The Backlot Tour closes today. That is, quite honestly, a good thing. I'm told it was good when it first opened, but I never saw the glory days . . . and even the first time I rode, TEN FREAKING YEARS AGO this December(!), it was only a shadow of what it was meant to be. It was constantly in a state of barely hidden disrepair, and the upper levels of management really didn't even pretend to care. It was tired, outdated, corny, and couldn't hide it if it wanted too. Rumors about it closing for good have been swirling for years - in fact, they were probably swirling that Christmas Day in 2004 when I rode it and whilst riding decided that yes, I was going to apply for the Disney College Program after I graduated because man, wouldn't it be fun to be the person up front giving the tour? Frankly, it has needed to be closed down and replaced for a very long time. No one knew that more than the people who worked there. No one complained about how awful that ride was more than them either. No one talked about the attraction's days being numbered and counted them down more that BLT cast members.
I was one of them (although it's sometimes hard to believe now) and we all hated that place with a passion.
A passion so intense it became both hatred and love.
Because no one defended that place to outsiders like we did either. No one complained about replacing live tour guiding with an autospiel more than we did. No one got more frustrated on Catastrophe Canyon's behalf than we did when management made it clear that non-working effects weren't going to be fixed. This was our home, for better or worse, and we were going to defend it, dangit!
At this point I hope it goes without saying that my heart is breaking today, just a little bit. It doesn't matter that we've all seen this coming for years, I think a lot of us are feeling a bit like Inigo. For me in particular, those couple of years were a defining moment. Obviously it's where Luke and I met, and so the thought of the whole place being torn down feels like a desecration from that view. I mean, this is exactly the sort of thing that corny country songs are made of.
But there's so much more to it than that. I've often told people that the first time I lived in Orlando it was like living a real life version of Friends. Which is true, but at the same time doesn't go far enough. Unless you've actually lived in a situation where you had no family nearby but still had a big group of people who had your back no matter what even though there were just as lost as you were and you all knew you were making it up as you went along and everyone was roommates with everyone and everyone spent all their free time together because no one knew anyone else and life was always some degree of crazy and everything was a new experience . . . well, it's one thing to watch the show, and it's completely another to live it.
I think about that moment in time often, especially now that we're back. I have to say, at the risk of sounding overly hyperbolic, that they were easily the best and possibly the most important years of my life. I've never felt so completely, one hundred per cent and then some, accepted for who I was in my entire life. I have never met another group of people as non-judgmental. I wouldn't even know where to start looking for another group of people as unquestionably welcoming. It was an absolutely new experience for me - possibly even the most foreign one I've ever had. And because of that, I had no idea how to react when I made mistakes. I expected rejection and judgment, so I distanced myself from people before they could do it instead. It took a ridiculously long time, but I finally saw that that never would have happened. This group was truly one of kind among any I've encountered . . . well, ever. (are you tired of all the adverbs yet, lol?) so I have a few regrets, but for the most part I look back on those two and a half years with just happy nostalgia. It was a simpler time in life, even though it felt so complicated in the moment. And while the seeds of getting me there then were planted looooooooooooooooooooooong before I got there, those first blooms that sprouted in those years are the reason I am where I am today. (that may be the most garbled metaphor I've ever created)
Luke started a facebook event last Saturday after the closing announcement. One last ride for former BLT cast members who were still around, the last tour ever given by the old shuttles. We figured we could meet up with a dozen or so old friends. Within, like, three hours fifty people had said they were coming and with everyone inviting everyone they were still in touch with the invite list has already broken three hundred and I swear there are more people every time I look. A lot of them are coming, some of them flying in from around the country just for the weekend to see old friends and say goodbye to what was, for pretty much all of us, our first real job. I don't even know most of these people at this point, but we're going to spend an hour together today, laughing and crying and saying goodbye to the bane of our existence . . . and one of the best things that ever happened to us at the same time. It's slightly incredible.
The place is tired, run down, with nothing even remotely exciting or fun or new about it. Tonight is going to be as much a celebration that it's finally gone as it is a gathering to wish it wasn't going. It's the end of several eras, and I'm so glad we got back here in time to say goodbye. It's taking a little piece of my heart with it, but the BLT left me a better person than it found me. And after 25 years Catastrophe Canyon finally gets to move on to take three. It has certainly earned it. Go ye gently, Cat Canyon into that long goodnight, whilst we who remain rage against the dying of the light.
(yeah . . . that's really cheesy. but some things just require a little cheese. as I sure will be demonstrated in the several hundred pictures I plan on taking tonight. apologies in advance for flooding people's instagram feeds.)
Sometimes you don't realize how much things have changed until it's made obvious that they'll never be the same. I'd love to go back to those days - but I don't think I would if I could. I got what I needed, and now it's time to make the best of that . . .
But first a couple hundred of us are going to take a day to say goodbye.
P. ost S. cript
Throwback Th-Saturday to back when I used to be a big youtube star. (and no, I am not going to admit how long I spent looking for these . . . however neither of them are the one I was looking for . . . )