Monorail ride to the future past

Walt Disney spoke from the TV:  “We call it EPCOT. Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.” I sat cross-legged on the floor of our basement rec room (what family rooms were called once, in the age before flat-screens, Playstation and great rooms). Walt was taking ten-year-old me — me personally — through his plans for Walt Disney World. Of all the things that caught my fancy, the thing I ached to visit most was the Contemporary Resort Hotel, the giant A-frame with the monorail that ran right into its Grand Canyon Concourse lobby.

The hotel and monorail were something out of the science fiction books I read then, like something right off one of the covers. I honestly can’t remember any of the theme park rides Walt talked about, but I do remember the monorail zipping silently into the hotel.

Walt Disney spoke again from the TV. They were the same words, the same clips. But it was earlier this week, and I was on the bus from the airport to Disney World for our stay at The Contemporary. Few things survive four decades of wanting. The hotel and the monorail are now a vision of the future from the past, a vision of future past, if you will. But as late I arrived to the place, I loved every minute of my stay, perhaps as much as the aching ten-year-old would have.

The rooms were a little beat on — chips in the finish here and there — from wear and tear since 1971, but they were still a sleek, clean-lined vision of what living the day after tomorrow was supposed to look like. A mosaic of glass covered the area where the fireplace should be, and a light switch created a glimmering, smoke-free hearth. The desk with its separate, elliptical table for a laptop was as serviceable a hotel workstation as I’d ever used, and the individual spotlights in the ceiling above the beds the best reading lamps.

I met a man during my stay who said that when he brought his dad to Disney World for the first time, all the father wanted to do was ride the monorail. So he did. I understood that desire.

EPCOT was planned as something akin to a permanent World’s Fair, with pavilions dedicated to different countries and to the exploration of science. World’s Fairs, New York 39 and 64 in particular, conjure up their own images of the past’s view of its happy future. I am now as fascinated with those visions of the future as I am with the future itself. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, or maybe because the retro-future is as weird as the stories we’re writing now.

It’s easy to be jaded and ironic, snicker even at Walt’s happy visions — all his visions of wishes and dreams and a Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. Not for me, not looking out across the Grand Canyon Concourse from the eighth floor as the monorail whispered in from the Magic Kingdom.

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