COVID

Post-COVID Disney Trip: The Changes

As I wrote last time, our last Disneyland visit was scheduled for the week after the whole world shut down. We returned this summer.

After an adventurous first day around the hotel and Downtown Disney (complete with 3:00 AM projectile vomiting!), we finally made our way into Disneyland proper. On Day Two, we went to California Adventure, and then back to what Floridians call the “Magic Kingdom” on day three. What follows are some of my observations. Today will be mostly COVID-related, while later this week I’ll post general “old curmudgeon in the Land of Forced Happiness” thoughts.

Openings and Closings and Maskings, oh my!

We went to Disney the last day of June and first of July, so take anything I say with a grain of salt. It seems to be in constant flux as they expand capacity. Rides that were closed one day were open the next. There weren’t going to be fireworks, but whatta ya know, at 9:00 on June 30, ka-BOOM! Too bad we weren’t in good position to see them. The next night, we made sure we could see the fireworks and then, wouldn’t ya know it, no Ka-Boom 😦

So if you’re coming here for guidance on what is open and closed, or where to find the best deals on… ha ha, just kidding, there are no good deals at Disneyland. But if your search engine sent you here because I referenced Disneyland COVID restrictions (I assume I must be within the top three results when googling Disney), then I apologize. But welcome! 

If, on the other hand, you’re here for snarky explanations of what it was like a couple weeks ago, then welcome back.

Nobody’s saying what the current capacity is. Before June 15, they were limited to 25%. After, they said they were “lifting all restrictions.” But they’re still not at 100%. Nowhere close. They have to hire back all the staff they’ve fired, for one thing. July 1 seemed a little more crowded than June 30, which might be based on a monthly payroll issues. Even so, I’d guess they were between 50-60% capacity when we were there. 

Many rides were damn close to walk-right-on. Most were in the 15-25 minute range, and even the biggies rarely popped above 45. As a result, even the longer lines were almost constantly moving. Forty minutes might seem a long time to wait, but the Space Mountain line is made to house a two-hour wait, so you don’t have those moments where you wait five minutes only to take two steps. Daughter will be forever ruined for future Disneyland visits.

Except for the Monsters, Inc ride, which strangely, is one of the slowest moving lines in either park.

Let’s see, what else? Monorail was closed. Lotta germy, germy spreading there, what with the five people riding it at a time. Or all day long. 

All the shows were closed down. Even shows that nobody ever goes to like the Hall of Presidents. 

The fireworks and water shows and parades were all down to prevent crowds. Except for when they shot off the fireworks. But if they don’t tell us it’s going to happen, we won’t congregate. 

Unless it’s the Matterhorn.

Almost all the rides were open. The ones that were closed seemed not for COVID reasons, but for regular “updating.” Sure, the park’s been closed for fifteen months, why not spend the first month after reopening to close down a major attraction like the Matterhorn. Can’t imagine some other time they coulda done that.

The good news is that the Matterhorn did a soft reopen our last day there. In the morning, it was still listed as closed for refurbishment, but when we hit Alice in Wonderland, we noticed it was running. Checked the app and, wouldn’t you know it, a 40 minute wait. Obviously we weren’t the only people who discovered it opened.

We stood in one of the longer lines, got all the way to the front, got IN the damn ride, were already released from the boarding station and were stopped right before we went into the mountain. Ride broken. Sixteen months well spent. At least we weren’t in the middle of the ride. About five minutes after we were taken out, they were still announcing for people stuck on the ride to wait patiently and they’d get them out. 

They were nice enough to scan a FastPass onto our ticket (the technology is still there) that we could use to go to the front of one ride, including the Matterhorn if it ever reopened, but at the rate the last reopening took, that would be October of 2022. Unfortunately, none of the FastPass entrances were open, so we were told to hunt down a ride employee to get to the front. Hopefully we wouldn’t have to stand in line to find one. Still, better to be us than those poor schlubs who were next in line, who had waited just as long as us, but didn’t get a FastPass scan out of it. 

In the end, the Matterhorn was only closed for a couple hours, so we used our FastPass on it, because ten minutes after it reopened, the wait was back up to 40 minutes. The Yeti’s been updated. Way more realistic, looks like he’s grabbing for you. Pretty solid, but I don’t know if it represents sixteen months of progress.

The only other ride that was closed was Jungle Cruise, but that’s racism, which might take more than a week or two to fix. Splash Mountain, however, was still open and still featuring Song of the South. I mean, we can’t expect Disney to close ALL its racist rides at the same time, can we? They’ve got a Yeti to upgrade! Even after they eventually change Splash Mountain, the recordings on the train and steamboat still reference “Indian shamans” and “savage natives,” and the train was closed while Star Wars land was being built, so they could’ve updated that within the past five years, but chose to keep the recording.

Most of the eateries were open. They encourage mobile ordering, but it’s not a requirement as long as you’re willing to wait an hour for your food. Most places had 3 or 4 mobile pickup spots and only one line, so the line stretched somewhere into the neighboring land. 

They seem to be on limited menus, too. For instance, I remember Cafe New Orleans serving a Monte Cristo sandwich, but it wasn’t on their menu. The Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland once had an extensive menu, but this visit it was pretty much burger or fried chicken sandwich. 

The limited menu helps, as nothing needs to be made to order. When the app tells you your order’s ready, that doesn’t mean it’s waiting for you. When you get to the employee, they look up your order, then go collect the disparate parts from various bins with dozens of the similar product. So I’m not sure why I needed to pick a specific time and then wait to be told it was ready. 

They had mobile orders for the Dole Whips, for chrissake! They serve one damn thing there. After the App told me my food was ready, I still had to stand in a line full of people whose orders were also ready. When I got to the front of the line, they asked for my order number, then handed me one of the twenty or so Dole Whips that were ready to go. I don’t have a problem with the mobile ordering. It’s so much easier than exchanging money at the sale sight. What I have a problem with is the ten minutes I had to wait before the app told me my food was ready if it’s going to be assembly line anyway.

Their mobile order system comes from the same laboratory as their…

Virtual Queues

The two new rides in the two new lands (Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars Land and Web Slingers in Marvel Land) use virtual queues. As I mentioned in my last post, I feel like Disney should’ve used most of the pandemic to implement virtual queues throughout the park. People could use virtual queues to pick a time to go on the ride, then go eat some food or buy some merch, sit for a spell, meet the characters. You know, enjoy the experience instead of spending the whole damn day with somebody else’s elbow up your ass. 

Instead of using the pandemic to go universal FastPass, Disney opted to to remove FastPass, which allegedly is going to be replaced by a pay-to-play system with surge pricing. Because of course.

Instead, Disney uses the virtual queues to drum up demand sounded the same as the Nanjago ride at Legoland. But if we DON’T drag our asses out of bed at 7:00 am, we’ll never know. 

There are only two times during the day you can sign up, 7:00 and noon. Obviously, the park isn’t open for the first one, but we’d heard a rumor you’re supposed to be near the park to be allowed in. Can’t confirm that, but the two times we stepped outside our hotel room (across the street), we got in. The day we didn’t, we didn’t. It’s okay. We got in at noon that day.

In fact, noon now has a distinct feel inside the Disney parks. People who missed the first virtual queue won’t get in any real-life line after 11:30. They all hover about, staring at their phones, waiting for 11:59 to turn over. A woman near the bathroom said it felt like the longest minute in her life. Then, precisely at noon, you hear whoops and cheers from far and near, like being in a sports bar when the home team wins. Followed ten seconds later by the groans of the vanquished.

One of the days we got the 7:00 am queue, I tried to double dip at noon. The app told me it was only one ride per person per day.

Once your virtual place comes up, though, it’s not like you walk right onto the ride. Far from it. This ain’t FastPass. The virtual queue only gets you past the bouncer, after which you get to stand in the normal ride line. Huzzah! Doncha feel lucky, punk?

To be fair, the Rise of the Resistance line still moved pretty fast. We zoomed right past benches and fancy decorations that were built to be enjoyed. So I assume at some point they’ll do away with virtual queueing and go to the standard American “line.” Why the hell did we switch to British when we went all fancy and “virtual”?

The Webslinger line after the virtual queue was still brutal. Well over a half-hour. Reminded me of the Monsters, Inc ride.

Reviews of both rides forthcoming.

Character “Meet-ups”

You’ve likely heard that character interactions have changed post-COVID. You can’t run up and give them hugs. No sneezing on them. No groping the princesses, although technically that was frowned upon before the plague, too. 

The “no hugging” isn’t only a suggestion, it’s a physical impossibility. No fistbumps or patting them on the shoulder. You can’t even stand next to them, much less breathe your nasty vaccinated breath upon them. They’re hermetically sealed like bubble boys.

They’re always behind fencing with a Disney employee acting as bouncer. The more popular the character, the more children aren’t able to control themselves, the farther they are removed from the populace like 1970s Elvis. Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were only available on the landing behind the Main Street train station, twenty feet in the air, waving from afar.

The other characters, the Chips and Dales and Plutos that nobody gives a shit about, are behind a smallish barrier. Ironically enough, the characters we got closest to, maybe only three feet away from, were Jasmine and Moana, two characters who don’t have the added barrier of a mascot uniform to protect them from our bad mojo. Then again, I’m guessing those clunky costumes have shitty air circulation, so they’re probably sitting in a cesspool under normal conditions. 

Since they can’t interact with the public, their job includes a lot of waving and posing. They do a marginal job of posing seven feet behind the barricade while you yell at your child, “Just look at the camera and pretend he’s right behind you. No, don’t look at the character! Look happy, dammit!”

But overall, the characters look bored. There’s only so many ways you can wave. If you can’t pat a kid on the head or point to their shirt or, gasp!, give them a hug, then what are you going to do? At one point, Jasmine and Genie looked at each other, shrugged, and then started dancing either the hand jive or the Macarena together.

I feel sorry for the Disney employees. I grew up in Orange County, where being hired by Disney was basically a five-and-a-half month prison sentence. You won’t see your friends, they’ll work you to the bone, then they’ll fire you right before you start getting six-month benefits like reduced-price tickets. Add in the fact that it’s often ninety degrees and those characters are freaking saints. So maybe a little boredom is good for them? Or maybe it makes a tediously long day longer. I hope it’s the former.

Opening Times

The last change I can presumably tie to the COVID opening was the actual opening. By which I mean when we first entered the park.

I feel like when I was growing up, Disneyland always had the same hours of operation. Whether it was a Tuesday in November or a Saturday in July, it was open till midnight. There were fireworks at 9:00 and the electrical parade at 11:00. Or maybe those two were reversed?

Nowadays you need an advanced degree in abacussing to figure out if there’s enough time to get on one more ride, much less when you’re allowed to come back tomorrow. 

The first two days we were there, the park opened at 9:00, the third day at 8:00. It’s okay if you can’t keep track, though, because on Disneyland time, 8:00 and 9:00 openings are the same thing. 

Let me explain. 

Both of the 9:00 am days, they let people into the park before 9:00. Not sure how early, but I’m guessing 8:00 because by the time we got there at 8:30, people were meandering down Main Street 

This isn’t uncommon. Disney’s always let people onto Main Street early. Better to get some early shopping done. Our first long line of the day was the “coffee shop.” I put that in quotes because, despite looking all olde tyme signs denoting “roastery,” it’s a fucking Starbucks. Good thing, too cause I wouldn’t trust some 1950s soda jerker to make my upside down triple latte.

In the past, though, you couldn’t go beyond Main Street before the official opening time, leading to body-crushing mobs against the rope barriers and doors into the various lands.  But this time, when we finally made it past the Coffee Ride to the end of Main Street, nothing prevented us from getting into the lands. I guess letting us stroll in promotes social distancing. Better than the mad Black-Friday-esque stampede that one normally experiences at Disneyland opening. Less chance of COVID and less chance of trampling.

Of course, once the masses are allowed into the various lands, what’s the first thing they’re going to do? Get in line for the rides, of course. So it stood as no surprise that there were already twenty minutes or so of people in line at Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland when Daughter decided to veer toward Fantasyland instead of our pre-draft strategy of Adventureland. In her defense, the Castle was closed off last time we were there.

When we finally joined the line at Alice in Wonderland, which seems to have an hour wait anytime of the day so might as well pull off the band-aid early, it was maybe 8:55 and the ride was already running. Did my eyes deceive me? Did they shit-can the “Magic Morning,” where people paid to get in an hour early, then do it on the down low and not charge extra money for it? That seems very un-Disneylike.

The next day, the same thing was happening at California Adventure, so we made a beeline for Radiator Springs, a ride that normally requires either a FastPass or really, really strong bladder. You can watch the entire “Cars” movie while in line. Maybe the sequel, too. 

They didn’t let people into the Radiator Springs line until 8:40, but we figured even if they didn’t start the ride until 9:00, that’s only a twenty minute wait. Barely enough time for the coming attractions. But they actually put us on the ride. I think we were off the ride before the park was even open. We pressed our luck, heading over to the Toy Story ride, which also usually has an hour-plus wait. Walked right on, then doubled back and did the same for Incredi-coaster.

It was 9:30 and we had already ridden three of the longest lines. At this point, we were on borrowed time. We could’ve gone back to the hotel and called it a day, and nobody would’ve faulted us. Or we could go ride Guardians of the Galaxy three times in a row. Not the most step-economical course through the park, but who the hell cares when the lines are all ten minutes long?

Me. That’s “who the hell cares.” Or would care when I was on my third straight day of 24,000 steps. But at the time…

Our third day, the park opened at 8:00. Fortunately, we were back at Disneyland where we’d already ridden most of the rides, because we didn’t want to get there at 7:00 am after closing the park two nights in a row. Good thing, because when we walked up at 7:50, nobody was allowed in the park. Not even onto Main Street. They were holding everyone at the ticket stands.

Starbucks would have to wait. 

So whether the park opens at 8:00 or 9:00, it seems to open at 8:00. Not sure how long that’ll continue, but use that as my one guide, your one reward for muddling through my 10,000 words of Disney drivel.

Don’t fuck with closing time, however. I tried to go back and buy that Iron Man drink holder at 9:02 pm and things were closed up tighter than a nun’s coochie.

I’ll be back on Friday with some non-COVID reflections on Disney 2021.

Post-COVID Disney Trip: Downtown Disney

Last March, we were scheduled to go to Disneyland. Daughter’s Spring Break doesn’t line up with mine, so we’d already signed her up for a week of complicated kindergarten independent study, with tasks like “look for sight words” and, I don’t know, color inside the lines of the kid’s menus? 

Then the whole fucking world shut down. Disneyland and the NBA shut down on Wednesday and Daughter’s school followed suit on Friday. She’s now at the end of first grade and still technically has perfect attendance, because there’s nothing easier than attending a Zoom call, despite what my own high school students would lead you to believe.

After waiting sixteen months for Disney to come back, we jumped on it. They were still at 25% capacity when we booked it, but we knew that wouldn’t last because our trip would be after Herr Kommandant Newsom’s magical 8-ball date of June 15. Good news is we were able to use our old tickets, so that saved us a year of Disney Inflation (significantly higher than regular inflation, which has been bad enough). Bad news is we’d paid for the FastPass, but that’s currently not operating. One would think things like FastPass would help facilitate the whole social distancing thing. If only they had been closed for 15 months recently when they could’ve implemented virtual queues for all their rides. I mean, I’m no Disney executive, but it seems to me the less we’re standing in line, the more we’re buying their overpriced food and tchotchkes. Of course, many of their eateries and shops are on limited capacity. Don’t be surprised if 2022 rolls around and, voila!, virtual queues everywhere. 

Downtown Disney

We tried to plan an off-day in the middle of the three-day parks adventure, but since they were at 25% capacity when we booked, we took what we could damn well get. So our nice and relaxing day ended up being the first day of our trip, when we didn’t really need nice and/or relaxing. Then again, going to the pool twice with a seven-year old who is marginally “water safe” but nowhere near a swimmer is neither nice nor particularly relaxing. 

Then there were the two trips into Downtown Disney, a purgatory where the unfortunate souls denied entry into Disneyland can still pay the company our indulgences. Downtown Disney is a strip mall with only two types of business: shops, mostly owned by Disney, and restaurants, which presumably only pay rent. But if the hour-long wait to eat on a Monday night is any indication, the rent they’re paying is exorbitant. There used to be an ESPN Zone restaurant there that went out of business. I’m not sure how any restaurant could go out of business there. Even settling for our third and fifth choices for dinner necessitated a fifteen minute wait.

Too bad. The ESPN Zone had the best chocolate chip cookie sundae in existence. Put the Pizookie to shame.

Daughter, of course, wants to buy the entire Disney store in preparation and/or celebration. Stuffies and t-shirts and mouse ears, oh my! 

Have you seen the selection of mouse ears? Oh my! They’ve got glitter ears and sequin ears, rainbow ears and unicorn ears, Captain America ears and Homer Simpson ears. Okay, the Simpson ones weren’t official (one of the few intellectual properties left unowned by the Mouse), but the pink sprinkled donut ears are a pretty obvious homage. 

You could get your rainbow ears in the Pride or non-Pride variety. Disney has a horrible track record with LGBTQ representation. But boy howdy, if there’s a buck to be made off of it, then they’re the most gay-friendly company in history. As long as you’re not wearing a knock-off rainbow flag. Then they’ll whitewash you into straightness worse than Elsa and Grenda.

The good news about the ears was that Daughter was content to purchase just one. As opposed to the…

Pins, Pins, and more Pins

Whichever exec came up with this racket deserves a gold star and a private parking space. Maybe a lifetime supply of cocaine.

The variety of ears pales in comparison to the pin selection. What’s your favorite property? Rapunzel? She has four or five poses. Snow White? Ditto. What’s your favorite ride? Because Space Mountain and Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion each have rows of pins to choose from. Don’t even ask about Frozen or Marvel. Every property, every character, every quote is ripe for pinification, no matter how obscure. Shit, there are Star Wars references on pins that even a dork like me doesn’t understand.

We bought pins last time we were here. My lanyard had four, Wife’s close to ten. Daughter’s weighs close to her own body weight. And of course, she bought five new ones on day one this time around. At the price of roughly a remortgage each.

“Why don’t you buy any pins?” Daughter asked.

“I’ll buy some pins. I just don’t want to buy a pin and find a better one later.”

“But what if it’s sold out by then?”

“I doubt they’ll sell out. There are a lot here.”

“Yeah! They must really be worried we won’t get one. ‘

“I think they want to make sure they get our money.”

“We don’t want Disneyland to go out of business!”

A lot to unpack there. Good to know, I suppose, that her penchant to purchase every item she sees comes more from a fear of missing out than from straight up American consumerism. Although who can tell  where the latter ends and the former begins. There’s a reason Amazon always tells me, “Last one at this price!”

I ran a little test along the lines of that old adage of offering a kid a cookie today or five cookies tomorrow. When Daughter whined that she wanted to shop in our hotel gift shop as we were checking in, long before Downtown Disney and the pins, I told her she could, but she’d get no others gifts the rest of the trip. She opted to wait. A bird in the hand ain’t worth three days of birds in two parks and twenty different shops.

Maybe those kids who take one cookie instead of five are skeptical of the actual delivery of said cookies tomorrow. “Let me keep this cookie now and, trust me, you’ll get more tomorrow” sounds an awful lot like paying you Tuesday for a hamburger today. 

Speaking of Gift Store Purchases

I saw these shirts in the Star Wars store. 

My friends thought they were a perfectly fine pairing. Cute and obvious enough to avoid any awkward explanations. So maybe I’m reading too much into this, conjecturing into semantics (or is that semanticking into conjecture?), but I’m getting a serious “I’m with Stupid” vibe.

The “I’m with stupid” t-shirts go back at least a generation. They were a hilarious gag back when Reagan (Carter?) was president, but it wasn’t long before people found themselves separated from “Stupid.” And when you’re “with stupid,” but alone…

So sure, if Han shirt and Leia shirt are walking beside each other, it might make sense. Even if 90% of the “Han”s in this situation can’t summon the amount of manliness in Harrison Ford’s pinkie. As a general rule, when a woman tells you she loves you for the first time, your response shouldn’t be, “I Know” unless you are both a) as cool as Harrison Ford and b) about to be frozen in Carbonite. In any other situations, a simple “thank you” will suffice. 

But again, it isn’t when these two shirt-wearers are nearby that concerns me, it’s when they’re (non-Han) solo. Then you’re either the lady who loves everyone she encounters (we all know one, right?), or you’re telling people who didn’t say or ask a damn thing, “I know.” As a high school teacher, I could probably get away with it, because I for sure know everything they’re going to say before they say it. Yes, I’m sure that if you were in a Nazi concentration camp, you would’ve grabbed the guard’s gun and escape. And yes, I know what the game of “Quarters” is. And 69 and 420. I know. I know. I know.

Beyond a few settings, though, randomly walking up to people saying “I know” seems psychotic. But whatever. My friends overruled me, said those t-shirts were fine. 

But we all agreed on this bubble wand: 

Sure, that’s only Mickey’s hand at the base. And it doesn’t need to be held at that angle. And for God’s sake, it’s a children’s toy, get my fucking mind out of the gutter.

But in my defense, almost every kid WAS holding it at precisely this angle. Right in front of their midriff. Shooting fucking bubbles out of the fucking tip.

So yeah, I’m a giant man child with a sophomoric sense of humor. But how is it possible there are no giant man children with sophomoric senses of humor in the vast empire that is Big Disney? No free cocaine for the exec who came up with that.

Flavored Churros 

Did you know churros came in flavors other than cinnamon? It makes sense, because they don’t roll it in the cinnamon sugar until the end of the process. In theory, how hard can it be to swap out the cinnamon for some other delicacy? Yet it’s never been done. 

Until now. 

The churros inside the park are still, as God intended, cinnamon. But outside the park, in the wild, wild west that is Downtown Disney, there are carts that sell such monstrosities as strawberry churros and salted caramel churros and, gasp, key lime churros! 

The last one freaked me out and enticed me the most. I had to try it! I laugh at little kids’ wiener wands, so I’m going to hell anyway. Might as well throw a churro crime against nature into the mix. 

Oh my goodness, y’all! This abomination was a little slice of heaven. I expected tartness but, let’s be honest, if churro is in the title, sugar is the number-one ingredient. So it was sweet, no pucker factor whatsoever. But sweet lime was distinct enough, like a Sprite or virgin margarita, tingling taste buds on both sides on my tongue. 

We returned on subsequent days, and I ended up trying the salted caramel and apple pie flavors, as well. Both were meh. Nothing to write home about and, more importantly, not better than cinnamon. But that key lime, man. I’d order that one again in a heartbeat.

Although maybe we shouldn’t have been plying the child with late-night churros while on vacation.

First Night Vomit

Who can really say what triggers an oh-dark regurgitation?

I think perhaps it was that very churro. It was only cinnamon, Daughter not being a food adventurer, but it was after 9:00 at night, which is usually her bedtime. And after a walk across the street back to the hotel, she went to sleep. There’s a reason you don’t jam yourself full of sugar and carbs that late at night. I had trouble falling asleep, needing to prop myself up and take a couple Zantac to avoid the bile, and still woke up multiple times in the first couple hours. I didn’t vomit, but I might’ve felt better if I did. I have in previous situations where my heartburn was that bad.

Daughter points the finger at the meal she had before the churro. Despite chicken tenders and burgers being on the kids’ menu, she opted for fish and chips, then was upset when she got, well, fish and chips. I guess she was expecting something closer to fish sticks, but she got some legitimate deep-fried fish in a doughy beer batter. “What is this?” she asked, aghast and appalled. Maybe I should’ve sent it back for chicken tenders, but I was in one of those “fuck you, you ordered it, eat it” father moods, so we asked for some ranch to dip it in and she was much more agreeable. Not sure why they would serve fish & chips, particularly a kids’ version, without tartar sauce. No malt vinegar, either, although I doubt I could’ve used this time to teach Daughter the proper way to eat them. In all honesty, even had they included the usual accoutrements, she still would’ve opted for ranch. Processed plastic mayonnaise hides the flavor of anything.

Our third potential criminal in this regurgitative whodunit, discovered by Gumshoe Wife, was the pool. Specifically the fact that Daughter seemed to have swallowed five or six poolfuls of it during our two forays. It’s not that she can’t swim. I mean, she can’t swim, but that’s not the entirety of the problem. After years and countless dollars, she’s at least borderline “water safe.” She can float, she can surface, she can get to the sides. Good enough. The problem is when she isn’t focusing on survival, when she’s in the part of the pool where she can touch, she’s got her damn mouth open the whole time. Laughing and yelling and explaining the constantly evolving rules to a game that only she is playing. So while she doesn’t inhale the water (which would be drowning), she’s gulping it down like it’s a college keg party. Anything that’s equal parts chlorine and urine, with maybe a splash or two of water thrown in for appearance sake, can’t do great on your insides.

Who really knows the culprit. Churro, fish & chips, chlorine? In all likelihood, they all merged together. Throw in the excitement and nerves before the “Happiest Place on Earth,” too.  Regardless, just after 3:00 AM, our darling treasure woke us up with a phenomenal reenactment of The Exorcist all over the floor of the hotel room. At least she made it out of the bed first. In her defense, it’s tough to make it to the toilet under the best of conditions. Add in the fact that it’s dark and you’re in a room where the bed and toilet are unusually positioned and I’m pretty impressed with where it landed.

It was still dark when the second round came. I was scrambling to turn on the lights while Wife headed toward the bathroom for towels. I think she puked and farted at the same time, a juicy, squirty kinda flatulence followed by the sound of a few more plops upon the floor and I swear I thought she had just shit the floor. Is this Disneyland or one of my male-bonding camping trips? I finally got the lights on. Good news, only vomit upon the floor. Bad news, lots of vomit on the floor.  I could hear her stomach gurgling from across the room. Poor girl, that fish & chips and ranch and churro and pool water must’ve been havoc on her system. 

How about we add some sleep to the pre-Disneyland equation?

Last little post-COVID caveat: the hotel wasn’t doing maid service for the entirety of our stay (five days!). Not sure if it’s a shared space thing or a small workforce thing. But now our floors were sticky with cleaned up vomit, our trash can was full, and every towel in the room was sitting, puke-soaked, in our shower. 

In the morning, on our way to Disneyland, hotel management relented and decided we could, in fact, get a special housekeeping for the day. And it wouldn’t even cost us nothin! Except maybe some COVID towels left behind like a Bubonic Plague victim’s remains by an overworked understaff. Omega variant, here we come.

With an opening day like that, what magic would the actual House of Mouse portend?

I’m planning on posting at least twice next week about our ventures inside the actual parks. They’re all written, just need a little editing. Hope to see you back here then.

School Reopening

My school district decided to re-open last week.

Last year, when the powers-that-be laid forth the myriad of hurdles and quagmires and golden-shower handshakes required before schools reopened, I boldly claimed that schools would never reopen. Like, not even related to COVID. If we were required to keep students six-feet apart in well-ventilated rooms, y’all best get used to Zoom calls.

In my defense, I was totally right about the failed educators and wannabe politicians in charge of the average district failing to get their heads out of their collective asses to make the changes necessary to meet those reopening metrics. What I failed to account for at the time was that Herr Commandant Newsom, who once thought the best COVID plan was to close every business in the entire state except for his hairdresser, decided to “slightly amend” it to, “Everything open, now and forever, because now the president is in my party instead of the other party, and this is looking bad for both of us.”

Okay, he didn’t really open everything. Not until June 15, at any rate. Not sure why a guy who “follows the science” knows, sixty days in advance, the exact date COVID will be beaten. Is Astrology one of those sciences he follows?

So his “school reopening” changed slightly. From “only reopen if your county has less than one COVID case per month, AND you can ensure social distancing in all classrooms, AND improve your ventilation, AND masks and desk shields and a rectal thermometer in every asshole!”

Sometime in late January/early February (again, TOTALLY not tied to a new presidential administration), his reopening criteria checklist switched to: “Here’s $6 billion. Reopen or you get none.”

It’s a subtle change. Did you notice it?

And to get this out of the way early, despite what you’ve heard from multiple “pundits,” that money is not required to be spent on anything relating to COVID or reopening. Nor is it “going to the teachers unions.” Sure, some districts might “share the wealth” with their employees. But that is not a requirement for the money. 

Nor is it a requirement that the money be spent at all. My district loves reminding its employees that they have $100 million in reserves. Part of that $100 million came from a cost-of-living adjustment the state gave them to pass along to us two years ago. Basically, the state gave them enough money to cover a 3% raise for all their employees and our district said, “Meh, how about we keep it in our bank account instead?” 

So it should come as no surprise that when the state, and then the federal, government waved another $100 million in front of them to reopen, their response was, “Teachers, get the fuck back to work.” Next year they’ll be touting having $200 million in reserves. They’ve gotta be the only school district who proudly proclaims that they DON’T spend money on your child’s education.

My union’s response to my district’s directive to return to work was, “Wait, you can do that? What about Herr Kommandant’s precious color-coding? What about this Memorandum of Understanding that we negotiated back in September? Have you thought about any of the logistics?”

Their response, in order of our questions: “1. We don’t care. 2. We don’t care. 3. Are you even listening?, and 4. We give absolutely zero fucks and/or shits about logistics. We’re getting $100 million, so get the fuck back to work.”

We responded with a futile, “Can we have some of that hundr…” but we couldn’t finish the question over their laughter. 

So again, the next time you hear that it’s the teachers unions preventing schools from re-opening, bear in mind that most of our contracts state that if school is open, we must report. Most school districts could order their teachers back tomorrow. But why would they do that when they can blame us for all the problems?

To be fair, there are some local unions that will strike, but in my district, it takes three weeks of voting just to decide if we want coaches to get a stipend. I don’t know how many unions can concoct a strike vote in the ten days we were given between announcement and reopening.

In all honesty, a lot of us were ready to go back. Distance learning is a monumental pain in the ass. Something that takes me five seconds to say takes me a couple minutes type out. Multiply that by forty asinine questions a day. Maybe you’ve heard that there are no stupid questions, but obviously you’ve never had to respond to “What are we doing?” two minutes after getting off a thirty-minute Zoom entirely devoted to what we are doing.

Or “I don’t understand the assignment.” To which I reply, “Where in the video instructions I posted did you get lost.” “Oh, I didn’t watch the instructions.” So glad I remembered to record that at 11:00 last night so that it would be fully rendered by this morning.

Grading digitally sucks, too. Twenty years into this profession, I can wield a red pen like the finest foil, swathing and slicing through a written test. Something as simple as a “-1” now requires me to highlight the text in question, hit the little “Comment” button. click on the comment space, type in “-1″,” then hit save.

Add in the fact that we’re all vaccinated and, sure, sign me up for a return to school. But should we maybe discuss the logistics of the transition? No? What about the students, who aren’t vaccinated and decide they want to stay on Distance? No plan? Cool, cool. And is it too late to ask about some of that hundre…

Ring the bell. Schools back in session, sucka!

And that’s about as fast as it happened. The Board of Education met on a Tuesday, we went back full time thirteen days later. 

Yes, full time. Did I forget to mention that?

For most of the past six months, we’ve been under the impression that if we went back to school, it would be in some funky hybrid scenario with only 30-40% of our students on campus at any given time. And by “we,” I mean everyone. The teachers, the students, the administration, the parents. The last week of school before the Board of Education made its ruling, they made the teachers return to school for a week, teaching distance learning in the morning and “preparing our rooms for hybrid learning” in the afternoon. Then the following week, they told us that, ha ha, just joking, we hope you didn’t waste too much time prepping your class for hybrid learning.

What’s the difference? Allow me to illustrate:

My second period class, has 42 students. 

I have 36 desks in my room, plus a couple of tables.

 I was supplied with 17 desk shields. 

If the maximum number of students I’m going to have in a particular class on a particular day is twenty, that’s doable. Instead of placing my desks side-by-side, I turned them toward each other in “pods,” with one desk shield (basically a three-sided partition like those old cardboard science project boards, only made of clear plastic) every other desk in a zig-zag pattern. So either you have a desk shield in front of you or you have the “outsides” of three desk shields surrounding you on all three sides. And while the desks to your left and right aren’t “socially distant,” only half of them will be used at a time.

Oops.

Unfortunately, we weren’t “given” (aka ordered) more in-class preparation time after the announcement that all 42 students would be coming into second period. I could have used my own time. I could have done my last week of distance learning from my classroom,  moving all my desks back to their original location. But honestly, if the district wanted to half-ass their decisions, why should I go out of my way to ensure it’s implemented well. If I keep polishing their turd, they’ll keep giving me turds.

The other problem with preparing to return is that I had no idea what the classroom setting would actually look like come Monday morning. This was now the fourth time they’ve “given us a week” to prepare (last April, the beginning of this school year, the week before the hybrid that never happened, and this 13-day period between announcement and student return).

 Each time, I’ve felt the optimal use of “prep” time would be to do it for a week, THEN take a week to adjust. Otherwise, whatever we prepare for won’t fit the reality. I’ve been teaching for twenty years and I can assure you they problems never arise where we think they will.

For instance, it might shock you to learn that, on that first day back, I did not have all 42 bright-and-bushy-tailed teenagers excited to reignite their passion for education. The real number of students in my class last Monday was in the low twenties.

To be fair, some of them weren’t  supposed to be there. The district allowed them to change their mind about distance learning. Big hearted, since the original designation was established back in August. A wee bit’s changed since then, yesno? Ya think some people might have changed their minds about the best options between then and now?

Oh, and when families made those designations back in August, they were talking about hybrid. Would your answer to whether you’d send your child back to school change if they were expected to be 42 in their class instead of 21?

If so, you obviously don’t have the “failed educator and wannabe politician” mindset, because my district expected “only a handful” of students to change.  

Instead, it was droves. Hundreds at each high school.

And of course, they all waited until the last minute to sign up. 

When I got the first email notice of a student going on distance learning, I figured no problem. I’d send her some packet work. 

Then a couple more dribbled in. My plans started to morph. 

Then on Friday… nothing. The calm before the storm?

Still not sure. I shit you not, here I sit, fully vested in my second week back, I still don’t have a great handle on who is supposed to be in my class on a daily basis. They don’t show up any differently on my role sheet. In some cases, I get a notice from a counselor or assistant principal. Other announcements come from the students themselves. 

Some of those student emails say they requested distance learning and are waiting to hear back. Others write me the much more amorphous, “I’ve decided to stay on distance learning. Please don’t mark me absent.” Umm… does anyone outside your house know of your decision? What about the other people in your house? Because that sounds suspiciously like a “Don’t tell my parents I’m not in school.”

And yes, I’m supposed to teach both the students in my room and at home the same content at the same time. If I can ever figure out who is who.

It continued after school restarted. Students have completely forgotten how to do the whole process. I get emails from students saying they don’t feel well so they didn’t come to school. I tell them they can bring a note the following day and have the attendance office excuse the absence. Y’know, like school’s been working your ENTIRE life. Last twelve months notwithstanding.

Another student emailed me that she wasn’t coming to fourth period. She came to the first three classes but decided to “do distance learning the rest of the day.” Um, okay. That’s called ditching. Thanks for the email.

We now have fun new debates like whether or not classroom doors should be open. On the one side, ventilation! But lockdown protocol has required them to be closed for the past few decades. Although on the plus side, we’ve gone over a year since the last school shooting!

And what about those precious desk shields? Twenty minutes into first period, the students asked if they could take them down. I allowed it as long as they put them back up when class ended. Second period: same process. By my afternoon classes, I was telling the students where the desks shields were if they wanted to grab one.

Just one more expensive paperweight throughout my classroom. All sorts of fancy wastes of money went into this ill-thought return. We have webcams to teach all the hybrid students at home, back when we thought we were doing hybrid. And a tripod! What the fuck are we doing, filming porn?

We also got electronic pencil sharpeners to replace the one I bought for myself a decade ago after I was told there was no way in hell the school would approve such a frivolous purchase. If you want sharp pencils, use the broken mechanical ones! 

Oh and we all now have alcohol-based hand sanitizer despite still taking annual trainings in the fact that those are not allowed in our classrooms. Too bad Glade air fresheners don’t kill COVID, because those are still verboten. And let me tell you, when you’re not allowed to open the door in a room full of 42 teenagers, it would be really nice to be allowed air fresheners.

But my favorite new waste of money is the electronic three-hole puncher. Every single classroom got one! Because we all know that those manual hole punchers are veritable Typhoid Marys. 

Do they think we push down on them with our tongue?

But hey, they spent some money! Not well, mind you, but at least a penny or two of that hundred million are going into some classrooms instead of the district coffers.

Anything to avoid giving the teachers a raise, huh?