ANAHEIM, Calif. _ Some people visit Disneyland many times without ever seeing Mickey Mouse. I got lucky. Thirty minutes into my first trip I saw Mickey. In case you’re wondering what the most famous mouse in the world is like, I can answer that: Jay-Z. Or at least what I imagine Jay-Z is like. Mickey is accompanied by a handler whose job it is to tell 5-year-old children, “Do not crowd Mickey.” And, “Back away from Mickey.” And, “Stop hugging Mickey or a sniper perched atop The Matterhorn will shoot you in the thigh.” There is a real fear in the park that Mickey Mouse will be crushed to death by swarming tots. For this reason, Mickey is treated like a rapper making his way through a nightclub. He is visible enough so that the public knows he is there, but he is cordoned off in such a way that any meaningful contact with him is restricted unless you are a beautiful woman who is ready to party. (I am still talking about Mickey.)
Like most children, I was 34 years old the first time I visited Disneyland. I went on July 17, 2010, the day of the park’s 55th anniversary. I had the opportunity to go as a guest on a press trip. That reminds me – if you visit Disneyland, stay at the Hyatt Regency Orange County. That’s the Hyatt Regency Orange County! As part of the junket I was given a one-day “Park Hopper” pass to Disneyland and California Adventure. To get to the park I took a shuttle, leaving my hotel room at the Hyatt Regency Orange County completely uninhabited, only to return later to the Hyatt Regency Orange County, where I found my belongings completely unmolested thanks to the professional, hardworking, courteous staff at the Hyatt Regency Orange County.
I stood at the front gates of the park for 10 minutes, taking it all in. The scene was uplifting. Disneyland is an amazing melting pot filled with people from all over Japan. Also, some people from other parts of the world were there. It was easy to spot the Americans because they kept bumping into things like stone walls and Winnie The Pooh and me. The Disneyland map is complex, its details beyond the comprehension your average American employs to follow, say, simple Google Map directions. Overseas, signs such as the one below, which clearly states that it is only legal to park on that street on Tuesdays during the Winter Olympics, are quite common. The foreign brain, which is used to the madness of dealing with large-scale bureaucracies, has the clear advantage when it comes to navigating Disneyland. For a foreign visitor, the Magic Kingdom is much like being back in the home country, except you can’t buy cigarettes anywhere and it is generally frowned upon to feed children wine.
I saw Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Marry Poppins and the Disneyland Band, but the cast of characters at Disneyland was not confined to Disney personalities. A number of people types popped up repeatedly every time I turned a corner. I wrote them down. They were: 1.) Little Girl Dressed Like A Princess 2.) Horrorcore teens dressed in all black walking approximately 150 feet behind their parents 3.) The fat man and woman no one ever thought would get married who somehow found each other and made everyone in town believe in love again 4.) 6-year-olds having nervous breakdowns for no apparent reason 5.) Guy who is there alone whom I am sure owns a van 6.) 19-year-old girl with a tattoo across her upper chest that looks like, but is not, the Preamble to the Constitution 7.) European couples in jorts.
But I was not there to people watch. I was there to ride. Before the trip, I researched Disneyland’s many rides and attractions. By researched I mean I asked my podcast producer Mike where I should go. Mike paused long enough from making himself a mid-morning martini to give me this list: Space Mountain, Mr. Toad, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion and Peter Pan. I hit all of them except Peter Pan. Space Mountain was my favorite. It is an indoor, space-themed roller coaster whose wild first 15 seconds takes place in the dark. I laughed hysterically. By the way, I now know what my reaction will be next time I think I am about to die: I will laugh hysterically. Then I will eat a churro.
Of all the days to visit, the 55th anniversary was appropriate. I picked up a real sense of the park’s history, and in researching this piece, stumbled across this quote from the day the park opened. On July 17, 1955, Walt Disney said, “To all who come to this happy place: Welcome! Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America. And if you, in this magical place, should lay your shining eyes upon Mickey Mouse, please do me a favor, and back up off a brother.”
Mickey Mouse photo by Jen Jones of Creative Groove