This piece was originally written and performed for Write Club Atlanta on May 13, 2020.
I am thinking a lot lately about The E.T. Adventure at Universal Studios Florida.
Partly because I am always thinking at least a little bit about The E.T. Adventure at Universal Studios Florida, but also because… well, it’s nice to think about something nice right now.
Because my stomach hurts.
It’s probably because I ate these cookies too fast. See, I got up to bake cookies, because it was 5:15pm on a Wednesday and I was already back in bed. The oven has not even cooled, and two of these Tollhouse motherfuckers are already making their way down my stupid esophagus, and I have wiped the greasy cookie bits off on my shirt sleeve, because who the fuck cares anymore?
My stomach hurts.
So, The E.T. Adventure! Oh, it’s the best, you guys! I love it from the moment the pre-ride video starts. See, you’re in a forest at night, and then, from out behind a massive tree, it’s Steven Spielberg himself. And he’s there to tell you that E.T needs YOUR help! See, E.T’s planet- The Green Planet- is dying, and you have to get E.T and his healing touch back home. You’re going to need an Interplanetary Passport, because of course you are, and then you and E.T will be boarding a bicycle just like in the movie, and then you’re going to save the day.
(This is part of why I love them parks so much, I think. You just succeed all day long. You cannot fail when you’re at a theme park. Except for when you do. Okay, except for when I do. I’m sorry.)
Steven Spielberg tells me that E.T needs MY HELP, specifically, and, oh, Steven, I will die before I will let you down.
The Steven Spielberg video ends, and then you are walking into a fairly basic theme park lobby. The E.T. Adventure is the only remaining opening day attraction at Universal Studios Florida, so it’s lobby is lacking some of the, how shall we say, pizzazz of later attractions.
But there’s a ride attendant there, and they hand you your Interplanetary Passport, worn and torn from years of saving the day, and they ask you for your name.
“Dani,” I say. “My name is Danielle Elise Herd, but please call me Dani, and my stomach hurts, and can you help me, please?”
They just type my name into the computer, and then I am on my way.
We are on our way.
So, I know I was kind of a dick just now about the lobby for The E.T Adventure, but, Team, DON’T WORRY. Because now we are entering into the queue proper, and it is breathtaking. We are in the same beautiful, giant, nighttime forest from the video, and the air smells of pine and metal. And it is cool, especially after all of our time in the Orlando sunshine. It is cool, and it is dark, and, when we stop moving, I am able to lean my body against the metal railings that hold us all in place.
There is a theme park freneticism that I know I thrive upon, but I am also grateful for the relative calm of The E.T Adventure queue. The stakes are still high, don’t get me wrong, but also… well, if we’re in the movie, I’m a child again, right? I am a child in an 80’s sci-fi Amblin adventure, and I am safe and good.
(You know, I actually hate the movie E.T. It’s a good movie, I admit, but I fucking hate a good “If you love them, let them go” story. I do not let go when I love. I cling, I clutch. I cannot let go. I am too afraid of falling, and I don’t know how to–)
We’ll get there, I promise.
We make our way through the forest, and then, finally, we are boarding our bicycles. E.T, of course, is up front in our little basket. And we are off! We are riding through this forest at night, and we are dodging peril after peril, and finally, when we are seemingly cornered and all hope appears to be completely lost…
Well, you know.
We leave the Earth behind, and we are against the full moon, and that fucking John Williams score is blaring in my ears, and nothing has ever felt better than this. I am safe within my little theme park attraction bicycle, and this is right. I am finally where I belong maybe? Is that what this is? Is that where this euphoria comes from?
When I am on the ground, you see, I stumble and I flail, and I knock things over, and I am too loud, and I cry all the time, and my stomach does still hurt, thank you for asking, but up here… Up here in this simulated sky, on this play-pretend flight… I didn’t do anything wrong here. They asked for my name at the door, and I told them the truth, and that let me come in anyway. I have not broken anything here yet. I have written this before, so please forgive me for the repetition, but I am in the sky here, and the sky has never asked me to be anything else.
(Later on there will be sun-burned shoulders in a hotel room on International Drive, and utter exhaustion, and angry words, and I probably will have fucked something up. I don’t always know that I have until it is too late.)
And, Team, we do make it to The Green Planet, and E.T’s teacher Botanicus (yes, really) is there, just like he promised, and E.T. does save the day. WE saved the day, and we take part in a happy little party on The Green Planet, and it is wonderful, and these animatronics are fucking dope, and I love it here.
And then the ride is coming to an end, and we ride past E.T one last time, and he is there to thank us. He is there to thank us by name.
It is a warbling, jumbled “thank you,” also worn and torn from years of saving the day, but it still brings tears to my eyes to hear “Dani” in E.T’s mouth.
It’s nice to be thanked.
E.T doesn’t have anyone to thank right now, and it makes me so sad. E.T is sitting alone in the dark, abandoned and not operating, and who is going to save the Green Planet now? What the fuck are we going to do?
My name is Danielle Elise Herd, but please call me Dani, and yes, my stomach still hurts, but I am here to help. I have this Interplanetary Passport, and I have saved the day before, and what can I do, please? If I may switch specific theme park tracks for just a moment here: I can fly I can fly I can fly. It is not necessarily that I am more graceful in the air, my wings will probably still catch on you and knock you over, and I’m sorry in advance, but fuck, I am trying.
But I can see so much more clearly from up here. Can see the moon and the stars, and I can see you, too, and I will not leave you behind, I promise. I don’t know where we’re going, I seldom do, but I love you, and I will put you in the little basket of my bicycle, and I will take you to The Green Planet to keep you safe. I know Botanicus, so it’s cool.
John Williams is in my ears, and I can be brave. My stomach is weak, but I am not.
E.T will thank us again someday. We will board our bikes and fly again. But we can save the day right now. You guys, the Interplanetary Passport was inside us the whole time, I think! So, let’s do this. We can do this.
I just need you to tell me your name.