Priced out

We took the kids to Dallas last week with a plan to visit a hotel where they truck in tons of ice for a huge winter display. Yes, Texans will pay $30 a person to experience frigid weather. For an extra $15, people could skip to the front of the line.

The fast pass has become ubiquitous, and I despise it. The ice display ended up selling out before we could get tickets, and still I found myself angry about the fast pass. We were lucky that the indoor snow-tubing was available. Eleanor loved it, though I am certain that they should have paid me to wrestle that heavy, wet, alligatorish double tube up the narrow aluminum staircase over and over.

We’re heading to Disney sometime this winter, and I will have to confront the fast pass conundrum. Over the weekend, I read a piece about the increasingly cramped spaces on airlines. Many airlines are now giving frequent flier points based on ticket price rather than miles flown. First-class fliers will remain so, and the rest of us have even less chance of ever getting up there with the warm lemon-scented towels and fresh-baked cookies. Austin is in the midst of a highway-upgrade. The new lanes will be toll lanes, priced highest during the busiest times of day. We are rapidly reaching a point where the ticket price doesn’t grant us access to anything except a long line.

In some cases, I can afford to buy the fast pass or pay the toll or dole out whatever fee it is that will save me time. Is that what I want to teach my children, that the rules don’t apply to us if we have enough money?

The rules have changed, I know. I’ve never liked when parents harken back to their own childhoods — “In my day….” Progress is inevitable and often good. But really, in my day, everyone waited in the 30-minute line at Disney, both the children of teachers (me) and the children of executives. I lived in a smaller house, rode in older cars, and ate simpler food. Still, I had equality at the amusement park, on the highway, at the movie theater (where I now have to pay a convenience fee to reserve a ticket before the movie sells out).

I know that inequality is so much broader than that. Clearly people standing in line at Disney aren’t suffering much. But in these daily hassles, I see a chance to teach my children something. I’m still trying to figure out what that something is. I can refuse to pony up the extra fee, knowing that my one small action will do nothing to change the situation. I can boycott the business altogether, but again, that does nothing to change the situation and means that I will endure 18-hour car trips to Illinois with a crying toddler.

There is a lesson about money and budgeting, certainly. Here is why you work hard in school, go to college, and work hard at your job. Yet, plenty of hard-working people cannot afford to skip the line, and plenty of slackers born into wealth can. Maybe the only lesson is that if you want society to be better, you will have to grow up to be the leader who changes it. That seems like too much to push on a kindergartner.