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Going for Broke

Sitting behind the Universal Studios ticket counter, Helen, a native of Flushing, Michigan, tried her best.

But negotiations with the Russian oligarch wearing a gold watch the size of Latvia just weren’t going well. Surrounded by his children, he pointed at the changing digital signs and blustered in Russian. Meanwhile three of them began poking each other and squealing. His teen daughter stood sullenly three steps away.

“I’m still not clear if you want the one-park or two-park pass for two or for three days, sweetie,” cooed Helen. “You’ll need the two-parker to ride the Hogwarts train.”

“Слишком много глупых выбор!” [My helpful translation: “This is the problem with your democracy! Too many silly choices!”]

Helen’s face leaked a smigh – the smile-sigh with throbbing forehead vein that’s the trademark of Orlando’s service industry veterans.

More squealing.

“ТИШЕ!” [“SILENCE!”]

The three little Russians froze like they’d been catapulted into Siberia in shorts and flip-flops. Stepping further away, the teen attempted to pass as the child of a young Japanese couple chattering excitedly in matching Mickey Mouse sneakers and Hogwarts gowns.

As I tapped my foot, Helen foolishly complicated matters with the upsell. “Would you like to add our meal deal? For only $19.99, you can save 30 percent on your meals and get free snacks.”

More poking and squealing.

The Russian pounded his hand. “Где я могу утонуть мои дети!?” [“Where is the nearest bathroom where I can drown my children?”]

“Or for $11.75 each our commemorative lanyards can proudly display your Universal passes!”

The Russian grabbed the lanyards, threw a wad of cash at Helen, seized the nearest son by the ear and dragged him off squabbling. And after a 20-minute wait to pick up the tickets we had bought online to save time, we stepped up.

Five three-day, two-park tickets later, I announced. “Today we go for broke!”

“Between the hotel room and the three-day passes, I’d say, ‘Mission Accomplished!’” my wife said. She already looked ready to head back to the hotel pool to weep into her latest Jodi Picoult novel.

Every married couple essentially has one or two arguments they revisit to feel alive. Some argue over whoopee. Others yell about money.

We bicker about the proper way to visit theme parks.

She Who Controls the Universe is an infuriating dabbler.

In contrast, I’m all in.

She’d rather take the last shuttle to the parks with the hung-over spring breakers at 10:55 a.m. Then return on the 4:35 p.m. shuttle with the seniors and their walkers tricked out with those fancy tennis balls.

But If I’m spending $160.99 to spin a turnstile, I’m slapping on the sunblock at sunrise and not leaving until I’ve grown two blisters and heard the ka-thump of the last firework.

Dads Like Me stalk Disney and Universal en masse. After driving 28 straight hours from Maine, they poke their 3- and 5-year olds awake at 6:30 a.m. to seize that extra hour earned by shrewdly paying too much for a Disney or Universal hotel. When the gates open, they sprint to the back of the park. By the time my wife arrives after lunch (sidetracked by a three-pound Nutella-coated Belgian waffle, all that giggling and gawking at Captain America (Mom: “Did you see the biceps on him?” High School Daughter: “I was too busy looking at his cute booty!” Together: “He! He! He!), and the Bodaciously Adorable Bunny, Bird and Magic Pony Show in The Lost Jurassic Tomorrowish Toonland), Dads Like Me have ridden the best rides four times.

Except other Dads Like Me are riding those rides because I’m stuck with the Dabbler.

Last Disney trip I watched in admiration as one all-in dad held up his little princess as fireworks exploded and Tinkerbell shot across the sky moments before the park closed. He shook his daughter’s ragdoll body in an admirable effort to interrupt actual dreams so she could experience one more dream come true.

Arms folded beside him, his exhausted wife piled on. “You might want to check for a pulse.”

He gave another shake. “I don’t understand! She napped all through It’s a Small World.”

Or the dedicated dad I spotted in Mel’s Diner on our recent trip to Universal. He had lavished $16 on a 15-pound refillable Optimus Prime Transformer Souvenir Soda Cup, bigger than all of his three sons’ heads. The entire family dutifully sucked the Transformer’s head during lunch to recoup his investment. “Hurry up!” He gestured to the nearby refill station. “We can top off Optimus before leaving!”

All-in, the oldest son attacked it, eyes bulging, face turning red.

Such dedication!

But me?

After 40 minutes pancaked against exuberant visitors fingering the Puking Pastilles in Weasleys’ Wizzard Wheezes, I attempt to rally my fast-fading troops. “Time to head back to the Hulk,” I announce. “This late in the day, the line will be half the 50 minutes it was this morning!”

“How can you enjoy things when you’re rushing through them?” the Dabbler asks, wiping Nutella from her face. “Why not head back for a nice dip in the pool?”

“It’s not even six o’clock!” I cry.

In a sly attempt to round up votes, she tries bribery. “We’ll stop at an actual restaurant for nice dinner and then go for a swim.”

Bee, 9, immediately crumbles. “OK.”

But the other two are still standing firm.

“One more ride on Hulk?” The Sophomore begs her mother.

“I’m thinking more like three,” I say encouragingly.

“I’ll waive the one junk food per day rule and we can even stop and pick up ice cream!” the Dabbler counters.

“That’s exactly the problem with democracy.” I counsel the girls. “Too many silly choices!”

“What about hot fudge?” asks Elf, 12.

“No!” I protest (hot fudge being beyond the pale).

But it’s too late. The other two have actually caved for hot fudge and sprinkles.

Amateurs.

Victorious, the Dabbler drags us back to hunt for the minivan in Jaws, Section 417.

But not before stepping briefly into Starbucks for a Classic Chai Tea Latte with Soymilk.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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