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
This is Richard, who is just out of college and moved from Salt Lake City to be near the park. He carries a coffee-table book about Disneyland; it is full of autographs. He has Mickey and Minnie, of course, and Tink and Snow White and Buzz Lightyear and Winnie the Pooh (signed, that is, by whatever Disney cast member happened to be wearing the suit when Richard approached). ‰
He has hundreds and hundreds of autographs, more than any high school yearbook. Doug and Roger flip through the pages, shouting out whenever they see a favorite.
“You don’t have Goofy.” Roger says.
Richard flips triumphantly to the page. “Goofy!”
Richard waves to a tall, attractive young black woman standing a dozen yards away, whispers something to Doug and then walks over to her. Doug turns so that his back is to them. “See that girl?” he asks Roger. “No, that girl. The one with Richard. She’s going to be Lilo. Don’t look. She’s very mad at Richard for saying.”
Richard and the woman come over; Doug does a bad impression of nonchalance and asks if she’d like to walk with us a bit. She says, “Ummmmm” and looks at Richard. It takes him a long time to realize what he’s supposed to do. “Uh, we have to, ummm,” he finally says. And they walk away.
Roger says he has some things to check out and heads off, agreeing to meet us later at his favorite Disney restaurant, Rancho del Z√≥calo in Frontierland.
Doug and I continue our tour; just in front of the castle that sits at the center of the park, we run into Benji. “Did you see the planters?” he asks.
“They’re peach!” Doug replies.
Benji agrees to eat lunch with us, and we walk over to the restaurant, where Roger is waiting. We order our burritos and taco salads and sit down. It’s messy food, and we have a lot of Disneyland napkins on the table.
“They should have napkins with the logo and napkins without the logo, so you don’t feel bad using them,” Benji says.
Roger holds up a handful. “These are collectible. I have bundles of them at home in Ziploc baggies.”
“Do you have a 35th Anniversary napkin?” Doug asks.
“No!” Roger yells.
“I’ll give you one,” Doug says.
Roger performs an elaborate bow. “Thank you.”
Doug and Roger tell Benji about the woman who is going to wear the Lilo costume this Friday. This leads to a general discussion about dating. Doug and Benji don’t date anyone. Roger is married to a woman who has recently gotten into Disney — but she’s a Pooh fan, Benji tells me, dismissively. “Girls get in the way of the true calling of TWDC,” Benji says. TWDC stands for The Walt Disney Company.
But enough about girls. Benji wants to talk about what’s changed in the park since yesterday.
“Have you seen the new signs in Critter Country?” Benji asks. Roger shakes his head no. “Where have you been?” Benji explodes in a mock rage. “Have you seen the new planters at Tomorrowland?”
“They’re peach,” Roger says.
After lunch we board the Mark Twain, the big riverboat that circles Tom Sawyer’s Island on the Rivers of America. Doug recounts Walt and Lillie Disney’s 30th-anniversary party in 1955. He describes exactly where on the ship the musicians stood, who was there, what kind of food was served and where it was placed.
Roger cuts in: “The party was on the Mark Twain, and then it went to the Golden Horseshoe,” a nearby Western-themed restaurant.
“No,” Doug corrects him. “At the Golden Horseshoe and then the Mark Twain.”
“Let’s read our history books,” Roger insists.
“Read all you want,” Doug responds.
Soon after the boat pulls away, we pass another dock. “This is Fowler’s Harbor,” Doug explains. It’s named after Joe Fowler, the retired Navy admiral who oversaw the construction of Disneyland; the story goes that Walt was so angry at old Joe for spending so much money on this harbor — a dry dock for the riverboat — that he called it Joe’s Ditch.
That’s when I cracked. I had spent my days with Benji and Doug trying to reserve judgment, hoping to see the park as they do. But right there, passing Fowler’s Harbor, I’d suddenly had enough. I couldn’t help thinking that this whole life project of theirs was an absurd waste of time, that there were so many more worthwhile things to care about. Doug relates the history of Disneyland with all the earnestness of a high school history teacher on a field trip to Washington, D.C. But that’s real history: Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, Congress writing the laws, Martin Luther King Jr. intoning, “I have a dream.” Whether a guy named Fowler did or did not piss Walt Disney off 50 years ago doesn’t matter at all. Or rather, it matters only within the berm, and even there to only a small number of unnaturally fixated fans; it’s all completely self-contained, completely self-referential. Disney and Disneyland have had an impact on American culture that indeed is worth studying, and is studied from all sorts of scholarly angles. But that’s not what interests Doug and Benji and Roger.