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Not amused 

Admittedly, this isn't my beat. The International Association of Amuse-ment Parks and Attract-ions convention, spread across and outside the expanse of the Orange County Convention Center, is clearly a wash of bombast and lighting. That's fine -- very me. But it's also a not-for-the-public, insiders affair of hypermechanics and trade. Not my kind of trade either.

"So you're Jim Hill?" quizzes the granny at the press check-in, referring to my Disney-disgruntled compatriot two pages over. "Um, no," I haze. I'm the one with the cigarette and too much to say about nothing.

Let's clear this up. Amusement for me is the fat girls of "The Facts of Life" reuniting for a CBS movie. (I'm so there.) Or maybe it's leering over The Partridge Family's Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden) as he recently took in the loungings at the Mount Vernon Best Western in Winter Park. At the very least, it's the personal abuse of sticking with a man who cheats on me ... in front of me (cough). Amusement, for me, is not the packaging and processing of gravity games for the thrill and delight of overbred families strolling funnel-cake midways.

OK, maybe the carnies. They're funny.

"So what exactly are you looking for?" asks Joel, the IAAPA communications coordinator who is assigned to escort my wandering eye.

Um, carnies. The answer is carnies.

What exactly I get is a corporate stroll through corporate "fun" hell with an affable but corporate Joel and his corporate party line. I'm having "fun" already.

"It's neat working in the business, because, without question, most of the time the people you're dealing with are FUN," chirps Joel. "You don't see many ogres bringing FUN to people."

Fear can be fun, but all this walking is no fun. "This thing is huge," taunts Joel. "It's nine miles of aisles." Now, I'm really afraid.

"In terms of technology," techs Joel, "there's still a big interest in immersive simulative interactive environments."

Obviously. Is that a sex toy?

"There's a lot going on with regards to queue management -- meaning line management," he continues, cutting my dirty mind off. "That's long been people's disappointment with parks."

No lines to worry about here. The event is, as predicted in naysayer circles (Jim Hill?), pretty sparse in the attendance department. A lot of engineers and their carnie kin are standing around and staring, while the beasts of their design whoop and holler noises of fun futility.

"We have the largest advance registration numbers we've ever had," rationalizes Joel, closing his eyes and rebuilding the World Trade Center in his mind. "We've sold more square feet of exhibit space than we ever have. ... No matter the numbers, you get a high quality of buyer. They're actually here to buy things and not just look."

Dammit, I left my checkbook at home. Fortunately, in my peripheral vision, some menacing bearded wizard is swaying around in an inspired robotic horror lecture. Golly, how'd they do that?

"Some of the animatronics that are being developed are really amazing, in terms of what we think of with Walt Disney's 'It's a Small World' at the 1964 World's Fair," robots Joel. "Actually, they're doing some new things with it, too. ... It lets even more detailed projection take place."

Goodbye staffing costs. Besides an electronic way to trim personnel budgets, what else is new this year?

"A lot of neat things," neats our auto-pilot. "Just as a little side item, in the food-and-beverage department, we have something called 'Pop-n-Glows,' which is a glow-in-the dark popsicle."

Rave on.

"It's something that's gonna be a big hit with the kids, but I think we're gonna see a lot of adults with it, too."

The entire convention seems very elaborate for what it actually means, with global Fun folk setting up full rides for virtually nobody to climb on.

"There's about five days of setup just to get it here," figures Joel. "Obviously, that is an engineering feat in and of itself. But, y'know, there's no better vision, I think, than to see a guy in a three-piece suit riding a carousel."

Ooooh, a visionary. Personally, I think there's no better vision than seeing Tootie reprising a, "There's gonna be trouble, better make that a double" snip 20 years after her prime.

Even I, however, am impressed by the revelation of a mechanical bull that actually looks like a bull.

"They've got another one," enthuses Joel. "An inflatable mechanical bull where your friends pull all four sides."

Great, designer Twister for the drawn and quartered set. I've played that before.

Out back, strange variations on tower drops, bungie jumping and skydiving litter an empty lot -- if you don't count the pouring fake snow provided by some hotties from Finland. All these attractions are begging for some Redneck Riviera purchase, and, I suppose, my patronage. But I'm not having it.

"Did you go up on that ride?" cutes the old-lady security guard on my exit.

"I'm scared of rides," I quickly quip, remembering an ancient Redneck Riviera tragedy of my own back in the days when I shot squirrels at the Miracle Strip in Panama City Beach ... for fun.

"The guy who runs Miracle Strip is part of our marketing division," chimes Joel.

"Really? I peed on his roller coaster," I smirk. Now, that was fun.

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