Island Life by David Slack

The Happiest Place on Earth

This week marks the second time in my life I’ve visited Disneyland. Karren and I were here a long time before we became parents, by way of an airfare that chucked in a free night in Anaheim with tickets to the magic kingdom. We gave Disneyland about three hours before we bailed.

I like the America you find in bars, in diners, in Amtrak cars, in the homes of friends, and in the offices where they work. I’m much more ambivalent about the America you get if you present yourself front-and -center for a full fire-hose blast of the tourist and/or consumer experience.

Still, you do things differently when you have a five year old on school holiday. I’m not complaining, you understand. The work I do gives me the latitude to take these holidays, and they’re welcome breaks, every one of them.

Actually, the work I do is an odd thing to explain to people. My companions over a few margaritas in a bar in San Diego’s Old Town listened to the description with incredulity. After a moment’s pause, Frankie said You’re a drug dealer, man.

That took us on to a conversation about Schapelle Corby and of course her nine fellow citizens who were arrested last week. More incredulity. Not, of course, that here in the USA you can’t also come unstuck in spectacularly awful ways. I recall Eric Schlosser documenting a pretty compelling case or two against the- three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy in Reefer Madness.

To add to the unlikelihood of my story I explained that I was supposed to be in Austin talking with a client about writing his life story. It involves a struggle for democracy, success against overwhelming odds, death threats, corruption, and some quite exciting moments along the way. He had, to my exasperation, at the last moment flown out to Europe. Uh huh, said Frankie, and we went back to talk about the construction business and how quickly he can remodel a service station.

I wish I was in Austin
In the Chili Parlour Bar
Drinkin' Mad Dog Margaritas
And not carin' where you are

There are two interpretations I can draw from the mystery of the disappearing client. One is that he is indeed a VIP with a hard schedule. The other is that he’s not entirely sure about doing the book. I’ll find out soon enough.

I’m ambivalent. It’s a great story and it would be good to tell it, but if it goes ahead, it will entail a lot of work. On the other hand, I’ve had time to draw breath after finishing a second book hard on the heels of the first, and it’s high time I returned my attention to the pretty vast scope that still remains for expanding the automated speeches business.

I got to thinking about such things because I am not father of the year, if being a good parent means remaining actively engaged at all times with your kids when you’re holidaying with them. So many hours in theme parks, so many opportunities for your mind to wander. I’ll give myself a break: it was the cheesy entertainment that was not getting my attention, rather than my daughter.

And do they ever trowel on the cheese. Principal culprit: Sea World. Give a young Southern Californian a microphone and watch them audition for the TV executives in the audience.

Still and all, I had been looking forward to three nights in Austin indulging the old predilection. In this vast nation of many vast people, it can be a little dispiriting to sink yourself fully into the consumer culture. So much crap food and crap entertainment ladled out to people who compliantly hoover it up. You know that America is vastly and elaborately more than this, but standing in line for the Peter Pan adventure in Fantasyland, or eating your way through a plate of ersatz pasta at San Diego Zoo, you can feel immersed in something altogether less edifying.

And yet even in this swamp of marketing-manipulated humanity, there have been small delights. Four guys singing a-capella sixties soul hits and the crowd loving it. A talking trash can whose discrete remote control operator was happy to address Mary-Margaret by name, to her great delight and astonishment. And you should see the 3D show they do for the Bugs Life. Our little girl turned six and had the time of her life.

The holiday, in other quintessentially Californian words, is not about me. The family is having fun. The family even thinks it might be nice to come and live here for a year or two. Even in a week where the appalling Ann Coulter is on the cover of Time in all the newsstands, the notion of living here and sharing the sympathies of the 48% who didn’t vote for the guy is full of appeal. When you live just a short(ish) flight away, a Mad Dog Margarita in the Chili Parlour Bar is always in easy reach.