Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stumbling Down Memory Lane

As I get older, I remember things that didn’t happen and forget things that did. We all do this; we suffuse past relationships with a golden glow right up until the point we discover an old flame has turned into a fire-breathing dragon.

This entry was supposed to be a rant about Disneyland, about how either it’s changed or I have. The last few times I’ve gone through the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean, I can’t even distinguish the words the spirits and the pirates are singing. Are their tape recordings deteriorating or is my hearing (or both)? The last time I was there with a friend of mine, an Anaheim resident who is also a Disneyphile, she pointed to some scuffed paint on a railing and whispered to me, “Walt never would have allowed this.”

But then my thoughts took an unexpected turn like a re-routed Matterhorn bobsled. If I wasn’t enjoying Disneyland now, when had I enjoyed it? What were my fond memories of it? Was I remembering things that didn’t happen?

In a word, yes. My first trip to Disneyland — of which I have no memory — came when I was two, not long after the park opened. My mother told me I slept in the drawer of a bureau in their room at the Disneyland Hotel. Somewhere there are 8mm home movies of my being tormented to tears in my stroller by an organ grinder’s monkey (though this could have been at Knott’s Berry Farm).

I have no recollection of any other trips until I was 15. I was delighted when my parents agreed to a family trip there, until I learned the reason why: they were only trying to atone for the time a few years earlier when they’d asked my grandmother to baby-sit me while she was, unbeknownst to all, entering the early stages of senility.

It was on that trip, I remember, being supremely embarrassed with General Electric’s Carousel of Progress (where Innoventions is now). Thanks to its sponsor, the Carousel of Progress took you through decades of advancement in kitchen appliances and other labor-saving facets of daily life. I was mortified when I saw that the kitchen of the 1940s had the exact same appliances as the ones we had at home (this was during the Nixon administration, so it was long past the 1940s).

Two years later, I was heady with anticipation of attending Grad Nite at Disneyland. Rick Nelson was the lead musical act; the backup act was Linda Ronstadt, before her first hit solo record. Alas, my girlfriend broke up with me two weeks before graduation; when I entered the park with four other friends, two went in one direction and the other two went in another. I wandered through the park for four hours before I found someone from my class. The park kicked us out at 5 a.m., but because of some bizarre union rule, our bus drivers couldn’t leave until they’d had eight hours rest. For two hours we huddled in the cool dawn air, the parking lot empty of all buses except ours, and watched the sun come up.

As I thought about these Disneyland memories, though, I realized based on the law of averages that it couldn’t have all been bad. I remembered the time that I once ditched a whopping failure of a conference at the Anaheim Convention Center and walked over to the park. If you want to get good service at Disneyland, walk in wearing a coat and tie; everyone will think you’re a Disney exec checking out their efficiency.

There was a drizzly February day I went there with my wife. What perfect weather for Disneyland — there were hardly any lines, and you could walk off a ride and get on it again immediately. Strangely, the only ride that had a line was Storybook Land, which involves open-air boats and, that day, getting wet. I’ve never quite figured that one out. The only drawback was that when we finished hitting every ride in mid-afternoon, I was ready to start over again and she was ready to go back to the hotel and nap.

I suppose that even with the memories, good and bad, I have never lost my inner child’s wonder at the idea of Disneyland, a place where magic and happy are built into the trademarks. I still think about going to Disneyland. I still think I’m going to have a good time. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so I’ll just have to admit that I’m crazy about the place.


  1. I think you have to go more often. I am telling you, it is still the happiest place on earth. But take a few days, so you don't have to try to get it all in at once. The best thing to do is to go there with a true Disneyland fan, they will know the tricks to getting around.

  2. You had me at, "they’d asked my grandmother to baby-sit me while she was, unbeknownst to all, entering the early stages of senility."

    Great line. Great post. Nice memories, even the ones that aren't.

    Thanks for the Bob Hope moment.


  3. I loved Disneyland as a kid. Great memories. My ex-wife and I honeymooned in Disneyland. But later, we didn't take the kids, because of the crowds and heat and expense. I only got around to taking the kids about a year after the divorce. It was hot, crowded, their mom wasn't there. A lot of the pictures featured one or more unhappy face out of the three. We spent a lot of afternoon time at the hotel pool. I don't suppose my kids will love the memory of Disneyland. I think maybe my wife and I should have taken them when they were younger, before the divorce, so that part of the magic of Disneyland would have been that their parents were still together then.