|Photo by Ted Soqui|
Benji Breitbart doesnt go to Disneyland every day.
I wasnt here last Thursday, he says as we walk down Main Street. I usually come six days a week.
Were moving quickly. I have things I need to do, Benji says. Hes canvassing the park, looking for anything new or out of place.
Were reopening the Electric Parade, so theyre getting ready, he says, indicating some people in white uniforms scurrying about. I hadnt noticed them, and its hard to tell exactly what theyre doing. But Benji knows. He knows everything that happens here almost as soon as it happens.
We hustle down Main Street, take a left into Adventureland. He notes that the Tiki Room needs a paint job. At the Haunted Mansion, on the far side of New Orleans Square, he stops suddenly. This guy is new. A speaker has been built into the gate around the Mansion. When they change something, its jarring.
Body by Disney: George Reigers
Obsession is Skin Deep.
Benjis running commentary on Disneyland includes park history (The Mansion is the last thing Walt worked on before he died), labor politics, new plans. He uses the pronoun we when talking about the place. Were planning a big new E-ticket ride for DCA [Disneys California Adventure park, adjacent to Disneyland]. Were doing a good job on paint in New Orleans Square. I ask him why he says we, since he doesnt work for Disney and has no official role here. The question surprises him. After a pause, he replies: Im an owner. I own 500 shares of Disney stock.
But thats not why I think he says we. He says we because Disneyland is the central force in his life. Most of his friends are Disneyland regulars, people like him who dont work here but come to the park several times a week. Most of his clothes are Disney clothes. When he worked briefly at DCA, he would get his hair cut at the Disney cast-member barbershop. I go to Angels games, because they [used to be] owned by Disney. I never liked baseball before. I watch ABC because its owned by Disney. But I dont watch TV usually. Why watch TV when I can come here and watch Fantasmic? (Thats the water and fireworks and animation and live-action show Disney puts on every night during the summer.)
Benji is 20, a student at UCLA. He has messy brown hair and a serious mien. He wears a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and a jacket bearing the Disneyland logo; a kind of Donald Duckbill mask hangs around his neck. His clothes are rumpled and askew; he looks like a distracted physics major with an unusual attachment to cartoon animals. At first, hes not particularly friendly. He offers me a limp handshake when we meet at the entrance and then walks quickly ahead, never slowing down if I want to look at something in detail. He doesnt look at me when he talks, and most of the time he doesnt talk. We just walk together, and I keep asking what he sees that I dont see. He asks no questions about the notes Im taking or what I think of Disney, but I get the strong sense that he doesnt trust me. He doesnt want anything bad written about Disneyland.
I first learned about Disneyland regulars like Benji about a year ago. I was working at Marketplace, the public-radio show, and was reporting a story on Disney stock. The woman whose desk was next to mine, Marketplaces Webmaster, overheard my phone calls and told me that she knew a lot about Disney, and that if I had any questions I should ask her. Pretty soon, she was giving me a rundown of the top Disney brass. Not just Michael Eisner, but the names of everyone in Disney management. She didnt go to the park that frequently, she said maybe five nights a week. But, she added, laughing, she wasnt one of the really obsessed; often shed go for no more than a couple of hours. She had an annual Passport, which cost $219 and let her into Disneyland and DCA as often as she wanted; there were hundreds of people who went all the time, and sometimes met up in the park.
Hobby chest: Alexander
Rosin, Pin Collector
I have an instinctive dislike of Disneyland. Im not political about it, like some of my friends who talk about the Disneyfication of world culture. I just dont like rides. I dont like being strapped into my seat. I dont respond well to forced-fun environments. I dont like all the crappy merchandise and the bad food. But I was intrigued by my colleagues story. So last summer I took the 5 south, hoping to meet some of these regulars. On my second trip, I found Benji at a Disneyland fan meeting, a casual event arranged through the discussion group on one the most popular of the many Disney fan sites, Laughingplace.com. He offered to meet up a few days later and show me the park through his eyes.