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‘Stories from an Alaskan Cabin’ Prologue

If you haven’t read the introduction yet, you can do so here. The first chapter to the story will be posted on Friday Sep. 6, 2019. I’ll add a link when it comes on line. The series will then become a Patreon exclusive weekly story until it becomes a book. Join our Patreon, and don’t miss a story, get access to other great content, and find your favorite penguins.

Prologue: The Cabin in the Woods

Gerald flipped open his phone to answer it. He still used an old flip phone because it made him feel like he was on “Star Trek.” “This is Gerald,” he said.

“Hey, man, this is John.”

“Hey, John,” Gerald leaned back in his chair. “What’s going on?”

“So, I’m sure you heard that Susan got deployed to that disaster in the Lower 48.”

“Yeah, it’s crazy down there. Volunteers are heading out as soon as we can get them trained.” Gerald worked with Susan and had met John through her. She had invited Gerald and a couple of new co-workers to go camping on the Kenai Peninsula as a “Welcome to Alaska” trip.

“I know,” said John. “Anyway, we rented a cabin in the woods up north for a romantic getaway, and now that she can’t go, I was wondering if you’d like to go the cabin this weekend.”

“For a romantic getaway? Because I’m not sure Susan would appreciate that,” Gerald said.

John laughed, “No, I’m inviting a couple of other guys along. Maybe we could split the cost.”

“Yeah. Absolutely. What do I need to bring and how much will it be?”

John gave Gerald the list of things they needed to bring including bedding, firewood and food.

“Great! I’ll see you Friday afternoon.”

Gerald spent the rest of the week gathering supplies and anticipating the trip to the cabin. He picked up some firewood and some dehydrated meals that could be made with boiling water. Some of them were actually pretty good tasting, but they were for an emergency.

Each person was assigned to bring enough food to make two meals for the group. He wasn’t sure what anyone else was bringing, but he was pretty certain that John would be making something spectacular. Gerald shied away from eggs because he feared they would break on the way to the cabin. He knew they could be transported safely because he had seen John do it on that first camping trip, but he wasn’t going to risk it. Sandwiches were an easy choice if he could keep the bread from getting squished, and the leftover meat and cheese could be used for another meal or snacking if they needed it. A little lettuce, the right kind of mustard, and some red onions would make it seem like a gourmet meal. The best part is there wouldn’t be a lot of cleanup.

On Friday, Gerald put his gear in his car and went to work. When the afternoon rolled around, Gerald was waiting in his work parking lot. John pulled up in his car with all-wheel drive and unfolded out of it. Gerald always forgot how tall John was. He wore his hat and round glasses and had a soul patch on his chin.

“Hey, Gerald, you ready?” John extended his hand.

“Absolutely. My stuff’s in the trunk.” Gerald popped open the hatchback. “I’m so glad this is a long weekend.” There were two bundles of firewood and a backpack that was about two-thirds Gerald’s size. A rolled-up mat was attached to the outside of the pack.

“These four days are going to be great.” John looked in the trunk. “Is that it?”

“Only bring what you can carry, right?”

“That’s the idea.”

“Well, if I tried to bring anymore, I would fall over.”

“Alright. Let’s get it in the car.” He grabbed the firewood, and Gerald grabbed the bag. He popped up the hatchback on his vehicle and stacked the firewood on top of what was already there.

Gerald leaned in and put his bag on top of the other bags. “Hey, George! Hey, Lee! I didn’t know you guys were coming, too.”

“Hey, Gerry,” George said. “You know, John. He recruited me, and I recruited Lee.” George had a full well-trimmed beard and was stocky.

“Hey, Gerry.” Lee said. He had moved to America from another country and was making bank in Alaska doing some high-tech work that Gerald didn’t even pretend to understand.

“You guys saved the passenger seat for me?”

“Yeah,” said George. “Now shut the back and get in so we can go. We’ve only got a couple of hours until sundown.”

Gerald backed out from under the hatchback, and John shut it.

“Our cabin isn’t that far from the road, so we don’t have to hike too long,” said John. “Still, it’s better to get there while the sun’s still up.”

Gerald locked his car up and got in on the passenger side. John started the car and drove through downtown Anchorage and onto the Glenn Highway.

The drive took them past Eagle River and north. It wasn’t long until they reached the off-ramp and were headed down the access road. When they reached a red and white metal bar blocking the roadway, they pulled the car to the side and stopped.

“Here we are,” John said. “A short hike should get us to the cabin.”

Gerald opened his door and the icy air hit him. Snow crunched under his feet. Trees lined the road as far as the eye could see. Gerald headed toward the back and grabbed his bag and the two bundles of wood. It would be awkward to carry the wood, but he could manage it.

George grabbed his bag and threw a red plastic sled on the ground. “Stack your wood on this. It’ll be easier.”

“That’s a great idea.” Gerald put his wood bundles on the sled. “Do you want me to pull first?”

George stacked his wood on the sled. “No, I got it. If it gets too tough, I’ll ask for help.”

Gerald had his doubts about George asking for help, but he let it go. Lee and John put their wood on the sled, too.

“So, it’s just behind that bar and to the left. We should be there in 20 minutes,” John said.

The four men went around the barricade and hiked along the road for a little bit. Then, they followed a path that went to the left and down into a ravine. It went by a frozen river that had recently overflowed and left ice on the trail. It was slick and crunchy. The pine trees were covered in snow, and the white birch trees were barren of leaves. Their breaths frosted in the wind making it looked like they might have been steamed powered, and they were all dressed in heavy coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and boots made for the Alaskan winter.


Deep in the Alaskan woods, the state government has established cabins for rent. In a state where everything is bigger, including prices, these cabins are cheap, especially if you fill them to capacity. There isn’t much to do outdoors in the dead of winter if you’re not a snow enthusiast, but renting a cabin makes for the perfect weekend getaway, even in the cold.

The cabins are made of wood and consist of a single room with bunk beds, typically four. The beds are wood planks. The smart cabin renter brings a mat to sleep on and a sleeping bag rated to minus 40 degrees. There is a wood-burning stove for heat and cooking. There is usually a table with benches around it.

There is no electricity, which means no television, no computer, and often, though not always, no cell phone reception. Rent the cabin for several days, and when the cell phone dies, all you hear is the beauty of nature, the silence of snowfall, the light crackle of the northern Lights, and the popping and sputtering of wood in the cabin’s stove. With only firelight and battery-operated lanterns, it’s easy to adapt to the rhythm of short days.

These cabins allow you to get away from the stress of the workaday world and finally reconnect to your primal self. The four men who partook in telling these stories that I have collected were not survivalists. They had no need to prove their manliness. They weren’t all great at chopping logs, making fires, or cooking meals. Sometimes, they weren’t even very good at navigation. Still, they rejoiced in having a good time, playing cards, and enjoying the freedom that comes when constant communication is cut off.

Read Chapter One: The First Story.

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What would America’s ‘The Calling’ look like?

After watching “The Calling” on Netflix, I wondered what the show would look like in the U.S. First, I think there would be a lot more game playing and strategizing than there has been through the first seven episodes of the Indian incarnation of the show. That would take away from the appeal of the show because “The Calling” is at its best when the three contestants are helping each other and taking their individual strengths into consideration, rather than just focusing on winning.

However, I want to focus on the travel experiences that could be curated in the United States. Without taking time, distance or cost into consideration and following the show’s original 10 competition setup, I tried to come up with the 10 individual challenges featured at the beginning of an episode, the two curated experiences for the winner of the individual challenge, and the grand experience that ends each episode. The idea is to show the greatness of America and its culture while exploring places that may not be well known. What experiences would garner great ratings?

I tried to choose ten regions or states that made sense, had a large amount of appeal and could bring something to the table that is instantly recognizable. Here’s my list and the challenges to go with it:

Alaska and dog sled
Photo by Pixabay on

Episode 1, Alaska – The competitors would be able to explore Native Alaskan Culture at the Alaska Native Heritage Center and take part in one of the games that is part of the cultural heritage of the Alaskan people. The “snowsnake” might be the easiest one for contestants to learn and compete in. They must slide a stick across the ice. The person who slides it the farthest gets the bucket list item. The other two must curate an experience.

There are many things people can experience in Alaska. Salmon or halibut fishing, salmon bake, hikes of all levels, wildlife watching, glacier trips… The two I would put on the list for curation would be a glacier tour and either Talkeetna or Valdez. Alaska’s glaciers are beautiful and cinematic. Talkeetna and Valdez offer unique glimpses of Alaskan urban life. Talkeetna with its Mountain High Pizza Pie has great food and views. Valdez has its earthquake and oil spill history. An Alaskan cabin experience could put on this list, too.

The biggest problem with Alaska’s most iconic event is the hassle people would get from PETA. Still, it would be an opportunity of a lifetime to ride in the Iditarod at the ceremonial start in Anchorage. That’s the bucket list item. Other bucket list activities could be a trip to Prudhoe Bay, staying in a Native village, going to Nome, staying in an Alaskan cabin, or flying over Denali National Park.

Seattle skyline
Photo by Sergei Akulich on

Episode 2, Seattle – the obvious next stop. Representing the Pacific Northwest, Seattle’s skyline is recognizable and there’s no shortage of culture and outdoors people can experience from the city. The competition would be to throw and catch fish at Pike Place Market; whoever caught and threw the most fish without a drop wins.

The first of the curation events would be a coffee tasting, which could include learning to pull a perfect shot. The second of the curation events would be glassblowing: Dale Chihuly is from Tacoma. A trip to the Museum of Pop Culture may also be a part of the curated event or the bucket list. The bucket list event could be dinner at the Space Needle or a concert with a popular Seattle band.

Hollywood sign
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Episode 3, California – The Golden State offers a lot of choices as far as TV shows are concerned. From the Redwoods in Northern California to Hollywood with Sacramento and San Francisco in between, California could probably host an entire season of “The Calling” by itself. For this national and international version though, I would stick with Hollywood and Los Angeles. Contestants would be given a short script and have 30 minutes to memorize it. They would perform that script from memory. The one that has the best memory or makes the fewest errors wins.

The curated events would be a Hollywood sightseeing tour and a night at an improv or comedy theater. The bucket list event would be a rodeo drive shopping spree, but it could also be courtside tickets to a basketball game.

Las Vegas sign
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Episode 4, Las Vegas – If the first season is about iconic cities, few cities are as iconic as Las Vegas. The competition starts at the poker table, five hands, whoever has the most chips at the end wins. The competition could also be Elvis Presley karaoke, where the contestants dress up like the King and sing one of his songs. The judges would be three Elvis impersonators.

One of the curated events would feature one of Las Vegas’ most well-known restaurants. The other would be a trip to the strip; with the fountains, amusement park/hotels, and street performers, this could be really good. The Bucket List would be an “A” level backstage concert, which would probably beat the Seattle concert. A flight over the Grand Canyon could also be a Bucket List item.

Balloon Festival
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Episode 5, Albuquerque – You probably knew you should have made a left turn at Albuquerque. New Mexico would represent the Southwest. The competition would take place with the city’s minor league team, the Albuquerque Isotopes. Contestants would take batting practice, the one that hits the most balls in five minutes wins.

One curated experience would involve the cuisine of New Mexico and how it’s different from the rest of the Southwest. The other curated experience would be at Petroglyph National Monument. The bucket list event would be the International Balloon Fiesta.

Cowboy Stadium
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Episode 6, Texas – Capturing America’s cowboy spirit, the Texas episode would focus on its wild west reputation and independence. The competition would be shooting at targets with a gun. This could be problematic given America’s epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings. The curated experiences would be a trip to the Alamo and learning to play the guitar in the country style. The bucket list item would be the coin flip with the Dallas Cowboys and 50-yard seats for an NFL game.

Photo by Nextvoyage on

Episode 7, Florida – A state all of its own, Florida gives a quick trip to the Atlantic with several opportunities for cinematic gold. The competition would be a beach cleaning; the contestant that picks up the most trash wins. The first curated experience would be an airboat trip with manatees. The second curated experience would be the Miami club scene. The bucket list experience would be a trip out to the Keys or a cruise.

Photo by Alex Powell on

Episode 8, Illinois – Chicago is America’s Second City. You’ve got jazz, the Golden Mile, the Sears Tower and that song by Frank Sinatra. But Illinois is also home to Abraham Lincoln, and it is with him that the episode would start. Contestants would learn to spilt rails and then compete with their newfound skill. Curated events would include a jazz night and a Lake Michigan cruise. The bucket list event would be throwing out the first pitch at a Cubs game.

Episode 9, New York – The Big Apple is on everyone’s bucket list. Here contestants would compete at shooting hoops with the Knicks as their guides and coaches. Hit the most free throws in a minute and win! One curated event would be a night on Broadway. The second event would be a historical site tour, which could include the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Central Park and the Empire State Building. The bucket list item would be ringing the bell on Wall Street.

The White House
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Episode 10, Washington, D.C. – As the nation’s capital, D.C. makes for a fitting last episode. Here contestants would have to get people to vote for them. The one with the most votes wins. One curated experience would be the Smithsonian. The second curated experience would involve a trip to Gettysburg with a possible re-creation of the event. The bucket list item would be to meet the president, which some might find controversial; alternatively, it could be the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Event. The winner of the show would get a revamped website paid for five years, a YouTube channel set up and ready to be monetized, and $100,000 for travel and other expenses incurred as a travel blogger.

It’s tough to boil America down to ten episodes in a single state. We’ve missed Hawaii, Louisiana and New Orleans, Tennessee and Graceland, South Dakota and the Black Hills, Wyoming’s west culture, Missouri’s Mark Twain and so many more. What would you have people do in your state if a show like “The Calling” was scheduled? Exercise your creativity and give us a competition, two curated events and a bucket list event for your area in the comments.

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‘The Calling’ Explores India and Competition in Reality TV Show

Netflix’ reality game show “The Calling” pits three Indians against each other in a test of skills and personal knowledge of each other as they travel India checking items off their bucket list and earning miles toward the Grand Experience and a scholarship. Preethi, Guarav, and Atmaj are the lucky contestants who are traveling together and, at least up through episode seven, nominally competing against each other.

Each almost-30-minute show begins with a challenge related to the area they have traveled to. One show, they tied ribbons on Yak horns. Another show, they tried to steal pineapples while dodging arrows shot by local hunters. The winner of the challenge gets 1,000 points and the grand experience for that show.

The losers of the challenge must curate an experience for the winner based on two choices given them. Once the two experiences are over, the winner chooses who made the better experience. That person gets to go to the grand experience with the winner and 900 miles. The person, who’s experience isn’t chosen, gets 800 miles. At the end of the season, the person with the most miles will get a scholarship.

This show works as a quick showcase of India and the possibilities of tourist travel. It also exposes parts of Indian culture that people may not be aware of. It doesn’t work as much of a competition because the dynamics of the three travelers tends to make them friends first and competitors second. It would be difficult for three people who competed in a cutthroat manner to travel together, Preethi, Guarav, and Atmaj are aware of this.

However, through the course of their travels, each of them faces very personal challenges, and they need the support of their traveling companions to overcome the problem. In one episode, the support actually led to the person having the problem winning the challenge. It’s inspiring and nice, and it challenges what Americans know from their own reality shows. “The Calling” shows that people can compete and do so with integrity, respect, joy, and compassion. Preethi, Guarav, and Atmaj are enjoying each other’s company and the experience while having fun.

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What Would my D23 Expo 2019 Experience Look Like?

For a variety of reasons, my family and I couldn’t make it to the D23 Expo 2019 this year. But since it is a Disney event, I feel confident that it’s okay to dream about being there. So, here are the panels and events I would most like to do if I were able to go.

Friday, August 23, 2019

While most people would hit the Disney Legends ceremony, and it is always spectacular, I tend to opt for an easier seat at another panel. This year would be different though. I would head to the Disney Legends ceremony and bask in all its glory. If for some reason, I couldn’t get into the Legends ceremony, I would head to “Great Moments with Walt Disney” and “At Work with Walt.” Both would be interesting, and they’re back-to-back at the Archives Stage where I spent most of my time in 2017.

I would then head over to the Disney+ Showcase because we all know I’m going to sign up for that as soon as I can. People at D23 who sign up for the streaming app will get a discount and become Founders, so that would be something I wouldn’t want to miss. I have my D23 Charter Membership, I would want to make sure I get the same thing with Disney+. This presentation may not allow me to sign up for it, but it would give me a better idea of what’s in store.

Then I would hustle back to the Archives Stage to see if there was space for the “In Search of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse” panel. That would give me about an hour on the floor to see what books are available to make sure to stop by the Sweep Spot booth to pick up their new book with autographs!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

This is another of those days when I should probably hit the big panel, but I don’t actually want to know about films before they come out. I like being surprised. Saturday morning is still jampacked, so there’s no way to go wrong with the panel choices, and in this case, it’s a toss-up for me. Do I go see “Women of Impact: Meet the Nat Geo Explorers Changing the World” or do I go to “Digging Deeper: Uncovering Disney’s Hidden History?” Nat Geo could be inspirational and provide actionable ideas on how to change the world for the better, but I love Disney history. I would probably have to discuss the panels with my family, but today, I am leaning toward the History panel. It’s at the Archives Stage.

The panel of the day would be “The Haunted Mansion: Celebrating 50 Years.” Considering the book I wrote in celebration of the Haunted Mansion and that it’s my favorite attraction of all time, this would be my “not miss” panel of the day. It’s at 12:30 and at the D23 Expo Arena.

From there, I would head over to the Archives Stage to see “Ken Anderson’s Haunted Mansion ‘57: A Year of Horror, Humor and… Voodoo?” Ken Anderson is one of the heroes of the haunted mansion, and he paved the way for the attraction we all know and love today. It starts at 3pm, so I should have plenty of time to get there. The next panel I would like to see is in the same place. “Collecting the Creepy: 50 years of Haunted Mansion Merchandise” would be right up my alley.

The last panel of the day would be “Travels with Marty: A Conversation with the Sklars and Imagineers.” It’s on the Archives Stage as well. That leaves about an hour to look at the floor booths and get my Indie book buy on.

The only other panels on Saturday that give me pause for thought are the “Secret Walt Disney Company Project,” which could be anything! ANYTHING! (and will be announced on August 22), and “Marvel Comics: Marvel 80th Anniversary.” There’s a good chance that people going to the latter will get some sort of comic book out of the deal. No guarantee, just a good chance.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The morning’s “Sneak Peek! Disney Parks, Experiences and Projects” is sure to be crowded and to be the premiere presentation. If I could get in, it would be my first choice. It would also mean missing out on “Heroines of the Disney Galaxies Presented by Box Lunch” and “Marc Davis in His Own Words – Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks” or “Hidden Gems of the Walt Disney Animation Research Library.” All three of these panels will be amazing. Marc Davis was essential to bringing humor to the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Imagine what could be in the research library… Yeah, it’s like that. Still, I would try for the Sneak Peek first.

Between the Sneak Peek and the next panel, I would probably have a little time to get on the floor and go through one or two of the presentations. I would want to see the Haunted mansion D23 Design winners up close and in person.

Then I’d head to the Archives Stage for the 2:30pm “50 Years of the Walt Disney Archives: A Gold Mine of Fun Finds,” and after that in the same place would be “Magic Journey: Tale a Fantastical Ride with Imagineer Kevin Rafferty.” Though I would also think about “The Art of Disney Storytelling” because it fits with what I would like to do for a living. Because of the time conflict, I’m leaning toward the first two.

The last panel of the day would be “Disneyland ’59: Matterhorn, the Monorail, and Submarine Voyage.” If the floor was still open after that, I would make one more pass to make sure I got what I wanted. If any of these fell through, the Center Stage has “Marc Davis and the Masters Behind the Haunted Mansion” from 4:45pm to 5:15pm.

At any convention, there are always tough choices to make. D23 Expo 2019 is no different. The Expo is sold out, but D23 did announce that they will be streaming certain panels. I may be able to settle for that depending on which they choose and what time they are as compared to my time zone. To those that will be there: Have a magical time and think about getting me a souvenir!

Check out our archive website for D23 Expo 2017.

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The Top 8 Rides to Be Stuck on For Eternity at Disneyland

In a tweeted poll, said, “Pick a ride to be stuck on for all eternity at #Disneyland (the ride is working, you just can’t get off),” and they gave four options: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain.

Space Mountain

Anyone who chose Space Mountain was straight up tripping. If you take it at face value, there’s no good way to eat or get food while on the attraction – and you’d be eating on a roller coaster. Probably not the smartest decision. If you take it at fantasy value, there’s no place to get food in space. While Disney would switch it up and you could experience Ghost Galaxy, HyperSpace Mountain and that strange but cool 1970’s disco version of the attraction. It would still be difficult and horrible to be stuck on it for eternity. And how would you go to the bathroom? In space, no one can hear you scream, but if someone started tossing the accumulated waste into the travel areas, you might find reason to scream, or keep your mouth shut tighter.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – I feel like this attraction is one that is under the strong possibility of getting removed from Disneyland soon. There’s nothing keeping it there. The Wind in the Willows animated film isn’t exactly in the top 12 of Disney films. There aren’t any sequels or (more) live action adaptations in the work. There isn’t a lot of merchandising. The only things that the attraction has going for it are it’s a classic and you get to drive to Hell! That’s pretty amazing in Disneyland. As far as food and bathroom go, there aren’t a lot of nearby options.

However, in terms of the fantasy realm. Moley is eating a fine meal. You can go to the bar and get a root beer float. There are pies on the journey, and there is never a shortage of adventure. Hell might be a little scarier though…

Buzz Lightyear score
To Infinity and Beyond…

Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters – Spend enough time on the ride, and I might finally be able to get to 3 million points, even if they reset after every pass. Food would be hard to come by, even in the fantasy version of this – unless you can eat batteries, aliens, or dinosaur eggs.

its a small world facade

it’s a small world – I actually like the song, so that wouldn’t be a huge problem for me. At face value, you’d have a pleasant rip around the world, you come out into the fresh air, people can deliver food to the boat as you pass by the dock, and it would be a great place to stretch out and sleep. Sooner or later, you would also master the lyrics to the song in at least 5 languages. The scene would change as the Christmas season rolled around, so there would visual appeal beyond what a chiming clock on the outside could bring. Waste could be thrown over the side if there’s no bucket.

Heading into the fantasy realm, it’s a small world could provide you with amazing cuisine from all over the world. You’d meet friendly people and enjoy their hospitality all while floating by on your boat. If you want to travel to new countries and enjoy other cultures, an imaginary trip through it’s a small world eternity would be amazing and never boring.

Disneyland Train Station
Disneyland Train Station

The Disneyland Railroad – It’s outside. You’d be able to switch seats, and if you were lucky, you could ride in the comfort of the Lily Belle. You also get to pass through the Grand Canyon and the time of the dinosaurs. Food can be delivered at any of the stops, including beignets and mint juleps or possibly something from the Blue Bayou or Club 33, and you get to watch as the core elements of Disneyland change. You’d probably need a bucket or you could eliminate waste over the side of the train cars or out the back.

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion
Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion – it’s my favorite attraction and one that I’ve been dying to join ever since the idea of a death certificate occurred to me. However, as a living person the complication that exists is whether or not we would have to remain seated in our… Doom Buggies. If so, then we would miss out on the Stretching Room, the Portrait Gallery with its staring busts, and Little Leota on the way out. The Haunted Mansion would never be able to have the last laugh again. At least it’s dark, so using the bathroom would be less embarrassing and buckets could be exchanged at either the loading or the unloading zone. Just be sure to go at a time when you won’t have to face the downhill out of the attic.

In the realm of fantasy, the whole tour really is a swinging wake, and as long as we can avoid the axe of Constance, we should be okay. The food might be a little old, but the Christmas Overlay would see fresh gingerbread!

Still, without the queue, its comforting atmosphere, the Hearse, the various cemeteries, and the not-smiling faces of the hosts and hostesses, the Haunted Mansion might be missing something as a complete experience. You really need to be able to get the whole experience from the unexpected outside to the foyer and beyond. (If you like the Haunted Mansion, get a copy of “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”)

Bertha in the Elephant Bathing Pool
Bertha in the Elephant Bathing Pool

The Jungle Cruise – It’s never a bad day for a good pun. The Jungle Cruise will have you laughing again and again, especially as they change riverboat skippers. You’ll get to hear old jokes and new jokes while relaxing outside and passing by the most dangerous part of the journey – the return to civilization. If you get hungry, the Tropical Hideaway may be able to throw you a Dole Whip or Bao. Those are pretty good (and reasonably priced). Waste can be tossed overboard if there’s no bucket available.

In the fantasy realm, you get a tour of the greatest rivers of the world. The adventure of a lifetime that includes seeing animals in the wild and avoiding the perils of a dangerous jungle. You might even get to meet the head salesman of the jungle. Business is shrinking, so he’s offering a deal: two of his heads for the price of one of yours. There’s plenty of vegetation and animals to eat if you can catch them from your boat, and the skipper has a gun, so you’ll be protected from that tiger that can jump over 50 feet and go right over the boat.

Pirates fountain
Pirates fountain

The Pirates of the Caribbean – It would be a cold day for compassion if you couldn’t get someone to toss you some food form the Blue Bayou. It’s a part of the attraction itself and has some of the best food at Disneyland. The adrenaline drops, the amazing effects, and the storyline all add to this attraction to make it one of the best and possibly the one that you should ride for eternity if you had to choose. The boat benches are spacious enough to sleep on. Waste can be dumped overboard if there’s no bucket available.

In the fantasy realm, you would still be able to get food and rum, lots of rum, so if that’s your thing, Pirates makes a good choice. Plus, pirates don’t make such bad companions, do they?

Mark Twain
Mark Twain

The Mark Twain – Spacious, luxurious riverboat travel down the Rivers of America! This is the attraction that is the best choice for a ride that lasts eternity. Walt Disney had his anniversary party in 1955 on the Mark Twain, in part. There’s a place for a bar, and musicians like Louis Armstrong have performed on the main deck. The leisurely ride has enough nature and sun, and when the weather gets inclement, there are areas that remain dry. Food can be delivered and prepared on board, and if there isn’t a bathroom on board already, one can easily be installed. Need a place to sleep? There’s a bunk in the wheelhouse. And you get to be in Fantasmic!

If you want to read more analysis of the Disney Company, check out “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” For more on Disneyland’s structure and its application to creativity, check out “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.”

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Face the Truth of Mortality and Allow ‘the Bucket List” to Guide You

In “The Bucket List,” Jack Nicholson plays the rich, mean-spirited, over-bearing Edward Cole. In any other context, he would be considered a bad guy. He’s mean to his assistant. He treats people poorly, and he uses brutal honesty as a weapon. However, the fact that the viewer knows Cole is going to die, changes how he is perceived. It’s hard to be angry with someone who is going to die. But isn’t that the crux of life?

We are all going to die. Life is a journey toward death. No one survives. No one knows when his or her death will be. We don’t have to be diagnosed with a terminal illness to face death. If we can realize this core truth of humanity and life itself, we may be able to harness the sympathy for others that comes with realizing they are going to die.

Imagine knowing that everyone you meet is going to die and that death is imminent. If we can all face that single truth, maybe we can find it within us to be kinder to everyone we meet. Death is never far off for anyone. Treat them well, and you won’t have to regret any of your actions.

Nicholson is brilliant in this role, he’s played before – the loveable curmudgeon who somehow redeems himself. (“You make me want to be a better man.”) His chemistry with Morgan Freeman is fun and funny. Cole still treats his assistant poorly throughout the film, but finally finds redemption in the embrace of his grandchild and estranged daughter.

We don’t have scripts that allow us to have these outcomes, we have to write our own scripts. That means we have to find our own character arc and have the courage to change our inner narrative. Only then will we be able to find who we truly are, and as Edward Cole proves, we can create a better, more meaningful life with our loved ones as long as we’re willing to embrace what’s important, like forgiveness, and throw away everything that is crass and wrong with our society, including greed and selfishness.

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‘The Bucket List’ Redefines and Revolutionizes the Use of Flashback

The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman is a stellar film. Sure, it’s about death, dying and cancer, but the film portrays in such a way that its inspirational rather than depressing. Even better is the film’s game changing use of cinematic devices that are usually reserved for poor writing and boring narratives. If you haven’t seen “The Bucket List,” go find it on Netflix or wherever you stream your movies on and get treated to an amazing performance from to old guys that have great chemistry. Spoilers after the trailer.

I hate flashbacks and dislike voice over narration almost as much. So, when Morgan Freeman’s voice begins the film telling us that Jack Nicholson’s character is dead, I was ready for this to be one of the worst films ever. I mean, sure, aside from the premise that these two old guys have terminal cancer, there’s no reason to start the film off showing us the ending. A story should be told from the beginning… except when knowing the ending serves a storytelling purpose.

Generally, poor writing starts off by showing the most intriguing situation possible: a bomb explodes, a character is in the middle of a martial arts battle, the aliens are invading and a laser is bearing down on Earth from the sky, some traumatic event that will grab your interest. Then the film or story rewinds to show you how it got there. If a story has to start in the middle or with an event to engage the viewer’s interest, it’s usually a sign that the actual beginning of the story isn’t good enough to keep the viewer engaged. If it isn’t good enough to start the movie with, it should be left on the cutting room floor. If you can’t trust your viewers or your characters to find their way to the “exciting” parts, then you need to rewrite the story until you can – or drop it altogether.

Flashbacks generally create an entire time period during the story where no danger to the characters involved matter because they are going to make it to the traumatic event. That squashes the tension and results in too much redundancy in the film. “Arrow” has used flashback effectively to enhance its storytelling, and strengthen its themes, but it has 22 hours in which to tell its stories. A 90-minute film should avoid the flashback almost every time.

However, the flashback angle works in “The Bucket List” because of the way it’s used. With Morgan Freeman’s first words, the viewer hears that Edward is dead. The scene shows a man in a cold weather suit climbing on top of the Himalayas with a can of ashes. Because we know that Edward is going to die, we gain sympathy for the cantankerous old man before we ever meet him. We are softened towards him as a person; it’s hard to be angry at someone who is going to die. We also know that his death is coming, so we are able to protect ourselves from it.

The next 88 minutes are filled with laughter, great characters, hardship, and fun. They are heart-rending but not heart-breaking. And then you get the twist at the end. Yes, the film was a flashback, but not in the way the viewer was led to believe. The twist is beautiful and amazing, and for this film, it is part of the reason why the story was so effective. As writer, it’s important to remember that the flashback can be an effective tool as long as we don’t use it lazily. It’s only one of the lessons in “The Bucket List.”

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The Top 8 Movie Penguins

Penguins should have more movies. They’re funny, cute, and always ready for a hug (especially the handmade variety available here). Here are my picks for the top 8 movie penguins.

Pablo the Cold-Blooded Penguin. Released as part of “the Three Caballeros” in 1945, Pablo is a penguin who doesn’t like the cold, so he conspires to get away from the cold weather to get to the warmth.

Chilly Willy’s first animated short wound up on the big screen in 1953. Like Pablo, Chilly Willy doesn’t like the cold either. That doesn’t mean that Chilly was copied from Pablo; it’s possible, but it’s equally likely that a penguin who doesn’t like the cold is funny. Chilly Willy had a longer run than Pablo and lived to be seen on Saturday Morning Cartoons regularly. He also has a memorable song.

Penguin from the Batman movies is the ultimate bad guy. Burgess Meredith probably played the best version of the penguin as dapper villain with a squawking laugh; Danny Devito was also memorable for his disgusting and more penguin like villain in “Batman Returns.

The Madagascar Penguins have had a heft run that includes four movies including one of their own. This team works as comic relief with their pseudo-military organization.

Mumble is a penguin who doesn’t have a heart song. Instead, he has “Happy Feet.” Fortunately for the penguin colony and the Earth, his happy feet get him international attention and spark a worldwide debate about the fate of penguins and global warming. (Even those, who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo over making life better for everyone, are represented in the argument that follows.) Most of the film Mumble spends as an outcast in search of meaning; then he gets what every outcast wants, acceptance and a leadership position in his colony. The messages in the film overlap, and it’s an interesting juxtaposition of new creativity versus old creativity. Plus, there’s a kickin’ soundtrack and Robin Williams.

Wheezy’s appearance in Toy Story 2 was enough to set off the events of that film. He triggered Woody’s insecurities while putting Woody in a position to get stolen from a yard sale. Being part of a billion-dollar franchise is nothing to, uh, wheeze at. Wheezy also appeared briefly in Toy Story 3.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins was a mediocre movie based on a book that was better. At least the penguins got to wreak havoc on Jim Carrey.

Billy Madison’s giant penguin hallucination is funny and a little freaky.

Honorary Penguin: Benedict Cumberbatch – any actor, whose work is pronouncing words and who can’t say penguin, deserves this honorary position.

Which penguin is your favorite? Which one did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

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Do You Know This Reason for the Brilliance of ‘Sesame Street’?

In the late 1960s, the Children’s Television Workshop and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) revolutionized children’s television. Sesame Street was released in 1969, and it was focused on using the still relatively new medium of television to educate children. They focused on preschoolers living in poor neighbors. Because PBS was publicly funded, Sesame Street didn’t have to cater to the needs of corporations. It didn’t have to sell cereal or toys to kids or have them ask mommy about getting a new car. All Sesame Street had to do was prove that television could be used to teach children.

Before Sesame Street educational television was pendantic, boring, and colorless. People with children knew that their kids were captivated by TV and capable of learning the jingles of popular commercials. The creators of Sesame Street hypothesized that if children could learn jingles from television, they could also learn their letters and numbers. Targeting the inner city made sense because those children had the fewest opportunities to attend preschool.

Even in the late 1960s, people realized that it was important for children to see themselves represented on television in positive ways. Sesame Street went out of its way to cast women, men and children of diverse backgrounds. As the phenomenon of Sesame Street grew so did its inclusiveness. By 1979, Sesame Street had a cast that included actors who were Latino, black, Native American, and deaf. They included a child with down syndrome, whose parents were told at the time of his birth that he would never be anything and it would be better for him to be put in an institution.

Fortunately, for her son and everyone who watched Sesame Street, Emily Kingsley and her husband didn’t listen to the doctors. Instead, they raised their son and got him on Sesame Street.

“[Kids] need to see themselves, all the people who feel this sense of strangeness and separateness, who need to have that strangeness eradicated” need to be represented, said Kingsley.

That was part of the brilliance of Sesame Street. It brought people together and showed the youngest Americans a vision of what an integrated society could look like if we just have the courage to see each other as we all are – the same, even in our differences.

Source: “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street” by Michael Davis

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Southwest Airlines Shows the Luv on ‘The Kindness Diaries’

On “The Kindness Diaries” season 2 episode 5, traveler Leon Logothetis is faced with a decision. Several government websites have issued travel advisories for the road he wants to use to head from Mexico to Costa Rica. It’s unsafe because people have been robbed, kidnapped and worse. This place may be the best area to test his theory of kindness in, and Logothetis says he would do it if he were alone. However, he has his camera crew to think about.

Logothetis doesn’t just rely on the government for information; he asks the locals about the area and traveling there. The answers are a mixed bag. Some people believe it’s safe enough. Others say it’s not safe at all. One goes so far as to say that Logothetis would probably have his vehicle stolen.

Since he is trying to rely on the kindness of others, Logothetis is worried that if he returns to the U.S., his trip will be over. The only other ways to get him and his vehicle to Costa Rica are by plane or by ship. Still, the safety of his crew wins out. He goes back to San Diego where he meets teachers Peter and Paul, who allow him to stay at their house while he tries to find transportation.

A couple days in to trying every avenue possible to get the transportation he needs, Logothetis is left with a long shot. It pays off. True to their Luv reputation, Southwest Airlines offers to cover the costs of transportation for Logothetis and his car. Not only was this kind to Logothetis, but its ripple effects could be felt immediately in Houston where Logothetis has a long layover and highlights the work of a veteran nonprofit that helps people in disasters – Team Rubicon.

Southwest’s act of kindness will continue to pay off as Logothetis continues to make his way south. Prior to the transportation donation, Logothetis had helped a young woman in Utah start a nonprofit, and his gift to a family in Mexico resulted in the family giving away tamales that they normally used to pay their rent. Perhaps, the best part of Southwest’s gift was that it allowed the show to continue. It’s the shows inspirational message that will make the largest difference. Though you may have to go a little out of your way to be kinder, you don’t have to travel across the world to affect others in a good way.