Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone


Thomas McKenzie's Blog.

Dead Men Tell New Tales

On Friday, July 7th, the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie was released in theaters. It had the biggest opening weekend box office in movie history. On that same date, the ride "Pirates of the Caribbean" was reopened in the Magic Kingdom, Disney World, Florida. (It had been closed for renovation.) That very day, that evening actually, I was on the ride.

I have a long history with the Pirates. During my elementary school years, my mother spent her summers in Southern California (La Jolla, near San Diego) working on certification in elementary Montessori education. My sister and I would usually go with her, and stay part or all of the summer. During these summers, we would take at least one day trip to Disneyland.

My favorite ride, by far, was Pirates. I remember well a glorious day when I was about 11. It was late in the season, perhaps early fall. My mother and sister were off doing whatever girls do, and I was free to roam the park for a time. I spent all of that time riding Pirates. The lines were very short, and I would basically ride it, get off, and ride it again with practically no wait time. I carefully observed all the scenes, and have a reasonable mental map of the experience.

In the years that have since come and gone, that ride has been a sort of minor touchstone for me. It has a certain "Corona" (see previous post of that name).

When the first movie came out, I was not excited to see it. Why? Because its a movie based on a ride at an amusement park. That doesn't sound terrible to you? Anyway, my buddy Dixon suggested the movie to me, and I saw it alone a few weeks after its release. I loved it. I especially loved the scenes that referred to the ride. When the prisoners are using the bone to try to convince the dog to bring the key over, and Johnny Depp says something like "you can try that forever, but that dog will never come to you," I laughed so hard I teared up. Other people in the theater looked at me like I was a loon. But, to me, remembering those robot pirates on the ride, sitting there literally "forever" trying to get the dog to bring the key . . . well it was just too funny.

So, flash to July 7th of 2006. My wife and kids and I have been at Disney world all day. We have been soaked by afternoon rains and are now back at our hotel. We intend to go back to the park the following day. In discussions with my lovely wife, we have determined that if I am going to get to ride Pirates, it needs to be tonight. The park closes at 11 pm, and its only 8 pm. So, I let her take care of the whinny, tired kids and I venture back to the Magic Kingdom.

The park is dark. Strangely dark, really. I would have expected more artificial light. But, in any case, I hoof it over to Pirates. While most other rides have little to no lines, Pirates has a 40 minute wait (and no FastPass). So, I wait.

We meander slowly through the Caribbean fortress. Muskets are lined up behind bars, barrels of who knows what are stacked up on hay. I am packed into the halls with a herd of somewhat overweight white people. At one point, two teenage boys near me start to yell and cut up. I was offended. I literally thought to myself "none of you should be talking at all, this is like a church!" Obviously I have issues.

Finally, I got to my boat. I was sent to a seat in the back, where I sat alone. Which was perfect, because I got to move from side to side and get a good look at everything. I had some angry moments, though. There was a sign that said "no flash photography." And, of course, a couple of people on my boat, and someone on the boat ahead of us, had to use their flashes. It angered me because, once again, I felt that the sanctity of the place was being violated. I felt that the purpose of this ride was to transport me out of reality, and here was cold, white, blinding reminders of the reality I was looking to escape. Once again, ISSUES!

The ride, of course, ends in a gift shop. I searched and found the perfect souvenir for me. (a black baseball cap with the Pirates logo on the front) I ended up not riding twice, the line being what it was, and came back to the hotel. I was glad for the chance to go.

Oh, how did I like the ride? Well, it was strange. I had an emotional flashback to seeing the Star Wars Special Edition in theaters. It was the same, but it had been updated with stuff from the new movies. It was what I remembered, but then again not. It was better, I think, but those changes had, well, changed it.

I think the best I can come up with is this. Imagine that you grew up going to church, a church with lots of traditions (like Episcopal or Catholic) in which nothing really changed. Then you left that church and just lived your life for a decade or two. Then, one Sunday, you went back to that home church. It was basically the same service in the same building, but there were all these new things thrown in, and some old things left out. And you could tell that if you had not grown up there, everything would seem perfectly well integrated. But because of your past experience, the new things jumped out and startled you. And the whole thing left you with an impression that you had pretty much "been to church", but not really. And, it made you sad, because you knew that the church of your childhood memory was gone forever. Maybe it was better now, maybe it was reaching new people, but it was not longer your church.

That's how I felt. And while I love Pirates, and I can't wait to see the new movie, and I look forward to one day introducing the whole thing to my own kids (when they are a bit older), I still have this nagging sadness that is hard to explain.

I am hoping this experience will help me better understand and minister to people who have seen their church change, and don't like it. I also hope the new ride and movies make Disney a ton of money, so they can keep making Pirate stuff that I can consume for decades to come. And, I hope I can get over myself a bit and enjoy the new while remembering the old.

But, for now, I think I will shed a tear in my grog, and toast a fond to pirates past.