Sup everybody, and happy holiday madness (whatever your particular flavor of that may be).
I’m 28, and I tend to be behind the curve on a lot of things. I haven’t had chicken pox yet, I watched Avengers: Endgame years after it came out, and I finally went to Disneyland for the first time a couple of weeks ago.
My fiance’s parents gifted us tickets because Mandy had been wanting to make the trip materialize for years, knowing I hadn’t been yet and wanting to be the one to take me. Add to that a couple more years of frustration and patience what with the world shutting down recently, and we finally made it happen (safe as can be) last month.
I won’t lie: I was worried. Worried that I’d heard almost three decades of hype around the “Happiest Place on Earth” and that there was no way in heck a place could live up to all the stories and expectations. I was worried we’d go, and I’d be a jaded, grumpy old cuss who was too adult for the whole place. And with how excited she was to take me, show me, and see my reaction, there was a lot of emotional investment that hinged on that reaction – and I’m no good at faking that stuff, I’ve tried.
So, along with all the fun, it was also a gigantic f***ing relief when it turns out that Disneyland is awesome. And when I say “awesome,” I mean super, incredibly f***ing awesome.
Y’all, for three days, I was a kid. At first I felt the enchantment doing its work, could see the design to the park and the reality of where I was, but that eventually all melded into the background behind the music, the characters, the food, the smiles, charms, rides, and everything else.
Y’all…Goofy waved at me. Me!! Mickey’s own buddy Goofy waved at me, and I got to take a photo with Flynn Rider while he hit us with the smolder and tried to talk smack about Maximus – the greatest horse in the Disney universe. (And you can check your arguments at the door. He’s a horse that upholds the law and friggin’ swordfights. He’s a horse that buckles effin’ swashes. #swashbucklinghorse)
But beyond the glitz and glamour of the theme park, there were a few moments that we experienced that I legitimately cannot figure any other way beyond some level of actual – and I raged against the term at first, thinking it too overused – magical influence. And I have an argument for why I think that is in a minute, so you’ll see what I mean. (If you’re boring or short on time, feel free to skip past the numbers to the juicy bit at the end. #smoothbrain #busybee)
First, I present the evidence…
- Uncanny Luck with Reservations
There’s a restaurant at Disneyland called the Blue Bayou. If, like me, you hadn’t heard of it, it’s essentially a large cafe inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride where you sit under dim lighting, eat overpriced stuff, and can vaguely see park goers on the ride in the quiet background. Something also associated with the Bayou is how impossible it is to get in. Mandy tried six, eight months out from our trip to get seats and they were all booked up.
Now, put a pin in that.
There’s also a new ride at the Star Wars Land section of the park called Rise of the Resistance, and when I told people about our trip coming up, everyone and their DOG was telling us how we need to try and get it, and to try really hard because it’s next to impossible to do. At the time we went, you had to reserve your space online using the app, and check-in times were at 7:00am and 12:00pm, so you had two chances each day. The first time we tried, we hit ‘Reserve’ right at 7:00 and were told it was booked up, having filled up in microseconds.
Back to that pin.
We exit the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, pleasantly sighing at the fun we’d had, when Mandy sees the Blue Bayou hostess standing at her podium. She basically figures “What the heck?” and approaches, asking if there’s space available. The hostess mentions at first that they were, at present, booked out for the next two months. Just as we’re beginning to say our “We understand” and turn to leave, she does a quick scan of her seating chart, does one of those surprised frowns, and says that if we have time right that minute, there was actually an open table for two.
We stand there blinking for a moment before we say, “Um, heck yes, why not?” She tells us to stay close by and they’ll call us up in a moment or two. That’s when we check the time and see it’s 11:57, and we need to start smashing that refresh button on the Disney App for the Resistance ride. It’s 11:59 and the hostess calls us up, and we hold up a polite finger with the “Wait oooone second” while we pray to whatever god will listen for a spot in line. The clock ticks over to 12:00…
…and we made it, just at the end of the queue behind a couple thousand other people.
Within the span of a couple minutes, we nailed two rumored-to-be impossible reservations. Disneyland just started serving alcohol in limited amounts to adults, so you bet your tookus that we celebrated with a couple of exorbitantly expensive cocktails and a dessert. It felt like the most baller move to pull, was my thinking. If we were there on a months-long reservation, you can be sure I’m not getting out of there for less than a filet mignon and a lobster tail. But with some spontaneous serendipity like that, I’m there to get sweet, get krunk, and get out.
- The Missing Pin
That weekend was also when I learned of the crazy pin culture that surrounds Disneyland. You can buy them, obviously, but you can aparently also trade them with either park attendants or fellow park goers. Folks will set up “shop” out in front of storefronts with BINDERS full of specialty pins they’re collecting or trading. I like pins, but these mofo’s LOVE pins.
Mandy has a couple of Disney pins from previous trips she went on as a kid, and one of the days while I was in the restroom she traded up with a couple and surprised me with a Maximus pin I put on my hat. Besides that, she has her core two or three she wouldn’t give up for the world and one she likes but planned on trading for a special one she was on the hunt for (we’ll get to that).
We were all set with our pins – me with Maximus and her with her traders – as we were getting in line for the Star Tours ride. If you’re unfamiliar like I was, it’s basically a next level POV Star Wars movie where your seats lean and jounce around to make you feel the gravity of the starship movie you’re watching. We’re about to walk into the “theater” when she sighs, says “Oh, no…” and explains that her trading pin had come loose and fallen on the ground somewhere, now lost.
Maybe it was the childlike joy and innocence I’d been marinated in for the last two days, but that missing pin left me heartbroken for her. It wasn’t just the missing property, exactly, but also the fact that the pin was a stand-in for the one she’d meant to trade it for, however easily it could be replaced. Explain it however you want, we were bummed.
Which is what made it all the more impactful when, after the ride was through, she pulls on my sleeve going, “Evan, holy crap. Look.” The pin had somehow fallen off of the strap of her bag by her shoulder, fallen a couple of feet, and been caught by the swinging pocket of the sweater she had tied around her waist.
I don’t know enough about statistics to give you any numbers not out of my butt that can express how unlikely of a catch that was, and I also won’t be shaken out of my belief that it took the ghost of Walt Disney himself to make it.
- The Only Way to Watch Fireworks From Now On
So, once we got off the Rise of the Resistance ride, Mandy and I each found a rock out of the flow of traffic to sit on and we just stared at the sidewalk with thousand-yard stares. It was THAT good. One of the first things I did once we came back into ourselves was text my aunt and thank her for the advice and the push to try and get on the ride because of how worth it it was. She gets back to me with some congratulations and some follow-up advice to try the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster if we hadn’t already. We hadn’t yet, so we make it our next stop.
It’s well past sundown by this point, and on the way to Big Thunder Mountain, we notice foot traffic and lines for rides are getting pretty thin, and quickly realize that it’s because the park is gearing up for its nightly fireworks display. Mandy pauses us to ask the obvious question: Do we pause what we’re doing to try and find a good spot to watch them from? And we pretty much conclude together, “Nah, they’re cool, but seen one fireworks show, you’ve sort of seen them all,” and keep making our way to the rollercoaster.
We were right, and it paid off. The line for Big Thunder Mountain moved pretty darn quickly and we were at the front in no time. Big Thunder Mountain is probably best described as the “least themed” of the rollercoasters in the park. Matterhorn has the bobsled and Yeti, Space Mountain has the total darkness, trippy warp-lighting thing. BTM is basically just fast and loud. That said, it’s a really smooth ride, and a lot of fun. We had a great moment to appreciate how fun it was while it slow-climbed up the second big ramp for the exterior drop, and I heard some distant, low, “Thuum, thuum-thuum, thuum.”
We had just enough time to wonder what the heck it was when, in the sky directly in front of us right as we’re about to crest the peak for the big drop, fireworks exPLODE into an eruption of color and sound.
Y’all, if you ever have the chance to catch a fireworks show directly beneath it from the back of a rushing rollercoaster, you have to give that sh** a try.
But again, what was uncanny was the timing of it. A second or two in either direction and the moment isn’t the same. If we hadn’t been smack-talking the “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all” fireworks just half an hour before, it wouldn’t have been the same. It couldn’t have been PLANNED better.
- The Theme Park Read My Mind
Bear in mind for a moment, that up until now, all these events (including this one) have all taken place in the same day. We were there for a grand total of three days, the first to be spent in Grand California Adventure and the next two in Disneyland proper. Grand California Adventure was awesome, no doubt, but I can see why it’s popularly held that it doesn’t compare to the mainland itself.
So we’ve had our first day of fun, toured most of the park, eaten the food, seen the storied attractions, ridden some crazy sh**, and now we’re on our way out around 11:00pm taking the moment to slowly walk by the storefronts we’ll be perusing more thoroughly during our last day tomorrow.
I have no idea what hits me, but while walking down that main thoroughfare on the way out, I pause in the middle of the road. Our year has been pretty rough and stressful with some real adult stuff – housing stuff, financial stuff, health stuff, job stuff, the works – and I’ve got the thinning hairline to show it. These couple of days to completely and utterly forget all that, to give ourselves over to enchantment and just enjoy it and each other’s company were…(damn, I hate to say it at risk of overuse)…magical.
So I stopped. I took a minute to breath in the incredible relief and monumental power stored there. I turned around to look at the statue of Walt Disney holding Mickey’s hand, with the famed Disney castle aglow in the background, wondering and hoping at what kind of man Walt himself was and if he knew what the place would become. I turned back to look up at the gigantic Christmas tree in the main roundabout – oh, yeah, the whole place was done up for Christmas, shoulda mentioned that – and just felt…goddamned grateful.
Suddenly, chuum! The surrounding lights all glare a crisp, robin’s egg blue, and a voice comes over the PA saying something to the effect of, “Hey everyone. The world has its up’s and down’s, but we here at Disney try to make your time here just a little bit magical and do some good, and we hope we’ve done that for you. Happy Yule Time, everybody.”
And fucking snow machines start filling the air with fresh, wintry little bubbles.
I swear to God, it’s like someone at Disneyland Command Center saw me on one of the cameras and called it in.
“*static* Ma’am, we have a first-timer with a case of Inspiration. Permission to engage Protocol Yuletide Magic?”
“Permission granted, Imagineer. You are free to engage. I repeat, you are free to engage.”
When Disney eventually builds its own private military corporation to topple world leaders and fully take over the planet, I’m first in line for citizenship. Sign me up.
- Last Little Bit of Impossible
Our second day in Disney proper was, like I mentioned, mostly just a second sweep. Re-doing the things we enjoyed our first time around, and making sure to go over anything we missed. This entire time, however, Mandy’s been looking for a particular pin to trade hers for: the grape soda badge that Ellie gives to Carl when they meet as kids in the movie ‘Up.’
At this point, it’s about 11:30pm on Sunday. It’s been three days of a lot of walking, and I have a long drive ahead of me in the morning, so as we do our final sweep through the stores on our way out, I excuse myself to sit on one of the benches in the roundabout while she finishes up her own shopping. After a while, I’m about to call her when she walks up to me with a bag on her arm, hands behind her back, and tears brewing in her eyes.
In the last minutes of our last day in the park, she found the last two grape soda pins in the last store on our way out.
(And yes, I know this post started with me censoring cuss words and has now devolved into dropping hard F’s. I even kept my language squeaky clean while in the park on our trip out of respect for the park [and yeah, the kids too, I guess]. Otherwise it just felt like I was littering the air with my profanity. But here, it’s the only thing I can think of to bring proper emphasis to how magical that shit was.)
As she tells it, she was on her way out of the store when someone passed her holding the pin to put it back on the rack because they didn’t want it. She explained that, actually, if they were going to put it back, she’d been looking for that exact one for days and would love to take it from her. That was then overheard by the store’s clerk, who mentioned they had precisely one more behind the counter if she could use two to match with someone. The rest is history.
So, yeah, thus concludes the highlights of that trip, even if this can’t possibly encapsulate the whole experience, all of the incredible little moments that comprised the whole. Now, the important bit, the angle I think all of those paragraphs justify and why that hallowed ground might legitimately be magical.
You know the reverence we give to haunted houses? Or the sites of massacres and terrible tragedies? There’s always the talk of the ways in which all of that negative energy, after enough of it with enough time to soak into the walls or the ground, can be felt as a palpable psychic presence.
At the end of the day, good and evil are just perspectives. Light and dark are just states. Positive and negative are just directions. If something is true of one, it’s reciprocally true for the other. If enough death, sadness, fury, and negativity can soak a ground so that it’s haunted and give one the heeby-jeebies, why can’t the reverse be true? The millions of people that have walked those square miles of park over the years, brimming with joy, imagination, love, innocent wonder, and all the rest…couldn’t…couldn’t that create a kind of positive haunt which lends itself to more positivity in the way a negative haunt spins further bad juju?
Now, obviously, I don’t have a conclusive answer beyond the weight of the rhetorical question, but I think it stands to reason, to some degree. Obviously, how you feel about the original premise surrounding lasting energy soaks will affect how you think of the theory it leads to, but it seems worthy of mild consideration.
Whatever the result, I’m just glad to have formed insanely happy memories that will be lifelong. Or at least until I have children of my own, try and take them, and have the memories re-shaded with how much I hate how expensive it all is. But such is life.