Californians have Disneyland in our DNA

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blank“That smell… it’s so nostalgic.”

I knew exactly what my daughter meant as we stepped into the cavernous “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disneyland, our traditional first stop. That damp, slightly musty scent whispered, “Welcome back to your childhood.”

Hers, mine… maybe yours. That is Disneyland’s appeal — it’s not merely a place, it’s a wormhole back to your own past. It’s joy.

My husband (who has never been to Disneyland and adheres to a strict, lofty-principled lifelong boycott of all things Disney because it’s corporate manipulation at its worst, but yet still owns an iPhone) questioned our choice of destinations. After all, my daughter’s 30, not 3. Why would a 30-year-old, (let alone her mom of nearly twice that age) want to spend her birthday at Disneyland? Isn’t that a bit childish?

I can’t even dignify that with an answer beyond a gaping stare.

Dude. You just don’t get it.

It’s because he grew up in Pennsylvania, not California. Native Californians have Disneyland in our DNA. I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t Disneyland. And yes, incredulous, skeptical and slightly disdainful spouse-o-mine, it really IS the happiest place on earth. I mean, unless you’re an over-tired, over-sugared, wildly over-stimulated 3-year-old in full meltdown because she wants to go on the Flying Dumbos, not the Matterhorn. Or the parent of one.

Don’t despair, Mom — she’ll be 30 someday.

Disneyland even smells like joy, and joy smells like churros. That warm, sweet, cinnamon-y scent permeates everything (Pirates of the Caribbean notwithstanding). Are there really enough churro stands strategically stationed throughout the park to create that heavenly aroma or are there well-hidden churro fragrance misters at every corner? Don’t scoff — The Mouse thinks of every detail.

One major difference about returning to Disneyland later in life is that you actually recognize when you’re getting tired and need to sit down and rest, and try to reach zen with your aching, throbbing feet. We were doing just that whilst indulging on some $10 popcorn (everything is stunningly expensive, and if you’re going to enjoy Disneyland, you must reach zen with that too… practice exclaiming, “How much???” silently in your own head while simultaneously smiling and forking over your cash), and started people-watching. And believe me, on any given day in Disneyland, there are plenty to watch… an endless stream of humanity flowing right past you.

I observed that most all of them, regardless of age, size, color or race, seemed happy and content. Although astonishingly crowded for a cloudy weekday in January, people seemed to just roll with it, patiently navigating the throngs and the winding labyrinth lines for the rides. I started pondering how everyone is treated the same at Disneyland… unilateral equality. Everyone pays the same amount to get in, and once inside, everything is available to everyone equally. Everyone must accept waiting their turn, but will then have the same experience as everyone else.

That’s when it hit me: Disneyland is an experiment in Socialism. Everyone’s flat broke by the end of the day, but everyone has the same rights and privileges as everyone else, and the same rules apply to one and all. Like a purely Socialist society, Disneyland is also religion-free. Not a trace of religion anywhere. Being of the “imagine no religion” camp, I’m pre-biased to believe that we’d all get along so much better if we could remove religion from the human equation. Disneyland is evidence.

All that said, people-watching and pontification become tiresome, and a perfect place to take a break is just across from Disneyland’s main gate: the California Adventure park.

I’d visited California Adventure once before, right after it opened, and it was okay, but didn’t pack the bang for the buck that Disneyland does. In the years since, this park has really grown. Or, more precisely, is currently in the process of growing. It seemed like most of the attractions were closed for construction, but we didn’t really mind because in addition to plenty of breathing room, California Adventure has one thing Disneyland doesn’t: Beer.

And that was the thud of the mic dropping.

And! Not just crap American swill beer! They offer a nice little selection of red ales and IPAs, and — get this — you can walk around with it! So that’s just what we did: strolled around, beer in hand, taking it all in. That’s another advantage of visiting Disneyland with a 30-year-old child rather than a 3-year-old: Beer. Sadly, it’s the parents of the 3-year-olds who probably need beer the most, but this is the California Adventure side, baby. Life’s not fair. This is a Capitalist world. You want fairness and equality, go back to the Socialist Magic Kingdom. And I’m totally cool with that disparity, because I’m definitely not of the “imagine no beer” camp.

While California-themed attractions abound at this park, it was obvious that Disney-themed rides and attractions are making their way in. Disneyland is quite land-locked, so attractions featuring the Little Mermaid and Cars and Guardians of the Galaxy had nowhere to go but next door. I particularly liked the “Cars” area. In the evening, classic ’50s era neon lights up the whole area, and my inner child as well as my actual grown-up child give the blazing-fast Radiator Springs Racers two thumbs way up. However, my absolute favorite California Experience attraction, simply by virtue of its exquisitely perfect symbolism, was the “Cozy Cone Motel” — a cluster of snack shacks in big orange construction cones, and little orange cones adorning everything.

Yup, that’s California. Perpetual construction. If California had a spirit animal, it would be an orange construction cone. But to truly capture the California experience, Disney needs to add one more attraction: Red Taillight Town. It’d be simple to create — just slap a red mouse-shaped reflector on everyone’s butt as they enter, herd them into the nearest slow-moving labyrinth, and tell them it’ll take at least an hour to move 100 feet. But hey, it’s not so bad… because: beer.


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