I had a few missions in mind when I went to California after my brother Ernie’s death. The most important and most exotic one involved scattering some of his ashes. I have put off sharing about this because it is the most bizarre aspect of my trip. Grief is complicated and I sure I will be navigating pathways into the emotions for some time. Right now, talking about this last strange service I did for my brother seems a little tender.
The only thing Ernie ever mentioned about life after his death was that he wanted his ashes scattered in the river of the jungle cruise ride at Disneyland. And not in “fucking Florida,” as he called it. He only wanted the real thing- Disneyland in Anaheim. He never quite forgave me or Florida for moving his mother away from him. My sister-in-law and I wanted to honor his last wish, within reason. We knew that scattering all his ashes in the drink at Disneyland was not in the cards, but I thought we could get away with a couple of tiny Ziplock baggies of cremains. Distribution of any amount of ashes is against Disney rules. However, I learned- when my mother died, and I scattered some of her in multiple locations at Disney World- that it is not so hard to do if one is determined. My sister-in-law and I were determined.
The entire process of scattering ashes at the jungle cruise ride was not an easy one. My sister-in-law has mobility issues with her knees and feet. It is hard for her to walk. My step-niece is developmentally disabled and has difficulty with coordination and with managing the hyperstimulation of crowds. These issues did not portend a smooth Disney experience. I knew that there were going to be tactical challenges, so I tried to devise a plan to minimize the burden. Because that is what I do.
I dropped my sister-in-law and her daughter off at the Uber location the evening of our mission. I suggested that they walk to the entrance of the park while I went to the parking lot and took the bus back. I left them walking down the primrose path from the Uber drop-off to the front gates while I drove down the street about ¾ of a mile to the first parking lot I found. As it turned out, that parking lot was closed, and the cast member directed me to one about three miles further down the road. When I got to that parking lot, I parked in row nine. The bus to the park picked up at row thirty-two. I could not even see the bus stop from my vantage point, but the parking attendant assured me it was “over there.” As I began my trek amongst the vehicles, I thought of a potential problem. The two tiny Ziplock bags of ashes were in my backpack. It occurred to me that, should Disney security search my backpack, they were going to find two baggies of fine white powder. Probably not a good thing. I took the baggies out of my backpack and stuffed them in my bra.
My sister-in-law called to find out where I was because this process was taking longer than she believed possible. I explained that I was en route to the bus and would see her when I got there. She told me that she and my step niece were at the gates. When I finally arrived at the park entrance, I, of course, could not see them. I called her and asked where they were. She told me they were directly across from the stroller rental. I explained that I was right outside the stroller rental place; if I screamed, I am sure an employee would hear me inside the stroller rental stand and would rush to render me assistance. Then, I thought to ask if she was standing up or sitting down and she replied they were sitting down. I looked around for a bench and, indeed, they were directly across from the stroller rental place- about two hundred yards across from the stroller rental place.
Ultimately, we made it into the park. The timing was less than ideal. The electrical light parade was getting ready to start. Oceans of people were tiding from every corner of the park to wash up on Main Street. We were trying to go from Main Street to Adventureland- obviously going against the current. Pre-parade crowd herding is a special skill that Disney cast members learn early on in their magical careers. The bottom line is that the cast members must make sure people are either gathered in the stationary parade viewing areas or continuing to move consistently down the sidewalks. My sister-in-law was having trouble with the continuous moving part. I had suggested a wheelchair, but she declined. I think she thought better of that decision about ten minutes after we started our trek to Adventureland. Because of her mobility issues, she had to stop and rest every few minutes. My step niece did great, but it was obvious that the crowds distressed her. From the Disney cast members’ perspective, we were something of a hazard. They were extremely nice and polite, but the message was still “Keep Moving.”
With fortitude, we did continue to “keep moving.” Finally, we reached the jungle cruise ride. Since everybody and their great-aunt Matilda was on Main Street waiting for the parade, the line for the ride was blessedly short. We got in line, and all was going fine. Until we arrived at the staircase right smack in the middle of the line. I knew this would be Waterloo for my sister-in-law and step niece. I asked the conveniently located cast member if there was an elevator. She directed me beyond a rope outside the regular line. There seemed to be a second line, which we joined. Another cast member explained that this line was for people with disability passes. He sent me over to the jungle-cruise-disability-pass-issuing kiosk. I left my two companions there and hiked back over to the front of the regular line. The nice lady there tried three times to issue me disability passes and get me a time to return to the “special” line. Unsuccessfully. Finally, she gave up and just escorted me back to the disability line and vouched for me.
As we waited in the disability line, I noticed something disturbing. In the jungle cruise boats, riders sit on a bench that goes around the perimeter of the vessel. There is an additional bench in the middle of the boat to accommodate more passengers. I noticed that the cast members were putting people in the disability line on the center bench. This was messing with my whole strategy. I based my whole approach to this ash-scattering process on a simple principle. I honestly believed that people leave bits and pieces of loved ones on Disney property all the time. I think Disney employees often realize it is happening, but will politely turn the other way as long as the ash-scatterer does not flaunt their actions (or the ashes) in the cast member’s face. I had planned to stealthfully dump a little bit of cremains over the side of the boat when the skipper was too engrossed in his patter to notice. I did not see tossing handfuls of cremains across the boat as being stealth in any way, shape, or form. I think tossing handfuls across the boat would reasonably constitute “flaunting.” Luckily, after they loaded us onto the center bench, they let us move to the perimeter of the boat before loading people from the regular line. We were able to sprinkle our little baggies of ashes without drawing attention… and my brother now has an amazing view of the back side of water for all eternity.
Having accomplished our mission, we needed to reverse the process to get out of the park and back to the car. As we passed the restroom, we made a quick pit stop. When I got out of the restroom, the parade was underway. Tinker Bell was passing by, waving her wand, and smiling at the crowd. I chose to believe she was smiling specifically at me.
Have you ever had an experience that was quite stressful at the time, but was actually pretty comical when you look back at it after some time has passed? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have an adventurous day!