By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Ted Soqui|
“I wasn’t here last Thursday,” he says as we walk down Main Street. “I usually come six days a week.”
We’re moving quickly. “I have things I need to do,” Benji says. He’s canvassing the park, looking for anything new or out of place.
“We’re reopening the Electric Parade, so they’re getting ready,” he says, indicating some people in white uniforms scurrying about. I hadn’t noticed them, and it’s hard to tell exactly what they’re 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, it’s jarring.”
Body by Disney: George Reiger’s
Obsession is Skin Deep.
Benji’s 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. “We’re planning a big new E-ticket ride for DCA [Disney’s California Adventure park, adjacent to Disneyland].” “We’re doing a good job on paint in New Orleans Square.” I ask him why he says “we,” since he doesn’t work for Disney and has no official role here. The question surprises him. After a pause, he replies: “I’m an owner. I own 500 shares of Disney stock.”
But that’s 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 don’t 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 it’s owned by Disney. But I don’t watch TV usually. Why watch TV when I can come here and watch Fantasmic?” (That’s 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 Duck–bill 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, he’s 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 doesn’t look at me when he talks, and most of the time he doesn’t talk. We just walk together, and I keep asking what he sees that I don’t see. He asks no questions about the notes I’m taking or what I think of Disney, but I get the strong sense that he doesn’t trust me. He doesn’t 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, Marketplace’s 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 didn’t go to the park that frequently, she said — maybe five nights a week. But, she added, laughing, she wasn’t one of the really obsessed; often she’d 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. I’m not political about it, like some of my friends who talk about the Disneyfication of world culture. I just don’t like rides. I don’t like being strapped into my seat. I don’t respond well to forced-fun environments. I don’t like all the crappy merchandise and the bad food. But I was intrigued by my colleague’s 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.