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Stranded under the Magic Kingdom sea

Stuck in a shell all alone, Dan recounts his Little Mermaid ride humiliation

We start this trip down hilarity lane with my recent trip to Orlando. Those of you who read my column know that I took a trip to the happiest place on Earth with Allison, her sister, my mother, my sister, Allison’s nieces, Allison’s best friend from college, her husband, and finally, her best friend’s father. As you can imagine, the days that we all went to the park at the same time made for one big crew. We usually took up one entire car or section of seats on any ride that we went on.

In case you did not know, a Disney vacation involves more walking than an individual with R.A. should take part in, especially when that patient has undergone ankle replacement surgery only weeks before. To prevent any damage to my joints, Allison thoughtfully rented me a scooter to use. Because of my disability, and the fact that I was using the scooter allowed us to obtain a “guest assistance pass” for all the Disney parks. This pass is for those who are physically disabled or otherwise handicapped and allows for people like me (and my party) to enter rides through a special entrance. Ostensibly it’s a pass to jump the entire line. (The most we waited all trip was maybe fifteen minutes).

So there I was, scoot-scoot-scooting around the Magic Kingdom in my little red motorized buggy. Those things are fast, too, mind you, and if my horn weren’t broken I’d have used it constantly. Instead, I had a bell, and I rang it until my thumb was sore. (Especially when I was backing up.) Since we were with little children, I, of course, was forced to ride some of the more child-friendly attractions. One such ride was the Little Mermaid Under The Sea trip. This is an attraction where you sit inside a huge scallop shell and view an animatronic version of The Little Mermaid, complete with all the songs from the movie. As you travel along a motorized track, the cars move and seat three to a shell. Because I was allowed to bring the scooter on the line, I was one of the last to board a shell. Since there were only four of us left and two empty cars to fill, I decided that I would ride with someone who I did not know very well in order to prevent this person from riding alone. I remember saying “I’ll ride with you, I know no one wants to take a ride under the sea by themselves.” So, we hopped on to the moving track and as we were boarding, I decided to get in first. Since I had my cane, it took an extra few seconds to do so. I got myself settled, though, and turned around to help the other passenger board our scallop. Much to my surprise, the person who I had agreed to join out of the goodness of my heart was nowhere to be seen.

At first I thought maybe he had fallen or otherwise got hung up on any of the myriad of perils that exist at the bottom of the ocean. Shark, shipwreck, sea witch – the list was endless. I craned my neck out of the shell to look for my wayward partner one last time, and that’s when I found him – sitting in the shell in front of me with Allison and her sister.

“Well, how about that!” I thought. After cordially offering to ride with this person who had no partner for his trip through Ariel’s world, I had been flushed faster than a dead goldfish.  Like a guppy without a school, I had to experience the joys and perils of the bottom of the ocean alone. Me, a thirty-six year old man, was now irrevocably on course to see the ride through to the end. How embarrassing! I even drew pity from the teenage ride operator who, with Seinfeld-level-humor, told me to “have a great ride, sir!” and then tried his best to keep from bursting into hysterics.

Now, you’d think that this would be the end of my humiliation, and I could simply ride out the rest of the attraction in the quasi-dark while enjoying the island rhythms of Sebastian the Crab and his crustacean band. Unfortunately, this was not to be. You see, every time that the track of the ride turned a corner, the shell I was in and the surrounding five shells all turned to face each other. Kids pointed and asked their mommy why “that man” was alone. Mothers warned their children of the perils of not taking their baths or they’d end up like the “smelly man on the Ariel ride who had to go by himself.” I even heard one child say “mommy that man has no friends.” Like a dagger straight into my heart, my aquatic humiliation was complete. After I faced the same five shells at least ten more times throughout the ride, that is.

It’s difficult to know what to do when surrounded by friends and strangers who feel pity and embarrassment for you at the same time. So, like anyone else would, I stupidly smiled and pretended that singing robots shaped like fish had enthralled me so completely that I hadn’t even noticed there was no one else in my scallop shell. I pretended that I didn’t care at all that I appeared to be a grown adult who was so in love with The Little Mermaid that I just had to ride the attraction -- even if I had no one to go with me. As if I said, “Oh, there’s no one to ride in my car? Well, human contact be damned! I’m certainly not going to miss that plucky little mermaid and her unnaturally musically talented cadre of aquatic animals. Strap me in, Disney employee!”

The ride eventually ended and I did my best to act like it wasn’t “no thang” that I was just totally snubbed by my own family and friends. Thankfully I had the scooter waiting for me there at the ride exit, so I was able to turn the key and fade into obscurity. It was easy once I was back on my little red kart -- it wasn’t embarrassing at all to use a scooter to cut the line at every ride. Oh wait…

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