Mr. Todd’s Wild Ride

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Dear Disney Online Community,

This being my last TouringPlans.com blog post for 2010, I wanted to take the time to write something a bit more personal and from the heart.  I’ve never before taken the time to write a year in review holiday letter, but I’ve sort of felt that after the mad crazy year that I’ve had it’s a perfect time to try.  Before I do, I wanted to thank a really good friend for giving me the title for this post back when I first started blogging publicly.  He basically told me not to worry too much, to be me, and made me swear to some day use this title because it rocks.  So thanks Jeff, I hope this one lives up to your expectations.

To no great surprise, my year started off with an adventure. Somehow I got it in my head to wake up at some crazy hour of the morning of the Walt Disney World Half Marathon and cheer on some friends.  Braving snow, sleet, and really chapped lips I stood there in the Epcot Parking lot with Katie, Ed, and Mike of the Be Our Guest Podcast.  As we talked and got know each other for about 2 hours before they headed into the corrals, I knew I’d found a new family in the BOGP community.  I’m fairly well convinced that Mike thought I was some crazy loon at that point, because as I hugged Katie and Ed and wished them luck, I also hugged him too.  Mike is something like twice my height – I’m sure it made for a odd scene.

Looking back I realize now this was one of the most pivotal weekends of my life.  I’d have never thought that standing there and cheering for these friends and others from Epcot Center Drive, Main Street, and the Epcot Parking lot would change me somewhat.  But it did.  Something in my head clicked that day – I was inspired, exhilarated, and hooked.  More on this later.  Thanks to folks like Bonnie, Matt, Kelly, and my wife, Cheryl, for making this day complete (only one of two times I rode Astro Orbiter all year).

Later that month, I wrote my first blog post about TouringPlans.com, but it wasn’t done as part of my writing for the this blog.  As one of the original testers for Lines, by the time it was released to the public I’d already been using it for a few months.  Including one day where I did more than 80 entries (there’s a good reason why my name is on a lot of the attractions now).  Taking that experience, I worked it into a blog post as my first attempt to really start to give back to the community.  Something I’d not really done before outside of charitable donations.  I sort of feel that it was this post that led Henry to ask me to come write here.

In March came TentFest for the WDW Today Podcast.  And many of the people I’d met at Reunion 2009 and that I’d also seen in January were there.  It was a cold and bitter night to be sleeping in a tent, and thankfully I didn’t.  I did spend the weekend getting to know a number of people better, and we started to bond as a group that we now call “Crew”.  I think that my fellow blogger Kristen (a.k.a. Crew Mom) covers the group’s adventures best if you want to read up on them.

At TentFest I got to talking with Katie, specifically about running.  She asked me what was holding me back, and the truth was that I really didn’t know.  After working me a bit, she convinced me to download the C25K app for my iPhone and start using it.  After watching her, Henry, and Kim run the princess 5K, and some later discussion with Megan and Mike Scopa – the deal was sealed.  I would start learning how to run.

Running for me has been transformative.  Literally.  Back at TentFest my weight had to be 270-280 lbs.  Just look at the picture of me from the January Marathon.  Right now I’m proud to say that I’m down to under 210 lbs and working on breaking that 200 lbs mark.  I currently weigh less then I did in High School.  Not many people my age can say that.  I really want to thank my big inspirations and helpers through this: Katie, Ed, Mike R., Mike S., Kim, Megan, Gordon, Thom, Lindsay, Jackie, and everyone who’s tweeted me about it along the way.

The other thing I want to thank the community for is inspiring my wife, Cheryl, as well.  While she’s not running she is doing two things that I consider to be a bit more brave and more intense than just running: dieting, and an exercise boot camp.  She’s looking fantastic.  My brother who hadn’t seen us since October 2009 spent our October 2010 vacation referring to us as the “incredible shrinking couple” – so I know it’s paying off for both of us.  Thanks to all of you for being there for her.

In April I answered a tweet from Mr. Len Testa himself.  He was looking for a C++ programmer.  I responded that I was, and I remember his answer cracked me up because he said back, “Really? Like as in every single day?”.  We talked a bit, I read some of his research papers, and next thing I knew I was working on the code for the TouringPlans Engine.  To get real geeky for a moment (as if I’m ever not), it’s a coder’s dream to be working on something this cool.  It stems from the basis of one of the more interesting artificial intelligence problems in Computer Science, and one that I’d had experience with before from my MMO days.  You can learn more about TPE in episodes 42 & 43 of the betamouse podcast.

Then in May, after a phone call with Henry, I started blogging here at TouringPlans.com.  I’ve always been a bit of a writer as my college minor was in Cinema Studies where I spent time studying screenwriting.  So getting to exercise that part of me has been a fantastic opportunity, and I look forward to continuing it into the new year.  It’s really become a part of my life that I look forward to each week.  I think I’ve had some really successful posts including a wide range of topics from movie and dining reviews, to posts about how to organize your travels.

Wow… the greatest part of this experience has been getting to meet so many great people along the way.  I’d been to so many meets put on by folks like the WDW Today Podcast team and Lou Mongello, I never would have thought that I’d ever host one myself.  But this year it happened.  As part of the Touring Plans 2010 Summer Meetastic (June through August we had more than one dozen meets!!!) I hosted a few of these all by myself, the most memorable of which was to kick off the Summer Nightastic event at the Magic Kingdom.  Watch our plancast for more events in 2011.

I’ve tried to meet and get to know so many of you, spend time in the parks with you when possible.  Ride rides together, or even just sit down, relax and have a good meal together.  I feel that I’ve grown closer to so many of you in the past year that I’ve literally lost count of all the members of my Disney mishpacha.  I’ve seen some of you get married.  Some of you get engaged.  Some of you had babies like Scarlett, Lines Chat moderator, and Matt & Marissa Hochberg.  I even got to know and eventually meet Cheryl’s vacation buddy Dana from her comments here on the TouringPlans.com blog.

One night on Twitter I made two really good friends in Brianna and my now fellow TouringPlans.com blogger Ryan.  We were talking about movies, specifically Errol Flynn movies, and it was then I learned about Ryan’s quest to watch all the of the Disney films and shorts that have ever been made.  I told him that he shouldn’t go it alone, and that he should come up with a way to do it as a community event.  And thus the Tweetwatch was born.  I foresee great things coming out of this friendship (ooo! foreshadowing).

And somewhere along the way Cheryl and I got adopted.  Not legally mind you, but as close as you can get without that step.  I first made contact via email with fellow TouringPlans.com blogger, owner of The Disney Driven Life, and NDM#1, JL Knopp earlier in the year.  I wanted to be counted, and to help out at the site somehow.  Her response caught me off guard, it was a simple, “Okay, what’s your niche?”  It occurred to me that I had no idea.  Instead, I talked about it with with Jeff who told me that I was my own niche and to find a way to leverage that.  I never responded to that email other than to say that I’d get back to her on that.

JL and I met again in May, the weekend before my first blog post here went live.  It was at Lou’s 24 hour live podcast event, after a 90 minute stint of Q&A with myself, JL, and the “box people”, we both realized there was a friendship to be had.  We agreed that after she moved to FL we would get our families together to spend some time at WDW.  I’m pretty sure our adoption into the Knopp family was sealed with a hug from JL’s younger daughter on that first visit together at Animal Kingdom.  Our families spent Thanksgiving together – a Knoppsgiving if you will.  Cheryl and I love being “Aunt” & “Uncle” to her and Joel’s children.  Yes, we do spoil them just a bit.

Somewhere in all of this Cheryl and JL were talking about the DDL website needing some TLC, and before I knew it I was hard at work fixing up the site – putting my WordPress, PHP, and CSS skills to the test (don’t worry if you didn’t follow all that).  This effort has been a lot of fun for me – I have a lot of leeway in working to make the site the best it can possibly be.  My goal being to give the Disney Driven Life community the best possible experience they can have.  And there’s more to come in the coming year, I promise.

Our friendship has also brought Cheryl and I still more close friends in JL’s inner mouse podcast co-hosts John, Nicole, and Scott as well as her DDL right hand lady Jackie.  They have all become very close friends and I’m thankful for knowing them, getting to spend time with them, and for them letting Cheryl and I into their lives.  I realized how important what the DDL and inner mouse have brought to the Disney community is the night we met to hang out with Nolan.  That what we do can mean so much makes it all worthwhile.

There were many other really great and memorable moments for me this past year.  Like when Cheryl and I were in Philadelphia for July 4th to see Kelly and Megan, we had all just walked outside and Megan and I put on the same exact sunglasses from Walt Disney World and we both looked at each other and said, “nice sunglasses”.  Also the BOGP Treehouse live show at Saratoga Springs, Reunion 2010 (a.k.a. “Best Chanukah Ever”), Disney Food Blog Foodie Fest, the first DDL / inner mouse meet, etc.

There are so many people I’d love to thank including: Lori A., Lori W., Betsy, Shelley C., Shelley J., Amy, Chris, everyone from #Crew (you know who you are), Team Studios Central (*boom* *POW*!), Beci, Shane, Bill & Steph, and many others.

Thank you all for this year.

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Posted on December 30, 2010

11 Responses to “Mr. Todd’s Wild Ride”