Sunday, November 14, 2010
I'm not quite sure how this happened...
About a year ago I found myself either drunk or in a really good mood, or quite possibly both, and I agreed to journey to a place that would probably be right above Antarctica on my list of places to visit. Envision a land where children roam free, the tank top is in vogue, and a giant mouse rules with an iron fist. That’s right – Orlando, Florida.
Because no friend of mine would ever propose this idea to me, you may have figured out that it was my family, using as justification the fact that our last “family trip” was seventeen years ago. I had tried to forget about the disastrous “Ricchio European Vacation,” where we had successfully set Americans back in the view of the German people by fifty years. The highlights for me were forcing my family to visit Dachau, the fact that in Munich they serve beer to fifteen year olds, and realizing that eating at McDonald’s avoids lots of unnecessary confusion and embarrassment because my parents can recognize most of the menu options. It was supposed to be a two week adventure in the heart of the Fatherland, but that was mercifully cut down to a week when we all realized it was a complete failure. Interesting side note though, on the way there I discovered that it is, in fact, fun to do acid on a plane.
This time I believed my parents would be in their element, or at least in a place where English was the primary language spoken, so I agreed to fly down for a couple of days to join them at Epcot center. I kept telling myself that “it’s not Disney World, and it may provide for some interesting stories,” but as the day grew closer I came to the realization that, much like last summer when I was talked into going camping, this was going to be brutal.
I hate to fly, and I especially hate it when I’m not even going somewhere I’m excited about. I picture my embarrassment when people talk about “when Joe Ricchio died in a tragic plane crash on his way to Orlando.” My friends would laugh and play songs from the Little Mermaid soundtrack at my funeral, proceeding to decorate my grave as if it were the it’s a small world ride. My family had already been in Orlando for about a week, Thus I'm travelling solo and to make myself feel better I upgrade to first class, where all of the drinks are free. I park my car in the garage and slug two nips of Rumple Minz on my walk towards the ticketing booth, which starts to loosen me up. Once through security I choke down two large Old Thumpers and a shot of Jameson, while trying to eat a small bowl of disgusting and gluey mac n’ cheese, at the Shipyard Bar before my flight starts boarding. Though only travelling for about five hours, I purchase ten magazines to keep my mind occupied. Once we’re in the air, I take down three Budweisers while talking to a guy named Dave, who had been a pilot in the Air Force since 1987. When I asked him if he’d ever like to retire and fly commercial airliners he replied that would be like “trading your Ferrari in for a Saturn.”
We land in Baltimore and I decide that I need one more beer and a double shot of Bushmills before catching my connecting flight. The bar is conveniently located right next to my gate, so I can monitor the boarding process. As it neared departure time I was noticing very little activity. I got up to go to the bathroom I heard my name being announced over the intercom, basically informing me that I was about to be spending the night in Baltimore if I didn’t board immediately. While observing my acknowledgement of this message from across the way, they continued to instruct me, over the loudspeaker, to “hurry up and finish my beer.”
After three more Buds and a nip of Canadian Club on the second flight I finally arrive in Orlando. I take a cab to the Marriot, where my parents had basically rented a large apartment. The accommodations are actually quite comfortable, so I decide to crack open one of the bottles of wine I’ve brought, a Chateau des Tours Cotes du Rhone, and prepare to unwind after a day of traveling. It doesn't take long to for me to fall asleep in front of the TV, and several hours later I awake from a bad dream realizing that Mr. Deeds, starring Adam Sandler, is on the screen. I watch, half awake, for about five minutes before I conclude that my nightmare was probably a direct result of what a piece of shit this movie is. I turn the power off and fade back into an Adam Sandler-free slumber…
The next day I’m shaky and a little out of it, but I think that’s prime condition for a trip to Epcot Center. The discussion about where to eat lunch begins, and I dodge a few ridiculous suggestions from my parents, such as Pizzeria Uno. Frustration begins to mount, as I’m getting hungry and irritated, and eventually everyone, meaning me, decides that we just need to drive to Epcot, and see what’s on the way. As it turns out, nothing was on the way, and as we arrive at Epcot my father immediately begins groaning about the cost of parking. We pull up to the collection booth, and he asks the attendant “when did you start charging for parking?” As if this poor woman would have any fucking clue. Luckily, not speaking very good English, she misinterprets his question, thinking he has asked her “when do you stop charging for parking?”
“Two hours before the park closes,” she replies.
My father is forced to pay and continue on towards the main lot, where there are attendants dressed in obnoxious yellow and white striped outfits, riding Segways, directing traffic. “For eighteen bucks I should be able to park wherever the hell I please!” my father grumbles as he follows the parking instructions to a tee.
After parking, the Disney adventure begins. We get to walk a quarter mile through the parking lot to find a tram waiting to transport us into the park. Once seated a man’s voice comes over the speakers at ear-bleeding volume, barking in unrecognizably distorted words for the duration of the seven minute and twenty-two second journey to the park entrance.
At this point I’m starving and nauseous from a mild hangover, and starting to get very, very irritable. When we get through the gate my mother and sister decide that before lunch they’d like to go on the “Spaceship Earth” ride. I now realize that my only hope of salvaging any chance of having fun in a Disney-run theme park is to go it alone. As my family starts shuffling towards the rides, I stride off in the opposite direction, hollering vaguely in their direction, “I’ll call you in a little bit!”
As most people know, Epcot Center is largely made up of several faux "countries” that have been built and populated in an effort to replicate the real thing. I decide that I will spend the next six hours eating and drinking my way through this mini-world, documenting it along the way, before reuniting with my family in faux Italy at 8:00 for dinner reservations. The first thing I do upon going solo is make a beeline for faux China to eat lunch, as I believe this to be a good gauge of just how “authentic” the food at Epcot can be. Each faux country has at least 2-3 places to eat, and I select what looks to be faux China’s flagship restaurant, Nine Dragons, to set the tone for the rest of the day.
The most interesting part of the faux countries is that everyone who works there has been imported from the non-faux country bearing the same name. It’s actually pretty cool to transition through each one and observe the change in spoken language, architecture, and food smells over the space of a three-minute walk. The menu at Nine Dragons is definitely heavily influenced by Americans, but I roll with it and order hot & sour soup and Kung Pao chicken. I generally don’t trust glass pours in restaurants so I get a split (187ml) bottle of Mumm Napa, a non-offensive sparkling wine from California, for an easy transition back into yet another day of non-stop drinking.
My waiter, a Chinese man in his fifties, is very friendly but having an extremely difficult time getting my bottle of sparkling open. I desperately want to help him, so I can have my fucking drink, but I feel like it will hurt his feelings. After what felt like a week, but in reality only about a minute and a half, he pops the cork and pours into a large Champagne flute, which is slightly dusty from prolonged storage. Two minutes later my hot and sour soup arrives, which isn’t anything special but given how hungry I am, tastes damn near perfect.
I start to look around the restaurant and observe the other patrons, who all look like pure, unadulterated brutality. If I ever give up on life, kind of like the movie Leaving Las Vegas, I will come to Disney and wait tables while drinking myself to death. These people make my parents, by comparison, look like experienced and savvy world travelers.
My Kung Pao chicken is actually quite good, with a perfect balance of sweet and spicy complimented by crunchy peanuts. I order another bottle of sparkling about five minutes before I finish my current one, to accommodate for the time required by my waiter's inevitable struggle. Though I have my camera with me, I need to have a few drinks before I'll feel comfortable taking a lot of pictures. I come to the realization that no matter what I do, there was no way I could possibly be any more irritating than the people they deal with on a regular basis. Once I'm at ease with this fact, I am able to start having a mildly enjoyable time. I even consider "practicing my Chinese characters" on the menu provided, but sadly I'd left my Calligraphy set at home.
During my visit, Epcot happens to be holding their annual “International Food & Wine Festival,” which really translates to "Celebration of Generic & Mass-Produced Easily-Recognizable American Brand Names"(CoGaMPERABN). I didn’t bother with any of the random carts set up for this, focusing instead on the permanent collections within the faux countries. Faux Germany is my next stop, where I begin to realize that all of the girls that work here are quite pretty, inspiring me to check out the wines they are pouring at the counter of the “weinkeller.” Amidst several Rieslings that are responsible for most people thinking they don’t like Riesling, I find a Selbach-Oster Kabinett, which I actually like. While waiting for a glass, I overhear a few members of the staff laughing amongst themselves and conversing in German. Every now and they wave their hands in the air and yell, “Oh, hi!” clearly imitating an obnoxious and very gay southerner who had just left the shop.
I exit the store with my Riesling in hand and wander around for a bit, ending up in faux Japan, where there is a particularly impressive display of drumming taking place on a replica of a Shinto shrine. I spend a moment taking it all in, but am inevitably drawn to the sake counter at one of the shops. My fetish for Japanese women makes this a very distracting place to be, so I decide I might linger for a bit. Once again, although the selection of sake fairly generic, there are a few diamonds in the rough to be found if you know what you're doing. As I pretend to peruse the shelves, I eavesdrop on the saleswoman talking to the man shopping next to me. She asks him if he likes sake, to which he replies “No, not really.” Staying friendly, she asks if he’d like to taste any, and he points to a bottle of plum wine. She explains to him that the only sakes available to taste are the ones on the counter, not the shelves, which seems to offend him and he storms away.
Unfazed, she approaches me and asks the same question, to which I reply “Yes.” She seems relieved and we go to the counter, where I try a vintage sake that is actually quite good. She asks me what kind of sake I like, and I get confused as to how to answer, not wanting to seem like I'm trying to impress her with my extensive knowledge of sake, so all I can think to say is “dry ones.” She smiles and nods in agreement, and I wander off with glass in hand. That’s one of the best parts of places like Epcot, being able to walk around anywhere with drinks, and I intend to take full advantage of this. At this point I notice a man shopping around in a ridiculous kimono (pictured) that he had clearly just purchased, somehow thinking it didn’t make him look like the “Ultimate Fuck-Stick.” He also didn’t think it was strange when I took his picture, at least for the first time (I’ll elaborate later).
I begin to feel a little hungry, and head over to a restaurant called Mitsokoshi for a Nigiri snack. After what I’ve learned from Masa Miyake, I feel pretty comfortable in any Japanese dining setting, but unfortunately, because of Masa’s food, I’m also very easily disappointed. I just want basics so I decide to take a chance. The waitress, who was quite easy on the eyes, seems immediately relieved that I didn’t stare at her like a deer in the headlights when handed a warm cloth for my hands. She really opens up as I order simple items such as tuna, yellow tail, and omelette by their Japanese names, and then I'm pretty sure she wants to fuck me when I don’t ask for a fork. At least this is what I perceive, regardless of any basis in reality, as I dive into a half bottle of Junmai Ginjo sake and a Sapporo. The fish is actually pretty good, the rice and wasabi are not, but I am having a good time regardless, listening to the girl at the next table tell her parents about her “richest boyfriend ever.”
As I exit the restaurant, I’ve got a pretty decent glow-on, so I decide to watch more of the drum performance before heading over to faux France. On my way, however, I’m distracted by an accumulation of people around a large stage, with the words “Eat to the Beat” prominently displayed. Upon further investigation I learn that the pop group Hanson, yes “MMMMMMmmmMMMM Bop!!!” Hanson, was about to play a free show in 30 minutes. This seems surreal to me, and I think it best to carry on and pretend it isn't actually happening, and that maybe I'm just drunk and hallucinating.
To get the thought of attending a Hanson show out of my head, I work my way over to the wine shop in faux France in search of Champagne. They have Pommery Brut N/V, which is totally inoffensive, amidst many other Ca-Cah brands that would be sold at a Hypermarche, the French equivalent of a Shop N' Save. I head out into the streets with my plastic champagne flute, and make early dinner reservations for myself at “Bistro de Paris,” the “high-end” restaurant in faux France. One more lap through the countries before it gets dark seems like a reasonable idea, so I check out faux Morocco. At this point I have also started to drunk-dial friends at home, in addition to sending photo updates of each faux country, just in case anyone wants to share the Disney Magic with me.
Faux Morocco looks much like the set of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, with aromas of spices filling the air. The Disney police happen to be on the scene outside one of the restaurants, investigating an incident involving a few Americans who felt that crimes committed in faux Morocco may not follow them into neighboring faux Italy, which I’m sure was a grave mistake. As I myself cross over the faux Italian border, I notice that my Champagne is almost gone and venture towards the wine shop for a refill. Upon discovering that they’re only pouring bullshit Italian wine, such as Bolla Amarone, I head back towards Germany for more Riesling. On the way, I cross through “The Great American Adventure,” which is the United States but presented in a more historic manner. There is a large beer kiosk that is only pouring Samuel Adams, which prompts a man pushing a stroller to yell out,“You got any American Beer?! Fuck Yeah!” while giving an enthusiastic thumbs up into the air. I pause to consider whatever creature is in that stroller and what it’s life is going to turn out like, but then realize that I’m badly in need of a refill and press on towards the faux Fatherland. This is when my second sighting of “Kimono Fuck-Stick” occurs…
They have swapped out the attractive German girls from my last visit with even more attractive ones. I quickly annihilate two glasses of wine while pretending to look the wine selection over but actually staring at the girls out of the corner of my eye. Sorry, I know I’m being creepy, but I’m getting drunk, and It's not my fault that they hire girls who look like this and dress them in these “outfits.” Plus it's definitely better than the alternatives:
It’s getting close to the time of my dinner reservation in faux France, so I quickly find a restroom. Here I’m treated to some very disturbing imagery, as I walk by a stall that’s half open with a man grunting and groaning while gripping the rail next to the toilet. I was unsure if he was grunting in German, thinking maybe it was part of the act here, but I get the fuck out and head for the faux Mexican border. I take a moment to watch a Mariachi band on the street, while desperately trying to get the bathroom incident out of my head.
When I arrive and am seated at Bistro de Paris, I’m the only patron in a dining room that redefines the word “sterile.” Knowing I have yet another dinner plan in faux Italy later, I decide to order three appetizers – smoked salmon, escargots, and butternut squash soup. The wine list is filled with vastly overpriced and uninteresting bottles, so I select the 2007 Comte de Lupe Bourgogne Rouge, mainly because it isn’t over $150 and seems like it will be drinkable and perfectly fine.
My waiter, Djibril, is very friendly and a little too enthusiastic, and I eventually have to tell him that I can pour my own water and wine so that he won't visit my table every five minutes. This seems to confuse him, so I explain that I am a very fast drinker, but in actuality I just don’t want my wine stem, which seems very cheap considering the price of the wines, filled up three quarters of the way. He looks at me like I have three heads when I ask if it's normal for them not to play any kind of music in the dining room, as it's dead silent at the moment, and then proceed to snap this photo of him.
Other customers start to lumber in, all old and miserable looking, with the stench of death about them. The bread girl visits my table and she is (surprise, surprise) very pretty, and very polite. As she makes her way through the dining room I hear her being asked all kinds of awful questions by the walking dead, such as where she’s from and how does she like America, and I hope for her sake that she can’t read minds.
I’m presented with an amuse, a cheese and leek flan, which is entirely forgettable. My first actual course is black peppercorn smoked salmon, with blinis and chevre, which is definitely the strongest dish I am to encounter. I guess it’s fairly difficult to fuck up smoked salmon, which is why I ordered it in the first place.
Escargots "cassoulet" with Porcini mushrooms and parsley butter does not fare so well, and would have been better if they had at least provided more of the buttery pastry to accommodate the large amount of snails. I love snails, but I don't want a big bowl of them, especially when the texture is off and every fifth one is filled with grit. The fact that everything is garnished with cherry tomatoes pisses me off as well, and they proceed to do it on all three dishes. Djibril looks hurt that I didn’t finish my escargot, and I politely explain that I’ve got another dinner to attend in two hours and I’m trying to save room.
Little did I know that I should have saved this excuse for my butternut squash soup with crème fraiche and chestnuts. The soup itself is ok, but I have forgotten about the chestnuts and am a little alarmed when I bite into something that has the texture of raw cauliflower, and it kind of ruins it for me. The accompanying gougere is completely devoid of flavor, a far cry from the ones I grew to love at Evangeline.
After clearing my half-eaten soup, Djibril seems to get the hint that maybe I think the food sucks, so I quickly ask for the check to avoid any uncomfortable confrontation with any kind of manager. On my way out I start beating myself up a little bit for not eating in faux Morocco instead, and probably saving myself eighty bucks in the process, but another glass of champagne puts me in a good mood again. I wander off to kill time before dinner in faux Italy and stumble upon a Beatles cover band performing in faux England. This is yet another surreal element to a day spent meandering around like a pilgrim in an unholy land, a land that keeps getting better and better with every drink I consume. The one question I’m left with after checking out the shops in faux Japan and England is, "Who the fuck actually buys these expensive swords?" They're really fucking expensive, and I can’t imagine, looking around, that any of these people are going to be doing any kind of battle anytime soon. I just don’t get it.
Wandering the streets of Epcot at night can be dangerous, as you have to be constantly aware of reckless old people on motorized carts. I walk over to a dessert kiosk to take momentary shelter, and notice they’re pouring the Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial, a demi-sec Champagne that seems perfectly suited to my state of mind at this juncture. As I take my first sip, I'm rudely interrupted by the vibration of my phone. It's my family, who have arrived at the restaurant 45 minutes early and are wondering where I am. For some reason this annoys me to no end, plus I am still a little full from my shitty French food, so I depart at an extra slow pace to meet them. Yes, I can at times behave like a five-year-old...
As I arrive at Tutto Italia, in a pissy mood, the cheesy Italian Maitre d' escorts me to my family’s table and makes a joke. “Hey, do you know this guy? He says he knows you – I can kick him out if you’d like!” I would have preferred if my family were laughing because they knew how annoyed I was, but unfortunately it's because they actually think this joke is funny. I say nothing, and immediately reach for the wine list.
They have already ordered a meat and cheese plate for the table, from which I nibble a few pieces of Mortadella, because I can’t resist it no matter how full or pissed off I am. Looking over the wine list, everything is as wildly over-priced and boring as it was in France, so I opt for the 2007 Lucente, a Super Tuscan that is made in large quantities, but is still generally delicious. I’m not sure I could have been any less interested in the back-story about our waitress, but that doesn't stop my mother from filling me in.
We place our entrée orders. I choose Lasagna Bolognese, because it's difficult to fuck up, and also because I figure no one could possibly serve a $26 order of Lasagna that sucks, right? Wrong.
I’ve had better lasagna in the cafeteria when I was in the second grade. The pasta is catastrophically mushy and the sauce tastes like it came out of a Manwich can. Everything else on the table is much better than what I ordered, and this further annoys me because I'm usually good at ordering the safe bet on the menu. Oh well, my family is having a good time and are enjoying their food, so I figure I should just shut the fuck up and eat.
The journey back to the car is arduous, as I am so full that I can barely breathe. Never have I wanted a giant glass of Fernet Branca more than I do at this moment, but I'm not about to take the time to seek one out. All in all, I feel like I’ve done enough damage for one day, and I’m not sure the average Epcot visitor generally takes it quite this far. I’m not saying that there will ever be a next time, but if there is, I’m getting one of those fucking motorized carts.
Just like I said after I was forced to go camping:
Glad I did it, but excited that it’s over.