Thursday, November 25, 2021

Robert St. John: 1.65 Million & 1

 Orlando- I have had a long history with this city. In the summer of 1972, when I was 10 years old, my uncle took my cousin and me to the newly opened Disney World. I don’t remember too much. But I do remember buying a fake plaster arm cast and a sling at the magic shop on Main Street and waited a week until I got home to trick my mom into thinking I had a broken arm.
The next visit to Disney World was in May of 1979 on my high school’s senior trip. I remember even less about that trip. But I do know we stayed in the Polynesian Hotel. When my wife and I were dating we didn’t have any money, though we both enjoyed Disney World, so we would drive down and stay at one of the cheap, off-property hotels and have the time of our lives. We dated for five years before we were married and were married for five years before we started having children. In that 10-year span, we probably visited Disney six times.

Once our children were born, we started going the week after Thanksgiving almost every year. That period is one of the least-attended weeks, but still decked out for Christmas. By the time we loaded our kids up and travelled to Europe for a long six-month stay in 2011, I had probably visited Walt Disney World almost two dozen times. This is the first time we have been back.

I am down here for a trade show, and it just so happened that our son is down here for a music festival. Since the trade show is work related, and since he wants to go into the restaurant business, he stayed for a few days and attended the show with me.

We are in the middle of opening a bowling alley and movie theatre in Jackson, Mississippi. I know very little about those two businesses, so I am doing what I did when I first got into the restaurant business and submerging myself in knowledge and experience— other people’s knowledge and experience. The trade show went a long way in helping me get a handle on what lies ahead.

During our off days from the trade show my wife, son, and I visited the Walt Disney World parks and Universal Studios. My first trip to Disney World was almost 50 years ago. There is still a little of that wonder and amazement that hits me when I visit one of those parks. But these days I am even more impressed with the business model and how an entity that size can be managed so effectively and efficiently. I have reached an age where I take more enjoyment appreciating the creative energy and serious management acumen used to operate that place than I am a roller coaster or theme ride. Seriously, I can just walk around the parks and have fun just being there observing, admiring, and respecting.

A friend who lives down there and has worked with the Walt Disney company for a long time on all the parks— and side-by-side with the folks in the Imagineering department all over the world,  is a member of something called the 33 Club. He invited us on a guided VIP tour. My wife and I had taken a behind-the-scenes tour years ago and traveled through the tunnels under Main Street and discovered other out-of-sight things. But during this visit we knocked out three of the Disney parks in a matter of four or five hours. Seeing those properties from the back side of the rides shed a new light on the creativity, innovation, and attention to detail that is present throughout the entire system and deeply ingrained in the corporate culture.

In those years when we took the kids down after Thanksgiving, we started taking a day to go to Universal Studios. We all enjoyed both. In the 11 years since we have set foot in one of the parks, a lot has changed. The whole Harry Potter thing at Universal was new to us, and it was also our first time to see the new Star Wars attractions at Disney Hollywood Studios. Both companies knocked it out of the park with those attractions and have taken the game up another level of in the authenticity, creativity, and enjoyment department.

Walt Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. As we were walking through one of the parks, I decided to Google ticket prices from my first visit in 1972. They were $3.50 each, which is the cost of a bottle of water inside one of the parks today. While we were watching the new fireworks display at EPCOT someone commented that Walt Disney World spends over $100,000.00 every day on fireworks. With those two figures floating around in my brain I started Googling other Walt Disney World statistics, and the further I went down the rabbit hole the more I became impressed with the company and how well it is run.

In 2007, while on a promotional book tour, my publisher sent me to the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival for a cooking demo and book signing. It was there that I started to appreciate the level of volume that the kitchens in those parks produce. Each year, Disney visitors consume seven million hamburgers, a half-million pounds of mac and cheese, one million pounds of watermelon, and two million pounds of ketchup. It takes 350 chefs to keep up with the demand, and the dining choices— especially in EPCOT— have seriously improved over the years. So much so that we ate at one of Rick Bayless’ restaurants in Disney Springs and it was every bit as good as his home base Frontera Grill in Chicago.

The entire Walt Disney World property covers 27,258 acres (43 square miles, or the size of two Manhattan islands), and Walt paid $5 million dollars for all of it. That’s about the current cost of a high-end home and lot in the neighborhood, Golden Oak, located within the property. The road and highway system within the grounds is so impressive and nicer than any road or highway I’ve ever traveled on.

Pre-Covid, Disney World Parks drew an estimated 150 million people each year, which would have to make them some of the most vacationed spots in the world. Back in 2018, the Magic Kingdom was topping out at 21 million visitors a year. It’s hard not to be impressed with an entity that can, not only take care of that many people, but take care of them so well. 

There is never any trash on the ground. Disney makes sure that there is always a trash can every 30 feet and there is a massive underground vacuum system that transports trash to a central location. Over 12% of the parks are taken up with greenery— gardens and other maintained landscapes.

And my favorite Disney statistic: An estimated 1.65 million sunglasses have been lost at Disney World since it opened. After this visit, make it 1.65 million and one.


Tasso and Cheese Biscuits with Pepper Jelly

Experiment with your favorite pepper jelly flavor. The hotter the better. The dough freezes well and can be made in advance.

2 cups flou
1 TBL sugar
1 /2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder                        
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 /2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 /4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 /4 cup tasso ham, finely minced
3 /4 cup buttermilk
1 egg  
2 TBL melted butter

Preheat oven to 375

Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or fork, blend cold butter into the dry mix until flour resembles coarse bread crumbs.

Mix in cheese and ham.

Separately, blend together the buttermilk and egg and add to dry mixture. Blend the dough. Do not over mix.

Fold dough onto floured surface and roll to one-inch thickness. Cut biscuits using a 1 1 /2-inch cookie cutter. Place biscuits on ungreased baking sheet and brush the tops with melted butter. Bake15-18 minutes.

Split open and spread with your favorite pepper jelly.

Yield: 30-36 small biscuits



Stuff About ZeroBear PolyBear said...

Thanks for the nice Thanksgiving morning read Robert. Let me wish everyone a blessed Thanksgiving, both today and actually every day onward.

You probably noticed it is getting colder. Here is a soup we enjoy that goes well with this weather. You will like it and anyone should be able to pull this one off.

Beef Taco Soup

1 pound ground chuck or ground round (low fat)
2 large yellow onions chopped
1 package taco seasoning
2 tsp adobo seasoning
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp Lawry’s Garlic Seasoning
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can pinto beans
1 can mexicorn
1 can green chilies chopped
1 can white hominy (drained)
1 can (12 oz) V8 juice
Water as needed
1T chili powder (optional)
Rotel brand tomatoes (mild, regular or hot – optional)
Sour cream (optional)

In a 6-8 qt soup pan, brown ground beef over medium high heat, breaking up the meat as it cooks. Season the beef with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper. After the beef browns drain away as much fat as possible. If there is too much fat, I may remove the beef and drain it on paper towels then add it back to the pot.

Add onions and continue cooking the beef until the onions are tender.

Add taco seasoning, adobo seasoning, tomatoes, pinto beans, mexicorn, green chilies, white hominy and V8 juice. Stir and add water as needed for the thickness of soup you want. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes. Add cumin 10 minutes before serving as it does not stand up well to extended cooking.

If you like more heat, or stronger flavor, you can add 1 T Chili powder and/or a can of Rotel in addition to the tomatoes, or in their place. My opinion is that the soup is plenty spicy enough without either of these, but some people like their food very hot, and if that is so for you, then go for it.

Serve with taco chips and a dollop of sour cream.

shadyal said...

Another great piece by RstJ. Of course being in the sunglasses biz since 1974 I’m a bit envious
of the market at Disney😎 that Robert speaks of.

Anonymous said...

Brought a lot of memories flooding back. Great article!

Anonymous said...

Kingfish: The soup recipes and travels across Europe are not interesting in the least. Maybe on the back page of the Northside Sun. Move along, please.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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