How to Enjoy the Disney World Experience for Free

I asked my daughter if she was enjoying her Disney World vacation as we inched forward in line.  “Dad,” she groaned, “We’re in Safeway.”  “A line’s a line,” I replied, “and they say getting there’s half the fun.”

Enjoying a Disney vacation from the comfort and convenience of your local grocery store doesn’t “technically” allow you to experience a ride at the end of the line, but it’s many other advantages greatly outweigh this minor difference.

Let’s start with cost.  A one day pass to the Magic Kingdom is $126.74 for an adult and $120.35 for a child.  A one day pass to Safeway World is the danger of accidentally buying a quart of Chunky Monkey ice cream and then accidentally falling head-first into it and scarfing down the whole thing down.

Parking at Disney World costs $22 if you want to park in their lot conveniently located one town over, or $45 dollars if you want to park close enough to visit the park that day.  Parking at Safeway World remains complementary, but as they are now requiring us to scan and bag our own items, please enjoy the free parking while it lasts.

A 16 ounce Coke at Safeway World is $1.89.  A small drink at Disney World is half your 401K.  (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that included in the $126.74 is the privilege, as an official Magic Kingdom “guest,” of leveraging your home equity toward the purchase of a mildly warm soft pretzel. On the up side, they throw in the mustard packets for free – Hey, Disney Executives aren’t animals!

Safeway World offers many other advantages –

It’s temperature controlled.

It’s just down the street from your house.

Every once in a while someone is handing out free cheese samples.  (Try finding that at Disney World.)

In complete fairness, I must admit that Disney World and Safeway World tie in the screaming baby department.  But Disney wins hands down in the disappointed seven-year-old’s, “I’ve been waiting all year for this, and it’s not the overwhelmingly joyful experience I imagined,” category.

I’m sure some of you vacation “purists” will nitpick the differences between Disney World and Safeway World, but I urge the rest of you to seriously consider taking your family to Safeway World this summer instead of the Magic Kingdom.  If the kids complain, offer to park half a mile away from the store to make it feel more like an authentic Disney experience.


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How My Dreams Were Dashed By Evil Translucent Fish

My daughter attends my alma mater, Oregon State University.  My most recent visit to OSU found me wandering past a building and a particularly disturbing memory popped into my head.  When I attended OSU, this building’s basement contained something you would expect to find at an esteemed institution of higher education — classrooms, faculty offices, and, of course, a “chamber of horrors.”

Let me explain.

It’s the spring of 1982, and a friend tells me about an extremely lucrative job opportunity.  “Lucrative” in the sense that it paid at least ten cents over minimum wage.  I wasn’t just “dirt poor” then.  Don’t be crazy — I couldn’t afford dirt.  But this job not only paid well, it INCLUDED room and board.  I had struck gold!  Dollar signs floated in my head.

The job title was Fishing Vessel Observer.  The US government was hiring people to live on foreign fishing boats to make sure they weren’t taking the wrong kinds of fish.  This was the perfect job for me!  Mind you, I had never lived on a boat, never been on the “high seas,” nor could I speak any language other than the Alsea Public School version of English.  Nevertheless, I was overflowing with confidence.  What an adventure!  What stories to tell!

This is when I learned something that created an inkling of concern — my dream job, the one that would pay so much cash and offer such adventure — required passing a test.

This test, it turned out, involved correctly identifying different North Pacific fish species.  How hard could it be?  Only time, and a deep desire to suppress the physiological pain, have dulled my memory, but suffice it to say, here is how this ugly chapter came to a heart wrenching end.

I went to the designated building on OSU’s campus and walked down the steps to the basement.  I had a pencil and the test sheet which contained a list of fish species.  Names of fish I never knew existed.  Reams of different fish.  Fish with unpronounceable, incomprehensible, scientific names.  Maybe they were Greek fish.  Many sounded Greek, that, or maybe Klingon.

Awaiting me in that dank fluorescent basement were row upon row of jars.  Each jar contained a fish floating in fish embalming fluid.  They looked like they had been floating in those jars for a while, say, since the 1850’s. Long enough that they had lost any color and become translucent.  Their skeleton’s shined through them like X-rays.  AND, to my great shock and gut-wrenching disappointment, EVERY fish looked EXACTLY alike.

I took a slow lap around the room, and paused to reflect on the gravity of my situation.  Then I set my test sheet down and quietly made my escape, never again to visit this “chamber of horrors.”

And now, I thought as strolled by, I bet they’re all still down there — floating.


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Why It’s A Wonderful Life (with apologies to Frank Capra)

We cringe whenever someone says, “Let me tell you about the dream I had last night.”  Yikes!  Other than invasive dental procedures, is there anything worse?  That said, let me tell you about a dream I had last night.

First, the backstory.

There are two traditional rules about attending church.  Number 1: Be on time, and Number 2: Wear your “Sunday best.”

Here is my problem.  I am never on time, and I wear clothes that will never be described as anyone’s “Sunday best” – a Hawaiian shirt and Birkenstocks – usually, but not always, without socks.  BUT, I do make it a point to arrive on time… at least once a year.

So here’s my dream –

I die and go to heaven.  I am standing at the Pearly Gates distraught over the lackadaisical attitude I had on Earth toward church attendance.  I had hoped to clean up my act before I died, but a mishap involving an electric hedge trimmer and a shaky ladder sent me to my reward early.

Suddenly, Bob, an usher from my church appeared.  “Bob, what are you doing here?” I asked.  “You’re still alive.”

“True, but I was told you were upset, so God asked me stop by and take you on a little journey.”

Suddenly, fog rolled in around and engulfed us.  Moments later it dissipated, and we were standing in the back of my church sanctuary as my minister, who, for the purposes of this story I will refer to as “Pastor Steve,” because his name happens to be Steve Hill, is giving a sermon.  A friend walks by us, and I say, “Hi,” but he doesn’t respond.

“He can’t hear you,” Bob says.  You’re invisible.  Just then, one of the back doors opens, and I watch myself saunter into the sanctuary a full 15 minutes late.

“Ouch,” I say under my breath.

“Hold on, Jack,” says Bob. “See that couple over there?  The woman in the blue dress and the man in the tweed jacket?”

“Yeah,” I say, “but….

“Just keep watching,” says Bob.

I watch myself move along the rear of the sanctuary looking for an open chair, and I see the woman nudge the man.  They both look over and she smiles at him.

“Jack, you just made their day.  You didn’t know it, but they had arrived late and were feeling very self-conscious about it, until you walked in.  Your thoughtless and irresponsible late arrival has made them feel better about themselves.  Sure they were late, but not nearly as late as you.”

“So?” I asked.

“Jack, everyone has a purpose on Earth.  And one of yours was to make late new comers to church feel less self-conscious.

The fog rose and again soon dissipated.  It was the same Sunday morning.  We were up on stage next to Pastor Steve, and we could see me walking past the late couple who were now listening to the sermon with peaceful smiles.

I was continuing down the aisle.

“Keep your eye on that family,” said Bob, “the one with the father wearing a faded denim work shirt and worn jeans.”

The father was sitting on the aisle and clearly turned his attention to me as I walked by.

“Jack,” Bob said, “you couldn’t have known it, but that gentleman almost didn’t come to church this morning because all he had to wear was one of his old work shirts and leather boots.  He arrived feeling extremely self-conscious about his clothes.  That is, until he saw you.  Just look at you, Jack.  You look like you’re heading off to a second-rate flea market – faded Hawaiian shirt and worn out Birkenstocks.”

“Uh…” I started to defend myself.

“Jack, you’re perfect.  Just what the doctor ordered!” said Bob.  “A moment ago this man felt like the worst dressed person in church.  But one glance at you and his spirit is lifted.  He is rejuvenated.  And it’s all due to your total disregard of appearance.”

“But I had no idea,” I began to say as the fog rose and swirled around us.

When the fog disappeared, I was back at the Pearly Gates.  Bob was gone and I was in a line waiting to check in.  I looked down, and then I realized, I was getting ready to check into heaven in my Sunday Best – a faded Hawaiian shirt and worn out Birkenstocks.

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This McDonald’s is Located in Fantasy Land

This is NOT a “hit job” on McDonald’s.  Okay, it is a hit job on McDonald’s.  However, in my defense, McDonald’s drew first blood.

To fully understand this column, you must have seen that commercial where the young McDonald’s employee shows up at McDonald’s and tells his manger that he has received his college acceptance letter.  Until this point, everything is normal.  It’s a McDonald’s.  All hell is breaking loose.  People are at the counter, a vehicle is waiting at the drive thru window.  An employee with a headset is manning the drive thru window.  Cooks are flipping burger patties.  It’s a busy McDonald’s operating at a minimum of DEFCON 3.

This is when the commercial enters a bizarre time-space bending wormhole.  The manager snatches the letter from the employee and yells, “Everybody!  Two seconds!”  The employees immediately snap from their workstations and form a circle.  The manager then reads the letter, and they enthusiastically applaud.  Here is a still from the commercial showing their unbridled jubilation-

When I walk down the street, people probably eye my “robust” physique and think to themselves, ‘I bet that guy know his way around a McDonald’s menu.’  Those people would be correct. But I doubt that I am the only soul, among my loyal readers, who enjoys “dining” at McDonald’s.  I’m not saying I’m an expert, but I’ve got a lot of McDonald’s experience under my belt (sadly).

Can you, even for a moment, even for a micro-nanosecond, imagine a McDonald’s manager calling his employees off their stations, as they busily keep the bags of McNuggets streaming over the counter and through the drive thru window, having them form a circle, and then reading a letter to the assembled crowd?

Let’s picture how this scenario would play out in the real world.  The line at the counter stacks up as those toward the front wonder where everyone disappeared.  The drive thru line comes to a sudden halt, and cars start piling up filling the drive thru lane.  The guy in his car by the ordering speaker starts yelling for someone’s attention.  The cars begin backing up into the parking lot blocking traffic.  The burgers which are STILL COOKING ON THE GRILL begin overcooking and smoke starts filling the kitchen.


And that, my friends, is why you will only find this McDonald’s in Fantasy Land.


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The Joy of a North Korean Pen-pal, Even One You Occasionally Threaten with Annihilation

I recently received a 6” x 9” envelope in the mail  that took six days to arrive.  But, of course, it was sent from a very distance city.  On another continent, you ask?  Not quite.  It was mailed from Salem, Oregon, about 60 miles away.  Sixty miles!  SIX DAYS!  That’s one day for every ten miles.  It would have arrived sooner by mule train.

A few days ago, President Donald Trump wrote a letter to North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un.  Here is how he addressed it-

It’s going to take all the internal fortitude I can muster, but I must do one thing.  I must ignore, for the sake and integrity of this week’s topic, Kim Jong Un’s title, “His Excellency.”  Like an AA member staring down the barrel of a shot glass filled with bourbon, I must walk away from it.

This column is about how President Trump addressed this letter.  Every letter, of course, needs an address.  Otherwise, how can the mail carrier deliver it?  As you can see, this address provides the level of specificity which, say, King David, of Old Testament fame, used when he looked up in the general direction of the heavens and called out to God, “Hey, God?!  Do you hear me?!”  (This may not be a completely correct translation of the original Hebrew.)  Trump addressed his letter to, “Pyongyang.”  That’s it.  Just, “Pyongyang.”  No street.  No office address.  (By the way, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently visited Kim at his office in North Korea.  Couldn’t The Donald just have called Mike?  Mike probably still has the address in his iPhone Maps app.

I know you’re thinking, “Well, Jack, Trump’s probably going to have someone hand deliver it.”  Uh… “No.”  Have you read this letter?  It starts out quite rosy, but it does include the slightly less than warm and fuzzy sentence – “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”  Gulp.  Kim killed a college kid who tried to swipe a poster for a souvenir.  Imagine what happens to the person who hands him this little charmer.  Most people like their more sensitive body parts in their current locations.

One piece of advice, Mr. President, Pyongyang is about 7,000 miles from the White House.  So, based on my recent experience, give it at least 700 days to arrive.   Better yet, use a mule train.


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Don’t Mind Me, I’m Just Out Here Helping Make America Great Again

My wife and I decided to spend a week in Washington D.C. helping to Make America Great Again.  So far I’ve only managed to make myself fat again (or, I should say, fatter again).  However, between bites, I’m doing my best to help the MAGA effort.  I don’t tour the White House until tomorrow morning, so I haven’t had a chance to share my thoughts with The Donald.  In the meantime, I’ve been getting the “lay of the land.”  Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far:

First, I’ve learned that most of the museums make you hold your backpacks in your hands or wear them in front of you like you’re carrying a baby.  Yeah, I know – really obnoxious.  Of course, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, so I asked the security guard why she was making me suffer this indignity.  She said that people swing around and accidently strike artifacts with their packs.  I started to tell her that while this might be true for stupid people, this should not apply to me.  But she didn’t seem “flexible” on the issue.

The next day I went to a museum that didn’t have this rule, so I was able to wear my backpack like a normal person.  Except the first thing I did was turn around and hit something with my pack.  The worst part was that I was in the Museum of the Bible!  THE BIBLE!  I was knocking around precious artifacts in God’s Museum!  I immediately thought, who’s in charge of this place?  Why aren’t they making people wear their backpacks in front of them?!

Second, we visited the National Portrait Museum.  (Yes, I had to wear my backpack in front of me like an idiot.)  The big deal there was the new portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama.  As you may have heard from whatever flavor of news you enjoy, this portrait is quite controversial.  Here it is –

People were swarming all over it, taking pictures in front of it, and generally having heart attacks over how much they loved it.  I considered this visit a success in that I managed not to knock it over.

Third, we visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  This museum isn’t big, it’s Ginormous!  It’s like walking into an IKEA store, only much larger, and instead of kitchenware and linens, they have bones and rocks.  Before you go in, I recommend saying good bye to your loved ones.  You might never find your way out.  I ran into a guy who walked in during a junior high field trip in 1973, and he’s still wandering around trying to find his way out.

Tomorrow we head to the White House to help make American great again, or at least swipe a souvenir when the Secret Service isn’t looking.  (It’s not stealing if you’re a tax paying citizen.)

Carry on, America.  I’ve got things under control here in the nation’s capital.  At least as long as I wear my backpack in front.


I Completely Agree With You About Donald Trump

An Open Letter to My Facebook Friends:

Let me begin by stating that I have been quietly, but very closely, monitoring your posts about Donald Trump.  I have been reading your heartfelt messages, and I have been clicking on your media links.  Each has served to underscore my belief that we hold the same opinion about Trump.  In particular, I agree with your passionate (yet poignantly insightful) comments about –

  • The “Wall”
  • The Paris Climate Agreement
  • The Iran Nuclear Deal
  • The investigation into Russian Collusion
  • And, of course, who makes the best Taco Bowl

The rational choice on each issue is plain as day.  Unless it was that day last August we had the eclipse, then… well, maybe I should have used the phrase “plain as the nose on your face.”  But I digress.

There will come a day when those who disagree with us will receive a direct and unambiguous message, and that day is November 3, 2020.  On that momentous day, we will sit in our living rooms watching the talking heads announce that justice has indeed prevailed.   Our point will have been made loud and clear.

Thank you for your willingness to, “put yourself out there” and “wear your heart on your sleeve.”  I have admired your fortitude and your courage.  Yours is the backbone and strength our county needs at this critical time in our history.

I look forward to reading your future posts and nodding my head in agreement.  Keep the light of your passion burning.  In fact, I am going to hit “refresh” after I type my final sentence to enjoy your most recent political insights.  I am actually salivating at the thought.  I am almost giddy with anticipation.

Just a Dad Identifying as a Mom for the Weekend

My wife recently asked me to go with her to Mom’s Weekend at our daughter’s university.  I initially declined and pointed out that I was not, technically, a mom.  But after quickly realizing my mistake, I remembered the, “Happy wife, happy life” rule, and reluctantly agreed to go.

The weekend began with an All-University Sing competition.  This competition has been held annually since 1936, and, as you might imagine, the level of competition is fierce.  On a scale of 1 to 10, a solid 23½.  Mother grizzlies react with less aggression after finding someone walking off with one of their cubs than these girls.

This event has routinely been held in Gill Coliseum, but Gill is undergoing remodeling, so the event was moved to the nearby football team’s indoor practice field.  Twenty-eight hundred plastic folding chairs were arranged around a stage which could have used a little more height.  I’m not complaining, I’m just suggesting that those beyond the first row might like to watch the show.  Our seats were on the 50 yard line.  Here I am (I stood for the shot) –

Parents dutifully forked over $20 dollars a ticket to attend the show, except us.  We were luckily enough to fall into a “special” group of parents whose kids screwed up and missed the deadline to prepurchase tickets.  So we got to enjoy paying $25.

After lining up like cattle outside the practice field, the doors finally opened and the herd burst forward.  Someone announced, “No saving seats,” over the loud speaker as moms threw elbows and dove to cover a span of four or five seats yelling, “These are saved.”  SWAT team members kicking down the door of a drug cartel leader behave more politely.

The best part of the evening was getting to experience that scene from the movie Cool Hand Luke where the warden yells, “Put’em in the box,” and the guards shove Paul Newman into that little box to bake in the Florida sun.  This is because soon after sinking into the luxury of those folding chairs, we began to feel like strips of sirloin hanging in a smoker.  The body heat of 2,800 parents trapped under that tin roof turned the place into a terrarium.  I didn’t  check, but I’m pretty sure that moisture was dripping down the walls.

The competition ended in our great disappointment and outright shock.  Our girl’s team didn’t win.  Fortunately, we were able to comport ourselves with a degree of grace and dignity, by immediately declaring the event RIGGED.  We demanded an independent and thorough investigation.  Shortly thereafter, however, all was forgiven, as I, and all the other moms, enjoyed a “spirited” after party.  That’s how we moms roll.

How to Shake the Shame of a Wallet Chain – or not

There are seven billion people on Earth, and not one of them has looked with greater disdain at people who wear wallet chains than me.  I have silently (okay, sometimes not so silently) condemned them as pathetic Neanderthals – insecure with themselves at best and very likely mentally ill.  This is why it was so painful for me to begin wearing one.

Naturally, this all began in Nebraska.  My wife and I and another couple from Oregon flew out to watch Oregon play football against Nebraska.  Friends of ours in Omaha were the quintessential hosts and even rented a minivan to haul us around.  I sat in the very back seat on the way to the game.  After we parked and made our way through approximately (this is a conservative estimate) one million tailgaters to the stadium, I realized my wallet was gone.  The van was too far away to check if it slipped out there.  Worrying about this, of course, allowed me to really relax and enjoy the game.

To my great relief, we found my wallet sitting on the back seat of the van.  I discovered that the angle of the back seat acted like a squeegee to extract wallets.  I’m not making this up.  When we got back to our friends’ house, David, also from Oregon, realized that his wallet had slipped out of his pocket!  (Don’t think for a moment this isn’t a maniacal scheme of the Chrysler Corporation.)

The next week, I went home early to pack for an out-of-town business trip and (and yes, this is beginning a theme) realized my wallet was missing.  Long story short, after neurotically turning my house upside down, and running late for my departure, I raced back to my office and found it perched on a chair where it had slipped out.  (No, Chrysler did not manufacture this chair, but perhaps it was made by a subsidiary.)

This was the fateful moment I first considered the painful indignity of a wallet chain.

As a result of painstaking research (i.e. wandering through a mall waiting for my wife to finish shopping), I stumble into a Harley Davidson shop.  Not the kind that sells the death bikes, the kind that sells t-shirts, jackets and key chains to make you LOOK like you’re the kind of wild and carefree guy who would ride a Harley (if your wife would let you).  And there they were – wallet chains as far as the eye could see.

Yes, I am a Neanderthal, and I am unquestionably insecure, but I am now an insecure Neanderthal who always knows exactly where to find my wallet.

Just How Much Pee Can One Dog Hold?

I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I’m pretty sure that my daughter’s dog just set a world’s record in the pee department.  I’m contacting the Guinness Book of World Records to verify it.  I don’t know if Guinness has a category dedicated to dog urination, but if they don’t, they need to set one up – PRONTO!

I’ve been dog sitting my “grand-dog” Milo, so I decided to take him on a hike to the top of Spencer Butte.  When I get Milo out of the car at the trail head, two things happened.  First, Milo makes a b-line for the nearest tree.  And second, I notice a new warning sign –

My daughter hasn’t had Milo very long, but breaking the news that he died saying “howdy” to a rattlesnake wouldn’t have gone over too smoothly.  My concern about rattlesnake danger, however, quickly disappeared.  Here’s why.

Three feet up the trail, Milo began peeing on trees.  Yeah, I know, he’s a dog.  They pee on trees.  But that’s not what I mean.  Milo was peeing on every tree.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  ONE.  This is western Oregon, friends.  We have trees.  If I had one of those little clickers that the lady at the Costco entrance uses to count shoppers, I would have counted.  My conservative estimate?  One thousand.  There have got to be one thousand trees between the trail head and the summit.  Here’s what it looks like –

It’s mostly Douglas Firs.  Milo hit every one like a World War II combat veteran taking the hill at Iwo Jima.  (In fact, if Milo were there, I am certain we would have taken the island much faster.  I doubt the Japanese soldiers could have sustained Milo’s unrelenting pee attack.)  But I digress…

It’s possible Milo missed a sapling or two, but let’s call it a 97% “P-rate.”  I grew up with dogs.  I know dogs.  They pee – A LOT.  But Milo is the Lebron James of canine urinaters.

I know he doesn’t look capable of holding the record.  He’s not a lab, or some other aircraft carrier sized dog with a bladder the size of a municipal water tank.  So I’m expected the team that comes out from Guinness to verify my claim to be suspicious.  Not to worry.  I’ll tell them to meet me at the trail head of Spencer Butte.





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