I was born in the shadow of the Matterhorn, the fake one, and for my entire childhood it was visible from the houses I lived in. There, just minutes from my room, sat the pinnacle of amusement, and with that kind of proximity its charm could do nothing but fade. Living in deepest Orange County was like living in a coal-mining district where, instead of the local workers coming home dusty from a day of digging, they came home tired from a day of flying to the moon or shooting hippos or piloting a sternwheeler along the Mississippi. I remember the lady two doors down from us would come home for lunch dressed like a saloon girl, all feathers and thigh. Disneyland is special to me. Even though it was familiar, it never became commonplace. Those were my stomping grounds, and I suppose most of the kids who grew up in that same shadow feel the same way.
So there wasn't much hesitation when Amy came home from school last Friday and said she wanted to go to the Magic Kingdom. It had been three years since our last visit there, when she was just four years old, so her memory of the place was foggy if it existed at all. Viv and I had been talking about going there for the last few months, knowing that the place would simply dazzle our daughter at this age.
So we went. Viv got home from work on Friday, we packed, called my parents, who still reside in the shadow, to tell them we were crashing at their place for the weekend, and hit the freeway about 8pm.
Amy was beside herself with anticipation. Kids just don't get happier than this. She was engaging, agreeable, enthusiastic, helpful, probably even thrifty and reverent and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
The next morning the three of us went out for breakfast then made our sacred pilgrimage to the mount.
The place is undergoing the largest changes in its history right now, so new construction is going on all over the place. Not only is the original parking lot all torn up, but many of the streets surrounding the park are also being improved and are now therefore marginally navigable. The saddest part about these changes has been the removal of the kitschy motel signs that surrounded the place. There were some stunning examples of googie art that are now gone. Space-Age architecture that symbolized a unique era has been dulled into civic compliance, and where I'd once imagined I'd gotten a whiff of rocket fuel now it just smells like money.
Some of that money bought new trams that took us from the parking lot to the main entrance, and once in, it was very much the same place I knew as a kid. Sleeping Beauty's Castle still stands like a mirage at the end of Main Street, though it seems smaller to me each time I visit.
Amy had some difficulty in the transition from the idea of Disneyland to the reality of it. In a kid's imagination it's all sparkles and laughter, but when you're standing at the foot of Splash Mountain and you see a logful of humans screaming as they plummet to what looks like certain death, it can give you pause. Amy did a lot of pausing, approaching a ride, or at least the idea of a ride, and then backing off.
With Halloween coming, Amy's been going ga-ga for spooky stuff. She's got our front porch dripping with ghosts and bats and spiders. We thought she'd be champing at the bit to get into the Haunted Mansion, but after we gave her what we thought was a rather tame description of what was inside she wanted nothing to do with it.
I feared we'd just spent a small fortune so that Amy could look around at the trees. Viv and I tried to find some middle ground between my wanting to just forge ahead and have us get on something, and Viv wanting to let Amy do whatever she felt like doing. It was a classic wrestling match between "Sink or Swim Man" vs. "The Overprotectress" and something had to give because the place closes at midnight. Then Viv asked Amy if she'd like to go on a train. Amy said yes. I figured Viv meant the steam train that goes around the whole park, but no. Viv meant Thunder Mountain.
I didn't open my mouth. But I was thinking "Okay. Fine, Viv. You just want to let Amy do what she wants, but now you're gonna sell her this "train ride" that's really a roller coaster? Okay. You deal with the consequences. You cut me off at the pass when I tried to coax Amy into the Haunted Mansion, well, just you wait until we get off this train ride to hell and then I'll give you such a neener neener neener you won't know what hit you." But I said nothing. I went along. That's me, Mr. Affable, Mr. "Give-Her-Enough-Rope".
We got in line for Thunder Mountain. Amy wasn't smiling, but she wasn't crying yet either. As we neared the boarding area we could see the trains coming in, but they were already slowed and gave no hint of the terror they were in the business of delivering. Back behind some of the fake mountains you could hear screaming, but Amy wasn't putting it all together yet.
It was our turn now. We got in the train, with Viv next to Amy and me in the seat behind them. The bars came down into our laps. Ka-choom, thunk, click click click click. We're going up. The track is steep. First we're in total darkness, and then we see eyes, little red eyes. There's wind and screaming and moans and steam and it's all loud and it's going to take years of therapy for Amy to resolve this syndrome she's about to receive from her mother. Click click click click thunk. And down we go, whipping to the right and down and up, there's a rattlesnake and dynamite and we're whipping left now and always the screaming, screaming from the other people in our train and now even Viv is screaming.
I was having a wonderful time.
And more whipping and screaming and snakes and falling rocks and more snapping turns until at last the train begins to slow and we pull back into the station and I lean in to see what remains of our once-happy daughter. There, clinging to her mother, is a seven-year-old girl with the biggest grin ever. Eyes like saucers.
"I want to go on it again." Amy says.
It was a breakthrough. I'm not going to speculate on what might have happened had I insisted on staying in line at the other attractions. I was simply happy to be at this new level, and I am saving my neener neeners for some other time, which, I'm sure will come. If I have anything to say about it.
So it was on to Splash Mountain after that, and Thunder Mountain again, and the Matterhorn, and Thunder Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Thunder Mountain.
We squeezed in a Jungle Cruise and The Adventures of Pinocchio, but they bored her, and if she had the vocabulary she would have turned her half-closed eyes to us and said, "Jejune."
But her favorite attraction of all, don't ask me why, was the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. Maybe it's because she has one in her own backyard and was awed by this definitive one, or maybe she just likes climbing. I don't know. But I do know that broken toes and tree houses don't get along, so her mom got to be the one who went up with her. Seven times.
At around 8:30pm Amy hit The Wall. We stayed to watch that Fantasmic thing they do out over the water by Tom Sawyer's Island because I'd never seen it, and okay now I've seen it. Once is enough.
It was on this visit more than any other that I noticed Disneyland gets bigger as the day wears on. My toe notwithstanding, if you're in New Orleans Square, a hop over to Fantasyland in the morning becomes a trek after dark, particularly if you've been traversing the entire Kingdom all day long. Viv believes there is a fortune to be made by roving masseuses there.
We dragged ourselves back to our own house the next day, and even though we went through the time change and gained an hour, Viv and I both feel like we've aged ten years. Tree houses and timewarps will do that.
* * * * *
It has taken two full days to recover from the weekend. I wanted to get into the darkroom yesterday, clean it up, I mean, because I've got so many rolls of film to develop and the weather is finally cool enough to spend long periods of time in there without sweating into the stop bath.
And with the garage cleaned out I can start to assemble my rudimentary photo studio. I've been looking forward to playing around again with light I can control. It's time to dive back into my notes from the Brooks Institute, I suppose.
"New Frontier" -- Donald Fagen -- THE NIGHTFLY
Wisdom of the Day:
"Bambi, the new Prince of the Forest, would teach them the ways of the world that he had learned himself a long, long time ago...the proud parents and their fawns were starting out on a new journey together. And life in the forest would never be the same again!"
- Disney's Bambi