Thanksgiving break at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the autumn of 1977 was a bit strange. It was my first Thanksgiving away from home and I was dreadfully homesick. To make matters worse my long time girlfriend back home was trading me in for parties at Western Michigan University, bong hits and red Solo cups full of temporary feel-good. Add to that the normal meat-grinder / pressure-cooker of attending college at ERAU and I was pretty beat. Thus, my pals and I decided on an excursion to Walt Disney World on Thanksgiving day as good medication for the bunch of us. I’d been looking forward to that adventure for nearly a week.
By late November the huge crowd of 2,500 freshmen that had invaded the campus at the beginning of the term had thinned a good bit. Classrooms where there was almost standing room only, now had a number of empty seats. That number seemed to grow every day. Our dorm, the “RSI” or Royal Scottish Inn motel, where we had been packed in by three to a room in the final week of August now had some solo rooms and some vacant rooms. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I went to campus and found that in my Foundations class there were exactly seven of us in attendance. My English class was cancelled and my late night Reading and Comprehension class, which was a pain in the ass non-credit bullshit class intended to increase my reading speed (which instead soaked me for some extra tuition dollars) had its door locked. Apparently the upperclassman who proctored it had split early for Thanksgiving break. In fact, everyone who could bug out for the break, did bug out. It was the first time I’d ever seen the campus nearly vacant- that was a bit strange.
On Thanksgiving day five of us piled into our dorm neighbor Russ’ land-boat car and motored our way to the Magic Kingdom. For most of the guys it was their first time, but I had been there in February of 1973 on a family Florida vacation. Of course in 1973 not all of the attractions were fully open. By 1977, the park was in full swing. We parked the land-boat in the Goofy lot and jumped the tram to to the monorail and the main gate. A 1977 “12 Adventure” ticket book was $9.50 and contained “A” “B” “C” “D” and “E” tickets. For those of you who did not “do Disney” in the ticket era; “E” tickets were the good stuff, “D” tickets were the fairly fun stuff, “C” tickets were the stuff you did when you ran out of “E” and “D” tickets, “B” tickets were for the stuff you did because you didn’t wanna leave yet or spend any more money and “A” tickets were the ones that always went home with you and lived in a drawer forever.
For ERAU students the one place that you could go to and actually fully escape the pressure-cooker was Disney World. Almost everyone went once each term and some went more than once. There you could forget classes, tests, prog-checks and just be gone for a day. You could even forget how much you wanna kill one of your roommates. It was a true escape and we strolled around without a care- for a change.
For my Thanksgiving dinner I had a Tomorrow Land moon burger and large fries as well as an iced tea. It probably cost me as much as going to the store and buying a whole turkey, but it came with the privilege of eating while watching Michael Iceberg performing live. He covered the Moody Blues “Dear Diary” in a great fashion.
As the time for park closing drew near our driver, Russ, remembered a critical piece of information. He told us that he suddenly remembered that his car was nearly out of gas! Of course he shared this fact with us after we ALL had completely spent every last cent that we had. Now we wandered around the park trying to figure out how in the hell we were gonna get all the way back to Daytona. We were totally devoid of ideas until my roommate Mike came out of the Arcade waving a ten dollar bill over his head! He had been walking around looking of change in the machine return slots and spotted the tenner laying on the floor under a pinball machine. Four of us rejoiced, but Russ, who was so Midwest that we other Midwesterners noticed, insisted that it didn’t belong to us and we had to put it back where Mike found it. Russ nearly got the shit kicked out of him at that moment. Of course we headed home with ten bucks worth of gas in Russ’ land-boat.
I’m 100% sure that our Thanksgiving trip to Disney gave me the boost that I needed to get me through the rest of that first trimester at ERAU. Of course a huge percentage of my freshman class went home for Thanksgiving and never returned. After that break there were A LOT of empty seats in the classrooms, because once back home a lot of guys didn’t want to come back to the pressure-cooker. That’s what led to the saying that ERAU was the easiest place to get into, but the hardest place to finish. I filled my place in my classes right up until Christmas break and returning to Michigan.
When I told my mom that I’d had a moon burger for Thanksgiving dinner- she cried saying, “Don’t you dare ever suffer like that again.” I told her it was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I’d ever had.
She never really did understand why I love moon burgers… at Disney.