EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World is now 25 years old. I won’t write about Disney’s Florida property that often, because aside from EPCOT, the monorail system and the 1960s-swank resort hotels — the Contemporary and Polynesian particularly — I don’t have a whole lot invested in the place. The EPCOT I knew as a kid is long gone, and Florida is the site of every gross miscarriage of American justice of the last 200 years, from the Pee-Wee Herman arrest to the bungled 2000 election. I may well enjoy my upcoming visit to WDW — my first in 19 years — but even as I succumb to that futuristic nostalgia, at some level I’ll be aware that Katherine Harris could be lurking around the next corner, waiting to jump out and melt my face off.
My first EPCOT visit was in October 1983. I can remember its every aspect with keen detail: The awe-inspiring scale of the Future World pavilions, the faux-sulfur smell of the burning of Rome in Spaceship Earth, the cream-filled pastries at the France pavilion, the feeling of the Image Works pin beds on the palms of my hands. At EPCOT I tasted my first bite of sushi and first heard the music of Saint-Saens. I learned how a hydrogen engine worked, how many rooms the Forbidden City contained and what “symbiosis” meant.
After dark I would sit serenely underneath the massive “geosphere,” listening to the Buddy Baker-arranged loop of EPCOT’s musical themes, and I felt challenged and hopeful. The future didn’t have to be the dystopian Los Angeles of Blade Runner — which also turns 25 this year, fancy that. Rather, the future could be hydroponic farms and magnetic levitation trains and orbiting space colonies.
I must confess that for the longest time I never believed that Blade Runner would win out, and that 25 years later we’d be in a staring contest with the polar ice caps. When I listen to that EPCOT music loop today, I remember that optimistic euphoria — but it’s striped through with melancholy. We should have gotten there by now. We should have traded up to electric cars and idealism.
Nevertheless, it’s EPCOT’s birthday, and no one wants to be reminded on their birthday that they haven’t changed the world, or even lived up to the ideals of their parents. See that picture above? That’s a shot of my copy of EPCOT’s pre-opening souvenir program, which is filled with concept paintings and giddy promises. I read and re-read it until it fell apart, and that was long before EPCOT even opened its gates. You can’t feel that kind of love and not feel something like it years later, even if your own heart has changed. At its heart, EPCOT still believes that the future is going to be a fine place to live — and until we get there, who am I to say that it won’t be?