The Happiest Place on Earth

I will preface this post by saying that my feelings toward “Disney” are ambivalent.  By Disney I am not talking about the man, Walter Elias Disney; rather I speak of the conglomerate corporation that owns half the world and has destroyed Times Square.*  Walt Disney, by all accounts, was a decent guy – he had a talent and made the most of his life by bringing joy to millions.  True I’ve always thought the character of Mickey Mouse was a boring dolt but who didn’t love classics like Dumbo growing up?  I still remember a Sunday afternoon when I was five years-old.  My family had recently suffered a terrible tragedy.  A fire had consumed our house, burned up all of our possessions, and claimed the lives of three of my siblings.  My sister Susan, only recently released from the hospital (she had broken almost every bone in her body saving us) took me to see a re-release of the 1970’s Disney animated film Robin Hood.  You remember the one with the British fox and Phil Harris as Little John?  That one.  Other than the scene where the castle burns to the ground and my sister frantically covered my whole head so I wouldn’t see it, that memory was a happy one for me.  I connected with the film, the characters.  A year later the same sister and our sister Maureen (both in their early 20’s) had saved their money and planned the most wonderful thing for me, my sister Barbara, and our baby sister Bridget.  The girls took us out of school for a whole week in November and flew us to Walt Disney World!  I look back and realize how much of a sacrifice that was for them to cart a 3, 6, and 10 year-old around with them.  They did it all for us.  Again, it was another diversion from the horror we had all just lived through and it remains one of the happiest moments in my life.

See, in 1984 Disney, even as a company, was still pretty much a family-based deal.  The park was clean, the atmosphere was joyous.  Everything about the place spoke to the character of Walt Disney who wanted families to have fun together.  I still remember riding the monorail through the hotel and thinking this was the coolest thing ever built.

This kid is all business on Hyperspace Mountain.

Then something changed.  In the late 1980’s, under the leadership of Michael Eisner, the company shifted its focus to money as the sole bottom line.  Some of the Disney family of products, like Miramax Films, began churning out unmitigated crap in the form of purely offensive flicks like the sacrilegious (and ridiculously stupid) films Priest and Dogma.  At a certain point the company abandoned all interest in the decency and took a tone so amoral it made many heads turn.  And they seemed not to be bothered by protests from some of us who were really offended.  For many years, even long before I knew Karla, I personally made it a point not to pay a dime for anything overtly Disney-related.  Karla was the same way.  It’s just not worth the cost of my soul to offer material support to these clowns.

In the mid-1990’s Disney tried to redeem its family image with a collection of feature length animated films that were all quite successful.  They then expanded these films to Broadway.  See comic note below.

I say all of this by way of affirming that nothing has changed.  And I hope I am not offending any of you reading this who disagree.  Clearly a financial boycott is not a moral imperative.  Now then… a while back Karla’s sister won 8 tickets to Disneyland in an auction.  We thought long and hard about it.  “If the parks haven’t changed that much it would be fun to take the kids for a day if we’re ever out there,” we reasoned.  Well, thanks to Grill’n & Chill’n, we’d be out there, right in the heart of Southern California.  Also, since this part of the trip came at the tail end of our travels we’d be able to use the big Disney threat with our kids.  “Stop fighting back there or we’re taking time off from Disneyland!” we’d shout.  And it more or less worked.

This morning we woke up super early, had our breakfast, and drove to what we hoped would still be the happiest place on earth.

DAY 48/Star Wars, Frozen, and Beyond

Riding the tram.

The very first thing we noticed is that the good folks at Disneyland do care about the handicapped.  Wilma, due to her occasional difficult getting around has a parking tag.  This got us very close to the parking lot tram.  We were herded onto a rolling cart with about 4000 other strangers.  Josh, our friend from San Francisco, made friends with a couple from France.  We offered our condolences to them regarding Nice and they to us regarding the Dallas PD assassinations.

Still wondering who they are exactly…

Just as we stepped off the tram and were about to make our way through the gates to the park, three people approached me.  Staring as if they knew me, they pointed at my shirt and asked: “Christendom College?  Like the one in Virginia?”  I replied: “Is there another?”  Well it turns out that this family have a brother who is an alum.  Unfortunately we did not clearly hear their names.  Still, how amazing is it that here amidst thousands of strangers, 3000 miles from Front Royal, in Disneyland of all places we’d meet an alumni friend?!

I’m going to really let the pictures do most of the talking at this point with minimal commentary…

At lunchtime we went into one of the many restaurants in the park.  Disney has gained a reputation for being friendly toward a certain segment of the population (let’s leave it there).  A rather large and rather effeminate man behind the counter took our order and in a sassy voice instructed my wife: “What else, Princess?”  Stunned, I turned to Karla and asked “Did he just call you ‘Princess’?”  Before I could say anything else he shot back: “She has to be a princess because I’m the queen.”  So matter-of-fact.  I love all human beings, truly I do.  Sometimes we vehemently disagree but I love my fellow man.  It’s part of why I am a successful teacher.  I make a connection.  Knowing that a “teaching moment” was not going to work in this instance I did the only logical thing.  I slipped into absurdist humor mode.  I proceeded to ask Karla what her “princess name” would be.  In fact I had one in mind.  It was pretty dirty.  I cannot repeat it here and probably should not have said it there.  But boy was it funny.  It was so funny, in fact, that the Queen shook from laughter for a good ten minutes.  He had to close his station down temporarily.  After gathering our trays of food I returned to him, patted him on the shoulder, and said “And you know that’s the best laugh you’ll have all day, my friend.”  He agreed and thanked me.

Therese Peters had secured some VIP tickets for us to see a Broadway-style rendition of Frozen at the theater in the park.  As a father of a young daughter in 2016 America I am more than intimately familiar with the storyline, characters, and 33insipid songs of this show.  I even like to joke around with Rita about it by constantly calling the one sister “Anna” with my usual Jersey accent like this – come to think of it I can’t exactly figure out how to phonetically indicate a “Jersey short a”.  That’s probably because it’s so awesome.  Check this out instead.

Not to mention that I even downloaded sheet music for Let it Go and learned it for my sweetheart at the piano, thus desecrating my beautiful instrument with such profanity.  Truth be told the music isn’t that bad considering it relies on the same four basic chords.  But I digress.

Let’s talk about the boy for a minute.  He’s a Star Wars nut.  A few years back Disney acquired the properties from George Lucas.  I don’t know how much money changed hands although Benedict could tell you.  The point is that the section of the park previously known as “Tomorrowland” has been reworked as a tribute to all things Star Wars.  Space Mountain, the indoor coaster I had ridden as a kid but wouldn’t go near as an adult, is now “Hyperspace” Mountain.  Ben rode it twice.  The second time he rode came after he twisted his ankle, thus meriting him a wheelchair rental from his grandmother.  That wheelchair, for what it’s worth, also got him to the front of every line for the rest of the night.  Before the unfortunate ankle-twisting he did have a chance to engage in a little Jedi training.  Take a look.

And Daddy’s an old softee…  Not wanting to give a dime of my money (which would leave me with a nickel and two Canadian pennies) I really didn’t want to buy any souvenirs at the park.  Here’s the thing… There have been few times in my life as a father when I’ve seen my kids this happy.  To top it off, they were truly well-behaved all day despite the 12 miles of walking and the unusually warm California weather.  On our way out of the park at midnight I carried my little girl, assisted my limping little boy, and clutched a Chewbacca mug, a Frozen princess hat, and an assortment of other things that may very well end up under the sofa in my living room next month.  I couldn’t resist.  I also bought a BB-8 drink sipper to send to my sister Bridget since she has some unnatural love interest in this particular droid.  You win this time, Disney.

All in all, a very good time was had by all and I could happily cart my family the mile back to our hotel where the children easily drifted off to the land of slumber.  “Let them sleep as long as they like in the morning,” we both said to each other.  Not much on the agenda until Sunday and our event in Burbank.  Stay tuned.

*Times Square, heart of my beloved Manhattan, was once home to streetwalkers, derilects, and mental patients.  There was a quaint charm to the whole scene.  In 1994 Disney opened the newly-purchased New Amsterdam theater with a stage production of The Lion King.  This was the beginning of the end of the New York I knew.

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