We Treat Our Lives Like Flyover Country
Michael Jackson, green peas, and palm trees
Read time: 4 minutes
Writing to you this week from mostly sunny Orlando, FL.
On the drive down to Florida, the Billy Joel tune “Uptown Girl” came on in my playlist, and I cranked it and sang along.
For once, my son didn’t groan for me to stop singing and turn it off.
Not sure where that grace came from, but I think . . . he enjoyed it? He’s turning 11 next week and his moods are a mystery to us.
That moment was my entry to Homework For Life, that day.
What’s one of your stories from this week?
Photo: one for us writers
Motivation: David Zinn, chalk artist extraordinaire
Homework: First, Best, Last, Worst
Story: The Palm Tree (AKA Disney in 1987)
David Zinn creates magic in everyday places. Tiny, unexpected twists on the ordinary.
The appeal isn’t just his art—it’s the way his works feels like joyful little fairytale snapshots. Tiny pages, in tiny stories.
Having a hard time tearing myself away from his videos.
Want to write stories but not sure where to start?
Here’s another gem from Matthew Dicks’ book, “Storyworthy.” It’s a simple grid you can fill in, to come up with ideas. Use anything you like on the left side—or use the prompts he’s used.
This exercise is called First, Best, Last, Worst.
The goal? To free-think story ideas.
Ten bucks that if you do this, you remember things you’d forgotten—that may lead you to even more remembered things.
They’re in there.
The Palm Tree Story (or, Disney 1987)
I squinted up at the sky from our apartment swimming pool, to watch a single airplane cut through the cloudless blue like the stylus inside the Etch-a-Sketch I had and never played with.
Soon that’ll be me up there, I thought.
I spent half the summer of 1987 watching planes and waiting for our first big family vacation, to Disney World.
But for all my excitement at the build-up, the trip’s mostly blank in my memory. It’s like a page of erasure poetry: a few words, a few moments, and the rest blacked out.
We treat our lives like flyover country, so focused on our next destination that we let all the details slip by. I’ve been enormously guilty of this. This week, though, I’m doing Disney again — this time with my husband and son.
And I plan not only to buy my son the one thing my parents wouldn’t buy me (that we still laugh about) but to make one simple change from 36 years ago.
Okay — two changes. I don’t plan for our most memorable story to happen in the parking lot, like it did then.
My main goal at the happiest place on earth isn’t to have fun.
It’s to have something else.
Our previous “big vacation” had been a beach trip two years before. Halfway there, though, the transmission died in our brown Volkswagen Rabbit. Transmissions are expensive, especially for young families putting one parent back through college.
I learned years later that my Dad had referred to that car as “Hitler’s Revenge.” My Mom still mentions how he saved the day by adjusting our beach plans down to something still doable, on a thin budget cut thinner by car trouble.
But by 1987, they could afford Disney.
And none of us remember as much of that trip as we should. My own trip was distilled to just a few scenes.
The most memorable of them I only have secondhand from my parents — who might have wished, in the moment, that they’d one day forget it too.
Michael Jackson & Green Peas
Francis Ford Coppola is a film director famous for “The Godfather.”
But no one talks about his 17-minute masterpiece “Captain EO,” that aired at Epcot from 1986 to 1998.
I don’t talk about it either, since I mostly don’t remember it. In 1987 I’d never seen a 3D movie before, and what I do recall isn’t Michael Jackson. It’s looking around at the other audience members during the show, wondering why they weren’t all looking my way. Why they weren’t staring.
Because those 3D effects were coming right at ME, you know?
Space Mountain is even more distilled: just a line of people inside in the half-light, as we waited to ride the rollercoaster. A projector ceiling overhead with pictures zipping by of what were supposed to be asteroids. Someone said they were just closeups of chocolate chip cookies.
I still wonder if they were.
And then there’s the afternoon we had lunch at The Contemporary, a giant A-frame hotel with the monorail track running right through it. My meal came with green peas.
Y’all, I hate green peas. I will hate them until I die.
Luckily I’m an expert washer-downer when it comes to vegetables. Except at lunch that day, I’d already finished my drink, and my Dad wouldn’t buy me another. I had to “wash down” my peas with some mashed potatoes instead. Gagged the whole time.
When asked what they remember from Disney, most people don’t answer oh, for me it was totally the green peas.
The Palm Tree
Besides the Mickey Mouse ice cream pop my parents wouldn’t buy me — no one remembers why — our best memory isn’t one from the park itself. It’s from the parking lot, on our very first day.
The Magic Kingdom’s parking lot is 125 acres. It can park 12,000 cars. In a lot like that, you need a landmark.
That first morning, once we got parked, my parents picked “the palm tree.”
You see where I’m going.
To easily find our car in central Florida, after a long day of fun, we parked by “the palm tree.”
And so, when walked out on sore feet to find our vehicle that evening, we realized there were umpteen palm trees in that city of a parking lot. Even worse, no one could recall what our rental car even was: not its make, model, or color.
Key fobs weren’t a thing yet back then — we had no option to hold one up and keep clicking, to use the beep as a homing device. So we fell upon the mercy of security guards, who drove us around on a golf cart until we found the car. All while I rode on the back seat, suffering from the rumble in my gut of increasing intestinal distress.
I remember none of this firsthand, which might be for the best (and has never made it less funny).
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