by Richie McNanna
Dear WDW Radio Community,
My name is Rich McNanna. I am a teacher from Westfield, New Jersey, and to say I’m thrilled to be joining the WDW Radio Blog Team would be like saying my wife and I are just “sort of” excited to be taking our infant son to the Harmony Barber Shop in a few months for his first haircut.
Like you all, I love “Uncle Walt” and the beautiful, creative world he conjured so many years ago. In a similar way, I’ve been an avid listener and reader of Lou’s and the entire WDW Radio community for some time, and I have to say, I’m honored that my ideas have been considered for such a prestigious forum. That said, I’d like to share the focus of my new column with you all in a moment, but first, a little bit about me.
A little over a year ago, I caught a pretty interesting segment on a local sports network about some guy from Queens, New York, who is obsessed with collecting game and practice-used baseballs from pro stadiums. Using the tools of his trade – a fishing net attached to an eight-foot pole and an outfielder’s mitt — he has amassed an astounding collection of over a thousand balls in the course of only fifteen years. When interviewed at home, one could sense the spirit with which this man spoke of his “hobby”, and it was clear he lived, breathed, and ate red stiches on weathered cowhide.
It was a really engaging human interest story, and I’m glad I saw it because it was, of all people, his father who said something that really stuck with me. When asked about how he felt about his son’s clear “preoccupation”, he said – and I’m paraphrasing, here: “Many people mope through their lives and never find anything positive to get excited about. My kid has something in his life that gets his heart beating a little faster every day, and if takes a few baseballs to do that, then I’m ok with it.”
It’s profound because I, too, have something that makes my heart flutter and beat and exist to the tune of King Louie and his band of primate followers. I, too, have something that feeds my spirit and nourishes my soul like a massive turkey leg and Dole Whip fills a hungry guest in Adventureland. I, too, have a fascination with something that makes life far more interesting and enjoyable like a happy turn on an Epcot Friendship boat on a rainy, central Florida day.
I have Disney.
And I know you all do, too.
For most of my formative years I tried to hide the fact that even though I was a normally functioning adolescent and youth, staying in and watching The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin or Summer Magic had the same appeal as going out and bowling with my friends or going to a baseball game with my dad. I still did all of these “normal” kid things, but even then, I’d pop in a VHS or DVD of some randomly selected Disney classic the moment I came home and fall asleep to the sounds of Hayley Mills singing or Aladdin flying through Agrabah.
But WDW Radio’s focus is Disney World, right? I could go on-and-on about movies, television shows, and how I’d literally attach myself to the television in the 80’s and 90’s during free old-school Disney Channel “free preview weekends,” but in the spirit of blog, I’ll relate to you one of the truly defining moments of my childhood: seeing the Magic Kingdom for the first time.
It was 1988. I was ten, and I’d been begging my parents to take me to Disney World ever since I’d seen Disney’s Halloween Treat a few Octobers before. (I was convinced real ghosts lived in the Haunted Mansion.) My parents, my younger sister, and I drove the twenty-four hours straight through from our home in New Jersey in a 1987 regatta-blue Ford Tempo with no air-conditioning, and I remember being amazed not at how we tolerated the intense August heat but by the fact that once we arrived in Orlando, Disney World had its own radio station and street signs.
I remember parking in the lot called “Goofy” and then proceeding on a massive serpentine commuter tram to the boat launch that led to the object of all my Earthly dreams.
I remember taking the Richard F. Irvine across the blessed, sun-kissed Seven Seas Lagoon for the first time, running to the bow of the ferry where I locked my eyes on the indomitable goal of my young life: the sheepish spires of Cinderella castle peaking ever so delicately atop the overgrown islands that dot the cove in the foreground. Sailing closer and closer, I could feel the euphoria of a fantasy fulfilled as the colors, shapes, and design of a magical world become clearer and clearer with each nautical inch, proceeding further toward the only bit of business left before total sensory immersion – the elegant, wrought iron turnstiles at the base of the Walt Disney World Railroad. I’m now thirty-five, and I can still visualize almost every detail of that day some twenty-five years ago – my first physical foray into the fantastic world of mine trains, spacecraft and royal dinners. I consciously remember the sights very vividly and even some of the sounds, too — I mean, to this day, I still say “The Best Time of Your Life” is way catchier than “it’s a small world”. Hairy-legged pirates. Exotic plants framing laughing elephants. “Sailing” above London at night. Charging to the depths of the sea in an old, rusty sub-marine craft. These images are ingrained in my memory as effectively as the yellow cursive stitched “Richie” on the back of the mouse ears I bought that very day; and I’ve been chasing those memories – the complete and total jubilation I felt experiencing that place for the first time – ever since.
And how do I do it?
Food and restaurants, that is. For while I remember all of the sights and sounds above, I equally remember – if not more so – the food I experienced on this trip.
All day swirly lollipops on Main Street.
Sushi in the Japan Pavilion.
Hot Dogs at Casey’s Corner.
Ice Cream at the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor.
Fish and chips at the Columbia Harbor House.
Maple cookies from the Northwest Mercantile in the Canada Pavilion.
Cotton candy during the Main Street Electrical Parade.
Well, you’ve been patient enough; perhaps now I should divulge the focus of my column: while home – you know, those periods of time between visits to Disney World – I prefer to dine at establishments that remind me of restaurants at Disney World…and I plan to write about these experiences!
Whether it’s a Mexican place that in setting reminds me of the queue of Pirates of the Caribbean or a burger joint that reminds me of the 50’s Primetime Café, I find that I form real emotional connections to eating establishments and dishes that remind me of what I’m missing at my favorite place on Earth: Disney World.
I’ll, of course, be focusing my experiences on where I live — the Metropolitan New York area — but I will also want to hear about your experiences, as well! (I can’t possibly be the only nut that thinks this way.)
So, I thank you all for indulging me; I cannot wait to share all of my ideas with you all, and I equally can’t wait to hear if anyone else out there drinks coffee in mugs bought on his last trip because it makes your morning Joe taste just a little bit more magical.
Cheers — I’ll see you soon!