in both our books and our “brand.” I’m not sure what my brand is, but if you’re looking for a writer on the wrong side of fifty who tells stories about vampires, ghosts, witch women, eccentric adventurers, an island where the pulps are still alive, haunted theme parks, and sex, death and magic in Miami, then welcome to my blog, named after one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs, “Take Another Road to Another Time.”
So I’m reading a certifiably crazy novel from 2012, Wild Thing by Josh Bazell, and he has, on page 180, a footnote about psychopaths that strikes me as both a little shallow and yet right on the money:
Psychos are at heart people who think they’re smarter than everyone else. If they’re wrong it’s a debilitating condition, because education and hard work are galling to them, yet being exposed as unexceptional enrages them. The ones who are actually clever, though—as long as they stick to fields that prize social manipulation and high self-esteem over technical skills—can do anything.
Most of you have never heard of him, but in the cross-genre world of science fiction, fantasy, and Literature with a capital L, his words crossed the boundaries of 1980s gutter genre and became something singular; something magical.
I met him in the spring of 1982 at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts. He was one of our instructors in the Writing Workshop. The day before, Brian Aldiss had challenged us with homework to write in our hotel rooms. “Go back and write a short story that begins or ends with the phrase, ‘They never went out of the house.'”
Within minutes I knew the characters, where the phrase would be placed, and what would happen in the story. That night, I pounded it out on the portable typewriter I’d brought with me.
The next day, Gene Wolfe was the writer judging our accomplishments. One of the reasons I was at the conference was Gene. He had written The Book of the New Sun, a four-volume tetralogy that I considered huge and immense and wondrous and confusing and magical and even science fiction. (Why do I say even science fiction? Because the four-book tetralogy was positioned and published as Fantasy. At the conference, Wolfe kept calling it science fiction, and he explained that his vision for the novels was that the story takes place one million years in Earth’s future. Our civilization has fallen, as have countless others that sprang from the ashes. The moon was long ago terraformed, and in the night sky is green with verdant forests. While the resident civilization is based on the long lost Byzantine Empire, the planet also holds cyborgs, mutants, spaceports, and wonders that call to mind Clarke’s law that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”)
The Book of the New Sun remains to this day one of the most challenging and rewarding reads I’ve ever experienced. And I desperately wanted Wolfe’s input.
We read our stories aloud, and when I was finished, Gene sat back and looked at me and said, “There’s something there. I don’t exactly know what’s there; I don’t know what it is. But it’s good writing.”
Boy, was I grateful. He gave me support that I didn’t know I needed. And his comments echoed my own about what I had written. I knew where the story came from, but I didn’t really know 100% what it was all about.
A few months later, I polished it up a little and sent it to Twilight Zone Magazine. They were having a short story contest. I didn’t win, but I got an honorable mention. Not too bad, thanks to Brian Aldiss and Gene Wolfe.
We were starving, and suddenly we’d run out of time for a really good meal (Rusty’s American Shepherd’s Pie). So I combined a few things and made an easy spaghetti and meat sauce. But, as my wife told me, the salad dressing, created on the fly, was the star of the meal. Thanks, sweetie!
EASY HERB VINAIGRETTE
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
Red wine vinegar (portioned to 1:3 olive oil)
1/2 tsp oregano flakes
1/4 tsp basil flakes
1/8 tsp tarragon flakes
2 pinches sugar
Squirt of lemon juice
Combine all and stir well at time of serving. Feel free to add more herbs at your liking.
So, the rumor all over the web a few days ago was that Universal is considering building a Star Trek-themed area at their parks in Orlando.
Art from a proposed Las Vegas attraction.
I think it’s a no-brainer. BUILD IT . . . AND THEY WILL COME.
Disney is milking Star Wars for every cent they can get out of it. Paramount and CBS, who divvied up the Star Trek properties a few years back (Paramount got the movies; CBS got all the TV series), have allowed the franchise to grow stagnant. With the prospect of two new Star Trek films on the horizon (one directed by Quentin Tarantino), the debut of the new Star Trek: Discovery series on TV, and the rumors that Paramount and CBS are in meetings to bring the Star Trek mediaverse back together, Star Trek needs to take command once again.
While Star Wars delivers entertainment, the best examples of Star Trek have always offered an optimistic blend of both entertainment and knowledge. We’ll soon be able to live a Star Wars dream at the Disney Parks. I hope that an expansive Star Trek dream at Universal will bring us the wonders of life at the edge of the Final Frontier.
Instant Mashed Potatoes for 5 (follow instructions on box) or homemade mashed potatoes . . . your call.
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) Butter
Drizzle of Olive Oil
¾ cup Onion, diced
8 oz. (half a bag) frozen Mixed Vegetables—diced carrots, corn, peas, green beans
½ can Diced Potatoes
½ can Diced Tomatoes (with garlic, basil and oregano) PLUS all juice in can
1/3 cup beef broth OR generous splash of Johnny’s French Dip Au Jus (liquid; preferred)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice
4 good pinches Garlic Powder
3 good pinches of Oregano
Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese for the top (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Make the mashed potatoes and set aside.
Sauté vegetables. Melt butter in a large sauté pan on medium heat and add drizzle of olive oil. Add the chopped onions and cook for about 4 minutes. Add some salt and pepper.
Add frozen vegetables and sauté mixture about 5-6 minutes without burning onions. Add more salt and pepper.
Add the ground beef to the pan with the onions and vegetables. Mix it all together and cook until beef is no longer pink. Add Worcestershire sauce, diced tomatoes and juices, diced potatoes, and broth/au jus. Season with pinches of garlic powder, oregano, and more salt and pepper–ALL TO YOUR TASTE. Bring the pan to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes to cook off some of the liquids.
Layer the meat mixture evenly in a large baking dish, such as an 8” x 8” Pyrex pan or larger.
Spread mashed potatoes over the beef and veggies in an even layer.
Sprinkle grated sharp cheddar cheese over the top of the mashed potatoes before baking.
Bake in oven for half an hour.
Rusty recommends Bass Ale, Harp, or a Sangiovese to accompany his pie.