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If you missed last week’s post… here you go. So part 2. Ba dum Chish. EDC Tickets in hand I was on a plane bound to Orlando. Land of UCF and FSU and for this weekend at least…. Electric Dance Music. How does Disney World fit into all this you might ask? Well, it didn’t. At first.
Going back to Sunshine State brought back some memories and this coming of age story can only be fully appreciated in the context of that:
(insert HIMYM style flashback)
My Dad was doing a lot of work in Florida in the early years, so I was there with him all the time. A lot of it is pretty hazy now, but being an only child in a single parent family— I remember getting dragged around to Hooters, Daytona, Key West— pretty much the cute kid pickup approach to meeting women. The only two things I really remember are getting my picture taken with a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model when we happened upon a photo shoot against my will ( “Some day you will thank me for this, until then suck it up” ) and my first taste of beer, which was Coors light, which I promptly spit back up in front a room full of laughing adults.
Despite being coerced, I was a natural.
So going to Disney World, was just quid pro quo and the informal contract I had with my father for being a 7-year old guinea pig. You’re welcome, Dad.
(Yeah, That Guy.)
Fast forward 18 years. My roommate of 3 years and West Point classmate, Josh, was a native of Melbourne, Florida (Home to Kate Upton and a stone’s throw away from Orlando). He spent a lot of time impressing on me the finer points of Florida living, partying, beaches, sunshine, and of course Disney. Growing up so close to Universal Studios and Disney he is a natural nerd with an affinity for comic books and a walking Marvel/DC Encyclopedia and frequently goes on tirades about the inaccuracies of super hero movies…. don’t ask me how he made it through US Army Ranger School (just kidding, buddy). Anyway, this is how I first learned of the Epcot Challenge:
“Dude, you should go back to Disney…. it’s not just for kids… you gotta complete the Epcot challenge.”
“So you go to Epcot and pick a country, 11 in total, and you drink at every one until you drink your way around the world.”
“That sounds pretty creative, who came up with that?”
“No man, it’s like an official thing you can buy a passport and everything and they stamp it at every country you go to”
So I was sold. 11 drinks in 11 countries…. too easy. Challenge Accepted. From that moment I vowed if I ever found myself back in Disney, I’d go to Epcot, buy my passport and start collecting stamps. Or so I thought…
EDC Orlando And the Downward Spiral
So I found myself back in Florida for Electric Daisy Carnival- Orlando. It wasn’t my first music festival obviously— I’ve done ACL, SXSW, and have experienced night life from 6th street to Bourban Street to Beale street to Times Square. But I knew EDC was going to be bigger than anything I’d experienced before— there’s just something different about the Electric Dance Music scene that likes to go bigger, harder, louder than just about everything else combined. And I knew it had historically been a kind of underground best hidden secret in America for awhile— but had started to go more main stream and was seeing a significant rise in popularity which I anticipated would only add to the mayhem. (How an East Texas kid who grew up on Texas Country, Indie and folk music found himself at an EDM festival is again another story but…)
By this point, I’d been following EDM long enough to know there are only three major EDM festivals this side of the Atlantic that are considered ground zero in terms of scale, popularity, and general debauchery: EDC-Vegas, Miami Ultra, and TomorrowWorld– depending on who you ask normally you’ll get 1 of those 3 answers. EDC Orlando is like the step child of EDC Vegas— not quite as big— but not to be under estimated. So obviously, my frame of mind was EDC. Disney World was an after thought. I didn’t have to fly back out till Monday so I thought— hey… I got Sunday to kill, I can kind of swing down to Disney World— knock out the challenge- spend a relaxing day with some good eats and a few drinks, nursing a EDC hang over I would most certainly have, and recover before my flight.
I was wrong.
EDC came and went as expected. It was awesome. Beautiful. Crazy. Wild. All at the same time… I decided to save some money on hotels by camping out of the back of my rental (MRAP Panther v.2 Softskin Model… or a Hyundai) which I forgot to lock. My last night at EDC I returned to find my phone charger stolen and the downward spiral was set into motion.
My phone was sitting on about 5%— I desperately tried to google map my way around Orlando at 2 AM trying to find a place that sold chargers. Fail. Everything was closed. Even Wal-Mart my last ditch effort before I was out of battery. Blinded and lost in Orlando at 2 AM with no phone I decided to make my way to the nearest highway and follow the signs south to Disney World stopping at every gas station en route to check for chargers. Nothing. I blew a few tolls, drove in a few circles, and ended up crashing in the back seat of the rental fully prepared to sort things out the next morning.
The Epcot Challenge
The next morning I arose… found a cheap car charger that only worked intermittently. Which just delayed my arrival to Epcot by about 3 hours. I decided to just wing it and the phone could sort itself out on the drive back to Orlando Airport. My ears were still ringing from EDC, I had a massive headache, and I was anxious to get started, eat some food and do some casual Hair of the Dog drinking. I think I made it into Epcot around noon.
I tried to get some bearings and once it started coming back to me I made a bee-line for Mexico. Not really noticing the excess of people at this point— just assumed business as usual. First things first, I needed to find this passport. Ok…. maybe that could wait. I grabbed a taco and a frozen margarita and got a little energy in my system. Now the passport…. I started asking around…. and eventually ran across a group of older people…. one guys was wearing a “Vietnam Veteran” hat….and a “Drink Around the World” t-shirt… perfect.
Nothing like the old generation, helping the new generation.
I went up, thanked him for his service, introduced myself and asked about these damn passports…. because what’s the point of a challenge if you can’t prove it? And everything changed. He informed me that any gift shop would sell the a passport book…which on any normal weekend would suffice. But this wasn’t a normal weekend. This was the Food and Wine Festival. An annual 2 week event at Disney World where they bring in food and drinks from all over the world and multiple countries in addition to the 11 “permanent” countries. Literally everything… So I explained the challenge to him and how I found out about it from an Army buddy.
“Well, son, you got a real late start… we’ve been here all weekend… you’re going to have a lot of drinking to do.”
“Well, there are 35 countries …”
I told him I didn’t come all this way to give up and that I was going to make a run at it anyways. He wished me luck in the way only an old vet can and I bought the “special festival” passport that had all 35 countries. I quickly hopped in my first line and started thinking about the best way to approach this:
Ok… the crowds are really long. I have 35 stops to make. It’s 1 pm. Park closes at 9 pm. I need to average a little more than 4 drinks an hour. I’m going to pace it out… so I should probably eat a little food at each stop to stay off the affects of alcohol for as long as possible. Obviously the lines are averaging up to 30 minutes in the more popular countries… so I’ll do 2 laps. Drink the shortest lines possible then swing back around later when things start dying down.
Little did I know…
Plan in hand I began. Line. Drink. Stamp. Line. Drink. Stamp. Line. Drink. Stamp. Repeat. Restroom. 1 hour in. 2 hours in. I’m making good time… my confidence is growing… i think i can pull of this off… then i started getting curve balls…. beer samplers. Drinks in some countries came it sets of four which drastically threw off my prior calculations. Whatever. Drink it. I do my little drunk test. My nose is numb. Ok… been here before. Usually means i’m at a pretty solid level, as long as i can maintain that i should be good. If my ears lobes start to go numb I’ll be in trouble…
The Drunk text begin to ensue…. Josh, KK, Tommy D… all the regulars… (it’s a badge of honor.)
Armed with some vicarious encouragement from my entourage of enablers I go on. Drink. Stamp. Drink Stamp. Drink. Stamp.
Big Trouble in Little China. Sake and The Loss of my Passport.
Drink Stamp. Drin- St- shit… where’s my passport?!? No!… I must have left it somewhere. I frantically checked all my pockets, just a lot of receipts.. no! NO!. I’ve come to far to go out like this… I run back to my last stop. Has anyone seen my passport?! I start to panic… vendor doesn’t have it. I start retracing my steps… unless… did I accidentally throw it away? The trash can! I dive into it with both hands like I’m trying to dig a hole to China— even though…. might have been in China at that time.. Yes, it came to that. People were staring. Mother’s were covering their children. I was that guy. The drunk 20 something at Disney World digging in the trash can. Don’t care.
Found It! Thanks all that is holy. I did my little victory dance and got back to it. Completely determined not to make such a foolish mistake again… but this is a recipe for disaster— Guinness, Sake, Margaritas, Pinot, Merlot, German Craft beers— these things are not meant to be mixed.
Now it’s starting to get interesting. My restroom trips are more frequent. I’m starting to slur my speech a bit. To top it off, I’m wearing my EDC shirt, so good intentioned college aged disney employees are “hooking me up” with extra drinks “yeaaahh, bro you were at EDC!? Here you go, on the house…” The best I could manage was to shake my head… no you don’t understand…. I just want one drink and a stamp… but… just decided to accept their gratitude. Drink. Stamp. Drink. Stamp. Ears numb. What?! Drink. Stamp.
I woke up. Where am I? Why is their drool on my face? I’m in a bathroom stall. What? I rub my eyes. Damn it I must have fallen asleep. The challenge! I failed! What time is it? 8 pm? Holy hell I’ve been out for God knows how long I still have 10 stops. I make it to the sink and threw some water on my face. Ok. It’s do or die. Just get yourself together and get the last few stops.
I think I passed into an entirely different level of intoxication. Where… alcohol just doesn’t affect you anymore. By this point the park was closing down… but I think people could see the desperation in my eyes. I stepped away and watched the fireworks. Victorious. I did it. The drinking experience of my life time. At Disney… who would have thought?
“You went to EDC?!?” I heard it. Yes, the sweetest sound in the entire world. Maybe it was just my drunken imagination. But I turned and laid eyes on a super cute Australian girl who looked like Isla Fisher. I have no idea how I looked to the real world… but inside I was grinning ear to ear. I have a weak spot for Australian accents– yes– it’s like the Tuxedo T-shirt of accents. All the properness of the English– but with a side of “I’m here to Party.” But I can barely string together a complete sentence at this point. Not exactly my “A-game”. She must have noticed the hat. “Yes… yes I did.” I communicate with a series of groans, hand gestures and my completed passport book– reveling in my accomplishment cave man style.
She must of got the message because we ended up dancing at the House of Blues at Downtown Disney. I was in full drunk mode so I don’t really remember any conversation, or anything, other then she was Australian on exchange to Disney for an internship. Shots of Fireball were passed around and she made it pretty clear I was going home with her.
The next morning I ended up inside gated parking lot of the Disney Dorms. Her dorms. No name. No number. No shirt. Phone dead. Rental car dead. Flight out of Orlando in 2 hours.
So, I did what anyone would do– I started the Walk of Shame. Self respect is for losers anyhow. I finally found a good samaritan with some jumpers cables and made my way back to the airport for a long flight back to Kansas.
I texted Josh…. “You’re an asshole. Challenge Completed”.
“You’re the reason we have safety briefs…”
Up Next Week: “The Rise of the Mongeese: Partying with the West Point Parachute Team”
Ty Stephens is a Native of East Texas, and he is a graduate of the United States Military Academy atWest Point with a BS in International Relations. After commissioning in 2011 as an Infantry Officer, he has served as both a Armored Platoon Leader and a Battalion Mortar Platoon Leader while assigned to 1st Battalion 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley, Kansas. He has deployed in support of Operation Shared Accord to South Africa in 2013 and Operation Enduring Freedom- Horn of Africa in 2014. Ty has traveled to the North, Latin and South Americas, Western Europe, and South Asia. Ty enjoys the outdoors and adventure sports.
The thoughts conveyed in this article are the writer’s alone, and the following content does not reflect the official views or policies of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the United States Military Academy or the United States Government.