Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
From the time I can remember, I have loved everything having to do with Walt Disney. At the age of three, I was a devoted, t-shirt wearing fan of TV's The Mickey Mouse Club. I memorized the immortal words to the Davy Crockett theme song and wore the coonskin cap proudly.
Trips to the movie theaters in Waycross, Georgia—Tripoli, Libya—and Albany, Georgia were huge events whenever a Disney movie hit the big screen. On Sunday nights, I watched every installment of Disney's Wonderful World of Color—unless The Beatles were debuting on The Ed Sullivan Show at the same time.
Dreams of going to Disneyland in California were far-fetched for a south Georgia boy until the mid-Seventies when Walt Disney made good on his vision to build a second theme park in Orlando, Florida. By that time, I was in my twenties, yet the urge was still strong.
Long before Epcot, MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom, my girlfriend, Mary Ann, and I headed out to Orlando early one Sunday morning in 1976 following a Down Home with Eddie Middleton gig at the King of the Road in Valdosta, Georgia. She picked me up and we cruised down I-75 with three golden retriever puppies in the back seat.
The night was cool and magic was in the air as we cruised towards the Magic Kingdom, with the Captain and Tennille's “Lonely Night (Angel Face)” playing on some late night radio station. (Rest in peace, Captain. Daryl Dragon passed away three days ago at the age of 76.)
Arriving well before the gates opened, we had the entire parking lot to ourselves; so, we adjusted the car seats and slept until the sun woke us. Situated conveniently next to the Transportation and Ticket Center was the Kal Kan Kennel Club, where we deposited the three puppies as we zip-a-dee-doo-dahed off to see their imaginary contemporaries, Goofy and Pluto, paying a slick $6 each to get in.
There is nothing not magical about the Magic Kingdom. Everything I touched, smelled, tasted, and saw that day brought back a flood of childhood memories. We packed it all in, finishing the day with oysters on the half shell at Cap'n Jack's Oyster Bar and watching the sun settle over Buena Vista Lagoon before we retrieved the retrievers and cut across I-4 to I-95 then home.
The next time I went, I came home with a souvenir, The Art of Walt Disney, a hardcover, coffee table-sized book, full of stories and vivid art, tracing the history of one man's vision that began with a mouse.
On subsequent visits, I was a parent with kids of my own. It was amazing to see and share in the excitement and wonder through their eyes—until the spell began to wear off. Faced with miserable heat, the predictable Florida rain shower, and long lines, they were lucky Kal Kan Kennels didn't take two-legged boarders.
By the time Aunt Lynne and I were married, I had a foolproof plan to save on admission prices, as we took all the kids—Megan, Justin, Matt, and Connor—several times in the 90s. Upon arrival in Orlando, I would saunter up to the nearest kiosk advertising 'Free Disney World Tickets' and make an appointment for a 90-minute tour of one of many timeshare resorts in the area.
Say “NO”—that's the secret. Once the presentation is over, your family is herded into a big room with a lot of other potential timeshare buyers, gathered around big, round tables, and ceremoniously prodded, pestered, and pressured into signing a sales agreement.
It all starts off so pleasant and congenial. How many “NO”'s does it take before the sales rep's face turns red with frustration? I'm not sure; but, I can put a dollar figure on it—$213.06—that's how much “NO” got us in 1997.
Jimmy Yawn, Waycross boy turned Disney Imagineer and nephew of old friend, David Tomlin, handed me his business card years ago and told me if we were ever vacationing in Orlando, he would show us some magical hospitality. In 2000 or so, I called to let him know Lynne, Connor, and I would be coming down. He met us at the entrance to Epcot and made good on his offer, handing us three Park Hopper Passes. Jimmy Yawn—Imagineer and all- around nice guy. We park-hopped until I was ready to pass out.
My son, Justin Johnson, took my seven-year-old granddaughter, Hannah, for a one-day Saturday adventure within the hallowed borders of the Magic Kingdom a couple months ago. Like me in 1976, she packed it all in—from Cinderella's Castle and It's a Small World to Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. By the end of the day, she was tuckered out. So much magic for one little girl in one big day.
It's been a while since I last visited a Disney theme park; and, now that my name is Papa to a handful of beautiful grandkids, I yearn to feel the magic again—with them. And that—I won't say “NO” to!
Tails of the Weak: From Doghill to Tripoli and Back https://www.amazon.com/Tails-Weak-Doghill-Tripoli-Back/dp/1938436636
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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