in recent years

   

   

an overlong ode to disneyland

I am missing Disneyland today.*

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Well, to be fair, I am never not missing Disneyland, but today is wielding a particularly powerful ache for it around my ribs. Sort of haunting and cold and sad.

This is partially because I spent a couple of hours last night reading posts about Disney projects that never came to fruition in their original forms — Port Disney, WESTCOT Center, Disney’s America, and The SS Disney — and partially because I am just a person who is subject to flights of whimsy, nostalgia, and misery.


Disneyland is responsible for a lot of things in my life. It’s probably responsible for the duration and fortitude of my relationship with my gf. It is responsible for my involvement with fat acceptance. It’s responsible for the relatively positive relationship I have with my fat body. It’s responsible for a majority of my current anxiety management system.

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It’s made me better at taking pictures — something I have loved doing since I was a kid but was always easily discouraged about — even if they’re not groundbreaking. It’s made me appreciate candid photos in general, pictures of myself, pictures of people — which I have always had little interest in — pictures with my friends, and pictures of strangers. I love seeing pictures of myself now, good or bad, and I would never have reached that point if I had not had the desire to be photographed at Disneyland. It’s helped me hone my ~aesthetic~. And most importantly, it managed to squash decades of cynicism, contrarianism, and distaste for popular culture.

I was not, you might say, a pleasant youth. I was real angry about pretty much everything except the things I did like which were mostly late 90s nu-metal and internet message boards and I pretty much thought everything else was dumb. I didn’t watch tv and I pretty much only went to the movies for the social aspect and to bust on them afterwards. I liked to be mean and I was exceptionally good at it. When you spend your life being picked apart because you’re fat and weird, you either learn to tear others apart or you learn to cower. I didn’t cower.


Me at Disneyland on my Good Citizenship End of Year Trip in 8th grade, June 1998. The literal worst.
I’m wearing one of those 90s PORN★ logo shirts. Remember those? The worst.

I got less awful as I got older. I started liking more things and occasionally thinking about other people’s feelings and, you know, generally grew up. But I was still pretty mean and cynical and I really didn’t stop thinking everything was dumb until, like, 2009. I turned 24 in 2009 and though I don’t think the age of 24 is particularly significant, I do genuinely think that Disney’s “What will you celebrate?” promotion of the year was. I got a free ticket to enter Disneyland on my birthday and, even though I thought that, like most everything, all things Disney were dumb and didn’t want to go, my gf convinced me to give it a shot.

Disneyland isn’t a place for everyone and that’s okay. Some people aren’t theme park people, some people aren’t Disney people, some people don’t like crowds or lines, and some people can’t forgive Disney for its capitalist, corporate, family-friendly ways. Those are all okay things to feel and be.

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But if you are the kind of person who can be open to Disney — and I think, really, most people are — and you have the luxury to afford it — we only just barely squeaked by, bless, bless the monthly payment plan for annual passes — it can be the kind of experience that transforms you.

Part of it was taking pictures, which I find to be a generally zen kind of experience anyway and part of it was people-watching which I love almost more than any other public activity. Some of it was nostalgia — I’d been to Disneyland plenty in my youth, a common occurrence for a lot of kids growing up in southern California suburbs — and some of it was this weird, newfound sense of enjoying other people’s joy.

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I don’t know, I’m not saying that watching strangers have fun on the Matterhorn was life-changing. I’m saying that letting myself even notice those kinds of things was life-changing.

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I struggle — and have for a long time — with the pretty clear signs of undiagnosed depression and anxiety. Both run in my family and I’ve managed them well-enough for a long time. But managing and being relatively miserable aren’t mutually exclusive. I genuinely believe that trips to Disneyland loosened up some of the muck I’d been carrying around, cracked a few things loose that desperately needed to be.


So today, 16 months since my last excursion to the big D, I am missing it and I am missing it hard. Hard.

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I miss rainy days on Main Street and the way everything glitters on the pavement. I do not miss repeatedly falling down at Disneyland in a variety of weathers but particularly that One Day it was raining and we went with my gf’s mom and I ate shit. Twice. Spectacularly.

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I am missing baked potato soup under the red and white umbrellas of the Carnation Cafe and the seriously incredible service there. The joy of seeing regulars interact with their servers.

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I miss taking pictures of the same things over and over again, trying to find something new to my eye, and never giving up on it because even if I failed, stuff at Disneyland is just cool as hell to look at.

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I miss the beautiful, quiet Court des Anges in New Orleans Square, which tragically, will likely be unavailable to the public — aka me — when I am finally able to return. (Oh, Disney.) This little courtyard doesn’t make the company any money or have a secret ride or anything, but it’s got all this amazing detail and the most gorgeous light. New Orleans Square is my favorite place in Disneyland and I will miss this peaceful little corner immensely.

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I miss Tower of Terror aggressively and am going to spend an entire day riding it when it is next available to me. My gf will have to sit it out, as it makes her ill if she rides more than like, twice. Pussy.

The Hollywood Tower Hotel Checking in @ The Hollywood Tower Hotel

I miss the Disneyland Railroad — tied with Tower of Terror and the Haunted Mansion for favorite attraction — and the days where we might circle the park a dozen times before even considering heading toward anything else. Soothing and familiar and the best place to people-watch.

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I miss Fantasmic. Oh man, do I miss Fantasmic.

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Sixteen months is too long to be away from the place you consider your home and it’s near unbearable when that place also contains something as special to you as Disneyland is to me. It’s even harder when you don’t have even a feasible projection of when you might be able to return.

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But, you know, Disneyland is in our hearts? Right? That can be a thing? And until then, I’ll just watch the HoJo webcam and listen to the Main Street loop and pretend I can smell the churros. Or something.


Main Street Train Station, 1989, celebrating my fourth birthday.

*: Fair warning, if you think any of these pictures are good, it’s probably one I didn’t take. They all link to Flickr pages. If it does turn out to be one of mine, holy shit, thanks.