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
“Gin-GER!” screams Benji. In front of Aladdin’s Oasis stands an older woman with a lot of white hair pinned under a police cap, made up to look like a somewhat fantastic beat cop. Ginger actually works security here, slowing down rampaging teenagers, helping find lost kids. She asks not to be quoted, since I don’t have permission from Disney PR to interview any employees. But I can say this: Just being near her takes away Benji’s sourness. They stand together for a long time, trading gossip about Disney cast members (that’s what they call staffers here) and about future plans for the park. Benji is smiling now, and laughing. He seems like a little kid, telling dumb jokes and getting all excited about the upcoming premiere of Lilo & Stitch. But Ginger has to work, and Benji returns to our hurried tour.
Benji mentions Jim Henson’s MuppetVision 3-D, which I say I’ve never seen. He looks at me in disbelief and says, “Well, let’s go. It’s starting soon.” We leave Disneyland, cross the large plaza where the ticket booths are located, and enter DCA. We’re a little early for the movie, so they herd us and a few hundred children with their parents into a large waiting area set up to look like the backstage of a theater. Ceiling-hung monitors display skits featuring Muppet characters like Kermit and Fozzy and Gonzo, the main point of which seems to be to mention Kodak, the show’s sponsor. Most of the kids ignore the monitors and talk and laugh with each other; Benji, however, is not only paying rapt attention, but talking along with the dialogue, sometimes telling the punch line of a joke before the character onscreen does.
I ask him if he knows why he’s so into Disney.
“Uh, no,” he says. “I’ve been doing it so long, it defines me. I tried to figure that out. I just ended up with no answers.” He turns back to the monitor. Most people have crammed toward the front of the waiting area, but Benji has us way in the back. He explains that most people don’t realize that the back is the best place to sit for the show.
Benji turns to me. “It would be nice to know why I love Disney,” he says. “Because I could use it in some kind of marketing program to attract other people.”
Benji worked at DCA last summer, roasting coffee in Baker’s Field Bakery. “The only reason I left was to go to school so I could come back and get a real job,” he says. “Eventually, I want a salary job. I could be in the office doing something.” He imagines working in marketing, getting other people as excited about Disney as he is. “In my opinion, they are the best entertainment option out there. If I go to a good Universal attraction, which is rare, I still enjoy it but it’s not as good.”
MuppetVision is in 3-D and ends with a big explosion that seems to destroy the theater. It really does look good from the back. After the show, we walk around DCA for a while. “Oh, you got to meet Pat,” Benji says. “She’s a Blastie.” DCA has a show called The Power of Blast, a 30-minute version of a Broadway hit built around a cutting-edge marching band, and Pat has seen almost every performance of Blast — there are four shows a day — since it opened in November 2001. She’s the most committed of the Blasties, but there are others who see the show at least a few times a week. Blast is performed in a theater made to look like a classic small-town movie palace. At 2:15, there’s already a line for the 3 o’clock show, a big crowd of high school kids and parents carrying young children tired by the sun. The crowd is thick, but Benji pushes us forward to the very front, where, wedged near the entrance, we find an older woman with a round, angry face. “Pat,” Benji says loudly.
“Hello, Benji,” she answers in a bored voice.
“Are you coming to the Fantasmic opening?” Benji asks.
“No. I’m going to see this,” she says, jerking a thumb toward the theater. Has she really seen every performance since the show opened? She’s seen most of them, she says, but sometimes she takes off on Tuesdays to run errands, and she missed the 3 o’clock last Wednesday. I ask her why she likes the show so much. She shrugs and says she doesn’t want to talk about it.
Benji explains that every square inch of Disneyland has its own obsessives. There are people solely devoted to Ron Miller, the man who plays ragtime piano in Refreshment Corner at the end of Main Street. There is one woman who comes to the park every day and just rides the Indiana Jones™ Adventure over and over. Its crew gave her a crystal bowl to commemorate her thousandth time. There are Haunted Mansion people, Matterhorn people. Benji and his closest friends don’t focus on one attraction, though; they are generalists, they like everything at the park.