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
Doug Marsh is Benji’s best friend, even though they couldn’t be less alike. Where Benji is brooding and shy, Doug is expansive, showy, a Disneyland-obsessed Nathan Lane type, short and paunchy, but with flaming red hair and a bushy beard. (“I’m not gay,” he tells me. “A lot of people think I am.”) He says that he’d also love to give me his tour of the park, so one morning we meet near the entrance. As we walk toward the ticket booths, Doug spots a piece of white photocopied paper and goes to pick it up. “Look at this,” he says — it’s a list of special events at the park on October 17, 2001. “Why would this be floating around? And why would they print up a special schedule for that day?” He puts the paper in his satchel. “This will be investigated.” I’ve heard Doug collects paper ephemera, any sort of printed matter that’s given away free at Disneyland. “Yes,” he says. “Ephemera. Particularly ephemeral ephemera.”
As we enter the park, I use my new Passport. Doug congratulates me on my purchase, but offers a warning. “Believe it or not, there is a phenomenon of burnout when you first get a pass. You come all the time, and then you reach a point where you won’t come to the park for a month.”
Like Benji, Doug offers a running commentary. But his talk is more chummy grade-school teacher than sullen adolescent. He engages me, asks me questions.
We stop at the tunnel that takes you under the train tracks into the park. Disneyland is surrounded by a berm, a barrier that protects the guests from the outside world. “Walt felt this berm was very, very important. To have that complete experience in the park. John Hench: Does that name mean anything to you? He is one of the real old-timers.” He’s referring to those people who helped create Disneyland — the Imagineers. “Walt felt so strongly about this tunnel. The idea that you leave the world and enter the happiest place on Earth. John Hench says that this is where he feels Walt most strongly.”
Doug says any tour of the park should start with a train ride around it. He is, after all, a member of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society, a group devoted to the study and preservation of Walt Disney’s personal collection of very large model trains. As we enter the Main Street Station, an older man in a conductor’s uniform greets Doug. “You took a picture of me a little while ago,” he says. Doug pulls a blank. “Ralph,” he says, reading the man’s name tag. Then he remembers and turns to me with a smile. “Ralph Garcia. This man worked here when the park opened in 1955.” Ralph seems thrilled to be remembered, and he and Doug spend time together at an aerial photo of the park from those first days, comparing notes on what has changed and what shouldn’t have.
When the train comes, Doug sits in a back row, leaving the best seats for a large family enjoying the Magic Kingdom for what seems to be their first time. The train doesn’t just circle the park; it also passes through some of the rides, like Splash Mountain, and by a diorama of the Grand Canyon and audioanimatronic dinosaurs. “Walt and his Imagineers wanted to control you — what you feel, what you see, what you think.” Exactly, I think — that’s what’s so evil about the place. But Doug continues. “That’s what people want. That’s what I like: the complete illusion. Unlike, say, Universal. They have the streets of London, but inside it’s generic shopping interiors. Here, the bank on Main Street is an actual bank.” He describes Main Street when it first opened. There was a real butcher shop, a real post office. Walt wanted to create a real world, a better world.
The train travels the perimeter of the park. You can see into most of the lands: Frontierland, Toontown, Tomorrowland . . . Doug tells me what Walt would have thought of all the new attractions. (Doug is the most frequent and eloquent practitioner of something many Disneyland regulars do: speak with authority on what Walt would think of recent changes to the park). Toontown is particularly un-Waltish, Doug says. He points out that it’s designed to make children feel that they have actually entered a cartoon, but it’s done in such a way that anyone ‰ over the age of 10 just sees a lot of brightly painted round houses and long lines. “The concept of age-appropriate attractions was not one supported by Walt,” Doug says. “Quality entertainment is quality entertainment.”
As we come back around to the Main Street station, Doug’s cell phone rings — it’s a Mickey Mouse phone, of course. His friend Roger Morgan has just arrived and will meet us in a few minutes. “Roger is a total fanatic,” Doug tells me. “Stars-in-the-eyes fanatic.”
Roger is waiting for us, in a Disney-themed baseball cap. “I was born and raised in the shadow of the majestic Matterhorn,” he says, when I ask where he’s from. “My very first memories are of the park. My parents wouldn’t tell me if I was going until the day we went, because they knew I wouldn’t sleep at all the night before.” He’s an average-looking guy — average height, brown hair, brown mustache — completely unremarkable except for the dozens and dozens of Disney commemorative pins that hang from four lanyards around his neck and seem to cover his chest like a breastplate. Pins are serious business, he and Doug explain. Disney is constantly releasing pins to commemorate one thing or another. It just made a pin to celebrate the return of the Electrical Parade. There are several pins commemorating Walt’s birthday. There are pins for each of the attractions: a Matterhorn pin, a few different Haunted Mansion pins. There are any number of pins for each of the characters: Goofy, Snow White, Winnie the Pooh, and on and on and on. There are so many different Mickey pins that some people collect only pins of Mickey standing or pins of Mickey with his hand on his cheek. Some pins are quite large — several inches wide and tall — and do tricks, like light up or change pictures when you shift them to the light. Some have figures that move. Some are released in severely limited editions, and Roger has several of these. In addition to his lanyards, Roger carries a thick binder that contains a few hundred other pins. Doug reaches into his satchel and shows me his own pin book, in which he keeps some of his 2,000 pins to trade with other collectors he meets at the Magic Kingdom. This all means big money for Disney; pins are sold throughout the park, and the management is planning a special area for pin trading. It’s big money for collectors, as well: The rarest pins, which cost around $10 retail, sell on eBay for hundreds.