RECAP: If you’re just catching up, we went to Disneyworld, found Peter Pan, and dropped him from Cinderella’s castle. Peter Pan can’t fly, folks. He also can’t stick a landing. So he’ll be blowing into a tube to make his wheelchair go from now on and we’re on the run. First from the Mickeys through Tomorrowland; then we stole a tram and kidnapped Mabel, Janey and Tanner (who really needs one of those monkey-leash things); and then escaped to Hollywood Studios, where we eluded the Space Rangers and made our way to Tower of Terror. Got it? Good.
There are 19,000 ways I can describe how ominous the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror looks against the night sky. Cool is not one of them. Let me say this: it is a massive spectacle in a park that’s really designed for people under 52 inches: 200 feet of damaged concrete and exposed wiring, venting and plumbing. I can hear the screams of other patrons falling to what sound like horribly untimely deaths. Seriously, it is intimidating. “I wanna go on that!” the Honey Badger says.
We run for the Tower, well, most of us do. The Boy is doing that crabwalk thing you do when your pants are wet (or nasty) and it’s cold on your giblets. And he is not interested in the Tower of Terror. At all. I should say here that The Boy is not the picture of ignorant bravery you might expect from a 12-year-old. He’d be better suited as a technical consultant on Monk. This kid has an autographed poster of Cringer from He-Man on his wall that says “Be Careful!” and as we walk, he is actually making that Scooby-Doo knee-knocking sound. This should be fun.
In the midst of trying to convince The Boy he’s not going to die, here come the Space Rangers, bounding after us, yelling like a cross between Tim Allen and William Shatner: “Lasers set to stun.” But the lasers are really red flashlights tied to their wrists so when we don’t respond, we get: “Star Command! I got you! You know I got you.” The Honey Badger whips around, turns fingers into guns, and makes laser sounds: “Peww! Peww!” Two Rangers fall. “Evasive maneuvers!” they shout and spin away. Off to the Tower.
At first glance, I didn’t realize the empty fountain, the decrepit facade, the Munsters-style cobwebs were part of the decor: I thought this was the one ride Disney didn’t give a shit about. We jump in line, ease past the vacant stares of the attendees and are funneled into a room with set pieces children CANNOT KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF OF! I never hear Rod Serling tell me I’m going to the Twilight Zone because I’m too busy telling the Honey Badger to “stop touching that!” “Keep your hands to yourself!” “How did you set that on fire?!” I also hear: “TANNER! This is the last time I’m telling you…”
Rod Serling stops talking, the door opens and we are led into…the basement? Seriously? Now I know Disney prides itself on the realism and experience of each and every attraction—the Haunted Mansion seems haunted by both ghosts and the staff; Space Mountain attendees have Star Trek-ish uniforms and it seems like we’re on a space station; even the pin dealers in the American Experience in Epcot look like freaking Betsy Ross. But we left a dingy, damaged hotel replete with a zombie staff from 1920 to become HVAC technicians for the ride? It’s loud and hot and steam is escaping from odd places. I kept expecting to see Batman fighting the Joker (and I probably will…soon as Disney buys them).
None of this is helping the The Boy. We’re in line and this cat is already crying, the Honey Badger keeps throwing her hands up like she’s already on the ride, I just want to leave period, and my wife is eying the I Survived the Tower of Terror T-Shirt the kid in front of her is wearing. Elevator doors open, we file in, and we’re taken up.
We’ve been on this ride before—at Disneyland. There they take you up, show you your last glimpse of the outside world and LET YOU GO! And right before you die, hydraulics and brakes kick in and they do it to you again. And again. And again. The Disneyworld version, though, is a little worse. To heighten your terror, the elevator car you are in moves through the building, down a dimly lit corridor that showcases creepy things from dead hotel guests and a surprising number of ventriloquist dummies whose eyes follow you. I hear this kid whimpering, “Mom, what’s gonna happen?” She responds, “You know what’s gonna happen. You’ve been on it before. It’s just a ride. You’re gonna be fine.”
And right then, Bzzzhrrooon! The ride shuts the fuck down.
Are you serious? Now?
Lights come on. The mystique is broken. I can see all the wires and pulleys and the bright ass EXIT sign on the door directly to my right. We haven’t even gotten to the part where they let you drop. We’re still on the top floor, but we’re on the floor. If I wanted to, I could get out and walk away, right? There’s the exit door, there are stairs beyond it. Now The Boy has a full-blown meltdown. He says, “I wanna get off!” I say, “Get off what? Dude, you’re on the floor. What can happen?” “I don’t like this, I don’t feel safe!” Janey says, “I feel safe. You can hold my teddy bear.” Janey is in the first grade and doesn’t have her two front teeth.
He takes her bear, the Honey Badger laughs at him while he tries to wriggle out of his seatbelt. Then Bzzzhrripp! Attendant on the PA says, “Your ride will resume NOW.” Lights out, The Boy screams, car jerks forward, doors open and we are taken into the elevator shaft. Ride drags us up and I hear The Boy, “Noooooooo! I want to get oooofffffff!” Too bad. We hit the top level and I hear “Tanner! Tanner! Why isn’t your seatbelt…?” And we drop! It is so fast my scream is left at the top.
The Honey Badger laughs the entire ride. The Boy cries the entire ride. The kid in front of us throws his hands up. My wife snatches the Tower of Terror shirt clean off his body. We hit the bottom, Tanner hits the seat (HARD — guess his lil ass will sit down next time, won’t he?), and we drag The Boy off the ride into the 2 remaining Space Rangers.
“Got ya,” they say and grab the Boy. They cuff his hands in those big, white Mickey hands.
“Let him go!” Honey Badger throws her fingers up. Wrist flashlights shine back. Mexican stand off. “Don’t make me do it!” she says.
“You won’t make it out alive,” says one Ranger. “But we do hope you’ll come back and see us!” says the other. He throws a packet of papers and some pens us. “Here’re some guest surveys; tell us how we’re doing!”
Papers distract us and they disappear through a side door.
Now I can’t leave.