{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt


Disneyland is a cliché for a reason. For many, it represents a milestone memory of childhood. Thoroughly sanitised. Polished. Manufactured. Ridiculously expensive. Yet despite that, lots of fun.

For an all too brief period, families dysfunctional or otherwise manage to smile, laugh, and even (possibly) enjoy one another’s company. An escape from the pressures of the every day for adults and children alike. As the service staff and ride attendants continuously reaffirm, at the wonderful world of Disney everyone are “friends”.

The people-watching was entertaining.

Behavioural economics in action, fascinating.

Tales told by waiting staff and Uber drivers were revealing. Everyone in town worked for Disney or had family who did.

30+ degree heat drove park visitors to seek air conditioning and shade. Conveniently found only in gift shops, restaurants, and queuing areas. Letting the combination of nature, boredom, and peer pressure overcome all resistance to spending. Who doesn’t need yet another plush Disney toy as a reminder of the childhood experience of a lifetime?

A class system operates amongst amusement park guests, or “cattle” as the staff refer to guests amongst themselves.

The working class pay for general admission only. Shelling out eye-watering sums for the right to spend the day queuing. 60 minutes in a line for 60 seconds on a ride. Five, maybe six, rides in a day total. Penny wise, pound foolish.

The middle classes recognise the importance of placing a premium on the value of their time. What is the point in paying vast sums to visit Disney if the bulk of the day is going to be wasted in a queue?

Trading convenience for money, they rent a virtual queuing robot. A finely marketed piece of frippery. The theory goes that the robot, not you, stands in line. Summoning its master from air-conditioned comfort when it eventually reaches the front of the queue.

Allowing their middle-class master to strut like a Hollywood celebrity down a red carpet. Waving and shooting gloating grins at the assembled peasantry, crammed into cattle races while dreaming of reaching the front.

As ever, there is a catch.

Just like your physical self, your robot can only stand in one queue at a time. A problem that quantum mechanics may one day solve, but for now we just don’t have the science.

Once your ride is complete, you find yourself instantly at the back of the line for all the other rides.

Which means a day at the park still consists of maybe six or seven rides. The reduced likelihood of heatstroke is offset by the increased consumption of overpriced amusement park fare while waiting. Peasants can’t queue and eat at the same time, but the middle classes most certainly can.

The upper class operate on a different plane of existence. One where the same rules simply don’t apply.

Money is no object.

Not satisfied by a poor man’s rich car, like an ego-stroking leased Audi or Tesla driven by a pretentious status-seeker with more money than sense.

No, the upper classes want the real deal or nothing: a Ferrari. And red Ferrari at that, not one of those weird clown car colour schemes either!

Few marquee rides support the usage of the middle-class queuing robot. If you want to ride, you face a choice.

Queue up in person. 90 minutes or longer, for 90 seconds of fun. But what a glorious 90 seconds! Spent on a famous ride. One you can boast about on social media, or in person once you return home. Disney will even supply photographic proof. For a fee.

These are not the dated old rides of your father’s era. Peter Pan. Pirates of the Caribbean. Space Mountain. No these are the heavily hyped movie tie-ins. Four dimensional. Immersive. Mostly digital. Avatar. Guardians of the Galaxy. Star Wars. Tron.

Or, there is a way to skip the tedium of the lengthy queue: pay extra.

Ride it now.

Ride it instantly.

What is another twenty bucks per head per ride, when you’ve already stumped up a couple of hundred just to be there?

After all, the trip is supposed to be about making those perfect family memories. Those are not found in queues!

To the upper classes, the decision is automatic. A no-brainer.

For the rest, it may give pause. If applied liberally, pay-for-play rides can quickly double the cost of the day’s adventure. But as the marketing says, what price is happiness?

An Uber driver told me the larger Disney parks get around 100,000 people through the gate each day.

To cope with such huge volumes of “cattle”, Disney has sought to minimise class inequality. Those of means can pay to skip the queue on a ride. But they can only do so once per ride per day. After all, it is the peasants who contribute the majority of the profits. If they don’t get to ride eventually, they won’t purchase souvenirs and mementos at the end of ride gift shop.

A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation suggested that Disney must be clearing over USD$20,000,000 per day on ticket sales, car parking, merchandise, food, and queue-skipping after operating costs. Herding “cattle” is profitable indeed! No wonder Disney portrays the world as wonderful, populated with always smiling “friends”.

The Disney experience was a curious one.

Neither of my children were particularly interested in going. It felt weird to pull rank and force them to come on holiday.

The younger boy loathes long plane rides and anything that takes him away from computer games.

The elder boy is social by nature. Preferring to attend a music festival with his friends than spend a week vicariously watching the festival via social media, while trapped several timezones away with his family.

Our vacation was made more adventurous by the arrival of a hurricane. Tropical storm rains and tornado warnings upped the excitement. Nearby towns found themselves evacuated. Flooded. Without electricity.

Fortunately, the hurricane bypassed our neighbourhood. Local tourism operators steadfastly remained open for business.

To the locals, such things are commonplace.

Were they to flee every time a local government official issued a warning, either seeking to see their name in headlines or to avoid potential lawsuits, they’d be away from home for up to a quarter of the year.

Part bravado. Part denial. Part scepticism. Cry wolf too often and risk losing your audience.

I must confess to enjoying this part of America.

Spread out.

Laid back.


Friendly, for the most part.

It reminded me somewhat of my homeland. Apart from the endless strip malls, containing factory outlet stores alongside machine gun merchants. Or billboards advertising the services of ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers and the opportunity to drive a real armoured tank. Those are things uniquely American.

The location lacked the impatient hustle of New York, and the pretension of San Francisco. Neither was not a bad thing.

This time around spending British pounds meant nothing seemed “cheap”. Not food. Transport. Nor shopping. A marked difference to my last dozen visits to the United States. The one electronics store I wandered through offered small arbitrage opportunities, but some quick figuring determined the difference was due to sales taxation levels and import duties.   

The locals had some interesting perceptions of the United Kingdom.

Many people I encountered had visited England. A surprise, given nearly half of Americans don’t own a passport.

Many of those had preferred the regions over the capital. Describing it as a crowded, congested, expensive, polluted, noisy city that was far away from the friends, family, and work sites they had come to visit.

For the most part, they felt sorry for the English.

High prices. High taxes. Expensive housing. Weak currency.

Dysfunctional government, with a competency level rivalled only by Türkiye or Venezuela.

Poor prospects. Miserable weather. Unlucky women’s soccer team.

Tony Martin and Richard Osborn-Brooks each rated more frequent mentions than either Boris Johnson or King Charles. The idea that a citizen could get into trouble for defending themselves (or their property) was incomprehensible. The notion that a defender could get in more trouble than their attacker was an anathema.

They liked John Oliver. Loathed Piers Morgan. Had gone cold on James Cordon. Nobody knew who was currently in charge.

For this vacation, we had opted to rent an Airbnb with a pool, rather than staying at one of the Disney resorts. The price difference covered a couple of airfares. This provided a respite from the crowds and the overpriced amusement park junk food.

The accommodation was surprisingly well-appointed, with arctic air conditioning and a stadium-sized television in the living room. We barely used the latter, each family member preferring neutral corners and the comforts of their own iPads. This was just a holiday after all, not a miracle!

This visit to the US I opted to rely on ride-sharing services rather than renting a car. Outside major cities, public transport is virtually non-existent, so a car is a must. The longest we had to wait for a ride was 8 minutes. After the 30 or so journeys we took while in town, the total price was comparable without all the hassle.

The only time I questioned this transport plan was when the hurricane approached. Relying on Uber to reach an evacuation shelter when 150mph winds were hurling around mobile homes and uprooting palm trees may not have been the wisest course of action.

This vacation provided a much-needed break from the trials and tribulations of school and work. Some problems we can escape with a simple change of scenery. Unfortunately, others we bring with us and consequently are less easily outrun.

Reentry to normal life has been brutal.

I wasn’t particularly interested in returning. It felt weird for my children to pull rank and force me to come home.

A new school for one child. Starting over. New classes. New teachers. New friends. New routine.

For the other child, I have commenced the cycle of school tours and putting the expensive pieces in place to game the admissions system.

Jumping through the hoops to secure a place at a decent state school next year. No different to the upper-class queue-skipping at the amusement park.

Purchasing opportunity.

Measured by the perception of fairness or measured by the real-world outcome obtained?

Personally, I’d rather win first prize than receive a participation trophy. A meritocracy means there is one winner and everyone else loses. Which likely feels unfair to those who don’t win.

Alas, merit is a saleable commodity. An unfortunate reality for those without means, doomed to spend their time queuing like the peasant class at Disney.

Means certainly doesn’t equate to merit.

But it certainly makes the journey more comfortable and the outcome more assured.    

As for myself, my workplace has prioritised management ego over worker happiness.

The cooling of the overheated economy has slowed the once-frothy job market. Unemployment is beginning to climb. The balance of power has swung back in favour of the employer. My summer return was marked by remote working reverting to being a privilege, not a right.

The exception rather than the default.

Presenteeism and brown-nosing are in the ascendancy, as normalcy continues to reassert itself, and corporate life reverts to the mean.

I must confess to increasingly finding myself reflecting back on the lockdown years with rose-coloured fondness. Homelessness was solved. Flexibility championed. Family prioritised. Achievement triumphed over appearance and attendance.

It was a brief, but in many ways glorious, look at the art of the possible. Where local communities pulled together in a real-world implementation of Disney fantasy of everyone being “friends”. That is not to detract from the tragedies that befell many during the pandemic, bringing death, disablement, and depression to a broad swathe of the population.

A couple of years on, that period increasingly appears quaint and naïve. Resembling the early 1980s “Future World” imaginings on display at Disney’s Epcot theme park.

An idealised future, like those portrayed in The Jetsons or the original Star Trek.

A possible future, but one that never was.

The return to work has revived the corporate class system.

If you are important, you can compete for a scarce hot desk in the overcrowded head office.

If you have the means, you can afford to live within commuting distance of the higher wages offered in the capital.

Those not important find themselves banished to overflow sites and WeWork temporary workspaces. Out of sight. Out of mind.

Walking the remuneration and retention plank. Destined once more to be replaced in due course by lower cost alternative providers of commodity skills.

A rollercoaster ride of a different form, but not the wonderful world that Disney had in mind.

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  1. Gnòtul 11 September 2023

    “ I must confess to increasingly finding myself reflecting back on the lockdown years with rose-coloured fondness. ”

    This precisely! For me it’s the insanity of business trips that does it: how can we revert to spending two days on the air/road for two-hour meetings, after having experienced the efficiency and ease of conference calls? With all the side effects of hassle, pollution and dysfunctional family lives, to top it off? A look at my calendar for the remainder of September does not give much hope..

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 11 September 2023 — Post author

      Thanks Gnòtul. I share your pain.

      The best I’ve been able to come up with to answer that question is many corporate travellers see work travel as a form of non-financial employment benefit and a corporate expense account as an extension of their ego. Interpreting two days on the road for a two hour meeting as a way to get paid for 20 hours while only working 2.

      The escape from the office, home, family lives, and so on is the benefit.

      Exchanging those for a night on the town or perhaps some shenanigans that wouldn’t be approved of at home. “What happens on the tour, stays on the tour” at work paired with “don’t ask, don’t tell” at home was a popular strategy at a couple of sites I worked at. Disheartening to witness the behaviours, but to each their own I guess.

  2. Ryan Gibson 11 September 2023

    Brilliant post as always. What was the rationale behind the trip given it didn’t seem to be something which fit the interests of your children? Always curious on these decisions.

    I have fond memories of Disney as a child/young adult but from what I can gather the model isn’t quite what it was.

    I am with you re the Lockdown and looking back fondly. I think the main thing we have is the social pressure. To be part of the system but not operate exclusively within the system. We are very different to the majority of our peers but with school and social events linked to this you always find yourself drawn back in.

    We go to France for 5 weeks in the Summer and it provides that Lockdown ‘feeling’ year after year.

    But I do look from the outside at people just grinding away day to day and wonder if they ever yearn for better days or are they too far on the consumerism system to reign it back. Cars as you mentioned has always been an interesting one for me.

    I hope both Kids settle in their respective schools and you find some joy in the day to day system of life.

    Thanks as always for writing.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 11 September 2023 — Post author

      Thanks Ryan. Some great insights there, very astute.

      You’re right about social pressures, and one of the most liberating parts of lockdown was the absence of them. That said, a lot of people I know really struggled with this, the validation they received from projecting how fabulous their lives appeared to be was not available, leaving them with the harsh reality instead of the idealised fantasy.

      What was the rationale behind the trip given it didn’t seem to be something which fit the interests of your children?

      Long ago, I’d promised to take my elder son to “proper” Disney once he was tall enough to go on the big rides, providing certain school result conditions were met. The two of us had spent a fun day at the Hong Kong Disney during a stopover back home when he was little, and back then the big rides looked great fun but even wearing a hat and standing on tiptoes he was too short for them.

      Years passed. Eventually my son held up his end of the bargain, but life happened and the trip got postponed several times due to sick/elderly family, COVID, GCSEs and so on. This year there was a window free of all that, so I seized it. Too little and too late, but promises should be honoured or they become meaningless.

      Your France trips sound fabulous. Before such things became complicated, I used to take my boys to the south of France for a week or two in the summer. Exploring the strip between Cannes and Monaco, usually staying in Airbnbs somewhere near Nice. Good times.

  3. David Andrews 11 September 2023

    Fortunately my employer closed our regional office and made its previous occupants fully remote workers with. Our contracts have been modified accordingly.

    Many houses are now filled with office equipment. Some purchased specifically at inflated costs by the officially sanctioned procurement process and some plundered in the days before the office closed.

    We were told of no pay rises this year in order to “protect the company” or perhaps to push the share price to a historic level just in time for the owner so sell a significant amount of share options.

    However, being officially “best shored” to my home office means no commutes and I can walk my son to school and back each day.

    Coast FIRE it is then.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 11 September 2023 — Post author

      Thanks David. Sounds like you’ve landed on your feet, but some distance from the engineered redundancy you were striving for. Hopefully this compromise existence helps you find your happy.

  4. weenie 16 September 2023

    Whilst I like/love (also liked/loved) the magic of Disney, even when I was younger, I don’t think it was ever a place I dreamt of visiting, probably because to me, it was akin to dreaming of winning the lottery. There was absolutely no way my folks would have been able to afford it. That said, the first time my parents retired (before they got bored and went back to work), they and some other newly retired friends visited US Disney as part of their trip around the world. I guess us kids were just never part of that plan!

    I’m fortunate that my one day a week in the office is through choice so it’s still kind of like lockdown for me, although people do expect to see me in at least once a week so I see it as an opportunity to be sociable, to connect, to network. The number of staff is now more than pre-Covid levels and if we continue to grow, they’re either going to ask people to reduce the number of days they go in (some do 3 days) or look for bigger offices.

    All the best to your boys at their respective new schools.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 September 2023 — Post author

      Thanks Weenie. Your description of your parents putting off the living large until after the kids were gone made me smile, my experience was similar. SKI (Spend the Kids’ Inheritance) holidays are definitely a thing, pretty popular in my elderly mother’s social circles!

What say you?

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