Day One: In Which We Pay For a Three-Room Suite, But Someone Sleeps In the Bathroom Anyway
I did my part for the economy last weekend. I took my family on a three-day trip to Disneyland. Not only did we spend a hideous amount on a hotel, tickets, mostly bad food, and souvenirs, but I think the experience will result in the employment of mental-health professionals, psychotropic pharmaceutical manufacturers, and distillers for the next half-century or so.
Of course, Katrina maintained that the trip was very cheap, in that we didn’t have to pay for adult tickets because we had four passes to the parks to cover us, and Abby was free, and thus we only had to pay for Evan each day ($42). I found this unpersuasive. First of all, $42 to enter a park is not cheap. I am rapidly becoming like my father, whose notions of what things cost ossified in 1958 and who spent the entire 1980s in a state of profound and vocal irritation at how overpriced everything was. $42 outrages me. If I had been forced to pay for adult-cost tickets, which are something like $49, I probably would have spoiled everybody’s weekend by shouting at some hapless mouse-eared employee. I think it morally wrong to pay that much unless Minnie Mouse is going to give me a lapdance or something.
The other reason I found Katrina’s this-is-a-cheap-trip logic unpersuasive is that we HAD paid for the four passes. We paid for them when we bought them at the church’s Parent Education car rally last year as part of a Disney blowout basket. Thus they were “cheap” in the sense that we would not have to pay for them again; cheap in the same way that going to a store and buying shoes because they are 25% off that day is Saving Money. This is what husbands refer to, out of earshot and punching range, as Wife Math.
But I digress. The point, and I have one, is a trip to an amusement park. You know, until recently, going to an amusement park evoked a feeling of peace for me. The sculpted pathways, the slightly chlorinated smell of the water rides, the little bump as your cart or boat catches the rail – these all made me think of growing up and going to Magic Mountain or Disneyland with my friends during the summer. I’d bug my parents into dropping a bunch of us off at Magic Mountain at least a few times between June and August, and we’d run free and gorge ourselves with rides and primitive video games and junk food, emerging at the end of the day bloated with soda, sunburned, lungs aching from running and laughing in the summer smog. We knew that our parents would pick us up at the end of the day, we knew that school was out, and we knew that a summer with no responsibilities to speak of stretched before us. A day at the amusement park was a day of hedonistic glee untouched by any worry.
Now that I have taken a four- and two-year-old to Disneyland, I can safely say that feeling has been obliterated.
We embarked last Thursday and checked into our clean but nondescript hotel. We got a suite, on the theory that putting the kids in their own room would lead to peaceful sleep for everybody. Sure, Abby and Evan would be sleeping in one room for the first time, but that would work out fine, right? (Elapsed time after lights-out until we reassembled Abby’s Pack-and-Play in the bathroom and let her sleep in there – 45 minutes. Number of times per minute that Abby can say “Evan! Evan! Evan!” while in the dark in the same room with Evan – approximately 90).
Thursday evening we headed over to Downtown Disney, an shopaholic’s brothel of such breathtakingly meretricious commercialism that it makes the rest of the Mouse’s empire look Amish. We elected to take the kids to the Rainforest Café for dinner. Thus began the three-day process of relentlessly scaring the shit out of them. Rainforest Café has fake thunderstorms complete with dimmed lights, flashes, and rock-concert-level thundering noises. Abby no like. Evan took that part in stride, but encountered a large, loud, and rather pushy animatronic ape on the way to the bathroom with me and tried to climb up me like a cat up the drapes. The Café served Killian’s Red, so I made it through OK. In good family tradition, we treated the kids’ fears with food — they got huge Icee-type drinks in novelty cups. Note to parents – as we discovered a day later, the syrup they use in those Icee-drinks is to a two-year-old’s digestive system what napalm is to foliage. Pack extra wipes, and expect colors not seen in nature.
After dinner, we wandered and people-watched for a while. One of the stores aimed at ‘tween girls was running some sort of “rock star” special where they would take your girl, dump glitter in her hair, sweep the hair up into an improbable sculpture, tart up her face with cheap makeup, and attach one of those Time-Life-operator/bubblegum rock-singer headphone/microphone things to her head. Hordes of the girls were running about looking like midget hookers moonlighting as telemarketers. I hate teen culture.
But the kids were enthralled by the whole Downtown Disney experience, drinking in the sights and sounds and lights. We took them into one of the many Disney stores to buy them a Mickey and a Minnie doll. At least that was what they had been asking for. Once we got to the stuffed animal section, of course, they expressed disdain for Mickey and Minnie and anything else we could suggest. After a lengthy selection process only slightly less rigorous than recently employed by the College of Cardinals, they wound up with Mickey and Minnie after all, which now join their pantheon of essential bedmates, along with blankets and elephants and what ever else catches their fancy on a particular day.
We returned to the room, fought with them for an hour to get them to sleep, confined Abby to the second bathroom, and finally had peace. And what do a busy husband and wife, away on their first vacation in months, kids asleep in a separate room, do in a comfy hotel? Well, naturally, Katrina read until she fell asleep and I watched four episodes of the first season of 24 on our portable DVD. People with kids will understand.
Tomorrow, day two of the Disney experience, where our toddlers encounter break-dancing Frenchman, politically correct pirates, various forms of Disney-sponsored terror, and tattoos. Also, very fuzzy pictures from my Treo 650.
II. Day Two: In Which 75% Of Things Are TerrifyingLast Friday dawned early, with Evan arising at 6, determining that Abby was still asleep, waking her, then waking us to inform us that she was awake. We grabbed the hotel’s free breakfast, mediated a few fruit-loop-related border disputes, and readied for a Day at Disneyland. We were taking the hotel shuttle bus, which sounded like a swell idea until we realized, upon boarding, that our double stroller is not designed for buses or doors or aisles or spaces between seats. I spent the ride to the park standing at the front hunched over the thing with the driver glaring at me.
Our first line of the day was at the bag-check pavilion tent, thoughtfully erected to shade the weary Disney employees searching bags for … something, I’m not sure what. They sure didn’t search very thoroughly. What could they have been looking for? Bombs? Would they recognize one if they saw it? Alcohol? How could they tell what was in our water bottles? Guns? What would the unarmed Disney employee, an unthreatening woman who didn’t even seem to have a radio or cell phone, do if she pulled an Uzi out of our diaper bag? Maybe they were looking for unlicensed Pooh merchandise.
After that line, I waited in another to give up my pound of flesh to pay for Evan’s ticket. Then we waited in another line to get in the park, after which our spirits lifted for a while. The excitement once you walk into the entry plaza is really infectious, and makes me feel like a little kid again, at least for a minute. We stopped to see Mickey, wearing Sorcerer’s Apprentice garb, while Katrina bought a hat. There was a long line to be photographed with Mickey, and I considered entering it, but Evan and Abby voiced a strong preference to maintain a respectful distance from Mickey or any other six-foot anthropomorphic rodent we might meet.
After Katrina secured a hat (which said, by some strange twist of fate, “Princess”), we were off to Tomorrowland.
Tomorrowland went surprisingly well for the kids. The rocket ride had no line to speak of, and the kids loved it:
Next was the Buzz Lightyear adventure. One of our party thought this was really extremely cool. You sit in a two-person car and travel through this bright neon maze filled with images of Buzz and his friends and the evil Emperor Zurg and his minions. You can make the car spin with a joystick, and there are two laser guns on short lengths of cord that you shoot at little glowing triangles on various Zurg minions and vehicles. If you hit them with the laser beam – the little dot is visible, flitting across the neon decorations – you get points, which are reflected on your own score console on your own car! And you can twist around and keep shooting at high-scoring ones, and try for the difficult shots, and do trick shots across the room, and try for the high score or to score high enough to be a Galactic Commander! By the end, when we exited, I realized that I had about 22,000 points and Katrina had 200 and Evan had retreated into a blunted tell-me-about-the-Rabbits-George look of incomprehension and stimuli overload. Maybe that’s one for Daddy to do on his own next time.
We went on the Autotopia, little cars that go about 5 miles an hour on a surprisingly long and winding track. Abby rode with me and, despite the modest speed, bumpers, and guiderail, looked extremely concerned throughout. Evan steered the other car while Katrina (who was demonstrating, by various hand gestures and disparaging shouts, that she can back-seat-drive me even when we are in separate amusement vehicles which do not, technically, have back seats) handled the gas pedal. Evan, once again, had a blast.
After this, we went on a long series of the mini-train–Alice in Wonderland—Jungle Cruise — etc. kid rides that have now melted into a primary-colored blur in my memory. The kids were troopers, doing remarkably well in the lines.
..though periodically, and I suppose predictably, stone terrified by Disney characters, tunnels, dark places, loud noises, and flashy lights. But not, as their Daddy was, by food prices. Look, buddy, if you want $8.50 for that cheeseburger, it better be made out of one of the antelopes from Lion King, OK?
Through all these lines, I noticed a couple of things. First, Disney has some brilliant and inventive line engineers. They’ve figured ways to hide huge numbers of people in plain sight: you get in the line because it doesn’t look so bad, and the end of the line and start of the ride is just right over there, and then, whoops, you turn a corner and discover an entirely new stretch of line you didn’t see before, and it doubles back, but you’re about to reach an interesting landmark with ride-related paraphernalia and so you don’t mind so much and then bang, there’s an entirely new part of the line you didn’t see before. They pull it off so well that no one riots. I think they had a mind to, they could herd us all compliantly into veal pens using clever switchbacks and an occasional video screen.
Second, I discovered that we had apparently visited Disney on some sort of X-files-ish creepy couple day. Most people at the Happiest Place on Earth look, well, vaguely happy. Even the parents, if only because the kids are not, at that particular moment, inflicting injury on each other. But that day there seemed to be a remarkable array of couples – early middle aged, nondescript, drably dressed – going about the park with the sort of expression you normally associate with Soviet citizens in the toilet paper line. Really, if you’re about to get on the spinning teacups, and your expression suggests that you’re just taking a momentary break from the Bataan death march, is Disney the right vacation for you? Even on the rides, when others screamed and shouted and laughed and smiled, their mouths curled at best into sad little efforts at smiles, the sort of smile you feel obligated to muster because the IRS agent just told a sort of joke during your tax audit. I began to get paranoid that only I could see them, that they were shades whose Purgatory was Disneyland and I was having some sort of Sixth Sense moment or something. I see dysthymic people! I decided not to mention this theory to Katrina, who tends to take such opportunities to launch into completely irrelevant discussions of when I’m scheduled to have my medication adjusted.
They were the exception, though. One of the pleasures at Disneyland is people-watching. What a diverse assortment of body types, races, clothes, hairstyles, and tattoos! What angry, spiky summits of teen hair! What what-the-hell-are-you-thinking-wearing-that-bellyshirt parades! You can’t help but be proud of a nation where such a collection of utter but charming freaks are milling about in harmony vying for handshakes from giant chipmunks rather than instinctively engaging in road-warrior-style brawls.
Of course, not everyone at Disneyland is attractive, interesting, or whimsical. I’m pretty sure we ran across a white supremacist, in, ironically, Fantasyland. He had a sleeveless T-shirt, and had a big honkin’ iron cross tattoo on one bicep and what looked like “RaHoWa” in cursive script on the other one (don’t Google that, it’ll just depress you – just trust me). I had a powerful urge to walk over and tell him to make sure to take his family to see the new Ruby Ridge attraction. But it wasn’t a good day to die, so I refrained. Aside from the tats, he was pretty pathetic looking. Come to think of it, has anyone ever spotted a white supremacist whose appearance and speech didn’t refute white adequacy, let alone white supremacy? This guy looked like he would have to be Uplifted by the Progenitors before he could audition for the role of banjo-playing inbred kid in the Deliverance remake. And what the hell was he doing at Disneyland? Doesn’t Disneyland represent pretty much everything the white supremacists stand against? Multiculturalism, mixing with the mud races (ducks and whatever the hell Goofy is, for example), fairies? It’s the Zoggiest place on earth! Maybe he got lost. Or maybe his wife made him go.
Anyway, we eventually made it to my childhood favorite, It’s a Small Word. I used to make my parents take me on this thing over and over until the sound of the tune made them twitch and bark like the guy from Shine. I was worried that Abby and Evan might find it scary, but they loved it, and Evan sang it for the rest of the day. It was fun noting how Disney 1960s sensibilities had chosen to depict various cultures. Some got short shrift: even though there’s an entire room devoted to Easter Island and the kingdom of the mermaids, all of Canada is depicted by a single toothy Mountie with some sort of bird on his head.
Some probably wish they had gotten short shrift, particularly the British Isles. Scotland is portrayed with plaid hills, a plaid worn by some clan now lost to vision impairment and severe mood disorders. Ireland is depicted by violently green hills, a multitude of four-leaf clovers, and a huge and stunningly vulgar gold harp. I think the Irish should be happy that Disney couldn’t cram any more stereotypes into their corner so that we were spared the spectacle of little drunk cops beating each other with nightsticks.
Fun cultural attitudes were also in full bloom at my old favorite, Pirates of the Caribbean. This was another one we’ll be hearing about from the kids’ therapists in twenty years – they spent much of the time terrified. I was looking for signs of Disney’s much-publicized effort to make the ride more politically correct, but didn’t see much: pirates were still shooting instead of mediating their differences through the U.N., gold was still hoarded in great shiny heaps without any indication that 38% of it was being withheld so the federal government can build folk museums in the district of powerful Senators, and, to my surprise, prisoner women were still being auctioned off. Plus, the whole pirate ethos is pretty impervious to P.C., isn’t it? I mean you start off with this skull symbol and you can be pretty sure that you’re not in for a diversity seminar. I understand it isn’t clear whether the skull and crossbones originated with the pirates, suggesting they aimed to kill you if you didn’t hand over the loot, or originated as a warning against pirates, suggesting the navy would hang any they found. Either way, it doesn’t look like anything that the Yale English Department is going to silk-screen onto rally T-shirt any time soon. “Avast! Come ye to the progressive self-actualization ovular, matey, where the Aaaarrrrrr is for REHABILITATION!”
But I’m losing track again. Eventually, the kids started to crash. In a reckless experiment that made Hitler’s invasion of Russia look cautious, we decided to let them power through the day without naps unless they could sleep in the stroller. Evan eventually passed out. Abby, unfortunately, would not, and amused herself by pinching Evan. So we found a quiet place in a little-used lobby by the exit from Space Mountain, which was closed.
Yes, closed. Thankfully for me. I have to confess something: I was very happy that Space Mountain was closed because it freaks me the hell out. I love rollercoasters; the bigger the better. I used to go to Magic Mountain a couple of times a month all summer growing up and pig out on rollercoaster rides. I rode the Revolution — then innovative in sending the rollercoaster through a loop — when it opened. But I’m afraid of Space Mountain. It’s not the speed, which I love. It’s not the turns and the G-force or the drops, all of which I enjoy. It’s doing all of that IN THE DARK so you can’t SEE WHERE YOU ARE GOING. I’m gripped with the feeling that I’m about to smack my face on a girder and wind up looking like that body-of-the-week on the Six Feet Under episode where the woman stuck her head out of the limo sunroof and got brained by the traffic light. I will ride any other rollercoaster. But where pitch-black rollercoastering is involved, I am a big wussy. Ironically, Katrina hates all other rollercoasters EXCEPT for Space Mountain for the very reason that on Space Mountain she doesn’t have to see where she is going.
Anyway, we finally got Abby to fall asleep on a diaper changing pad on a bench, so both kids were down. That’s when we had a bit of ham-fisted political allegory so unsubtle that Bill O’Reilly would turn up his nose at it. Our quiet, out of the way space was invaded by a group of extremely noisy French twentysomething couples. They sat down, chattered loudly in French, and discovered that the benches were mirror-smooth and very slick. So two of them began break-dancing. No, really. Break dancing. Like it was 1982 or something. They spun, they twirled, they thrust legs and arms and fingers out, they hummed strangely to themselves. The rest clapped and hooted and cheered them on in French, except for two, who appeared to be dry-humping.
I sat there trying to figure out how I could turn this into an allegory for, say, the EU Constitution and realizing that it was too transcendent to write about when the noise woke up Abby, who formed an immediate and pronounced dislike for the French in general and break-dancing French young adults in particular. She has this thing now where when the presence of people annoys her, she waves her arm at them imperiously. Guards! Take them from my sight!
We left, and dragged the glassy-eyed kids through another array of rides. It’s all hazy now. I remember sailing into the mouth of a big whale and trying to calm down a highly agitated Evan by explaining that he shouldn’t see it as a direct Jonah allegory, appearances notwithstanding. I remember a train circling the entire park, packed with giggling middle-school band members on a trip, going through a tunnel that transitioned from a grand canyon vista to dinosaurs to some sort of Fat Tuesday thing with Disney characters. None offered me beads. Abby wailed at the dinosaurs. She’s not a fan of the Cretaceous period.
Finally, exhausted, we dragged ourselves back onto the hotel shuttle bus. The driver took pity on me and let me use the disabled wheelchair lift to manage the double stroller this time. We got back to our floor, and our room, and discovered the disadvantage of a modest hotel that has suites with kitchens: someone on our floor had cooked fish, and the entire place smelled like a tackle box. Fortunately we were too tired to care.
Next time, Day Three at California Adventure, or how shows designed by entertainment experts to terrify children do, in fact, terrify children.
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