Friday, July 20, 2007

I remember wondering if the smiles were real....

When I was 11, we went on a family vacation to Disneyland. All six of us piled in the car and we pulled the trailer all the way from Alberta. It was a grand trip, with lots of laughing and singing and goofing around. My older sisters were 21 and 19, so this was probably the last time all of us would spend a vacation together, and we all knew this, so we were milking it for all it was worth.

Disneyland was like an impossible dream come true. We were not a rich family, so my younger sister and I would have never pestered our parents to take us there. I remember the line-ups, I remember the heat, but it didn't matter...we were in the Magical Kingdom!

One thing struck me, though. All the people that worked there, they all had smiles plastered to their faces. The pimply teenager sweeping the grounds, the old lady in the gift shop, the man helping us climb into Captain Hook's ship...everyone in uniform had a big smile on their face. I found it eerie. I may have been 11, but I knew that nobody smiles all the time. I made a mental note to never apply for a job at Disneyland.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I remember the rain falling sideways....

Travel back with me to Nebraska, 1985. I am selling books. It is Sunday, the one day of the week where we don't have to knock on doors from 7:59 AM until 9:30 PM. It is the day where we meet at the local hotel for our business meeting, which lasts for hours.

We arrive in the parking lot, none of us too anxious to rush inside. It is hot, hotter than usual, and the air is completely still. We all notice it. "Glad I'm not knockin' on doors today!" We are herded inside to one of the windowless banquet rooms for the meeting, leaving the opressive stillness behind.

I don't know how long into the meeting we are, but sometime after the motivational songs are over and sometime before the weekly testimonials, there is a frantic knock at the door. It is a worried looking hotel employee. "Uh, everyone, there is some extreme weather outside, tornadoes or something, and everyone in the hotel has to move to a safer place NOW."

Tornado? I know where they'll lead us, I've read Little House on the Prairie, I've read Wizard of Oz, and I know we'll be taken to the basement where we'll be safe as the winds do their worst. "Which way to the basement?" we ask cheerily. We are booksellers, prepared for anything. We'll probably spend our time in the basement telling jokes and singing songs.

"This hotel doesn't have a basement."

I look to my right as this statement sinks into my mind for a glimpse out of the hotel doors. The first thing I see is rain, rain shooting by like bullets in completely horizontal lines. Then I notice the cars parked by the curb...the wind is scooting them, lifting them a little, then dropping them a few inches farther down the pavement, hop-hop-hop. The sideways rain is whipping by so thickly that I cannot see past the hopping cars. It is a sobering sight.

We are led, along with everyone else in the hotel, into the innermost hallway. This is apparently the most structurally sound part of the building, but none of us are convinced as we listen to the wind howling and raging outside. There are no jokes, and none of us sing. We all feel very small and powerless, and sit with our backs against the hallway wall, hugging our knees in silence.


I don't remember how long we sat there. Apparently there were five or six tornadoes fighting it out in the air, though none of them actually touched down. When the storm was over, everyone ran outside to survey the damage, which was amazing and extensive. All the proud American flags were hanging in shreds and tatters. The giant MacDonald's sign had been torn free from its thick metal post; we found shards of the yellow and red plastic embedded in car tires, having sliced through the rubber like razors; one of the inch-thick iron bolts that had held the sign up was bent in half like a noodle and thrust through the center of a car's windshield. We ran to and fro in the parking lot marveling at the destructive power of mere air.