“I'm renewing my pass next week.”
“Oh,” says a friend who suddenly doesn't want to meet my eyes. “That's...cool?”
I shift my gaze and make some mention of the weather. I don't feel particularly defensive right now. They just don't get it.
When I said my pass, I meant my Disneyland Resort Annual Passholder pass. Maybe now some of you are rolling your eyes, too.
Yes, Disney is often a heartless corporation looking to feed off the souls of tiny children and their parents. Former Olympic Chinese gymnastic hopefuls toil in factories to screw little Elsa heads on the latest Frozen dolls. Many of their movies encourage the idea that women need a man to be complete, and if they don't have a man, they are as interesting as soggy cardboard.
Worse yet, Disneyland (and by proxy, Disney World) is a cacophony of insidious music, garish attire, tattooed teenagers looking for secluded makeout spots, and merchandising aimed directly at middle class families who are probably already very deep in the hole taking this expensive vacation.
The thing is, I love Disneyland. I loved it when I was a kid, I loved it as a teenager, and I love it now as a full-fledged pays-the-electric-bill-on-time adult. I own a set of Shag prints inspired by the Tiki Room. My growth isn't stunted, I've been in therapy for years, and I'm not the kind of person who owns a princess costume. Hell, I'm not the kind of person who even likes the concept of a princess at all. Monarchies are outdated and overrated. I hated that we all stopped to watch the Royal Wedding.
Truth be told, I just love Disney parks.
As a writer and performer, I appreciate that it is a place made by creatives for creatives. It celebrates art in the best way, bringing to life the unimaginable. Where else can you blast off into space, witness ghostly apparitions, or eat the world's greatest corn dog? Put another way, where else is there nearly every kind of mode of transit – automobiles, jeeps, boats, trams, horse-drawn carts, a “doom buggy”, submarines, railroads – and a fucking monorail? A monorail! Only Seattle can boast this!
Yes, there's an entire ride based on Song of the South, but you get it.
Beyond that, Disneyland offers a maniacal attention to detail that anyone involved in a creative endeavor can respect. Creative people are obsessive – it's how the ability to recall obscure facts about bands or all of the B-list X-Men comes easy. Disneyland is full of obsession, from a cobblestone walkway to the design of a queue to the animatronic movements of Abraham Lincoln.
It's things like the way there are a billion different lanterns for each part of the park. Think about it. Someone at Disney Imagineering is paid only to determine which lamps should be placed where, how they should look, what kind of light they should give off, how much light they should give off, whether or not there's a way to make the light more environmentally-friendly, and so on. All they do is deal in lights all day, and they do it for hyper-specific themes, like the California Redwoods or The Future.
Yet the greatest reason of all for my devotion to a theme park covered in deserted strollers is the very one that Disney prides itself on most: memory.
I didn't grow up a street urchin, but it's difficult to classify my childhood as happy. My parents fell out of love long ago, and each with deep-seated issues of their own means we lacked a productive and peaceful household. Instead, what happened is yelling. Lots and lots of yelling, at anyone and anything at any time.
And yet in the middle of Main Street U.S.A., there was never any yelling. Everyone was civil. My dad smiled. My mom laughed. We looked like a goddamn commercial. We weren't thinking about what was going to happen tomorrow, or how the immediate past required a good deal of wound-licking. We just watched the fireworks burst into colorful dots against an inky sky and wondered how they did that every night.
Not everyone grows up with dysfunction. For those of us that do, any kind of safe place is cherished. Whether it's a room, a piece of nature, a broken toy, or an overpriced wonderland, those safe places are what you want to remember as you get older. Memories grow fuzzy like moldy cheese. You forget the daily routine of second grade, but you remember the moments that made you feel. It's in those crevices of the mind that I can clearly recall sitting on a pair of shoulders, taller than the crowd, watching a parade where brilliant multicolored lights flashed in synchronicity to synthesized music. No one yelled. Everyone cheered as Mickey Mouse waved and danced with his girlfriend of 80 years that he's never bothered to publicly marry. It was glorious. I was happy. That feeling cannot be erased. It may fade or be replaced, but it is so deeply etched that it lives in my bones.
It's such a cliché, but it is, just a little bit, well, magical.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to scarf down a churro and get in line for Big Thunder Mountain. I have more memories to make.