Postcard from the Edge of Youth

Let’s face it – eternal youth is a myth, but in my latest attempt to thwart old age, I hit on the idea of traveling to a much later time-zone to grab a few extra hours of being my current age. And it worked! I think I will patent this brilliant idea of postponing a birthday, I could make a mint.

Next, the destination has to be chosen, it had to be west of Europe for a later time-zone, so America was the most obvious candidate and as I wanted to regress in age, there was only one place where you can be a kid again – Disneyworld Orlando. (Luckily I also had some meetings at our annual Sapphire conference there, so I thought why not combine some pleasure with business).

I was especially interested in Orlando, as several new rides had been built since last I was there, one of which had particularly caught my imagination – it was called “Mission: Space”. This was the first ride in Disney with 2 fatalities in the first month of operation and the only ride I had ever been in that supplied sick bags, so I knew it was going to be spectacular.

Arriving at the EPCOT park at 8 a.m., I was there an hour before it opened, but rather than wait outside, I managed to sneak in with the “fairy princess” breakfast crowd and just wondered around for a bit. A Disney park without people is an incredible experience – the parks are not normally a place you would associate with peace and serenity, but when you are alone it is a beautiful and calming place. You are also a voyeur on the preparations and get to see some of the astonishing logistics that such a park takes to run – the stocking of the provisions, the clean-up crews, the security preparation all run with ruthless efficiency. But then the park opens and the tranquility is broken, as literally a wave of people descend on the rides.

Naturally, I was first in line for Mission: Space, which is basically a huge centrifuge that seats forty in 10 four-man pods. You are clamped-in, looking at the latest, high resolution plasma displays, listening to a crystal clear digital stereo system, and play with an interesting array of buttons and switches that make satisfying beeping noises as you push them. The ride lets you experience something approaching the g-forces shuttle astronauts feel as you take off from earth, become weightless, swing by the moon and head towards a bumpy landing on Mars.

The hydraulics and construction of the centrifuge impressed me more than anything. On the 3rd time doing the ride, I did it with my eyes shut to try and feel the motion and understand how it works. You feel a very slight lateral movement as the centrifuge starts to turn and then, but then the g-force kicks in and you are pushed back in you seat. The ride lives up to its reputation – it is spectacularly nauseating. On average there are about 3 clean-up “incidents” a day, going up when it is particularly hot. Nothing too pukey happened on my rides, but the woman next to me said it was a close thing. I think “The Vomitron” is a much better name than Mission: Space.

The ride did not make it in to my “top 5 rides” list, but I thought it better to check out the five that did to make sure they had not lost anything of their lure. And indeed they had not. The Hulk rollercoaster was still as loopy as ever, Spiderman still jumps on your car as you glide past the Daily Planet and the lift (elevator) in the Hollywood Tower of Terror plunges you 8 stories in to the abyss. Heaven.

Then it was back to work and my colleagues surprised me with champagne and a huge cake, made up of layers of chocolate sponge, chocolate moose, covered with a thick layer of chocolate and decorated with chocolate slivers and “Happy Birthday Ian” written in, of all things, white chocolate. They are lovely people and seem to know me pretty well.

But then I discovered a fundamental flaw in my plans for eternal youth – you loose the time gained and become six hours older on the way back. Bummer. Still, I still feel young at heart even if the outward appearance is starting to show its cracks.

STOP PRESS: I did not do any major presentations this year, and the write up of a renowned computer industry analyst about my absence can be read by clicking here.. (see #10)

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