Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Two Minutes of Fame

They say that we'll all get fifteen minutes of fame in our lifetimes; I recently got two of mine. I was interviewed for a Current TV bit on Celebration, and the finished product has now been released:

I was a little nervous about the interview because many past TV bits and documentaries have portrayed my beloved hometown in a highly inaccurate light. The personification of this is a Dutch documentary locally referred to as the Freaky Deaky Dutch Video, which can occasionally be seen on Sundance under the title "Celebration." Anyone seeing it would come away with the impression that we're a town full of insane robotic souls who have an aversion to sitting anywhere near each other. Or perhaps it just gives the impression that none of us wear deodorant, since it's full of shots of couples sitting at opposite ends of their couches. When one is talking, the other typically sits stiffly like a deactivated automaton. Then there are the Circlevision panoramics that are guaranteed to give you motion sickness. It's a study in bizarre film-making, and it's best viewed after the consumption of heavy doses of alcoholic beverages.

But thankfully the Current TV piece is much more balanced. It actually portrays life in Celebration as it really is: a mix of fantasy and reality in the shadow of Disney World with much more soul than the typical Stepford portrayal gives it credit for.

When I first started this blog over four years ago, I never thought I'd one day be interviewed as a chronicler of life in Celebration. At that time, I wasn't even planning to resume my freelance writing activities, but now I'm fully immersed in magazine work; although most is animal or self-help related, I do regular pieces for Celebration Life magazine and I've gotten other writing gigs based on my blog. I never really imagined that my hometown would meld so closely with my professional life.

It's kind of neat that Duloc Manor is immortalized on video too. As I watched myself rocking on my porch swing, I remembered how I dreamed of having one. As our house was being built, I was so excited that it was changed from Colonial style, which didn't have a porch, to Craftsman. Then there was the wild goose chase of finding a swing in the off-season and locating someone to hang it. But now it's there, and I've spent many happy hours out there chatting with neighbors and enjoying the Florida sunshine.

In the video, you can also see a small portion of the Disney bric-a-brac that pervades most of my house. Initially I swore that I wouldn't let it take over, but in the footage you can pretty much see that it was a losing battle.

Still, I haven't gotten my full 15 minutes yet. The whole piece is only around seven minutes long, so all told I appear in maybe two minutes of that. But it's still rather fun and exciting, and hopefully it will give a whole new audience a more accurate picture of what Celebration is all about.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Whirlwind Windy City Weekend

Not much will draw me back to Chicago these days, but "Avenue Q" finally accomplished the purpose. Several years ago I was miffed because it didn't go on tour, opting instead for an exclusive Vegas contract. Apparently it didn't go over well in Sin City, where people are more interested in gambling and legalized prostitution rather than simply watching puppet sex. Thus it was shut down and freed to go out for a nationwide run.

Although it ran in Tampa, we could get good tickets so I decided to combine a whirlwind Chicago weekend with a theater run. I really love Chicago's theater district, and I wanted to see family and friends since it has been many months, so hubby got us some decent tickets for this past weekend.

I can't handle spending too much time away from Celebration or the Disney homing chip kicks in. Thus I flew out with hubby early Saturday morning and returned first thing Monday morning, limiting my stay to 48 hours. At least the weather was pretty decent; in the winter I don't even think I could have lasted that long!

We hauled our butts out of bed bright and early to get to MCO, since we weren't sure just how wicked a Saturday morning crowd would be. Fortunately the security lines were minimal, although I witnessed for the very first time the futility of security lines marked "Expert," "Casual" and "Family."

Since there is no actual guidance or enforcement, people go where they darned well please. That meant we were blocked for quite a while by a dad and kid sayings a protracted goodbye to Mommy right at the entrance of the Expert line. Finally they got a clue and moved over, and meanwhile a random kid cut into the Expert line from who knows where. Apparently he thought it was the height of hilarity to ditch his family.

When we finally approached the X-ray machines, I noticed that most of the "experts" had no clue about basics like taking off your shoes or removing your laptop from your bag. Actually, I might have been misjudging the guy in front of us. He left his shoes on despite seeing everyone else remove theirs. Finally he did it at the last minute and phew! My nostrils instantly shriveled in terror. Thank goodness we were almost done and hightail it for a train to the gate. People complain about TSA agents being cranky (although I have to say that the ones at MCO were rather jovial), but I don't think it's crankiness so much as a terrible side effect of dealing with pungent foot aromas all day.

Since we were way early, we settled into the neat new chairs at the Southwest gate where you can plug in electronics right at your seat. Hubby, being an A-Lister (ultra-frequent flyer with SW) had a nice, early boarding pass number of A18, while mine was somewhere in the 20s. In theory, you are supposed to line up in numerical order. This gives preference to A-Listers as well as to the people who pay full price for Business Select. In practice, it can be a bit of a mob scene.

It wasn't too bad on this particular morning, although one lady kept insisting to hubby that she was 17 and needed to be behind her. He caught a glimpse of her boarding pass, which was actually 19; the person ahead of him was 17, so he claimed his proper place in line. Caught in a blatant lie, she then launched into a lecture on how it doesn't matter anyway, but he tuned it out.

He got 12F, a window exit row with mega legroom due to having no seat in front of it, while I took 12D, the aisle seat. No one took the middle, so we flew in relative comfort. I had popped some Xanax, so I was nicely relaxed. I plugged into my MP3 player and dozed for the majority of the trip.

At Midway, my sister-in-law and one of my nieces picked me up, and we headed to Pepe's for lunch. Real Mexican food! Sheer paradise! One Chicago gastronomical treat down, two more to go.

That night, we went to Fuji Japanense Steakhouse; yet, I know such restaurants are a dime a dozen in Orlando/Kissimmee, but not one has the delicacy irreverently known in my family as "lard lobster." Sure they'll grill you up a lobster tail, but in Illinois they slather it in some kind of sauce that seems to be made primarily of lard and egg yoke. Even if you have a heart attack at the table, it's well worth it. We dined there with my brother and sister-in-law, then capped our experience with coffee at Starbucks (an age-old tradition from when we actually lived in the area).

The next day was Avenue Q matinee day, to be followed by dinner at Lawry's The Prime Rib, but I managed to slip in a couple of Pepe's Tacos for lunch. The Dan Ryan was actually rather tame, or maybe it's just that I-4 is so hellacious that the Ryan seems like a Sunday drive in the park by comparison. We parked the car near Lawry's and hiked down to the theater district.

Avenue Q was playing at the Cadillac Palace, a wonderfully restored old theater. We had front row balcony seats in something called the Loge, at the near end of the lefthand side. It turned out to be a great area, but I didn't realize that it came with a pre-show. I knew we were in for something when a couple breezed into the seats behind us, proceeded to complain about the seats for 15 minutes or so (God forbid, people were in front of them) and then launched into their expectatons for the play.

I knew it was going to be interesting when they decided that it would be "Just like 'Rent.'" As far as I know, Rent doesn't have puppets or songs like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist,""The Internet Is For Porn," "If You Were Gay," and You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want To Be When You're Making Love." I also doubt it had "Bad Idea Bears" (apparently the Care Bears' evil cousins) urging the main character to hang himself.

Sure enough, by intermission time the dude was spitting bullets. His voice rivaled Gilbert Gottfried's in volume and annoyance, and he laid into his poor wife for almost the entire time (pausing only to go to the restroom, then returning and going into a new tirade about the line). Some highlights: "I can't understand a damn thing that's going on because they're talking like puppets!" (Uh, yeah, they are puppets). "They keep talking about pussies and carpet munching!" (How would you know if you can't understand them?) The dancing totally sucks! (Uh, there is no dancing in Avenue Q). "The guy behind me keeps laughing and clapping! He likes this crap, and it's really bugging me." (So you're bugged that someone dig his homework and came to see a play he knew he could like?). There was more, but that's the highlight reel.

Eventually I amused myself by loudly discussing with hubby how godly Avenue Q was, how I plan to see it at least twice in Orlando and to bring all my friends to bask in its godliness, how I was going to buy the soundtrack on my way out, how it so totally deserved to kick the crap out of Wicked at the Tony Awards, and how only a person with the IQ of a newt and the sense of humor of a squashed roach wouldn't get it. (Most of this was exaggerated, although I do indeed believe that it deserved to win over Wicked, and it's an awesome show).

Gilbert was too loud to hear anything but his own self-important rantings, but we continued while he was draining the lizard and I'm sure his wife was sinking into her seat in embarrassment. When he returned, she kept apologizing for asking him to see it and begging him to leave before the second act, but he was one of those people who revels in being miserable.

We also got to hear a dialogue on how if you're paying over $100 at a restaurant, you should be allowed to eat in your flip flips and shorts (and nothing else maybe?). I pity the poor server who got stuck with them at their after-theater meal (I know they had one...I'm sure with his bellowing the whole theater knew).

Still, Captain Letdown couldn't dampen the sheer delight of Avenue Q. It's not a show for the easily offended, but the songs are a total and utter riot. It even has a nod to Celebration, Florida, which is announced as the previous venue of Lucy the Slut (one of the puppets) before her show in New York.

Even though the human puppeteers are clearly visible, you quickly forget their presence and buy into their fuzzy alter egos. Overall the theme of the play is the despair of leaving college and discovering that getting a job and finding your purpose are not so easy to do. Avenue Q isn't just for those starting out; it welcomes has-beens too. This is aptly illustrated in Gary Coleman, the building super (not played by Gary Coleman himself, although that would be a riot).

The play was most definitely worth traveling to Chicago for, and as a bonus we were meeting friends at Lawry's. That is the home to the world's best horseradish sauce, made with horseradish mixed with unsweetened whipped cream. The prime rib is slow roasted and flavorful through and through, and the creamed corn and spinach are gastronomic delights. We linked up with our friends and enjoyed a delightful meal and lots of catching up, topped off with chocolate bags for dessert. I thought all Lawry's had them, but we went to the one in Beverly Hills in April and they said it was only a Chicago thing.

Then it was back home to crash in preparation for my early morning flight. Hubby had to stay in Chicago for work, so he dropped me off for Midway. The security line was remarkably short, and the Expert lane was actually made up of people who seemed to know what they were doing. I got through quickly and staked out a spot at one of the outlet chairs so I could so some work before the flight.

Soon enough it was time to line up; I was A20, and there were only two people in front of me (must not have been any Business Select), so I snagged the exit row window; the person in front of me had taken the aisle.

It was a relatively smooth flight, with only two turbulence pocket. We did have some onboard turbulence tho'; an older lady sat in the middle seat of my row, although she kept glancing over at the row across the aisle and one row back. The window and aisle were taken, and aisle guy seemed to be spreading his stuff to ward off potential middle-takers. Once the door was closed for takeoff, he put it all away. The lady next to me said, "Do you think I could go over there? It's my grandson's first flight and I'd really love to see his face." (He was in the row behind us, hence her initial interest in that seat).

I replied, "Well, since we're waiting to taxi the FA might yell at you, but by that time you'll be in the seat anyway so it probably wouldn't hurt to go for it." (As an aside, there are no assigned seats on Southwest, so you can sit anywhere you want.)

She popped over, the plane took off, and we soon leveled off at cruising speed. She popped back into my row and said, "That man was really upset that I sat over there." I assured her she shouldn't worry about it because it's open seating and she had every right to move. But after that., she stayed in the much more friendly confines of row 11, occasonally peeking at her grandson between the seats.

The rest of the flight proceeded peacefully, but once we had landed and were all standing around waiting to deplane, the row 12 dude laid into the old lady! This guy just suddenly starts getting in the grandma's face about how rude she was for daring to climb over him and sit in the middle seat! He must have been stewing about it for the entire flight.

She was a non-confrontational sort, but he wouldn't knock it off so finally I snapped back, "She had every right to sit there. Maybe you shouldn't be flying Southwest if you don't like open seating." He babbled some more but couldn't really come up with a good answer to that one, so finally he says out of the blue, "Well, I'll bet I fly a hell of a lot more than you do."

Now mind you, I spent a long, long time commuting weekly from Chicago to Florida. Add that to more leisure flights than most people do for business and I knew I could probably match Mr. Spaz Boy flight for flight. Hell, he wasn't even A-List since he was nowhere near the head of the boarding line.

Standing there in my Avenue Q t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops, I gave him a sarcastically sweet smile and said, "Maybe you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I happen to own three businesses and have probably traveled more in my lifetime than you can ever hope to in yours."

He was taken aback for a moment; then the only thing he could think to respond was, "Blah blah blah," and he promptly barged his way in front of everyone and stormed off. The grandma thanked me, and another passenger also reassured her that she'd done nothing wrong and shouldn't listen to jerks.

Too bad he ran off so quickly or I could have pointed out that I'm a doctor, handed him one of my cards, and offered him a discount on therapy. I could have given him a little wink and said, "My, my, what a lot of anger towards old ladies. Have some mommy issues, do you?"

Between Theater Freak and Air Rage Idiot I wondered if it was a full moon, or perhaps vacation time from the Chicago institutions. But for the most part, it had been a calm, uneventful flight which is just how I like them.

Now I'm back in Celebration and toying with the idea of seeing Avenue Q when it comes here in December. It wouldn't be quite as good as Chicago (no entertainment from Gilbert during the intermission and no Lawry's afterward), but somehow wild puppet sex never gets old.