Saturday, November 13, 2004

Founders Day Meets the Bunny Brigade

Although cloudy skies and occasional light drizzle threatened to make Founders Day a wash-out, enough pixie dust blew over from Disney World to keep the downpour at bay. Our second Founders Day in Celebration (I think it was the ninth one overall) turned out to be a fanciful frolic filled with friends, food, fun, and frivilous headgear.

Actually, our day started out at Downtown Disney, as I needed to do a little shopping. I knew we were in for trouble when I saw a sign for "Festival of the Masters" parking. I had no idea what that was, but anything dubbed "Festival" doesn't bode well for crowd size. Sure enough, the parking lot was an absolute zoo, and Downtown Disney itself was packed with wall to wall people. The festival turned out to be an art show and competition. We didn't stay too long, but I was utterly fascinated by the "street artists" creating works of art on the sidewalks with colored charcol sticks.

One good aspect of the festival was that they were passing out coupon books at the information booth. The discounts were for good stores and restaurants, like World of Disney, Wolfgang Puck's, and Ghiardelli's. We wanted to grab lunch at the Earl of Sandwich, a wonderful British sandwich shop, but the line was three queues deep. Since each order is freshly made, we estimated that it would have taken half an hour at best. Instead, we hopped in the car and headed to T.G.I. Friday's at the Crossroads shopping center right outside of Disney World.

By the time we were done eating, it was time to head home and get ready for th Founder's Day festivities. The sky looked threatening, and when my husband looked up the radar online, the green blob appeared to be headed our way. But it also looked like it was breaking up, so we kept our fingers crossed. As an added precaution, we also loaded umbrellas and rain ponchos in our backpack and wore our water sandals. Nothing wards off rain better than actually being prepared for it.

When there is a big to-do downtown, we usually just walk or ride our bikes. This time, we hoofed it down the convenient boardwalk that links East Village with Lake Evalyn before continuing on the Stetson parking lot. It's only about a 20 minute walk, and it lessens my guilt for pigging out on the tempting culinary delights available at "Taste of Celebration."

First on our agenda was the town photo. Since we were in it last year, we didn't want to break with tradition. It is my ambition to hang a new one in our foyer each year as a challenge to house guests to find us among the sea of faces. We arrived just as the community service awards were being given out, which is a prelude to the photo. The threatening gray clouds appeared to have scared many people off, as the crowd seemed smaller than in 2003. But there was still a goodly sized gathering. We all crowded in, pasted on our best Celebration smiles, and immortalized another year in the town's history. If you'd like to see how the town photo is accomplished, click here for a picture of the picture-taking. That page also contains a gallery of Bunny Brigade photos, but that's getting ahead of the story.

As you arrive for the photo, you receive a raffle ticket. Afterwards, you gather round to see if you've won a prize. Last year, in a stoke of irony, I won a round of golf even though I never played the game in my life. This year, you chose which prize you wanted to be in the drawing for rather than having one big drawing for assorted prizes. I cast my lot into the drawing for a gift basket, while my husband tried for a copy of the new book about Celebration. We haven't seen it yet, but it's an "official" Disney-sanctioned version, so it should be interesting. But this year Lady Luck had other plans, and our tickets weren't drawn.

We spent a while chatting with people we know and also some who we're acquainted with via the Front Porch intranet. I always enjoy meeting people in person after following their postings online. In some ways, Celebration is like two worlds: the real world and a virtual one that often takes on a life of its own. I don't know what percentage of people in town actually visit the intranet regularly, but there is definitely a core group of die-hards. In many ways, it's as vibrant as the actual town.

Then we headed down Front Street to search out the Bunny Brigade. Jan, our founder and grande dame, had staked out some prime lakefront seats. At first, the crowd was sparse, as the threatening weather seemed to be scaring people off. Slowly but surely, the volume of people began to grow, and more and more members showed up in their tell-tale headgear.

Although bunny ears are the official headgear of the Brigade, they are not a cast-in-stone requirement. My own headgear typically involves Stitch in some way (I have two different types), and my husband wears a monorail that appears to be driving through his head. Tom (whose site, features lots of photos, Founders Day memories, and other neat stuff, dubbed it the "Ear Force." As long as you are willing to don some sort of ostentatious object on your head, you are a welcome member.

This was the first Bunny Brigade meeting since Charley, Frances, and Jeanne came to town. The hurricanes caused the cancellation of our previous get-togethers, so I was a little nervous that the weather might have its way with us once again. Happily, other than a couple of minor sprinkles, the evening turned out to be gorgeous weather-wise.

The Bunny Brigade crowd grew, and the food and drink flowed freely. If you didn't follow the previous link, click here for some scenes of the Brigade throughout the evening. "Taste of Celeration" is a part of Founders Day, which simply means that the local eateries set up booths out on the street. They have the same offerings for every special event, but "Taste of Celebration" makes it sound more exciting.

My husband always gets sushi from Seito, and I opted for the clam chowder from Town Tavern. I was lusting after an apple in bourbon sauce from the Celebration Hotel, but the first time my husband went to get one, their booth wasn't set up yet. The second time, they told him that the apples would be ready in 45 minutes. The third time, they gave him a free cup of soup to get him to go away and stop bothering them. Apparently, they discovered that they didn't have the necessary ingredients, so the apples never materialized. We also indulged in a salad and sangria from Columbia, plus a cranberry scone from Sherlocks.

We had arrived at the lakefront around 5 p.m., and the fireworks were schedule for 9. It's amazing how quickly four hours can go by when you're having so much fun. We all sat around chatting, eating & drinking, taking photos, and just generally having a ball. We even did a round of the Chicken Dance, which was being played by the band down at the intersection of Front and Market Streets. I don't do dances that require complicated steps (and I consider anything harder than moving backwards or forwards a challenge), but that one was simple enough even for a coordinationally-challenged person such as myself.

I had fun last year, but it was totally different because my husband and I didn't really know anyone. We knew our immediate neighbors, of course, but we hadn't met a lot of people in the community at large. Just one year later, we're a part of the Bunny Brigade and know so many wonderful people.

We had met many of the Brigade members at the first meeting, but this time there were also lots of new faces, which made it even more enjoyable. Some were people we didn't know at all, and others were online acquaintances who we were finally meeting in the flesh.

The crowd never seemed to grow as large as I expected, but that was sort of nice. I don't mind crowds and tourists, as I knew that those things would be facts of life when I chose to live here. But it's nice to have a little break every now and then. With the Fourth of July madhouse still fresh in my mind, I was happy that the sea of humanity was a little less overwhelming for Founders Day.

Still, I brought my pool pass, because I refuse to use the porta-potties. When the crowd is massive, there is usually a line. I never saw one this time around, but they still didn't look too appealing. I'd rather use my pool I.D. card and use the facilities at Lakeside Park.

I took a quick potty break shortly before the fireworks were scheduled to start, and on the way back to our chairs, I decided to use up my last food tickets on some ice cream from Herman's. They were also selling funnel cakes, and apparently some silent call had gone out for every person in attendance to suddenly line up to buy one. I thought I had plenty of time, but I waited at least 15 minutes. By the time I finally had my frozen chocolate treat, the fireworks were only minutes away.

Soon, it was the time that everyone was waiting for. The lights dimmed, the music cranked, and suddenly the sky above the lake lit up in an impressive show, punctuated by ooos and ahhhs. The grand finale was to the tune of Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," which is of course our town theme song.

After the fireworks, the crowd started breaking up. Some of the Brigade headed home, while others moseyed on to the Town Tavern to continue the fun. My husband and I decided to head back to East Village to crash, as it had been a long day. For some reason, our commute and the late Friday night flight always seems to sap my energy, and I don't regain it until sometime on Sunday.

We headed back down the boardwalk, which is conveniently lit at night. As we shuffled home, my husband and I discussed how events like Founders Day are the reason we moved to Celebration. Try as I might, I just can't imagine something like this happening back in my Midwest home town. They do have a big Oktoberfest celebration, but it's most just a carnival and a lot of beer drinking. Sure, there are carnival games and plenty of drinking on Founders weekend, but something is fundamentally different. At the Oktoberfest bash, you don't see neighbors getting together, and you feel no sense of community. It's just a bunch of strangers coming to an event that could be in just about any town, anywhere, with no sense of "ownership."

In Celebration, even with the droves of tourists, the core of the town remains intact, and the community spirit is there. That's something you just can't buy; we were reminded once again why we don't sell our house for a profit and move somewhere else in the Kissimmee area. We might have a nice, big, fancy house, but it would be an isolated isle, just like the condo we are leaving in the Midwest. In Celebration, we didn't just buy a house, we bought a home, and there is a big difference.

It's after midnight now, and another Founders Day is over. My husband is upstairs snoring, but I wanted to get my thoughts down while they are still fresh in my mind. This Founders Day was even better than the last one, and I'm already looking forward to the next one in 2005.

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