A few years ago while on a road trip to a friend’s wedding, I happened to pass through one of my many formers towns of residence, Virginia Beach, VA. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to drive by my family’s old house. I had fond memories of that house on Wivenhoe Way. I remembered it to be a grand, luxurious two-story home, located on a sprawling, beautifully manicured lot. It’s amazing what 18 years can do to a memory, as the house that was a palatial estate in my mind, turned out in actuality to be just an ordinary home, in an ordinary neighborhood, on an ordinary piece of land. My reaction to seeing it for the first time in nearly two decades was a resounding, “That’s IT??” After the disappointment of going back to the old neighborhood, one would have thought I’d have learned a lesson. A lesson that specifically says: “You can’t go back. Don’t even try! It’s never the same!!” But alas…I did not heed the warnings, and recently set off on another ill-fated trip down memory lane.
My younger sister decided to spend her spring break visiting me in Los Angeles. Finding fun activities for a college student who has not quite reached the legal drinking age is not the easiest task, but I managed to find an all-ages Jason Mraz show that turned out to be amazing (as usual), and figured that she’d spend the rest of her time lounging at the beach. I was surprised when she suggested a trip to Disneyland, but became excited at the prospect of revisiting a place that, as a child, I considered to be the most wonderful place in all the land. I was enchanted by Disneyland when I was young, and since my father was stationed in Southern California several times during his military career, had many-an-opportunity to walk the streets where Mickey Mouse himself had walked. I loved Disneyland SO much in fact, that I actually collected autographs from all the Disney characters and kept them in a big pink Disneyland scrapbook. As I looked back with fondness on my former adoration for all that was Disney, I began to actually look forward to reliving the experience. The night before our Magic Kingdome adventure, I went to sleep with images in my head of thrilling rides on the Matterhorn and Thunder Mountain, of me snapping silly pictures with Mickey and Donald, and of my sister and me strolling around the bustling streets in the faux French Quarter.
Unfortunately as I stood in the middle of “Main Street USA” at the front of the park the next morning, my reaction to Disneyland was identical to that of my reaction when setting eyes on my former home. “This is IT??” My sister and I asked, practically in unison. I was shocked and dismayed at the sight that lay before us. It was as if someone had taken the Disneyland of my childhood, thrown it in a really hot dryer, and shrunk it down to about half the size that I remembered it to be. True, when I last visited the Magic Kingdom I was half the size that I am now, but this was ridiculous. The Matterhorn and Thunder Mountain seemed so tiny that I’m pretty sure I could have easily climbed to the peak in my flip flops and still not have been out of breath. The Tea Cup ride that I thought was so intimidating when I was young made the Tilt-O-Whirl at Coney Island look like a state-of-the-art modern marvel. The fact that everything was so tiny was bad enough, but just as I began to get over the park’s diminished size, I began to notice other problems, and it started to make me sad. The entire park looked a bit worse for wear. The once-brightly colored plastic mushrooms found sprouting up all over the park were cracked and faded, the rides were creaky and incredibly out dated, and several of the automated characters on the It’s a Small World ride were broken down and appeared lifeless amongst their wriggling, dancing, mechanized counterparts. Even the live Disney characters that once walked around the park hugging children and jovially waving at passersby seemed to be tired and old. In fact, they didn’t even walk around anymore, and instead parked themselves in little viewing stations where kids have to stand in line to pose for a picture. I wasn’t even able to catch a mere glimpse of Mickey because the crowd around him was so large. To top it all off, the once-gleaming Magic Castle that was a focal point in the park, now looked like a dilapidated old building, and was in dire need of a remodel. As a matter of fact, the whole park looked as if it could use a fresh coat of paint.
Despite all the park’s problems, Disneyland seemed to still be doing a bustling business. In fact, business was SO good on a random Tuesday in March, that my sadness surrounding what I saw as the demise of my beloved Magic Kingdom, quickly turned to severe annoyance. By noon, the crowds had swelled to an unreasonable number, a fact made worse since 99% of said crowds were made up of parents and their obnoxious, whining little children. The sight of them inspired me to develop a new ad campaign for Trojan Condoms that involved a picture of four screaming children wearing Mickey Mouse ears, the caption simply reading “Reason enough.” The crowd got so bad as the day progressed that I went so far as to abandon several lines because I just couldn’t see the sense in waiting three f*&king hours for anything, let alone a creaky, old, boring-ass ride. Worst of all, the lines to purchase food were actually longer than some of the lines for rides. When a small child wiped his ice cream cone on me as I was about to purchase a $5 pickle from a pickle stand in Frontierland (the pickle stand being the only food that didn’t require a 2 hour wait), I realized that it was probably time for me to leave the park before I did something that would get me forcibly removed from the Magic Kingdom.
So, after mere four hours of Disneyland fun under our belts, we left the park. I think, I hope, I pray, that I have finally learned my lesson. I vow from this point forward to cut out my visits to old houses, and places that I remember fondly from my youth. I plan to keep my childhood memories intact rather than try to recreate them and ruin them forever. Lord knows I'll never be able to think of the Disneyland the same way again. There is absolutely no way I’ll ever be able to get the image out of my head of that broken-down robot child from the It’s a Small World ride, jerking and shaking as if it was having a epileptic seizure. Gives me chills to even think about it.