You can never know too many people. That's the theory I've followed for most of my life. Some of those connections will reap rewards forever. More importantly, you'll never know when they may come into play and make life more interesting.
Sherill has met a lot of people over the years when she worked as a nurse in various emergency departments. Privacy laws being what they are, I don't get to meet or know anything about these people. At least, not unless they introduce themselves to me later and explain the connection. One of those people was an Amish lady who mentioned that she has always brought candy and other baked goods to a farmers market/auction that is within what I consider to be reasonable driving distance of where we live. Sherill and I disagree somewhat on the definition of reasonable. All I know is that homemade chocolate-covered toffee is not something you see on the shelf at every store, every day of the week. I have become a huge fan of this Amish lady, even though we still haven't met and I feel she lives within a reasonable distance from me.
When Sherill went to a farmers market event a couple years ago, she met another young Amish lad and got to talking with him. For the purposes of this story, we're going to call him Mose Gingerich. That's not his actual name, but it is the name of my favorite Amish character from TV. The real Mose was on a show a couple years ago called "Amish: Out of Order."
The Mose from my story is not the kind of guy you'd see on the more-current, "Amish Mafia" series. He's pretty laid back. Mose and his fellow Amish members refer to the rest of us non-Amish in this country as "The English." It doesn't feel derogatory when he says it.
Mose called Sherill one night before Christmas. Your first thought is probably: "Wait a minute. He's Amish. How did he call you?"
Let's clear up a few things. The Amish are not allowed to have certain technology items and other worldly goods like the English people have. They are not allowed to use electricity and they aren't allowed to use phones or computers. If you can power something with a small gas engine, that may satisfy your Amish bishop, but that's probably as far as you'll get for current technology.
That's not to say the Amish aren't willing to use the technology belonging to English folks if it helps them. Mose was calling from a friend's house; an English friend's house. He wanted to know if we were going to Florida anytime soon. Apparently, Sherill had discussed my penchant for trips to The Happiest Place on Earth near Orlando. She told him that we usually go down for our anniversary each winter.
Mose wanted to go along!
Lots of people read these stories and mention how they'd like to go along to Florida with us sometime. Thus far, Mose was the only one to follow through and ask about specific dates, options and if he could sign on to ride shotgun. It was looking like my first non-family-member guest at Disney would be Amish.
I loves me some irony.
All I could think of was the picture we'd take in front of Spaceship Earth at Epcot with me and a guy in a big Amish hat. Surely there would be a special place in Hell reserved for me for making those puzzle pieces fall into place. Disney World has to be pretty high on the list of unpopular places for Amish people to go. There's flashy colors, bright lights, technology like you wouldn't believe, and just one giant sin after another, in the eyes of the Amish.
So I did some checking on plane tickets once we realized Mose was serious. That's when my mind was blown again. I showed Sherill the window that popped up on my screen as I was finalizing plans for our plane tickets. It seemed too good to be true, so I wanted a second set of eyes to confirm it for me. We could move everyone in our flight confirmation number up to first-class for $90 each. Our regular coach tickets weren't all that bad a deal to begin with, so I decided we needed to usher our young Amish friend into the English world on the fast track. One click later, Mose was set to make his airline maiden voyage seated in first-class! Sherill had asked him ahead of time if he preferred a window seat or an aisle seat. We weren't sure if looking out would be something that would appeal to him or frighten him. Mose said a window seat would be perfect, because then he could look out and see the scenery as we traveled.
Our agenda was set. We'd fly non-stop out of Minneapolis to Orlando and return five days later. First, we drove to Mose's area and picked him up for his journey. What we didn't do was review all of the TSA requirements for boarding a plane on our way to the airport. The part about not more than 3.4 oz. of liquids made Mose's suitcase a little bit easier for him to carry. (Sorry, Mose!)
The other interesting part was getting through the initial checkpoint to advance to the body scanner. You typically show them your boarding pass and your ID and then get your boarding pass stamped once the TSA agent verifies you are who your ticket says you are.
Here's another item along that line to add to the list of Amish trivia: Photos are a sin. The Amish are not supposed to have their photo taken. They can still have a drivers license or ID, but it won't have a photo on it. That took a little explaining to the TSA agent as we made our way through the process. Mose was kind of matter-of-fact with the agent and said he didn't have a photo ID. The agent wanted to see a photo. Mose mentioned again that he didn't have one. He probably failed to realize this TSA agent was pretty much the gatekeeper to his Disney adventure. If this guy doesn't say yes, it's time to go Greyhound or go back home. Answering the "Show me your photo ID" request with "I don't have one" is going to land you in a Lather-Rinse-Repeat death spiral in short order.
I was already ahead of Mose, but I turned around to see if I could throw out a tidbit Joe-Friday-style that may help the situation.
"He's with me. He's Amish. They can't have their photo taken."
Mose then said just enough that his Amish brogue was a bit more obvious to the TSA agent. That's when we had a near-replay of one of my TSA experiences at the Waterloo, Iowa, airport about ten years ago. There were only about 20 passengers at the airport that day and my brain bionics required me to be frisked instead of going through the metal detector like the other 19 passengers. The TSA agent was really curious what all of my equipment did, so I pulled out my remote and did a quick on-off demo for him. His mind was blown, which meant he had to call all the other TSA agents over to watch. "Guys, c'mere! (Turning back to me.) Can you do that again? They gotta see this!"
On this particular day in Minneapolis, several TSA agents were called over to have a look-see at an ID with no photo on it. The background of Mose was brought up. A couple of the agents were familiar with the Amish, and the fact that there are Amish people who live in Minnesota. You wouldn't think this would have been a first for them in the nearly-fifteen years of TSA's existence, but it was for a few of the agents that day. Mose was finally granted permission to proceed. I have a feeling he was the topic of multiple discussions in the TSA break room that day.
Cameras in the Amish world are frowned upon from both directions. You are not supposed to have your photo taken as an Amish person and you are also not supposed to take pictures. Mose was kind of acting as his own bishop on this trip. He had acquired a digital camera from someone before he left on his adventure. Mose mentioned it in the car and asked if it would be okay for him to take pictures on the plane. We told him it shouldn't be a problem. He had also asked during his initial call if it would be okay if he wore his Amish clothes during the trip. Sherill told him he could wear whatever he wanted to wear. We weren't sure if that would mean suspenders and a big black hat, but we were open to whatever he wanted to do.
To protect Mose's identity and spare him any potential repercussions from this story going public, any photos of him in this story will have his face blurred. Just to keep it interesting, I may blur my face, too, in case you can't tell the difference between us. It could happen.
We asked Mose about his acquisition of the camera and if it was okay with everyone back home. His response was one we heard multiple times in other discussions about his fellow Amish people who have "things" and do stuff like we do in the English world: "______ is just kind of Amish, like me."
Just kind of Amish was my new favorite phrase.
A familiar "click" started happening with regularity once we were on the road to the airport and Mose got his digital camera out. He was going to document the whole journey. Sherill and I weren't entirely sure who would eventually see the photos, but we were fine with Mose taking them. You know, what with him being "just kind of Amish" and all.
When the flight crew found out that Mose had never flown before, they treated him like royalty. A set of wings with a pin on them was presented to Mose for his hat. When we arrived in Orlando, I grabbed my carry-on and Sherill's from the overhead compartment and headed down the jetway to the airport gate. The rest of my party was not behind me when I got to the gate, so I waited. After a while, they weren't there yet, so I texted Sherill, thinking she was maybe looking for her bag that I had with me. She and Mose came down the jetway about that time with big smiles on their faces. Turns out the treatment for first-time flyers is a chance to sit (and have your photo taken) in the cockpit!
By the time we got to our condo, Mose had around 260 pictures on his camera already! This wasn't even the end of Day 1 of a five-day trip. Something told me we would hit a technology wall very soon. My hunch was confirmed on Day 2. That's when we went to Target and got Mose a 16 gig card for his camera instead of the 512 mb card it had, which was now full.
Our plans for the evening had come together on kind of long and short notice. Several friends of mine happened to be at Disney World that week. One was my feed salesman and his wife, who had arrived several days before we did. I had made plans to meet them at 'Ohana at Disney's Polynesian Resort for their nightly Polynesian Feast. The reservations had been made several weeks in advance for a party of five. It typically takes months to get a reservation at 'Ohana, but I got lucky and got us in on about a month's notice. Unfortunately, my feed guy fell ill during his trip, so he had to go back home the day before we arrived. Seeing as how you can never know too many people, the guy who has worked at the parts counter at my John Deere dealership for as long as I can remember was also at Disney with his wife and another couple I hadn't yet met. When Feed Guy told me he was ill and going home, I sent a text to Parts Guy within minutes and asked if his crew wanted to join us for some giant skewers of grilled meat, a couple loaves of coconut bread, a bushel of pork dumplings and chicken wings and a platter of bread pudding with a schooner of caramel sauce to top it off. They were initially unsure about a giant meal like that when I'd mentioned it a few weeks before, but after being at the park for a day or two already, they decided to take the plunge and join us.
That's when it got interesting. I frequently make reservations well in advance and make them for the biggest group I think could possibly join us. It's no problem to call a day or so before your appointed date and shrink your group size. I was looking to increase it this time, and I couldn't remember if the tables seated six or eight people. My call to the Disney call center was answered by what sounded to me to be perhaps the only good ol' boy working at Disney. His accent sounded more like Georgia or the Carolina's than Florida. I explained my situation (and dropped the tidbit that I'm an annual passholder, which is called information exchange, Gordy, not sucking up!) and asked if it was possible to up-size my party from five to seven people. And hey, while we're at it, can we move from 9:00 to anything earlier?
"Welllp, lessee what we can do fer ya'll here, sir. I reckon I can maybe change it. Can ya hold fer a second?" my Disney concierge inquired.
Yep, I'll hold, Merle. I'm going to spend most of that time pinching myself to see if this whole thing is real, because I'm having my doubts, so take your time.
Well, doggone! Merle came back and let me know that he could get a party of seven in at 7:00 the next night. He was now my new favorite Disney cast member.
Things got better from there. We made our way to our table after a brief stay out front waiting for our pager to go off. The table we were led to was in the back corner of the restaurant overlooking the lake. If the food and the service weren't enough to impress everyone, we discovered toward the end of our dining experience that the view of the nightly fireworks at nearby Magic Kingdom were truly spectacular from this particular table. Between the tremendous food, the atmosphere and then the fireworks, I felt like I'd pretty well hit an inside-the-park home run on what should have been a bloop single earlier in the week.
We posed for a photo in front of the big 'Ohana sign on our way out of the restaurant. When The Chairman Emeritus talked to Parts Guy a couple weeks later at the counter, he said that the meal he had at 'Ohana may have been the best one he's ever had. Mose was thinking the same thing that night, but we told him to pace himself, because there probably weren't going to be any bad meals for the next several in a row.
All the technology at Disney World is pretty great, but it's not bullet-proof. The one place I think they've been lacking is in their implementation of the new Fast Pass+ system for attractions. You used to go to the park and get a paper Fast Pass ticket at an outlet in front of each attraction. That pass gave you a one-hour window when you could return and enter an expedited line for the ride. Instead of waiting 25 to 90 minutes, you would usually wait five minutes or less. The time on your Fast Pass would vary, depending on when you got to the ticket dispenser to get it. With the new system, you can choose from a variety of times throughout the day. You can also do it all from your smartphone. The other enhancement that was added is the Magic Band, which is a rubber-plastic bracelet with a computer chip in it tied to your identity. You hold your Magic Band up to a small stand at the various entrances to parks and rides and lights begin to flash in different colors. When your identity is matched to your Magic Band, the light turns green and you are allowed to advance. At the park entrance gate, you also place your finger on a small optical reader so that your individual fingerprint is tied to your identity. That prevents me from loaning my Magic Band to someone else so that they could enter the park without paying the standard fee.
Take the whole concept of that last paragraph and think how it sounds to an Amish person. Try to count all of the various religious violations for an Amish person in those couple of sentences. Someone goes up in a puff of smoke before the end, right? And it's probably me, isn't it?
I thought it might be kind of a hard sell, but Mose was cool with the whole works. We got him a Magic Band with his park ticket when we arrived the first full day and he took to it with no problems whatsoever. The only downside for us was that Fast Pass+ reservations can be made in advance from your smartphone, or your computer, or whatever other evil English device you have, but they can only be made for the tickets or passes you currently manage. To manage one, you need to have the identity code from the back of the ticket. Since we didn't have enough lead time to get a pass for Mose and get his Magic Band mailed to us, we had to skip the Fast Pass+ system for our first day. Sure, we could stop at a kiosk area at a couple of spots in the park, but our past experiences with those wasn't that great. We'd spend 45 minutes waiting there to get a ticket to allow us to get into a ride 50 minutes faster.
We went to Soarin' first when we got to Epcot. Standing in the regular line without a Fast Pass, there would be a wait, no doubt, but it might be a good way to see how patient Mose would be if we had to wait for the fun to start. A lot of these ideas only make sense to us English. We're all hyper and need instant gratification. Waiting is the worst. It's for losers. Our young Amish friend had pretty low standards to meet to be impressed. If he had to wait two hours for a chance to go on a ride where you fly like a bird over the land and seas of California before finishing up with a blast over the 405 during evening rush hour as you swoop down over Disneyland in Anaheim and see their fireworks, he probably wouldn't get as bent out of shape about it as we would.
That became my mantra for the whole trip: It's Disney. He's Amish. Do the math!
Soarin' lived up to the hype we'd given it. Mose thought it was awesome! But he could see how a Fast Pass would sure make things go much better, because some of those people seemed to breeze right in and out compared to what we had done.
Less than 24 hours in and Mose had come to our side already. VHS wouldn't cut it for him. He needed HBO GO on an iPad with Bluetooth headphones. Anything less just wouldn't work.
Our noon meal option that day was another seat-of-the-pants deal. We stopped into one of our favorite destinations without a reservation. Sherill and I had been to Biergarten Restaurant at the Germany section of Epcot's World Showcase a couple of times in the past and we loved it. The food was great and it was accompanied by a German band and dancing on the main stage of the giant dining hall. Mose had no problem with this option. His people came from Germany originally. He was raised speaking a version of German, so this was almost like being at home for him. In fact, when our server came to take our drink order, Mose spoke to him in German, which caught his attention in a big way.
My mantra was adjusted at that point: It's Disney. He's Amish. He's more at home than we are right now. This math is weird.
The next day took us back to Epcot. First we hit Living With The Land for a boat ride that we love, then on to Mission Space for a trip in a rocket to outer space. (Cue the original mantra.) Then we went to an area we had not visited before. It was Test Track, sponsored by Chevrolet. All I knew about it was that you ride in a car of some kind on a track around the outside of the building several feet in the air. The car sounds like it goes really fast. Sherill and I aren't big fans of fast rides with lots of motion. Mose, on the other hand, thought it sounded like a great idea, so we let him venture in on his own. I told him we'd meet him at the display area where several Chevrolet vehicles are parked for visitors to sit in and check out.
Once again, my mantra worked like usual. Mose thought the ride was pretty cool, but he really liked the display area. We took a lot of pictures there. We even got Mose a hat. He decided the Corvette Racing hat would be a safe bet, because it only had words on it and no pictures. There was an outside chance that he may be able to wear that one when he got back home. The graven image of a Corvette would be an instant disqualifier, but just the words may pass muster with Those Who Make Decisions For Mose.
Lunch was another last-minute decision. We went back to the part of World Showcase where the country of Canada has a display. It's where we have had tremendous meals in the past at their steakhouse, Le Cellier. There is a beer cheese soup there with pretzel bread that is to die for. Then, as the main course, they have a filet mignon with wild mushroom risotto and truffle-butter sauce that may be the best cut of beef I've ever had. I wasn't sure what the non-reservation wait time might be, so we checked in at the front desk at about 12:29. Turns out they open for lunch at 12:30 and they'd have room for us with no problem. Score!
We waited while the assembled Canadian servers held the opening ceremonies. They had everyone stand to sing the Canadian national anthem. At the end, they all shouted in unison, "Let's! Play! Hockey!!!" and then proceeded to usher the three of us in first. I was afraid it might be a Bob Ueker deal where we'd end up way back in the cheap seats as we told our fellow left-behinds that "we must be in the front row!" but it wasn't. Our hostess took us to a great table and things stayed at that level the whole time.
Sherill decided to take the afternoon off and get a massage back at the condo. Mose and I headed out to Animal Kingdom to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari Expedition. The chances of me getting to Africa for a real safari seem fairly slim, and I was pretty sure Mose was looking at even leaner odds, so this seemed like a good way to spend a couple hours. Mose seemed to like the whole tour, but it made me wonder how broad an education Amish kids get in school. We had visited The American Experience at World Showcase the day before (and noticed Parts Guy and his party standing a few feet away, but decided not to intrude on their entire vacation, so I snapped a picture of him walking down the exit ramp ahead of us and emailed it to a couple coworkers of his back home) and I kind of wondered how history is presented to Amish school-age children. What I decided was that this trip wasn't about the way Mose had been raised. It was about having fun, so I kept the deep thoughts to myself and just went with the flow.
Our last full day at the parks took us to Magic Kingdom. It was just Mose and me while Sherill hung out by the pool and the outlet mall near the condo. The Magic Kingdom is set up pretty strongly toward the little kid demographic, so I wasn't entirely sure how well Mose would like it. We did find a few rides he liked, most of which were roller coaster-type rides, so he went on those by himself to keep me from being a hurling dervish.
The most important discovery we made was lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern. It was more or less a Thanksgiving Feast set in colonial times. Mose was ready to eat when we were seated. He went with the pot roast option with mashed potatoes and vegetables. I decided to go against my usual tendencies and ordered the smoked turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables. It was perhaps the best fowl meat I've ever had.
I wasn't even half done when our server came to check on us. Mose was already scraping the last morsel of food from his plate.
"So, how is every . . . oh, my! How was everything?" she asked, looking at me with eyes about to pop out of her head.
I smiled and told her everything was excellent. Editing on the fly, she skipped ahead to the dessert round and asked if we wanted anything to finish off the meal. Having had a few meals with Mose by this point, I pretty well knew what he was going to order. If chocolate cake and ice cream were available, he'd take them and he wouldn't hesitate. Mose went one better this time. He asked for extra ice cream. The server informed him that the standard serving is pretty huge, but she would see what she could do for him. I decided to go with peach cobbler with ice cream. I'm not a fan of ice cream on desserts, but I thought it could be a good food hedge in case she couldn't deliver the quantity Mose clearly desired.
Our desserts showed up before I was done with my meal. One look at the giant scoop on Mose's plate and I decided to transform my order to my liking and his.
"Mose, do you want my ice cream? I don't." I said, as I scooped it with my dessert spoon, knowing full well what the response would be.
That took all of a flash to close the sale. Mose was polishing off the last bit of his now-enhanced dessert by the time I got around to starting mine.
When we met up with Sherill later in the day, we informed her of all of our finds, especially the Thanksgiving Feast. If she came with us to Liberty Tree Tavern the next time, maybe we'd get an entire armada of gravy boats instead of just the one schooner that they brought us. Oh yeah, and they need to scoop the ice cream a bit heavier next time, too. She knew how the demographics broke down when it came to gravy and ice cream desires.
Dinner that evening was a minor event at the Irish pub near the condo. We had fish and chips while we plotted strategy for the next day. Two of us wanted to go deep sea fishing. One of us wanted to hang onto our cookies. The plan was to drive to Tampa and go on a boat in that area. The land-based mammal among us could then spend part of the day driving around, which is what I prefer to do.
A server from another area happened to walk by as I had my iPad out, looking up options. She asked what we were after and suggested a more convenient location for fishing may be Port Canaveral, about 45 minutes away on the eastern coast of Florida.
Sherill made a couple of calls and had things lined up for an early morning departure from Port Canaveral. We got there a little before 7:00. She had apparently told Mose before he decided to go with us that there would be deep sea fishing involved. That may have sealed it for him, because he's a fish guy. He's such a fish guy that he frequently ordered that wherever we went to eat. Being able to catch your meal of choice would make his day.
I stayed behind while the two of them went boating. The boat captain wasn't really a poker player. I could tell from the way he acted as they got ready to leave that this may not be a great day of fishing. Sure enough, a call came in a couple hours later that they were already back at the dock and were eating at the nearby seafood restaurant. Their catch for the day was a big old goose egg. Never even got a bite.
Of course, the recommendation for this outing came from a place that specializes in fish and chips. Should we have expected anything different than a bland outcome? I don't think so. A steakhouse server wouldn't steer you wrong.
Our final day needed to make up for lost ground from fishing. The annual passes that Sherill and I have at Disney allow us to show up any day of the year for as long as we want for one low fee. Mose had a regular pass, which has a specific number of days you can go to the park. Once you buy two days or so, the incremental increase for each extra day gets more reasonable, like about $20 per day instead of the $95 or so for the first two. I went with one day longer than we had planned, partly because I also chose a slightly later departure time than we had originally planned. For an extra twenty bucks, Mose could indulge in one more trip on Soarin', maybe a ride through space and time on Spaceship Earth, and most importantly, a delightful culinary adventure with our favorite Disney cast member, Zineb, at Spice Road Table in the Moroccan area of World Showcase. It was twenty bucks worth risking, I felt.
The plan was to stop by and see Zineb, then make a quick exit and sprint to the car to get it back to the airport in time to catch our flight home at 2:12. It was about 11:30 when we got to Spice Road Table. Unfortunately, Zineb wasn't going to start working until 4:00 that day, so we struck out on our Amish/Moroccan worlds colliding. We did have another great server, though, and we told him that we were pressed for time. He assured us that we would be in and out as quickly as we wanted.
The food was tremendous, as usual. Spicy Garlic Shrimp, Lamb Sliders, Harissa Chicken Roll and Hummus with Imported Olives all hit the spot. To put the cherry on top the whole trip, Mose and I went with the same choice for dessert -- the Chocolate Pyramid. It's a chocolate mousse-based superstructure served with almond ice cream on the side.
It's a comparatively small dollop of almond ice cream. Surprisingly, Mose didn't ask for extra. Maybe he was trying to moderate his way back to his normal Amish existence. He can't just flip a switch to do that when he gets back home. Switch-flipping is very un-Amish.
I'm glad Mose is just kind of Amish.
Jeff Ryan is Guy No. 2 in the operation of Two Guys Farming, Inc., near Cresco, IA.
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