Trouble in Space Mountain

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The control booth, or “tower”, as we called it, deep inside Space Mountain – where the ride is actually operated from – is a ‘cozy’ space. About the size of a small kitchen, it houses two people most of the time, each one responsible for their respective side of the attraction (Space Mountain in Florida actually has two mirror-image ride tracks that operate simultaneously when attendance levels call for it). It’s dark – lit mainly by a few infra-red camera monitors, several tiny colored light bulbs laid out in a ride schematic on a console, and maybe a half-dozen dimly-hued overhead bulbs. It’s also quiet, all external sounds being muffled by carpeted walls and a series of plexiglass windows. What it is not, to my great dismay, is well-ventilated. I, along with a very unfortunate co-worker, found this out one memorable afternoon during the Spring of 1993.

It was a typical afternoon at the Mountain; nothing out of the ordinary. The cast member in the chair next to me – a young woman – was not someone I recognized. I got the feeling that she was very part-time (perhaps a student), and came in to work a shift every few weeks or so just to keep her status intact.

On this particular day, I was working a longer-than-usual shift, which entitled me to a half-hour lunch break. I took advantage by hoofing it over to a small cast members-only cafeteria that sits behind the east side of Main Street, U.S.A. Two scarfed-down pieces of extra-thick crust cheese pizza later (ahhh, the metabolism of youth), I hustled back over to the Mountain and was soon back in rotation, situated in front of the controls on B-side. On most days, I would have been relieved of this position and “bumped” to the next one in about twenty minutes, but the cast member that got bumped out at the end of my rotation was also due a 30-minute lunch break. For me, that translated into the better part of an hour in that very confined space, with a stomach that soon began to churn in a most disagreeable manner.

I’m not normally a particularly gassy person. On rare occasions, however, the wrong circumstances can do a real number on my gastro-intestinal system. It turned out that on this day, the processing of a giant glob of cheese and pizza dough would be my undoing.
All was well for the first ten minutes or so. But rather suddenly a worrisome discomfort hit my lower, um…….”torso”, and soon the gas began to pass at a somewhat alarming rate. And I mean bad gas. Tear-inducing gas. Hold-your-breath-until-you-can-leave-the-room gas. In such a small space, the series of pungent emissions that followed would soon render the air quality “toxic”, by most any definition of the word.

That poor girl sat there just five feet away, undoubtedly suffering immeasurably, in silence, for what seemed an interminable length of time. Mind you, I sat there suffering in my own way – not just the physical discomfort of abdominal distress, but the psychological embarrassment and anguish over what I knew I was putting this girl through. I wished, in the worst way, to just be teleported anywhere outdoors. It was a true “Why is this happening to me, right now, in these specific conditions?!” kind of moment. I hoped, against all odds, that in some sort of frog-in-a-pot-of-warming-water kind of way, the gradual worsening of the air quality in the room would somehow render the gas undetectable. In retrospect, clinging to that hope was indeed a fool’s errand, as I’m guessing it would’ve taken somewhere in the neighborhood of three days for that volume of mutant methane to slide past the senses unappreciated.

The one thing I was clearly NOT doing throughout this experience was my job. Mentally processing this distraction used up a good 85% of my available brain functionality, and I’m fairly certain that Walt Disney himself could have passed in front of me waving both hands, cut in line, and jumped in the first waiting rocket train facing backwards, and I doubt I’d have broken my gaze.

At long last my relief came (the bump, that is), in the form of a skinny kid named John, who, within a fraction of a second of opening the tower door shrieked, “Awwww, Scott!”, thus punctuating my gathering shame – now fully realized and publicized in a moment of crushing personal horror. The only saving grace was the absence of a larger audience.
I gave a nervous laugh and high-tailed it out of the tower and into more spacious environs as fast as I could.

I owe that girl the biggest apology a person – outside of the worst criminal offenders – can offer another human being. I never saw her again, and I attribute this to one of two things: a) As compensation for her suffering, God (or fate, if that’s your thing) took pity on her, arranging future scheduling to prevent her from facing even the possibility that she would get stuck in the tower with me again, or b) on any subsequent day she worked, upon seeing my name on the schedule, she simply (and immediately) turned and walked away, thus preserving any sense of justice she felt the world owed her.

So the next time you find yourself treading through the queue at Space Mountain, pause for a moment when you pass the tower. Appreciate what a small and confined space that really is, think of that poor soul trapped in there with me on that regrettable afternoon, and maybe say a quiet prayer in hopes that they’ve since installed some sort of fan system. I do, every time.

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