December 6, 2008

All Aboard for Autism! Choo! Choo!

**This post is not meant to be offensive.  If you’re offended, please accept my apologies.  I am merely sharing an experience.**

My family’s theme this holiday season is trains, trains, trains!  They are my son’s absolute favorite thing.

Do you know how Cookie Monster loses his mind whenever he’s given a cookie?  Well, that’s pretty my prince’s reaction whenever he hears or sees a train.

Last night, we surprised him by taking him to Dry Gulch, USA.

The property was purchased in 1985 and originally constructed to be an Old West movie set for feature family films. In 1996, Dry Gulch added a narrow-gauge steam locomotive to its list of attractions. The Christmas Train was launched later that year, and the attraction now welcomes an average attendance of 50,000 guests over the course of select nights of operation in November and December.

As part of an evening at The Christmas Train, you will experience the true meaning of Christmas amidst the sights and sounds of the season. The train ride itself features breathtaking artwork, several live reenactments, a multimedia presentation, and an original music score.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve seen The Polar Express one too many times.  I hear Christmas train, and I automatically think a group of dancing waiters are going to jump out & offer up some tasty hot cocoa.

The Christmas Train took us a ride we weren’t really prepared for.  It took us on a different kind of journey.

I love a good Christmas story like the next person, but there were a few parts about this journey that I found a bit troubling.

For one, the reenactment of the crucifixion was macabre, to say the least, and I was truly grateful that the bodies on the crosses were fake.  I wish I could have said the same about the Roman soldiers taunting the dying Christ.

The musical score became a bit frightening and really loud during certain scenes, and a few of the little ones on  the train were deeply disturbed because they were crying.

I was incredibly grateful my son was into the train and not tuned in to what was going on around him.  {Thank you, Autism.}

After the train ride, we were shuffled into a movie theater for a short film.   It is my understanding that the gentleman on the screen was the creator of Dry Gulch.  We never learned his name, but he seemed like a nice man.  🙂

The film was a brief synopsis of his troubling childhood.

We learned that his mother took him and his brother away from their father and moved them from a rural town to a “big city”.  We learned that she became an alcoholic and attempted suicide by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills.  We learned that he was the one who ran miles, barefoot, to his grandmother’s house to get his mother help.  We learned that, even today, he can still hear the sounds of the medical team pumping her stomach.  We learned that at age 17, he, too, became an alcoholic.  We learned that during a school visit, a man told him the true meaning of Christmas, and it was this visit that turned his life around.

The commercial for the Christmas Train doesn’t prepare you for the true train experience.  It shows people smiling while riding on a well-lit train.  However, the train was not lit; in fact, it was pretty dark, and no one was smiling.  (I’ll admit a lit-up car would have been distracting.)

It would have been nice if the experience was open to all faiths & beliefs.  My husband comes from a line of Sephardic Jews, and he was a little offended.

All in all, I didn’t think the Christmas Train was a bad experience because being on a train made my son smile.

His smile made it all worthwhile.

Pictures 5 & 6: Pre-boarding; Picture 7: on the train, pre-take off; Picture 8: Train ride & short film over; Picture 9: his next favorite thing is a pony ride; Picture 10: The newest edition to the pony crew; he’s only 5 days old; Pictures 11 & 12: Chillin’ out at Chili’s!

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