My Semi-Ironic College Spring Break Trip to Disney World, 1997

My Semi-Ironic College Spring Break Trip to Disney World, 1997

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This is the spring of Spring Breakers, which reminded me that I too had a college spring break trip to Florida; though my friends and I didn’t do a lot of the things Selena Gomez et al do in the movie (make out, do coke, commit murder), it was still an epic journey in my modestly eventful life.

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It was spring 1997, and we were seniors at Boston University. The idea to drive to Disney World came from me and my friend Megan. She was a Disney fan who thought it would be great fun to hang out in the Magic Kingdom for a few days, and I had four day passes earned over my two-year tenure working at the Disney Store at Faneuil Hall Marketplace. That was enough momentum to entice four more of our friends—Dave, Marie, Nathaniel, and Becky—to sign on with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

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We rented a van in Dave’s name, and Dave nominated me—his sophomore and junior year roommate—to serve as copilot and second driver, despite some doubts the others had about my driving skills. We stopped on the way out of Boston to load up on snacks and booze, our beverage of choice being Cossack: the premier bottom-shelf vodka of eastern Massachusetts. We bought about twice as much mixer as vodka, but rather than maintaining an even two-to-one juice-to-vodka ratio, over the course of the week we slid gradually from four-to-one to three-to-one to two-to-one to one-to-one, finally landing somewhere in the neighborhood of one-to-two as the mixer ran low.

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The buzz was nearly killed at the first gas stop, as the door slid open and a glass pipe rolled out and shattered on the concrete. A backup implement was produced, however, and southward our hot box rolled toward the Sunshine State. The only music I remember us playing was Marie’s mix of Prince and the Talking Heads. “You don’t understand!” shouted a sampled Bernie Mac as “Pope” opened…and opened again, and opened again. “I ain’t scared of you motherfuckers!” The less-stoned passengers started to lose patience with our tireless patience for “Blind,” “Mr. Jones” (the Talking Heads song, not Counting Crows) and “Gett Off,” but Dave and I decided that as pilot and co-pilot, we also possessed DJ authority.

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Our hotel was a standard-issue Orlando joint, a high-rise with a view of the pool that we somehow restrained ourselves from throwing things (up to and including ourselves) into. We checked in, cracked the Cossack, and boarded an early-morning shuttle for the park.

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It was Disney World’s 25th anniversary year, and the centerpiece castle had been transformed into a giant pink cake, which only underscored the surreal effect of walking around the park with a buzz, without any kids or much of a plan—or even much of a reason for being there. Well, does anyone ever really have a “reason” for being at Disney World?

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There was some degree of curiosity-satisfying—I was a Star Wars fanatic, so Star Tours was a must—but for the most part, we treated the trip as a sort of performance art.

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We posed ironically at all the “picture spot” signs and scoped out the condiment bars for edible freebies—none of us had much money, so those of us without pot brownies had to budget our meal money carefully. Dave’s girlfriend (now his wife) had requested that Dave pose with Winnie the Pooh, so we got that taken care of.

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That was all fun for a couple of days, but by Thursday our energy was flagging. It rained all day, so we took it as an off day and hung out in the hotel room watching TV. I got incredibly drunk and, losing faith that the pizza we’d ordered would ever arrive, took off on my own for a Ringo-like walkabout in the rain. I remember feeling like I’d walked forever and ever without finding any fast food, just getting more and more wet and sick and miserable. I eventually found a Subway and made my way back to discover that the pizza had, naturally, come and gone.

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One night Megan and Becky splurged on a night out at one of the park’s theme bars, but the rest of us were too cash-strapped for such recreation, so we stayed in the hotel room with our Cossack. There’s video of Dave and me improvising a synchronized-swimming routine in the pool. At some point we decided to turn the bathroom into a sauna, because why the hell not? We eventually passed out, and the next day I heard reports of mildly scandalous skinny-dipping.

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By the end of the week, we’d seen enough—and had enough of wet waiting for rides, waiting for shuttles, and waiting for each other. (This was pre-cell-phones, so there was a lot of waiting for people to show up at rendezvous points.) We loaded up on Saturday and drove overnight back up to Boston.

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Dave took the first driving shift and I took the second, steering up the Atlantic seaboard and listening to the only talk radio I could find: a badly dated analysis of the 1996 election. Marie stayed up with me, kind of to keep me company but mostly out of concern that I’d fall asleep and kill us all. I made it, though, and by the time the sun crested, we were on the Jersey Turnpike. Even Marie had nodded off by then, but Dave and I were ready to stop and switch drivers again, so we woke everyone up with a rousing repeat of “Pope.”

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It hadn’t been the wildest spring break, or the most memorable. Basically, we just transported the snarky commentary we typically made in the elevated smoking section of the dining hall (yes, there was a smoking section in the dining hall) some 1,300 miles southwest, and then brought it back again.

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Still, that fall, when Dave and I were both in grad school, one night when we were drinking too much, the Talking Heads’ “(Nothing But) Flowers” came on and I started to tear up. I’d been hit by nostalgia for our spring break road trip, I confessed to Dave. Would we ever have so much fun with such a tight group of friends again in our lives? Dave, alarmed at my lack of perspective, reassured me. “Uh…yeah. Yeah, Jay, I think we will.”

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Of course I’ve had other trips—better trips—with those friends and with others. Still, spring break is like prom…no matter how much it objectively leaves to be desired, it squats there at an iconic place in your life. You’ll never forget it, but you’ll also always wonder whether you should have done it differently, whether there was an alternate-universe spring break where you took more chances, went a little wilder, did fewer of the things you’d regret and more of the things you wouldn’t.

Too late, though…there it is, preserved forever in photos and stories: the spring break you actually had. Your golden youth, your summertime dream.

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Spring break forever, bitches.

Jay Gabler