The opinions of the opinionated. Let's take a look at food, cinema, fragrance, baby products, legal decisions, booze, cars, and whatever else catches our interest.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dear Julie

My friend Julie has a blog, too. She shares stories of her family moving from Washington to Southern California, and her kids' difficulties and triumphs in adjusting. I love her writing and her humor. A recent post was an unabashed love letter to Disneyland and how she loved introducing her kids to it. What started as a comment on her post became an email, and as it grew longer, a post on my own blog.

Dear Julie,

I really loved your post about Disneyland. I think it's funny that you and I never went there together, maybe some summer in college, because I've always felt the same way: Disneyland is important! When I was a kid in Tucson, we would go as a family every 2 or 3 years, and I remember it being such a big deal, almost like a holy pilgrimage. I think the my parents' attitude about it rubbed off on us, since they were both big fans, too. They'd taken long road trips as kids in the 50's to visit Disneyland when it was new, and they've been going ever since.

There were some things we all loved as a family, particular things my dad taught me to love. Though it's gone now, the Penny Arcade on Main St. had all those beautifully restored and maintained mechanical orchestras, arcade games, 3D photo viewers, nickelodeons, and the thing that shocked you when you grabbed the handles. Dad would give me a bunch of change and we'd walk around trying everything. He loved the mechanical orchestras, and I did too, and what a weird coincidence that I married a man who is crazy about them as well. Dad had one favorite area in Pirates with one drunk pirate mumbling to himself, and I love going back and seeing him still mumbling away. Mom took me on Storybook Land while Dad and Sandee rode the Matterhorn.

We rode Adventure Through Inner Space first. We always visited Pirates and the Haunted House twice each.

I must have been about twelve or thirteen, certainly old enough to handle disappointment, when a family trip to Disneyland had to be canceled. I remember walking casually away from the dinner table into the kitchen so nobody would see that I'd unexpectedly burst into tears. Dad noticed and I could see his surprise. I remember explaining to him that Disneyland meant so much to me, and that I was embarrassed to be crying, but I couldn't help it. He was taken aback, but I think he understood.

When my husband and I started our lives together, one weekday morning when we were both between jobs, I asked if he wanted to go to Disneyland for the day. Within hours we were walking down Main St. grinning like idiots. He called his mom and asked "Guess where I am?!" while I sang "Small World" loudly in the background. We've since been back probably a dozen times in eight years, together and with friends. When none of us was making much money, we discovered that splitting lunch making duties made for a great mid-afternoon break in the picnic area outside the park. Disneyland food has never been much good, so sitting down to Brooke's tuna salad, my homemade butterscotch cookies, cheese, crackers, fruit salad, chips and salsa is a great improvement on Tomorrowland's rubbery hamburgers.

I am a worrier and always have been. Even on vacation, stray thoughts of work sometimes keep me from losing myself in the moment. A vacation in Puerto Vallarta was less fun and less relaxing for me because another resort guest reminded me of a client with a very difficult upcoming trial. Every time we settled under a palapa on the beach, I would see my client's unintentional twin stroll by with an umbrella drink. My client was back in California in custody, but I felt like he came to Mexico with me. Kind of a downer.

I can lose myself in Disneyland, especially an uncrowded off-season weekday. (Hint: go in February on a Tuesday or Wednesday. No lines!) I still over-analyze everything, but I have fun thinking about how California Screamin' takes off so fast (magnetic induction) and how Walt's vision of a riverboat trip still feels complete when the Mark Twain comes back around the Tom Sawyer Jack Sparrow Pirate Huck Finn Johhny Depp Merchandising Island.

Criticisms abound about Disneyland and the unfocused and disappointing California Adventure park. Two websites in particular, the Reimagineering Blog and Mice Age are worth a read. Disney walks along fine lines between what should be restored or replaced, where money should be spent or saved, and how much merchandising the visitor can stand. The Disneyland of my past won't be the Disneyland my son will see. I'm disappointed that I'll never ride Adventure Through Inner Space again, and I think the addition of Disney cartoon characters to Small World is appalling. Tomorrowland is a confused mess, and the Paradise Pier area in California Adventure is barren and uninteresting.

Star Tours doesn't belong in a Disney property, based as it is on a story of a totalitarian state overthrown by violence -- how un-Disney can you get? Funny that Disney never licensed the Star Trek stories and chose Star Wars instead. Roddenberry's vision of the future was more in tune with Walt Disney's, less about epic space battles and more about how progress and open hearts and minds can shape our destinies.

But I love it. The castle still looks great, and some of the new stuff, notably Soarin' Over California, It's Tough To Be A Bug, and the gorgeous undersea-themed carousel are new favorites. It's great to ride the submarines again. The Honda Asimo robot show, tucked into the Innoventions building, reminds me of Walt's original idea for Tomorrowland and Epcot in Florida -- an optimistic glimpse at our future.

Though there's a little too much Pixar-themed merchandise for my taste, I gotta shout it: To Infinity and Beyond! Disneyland will always be a part of my life.

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