Thoughts on Disney

by R. Passov

When I was twelve, I ran away to Disneyland; not by myself. I went with an older kid, one or two grades above me. Ed, the older kid, was bad to the bone– so much so, he deserves his own story.

If it was still 1971, Id say any twelve-year-old should do the same – hitchhike from the San Fernando Valley to the bus station in downtown L.A., then take a Greyhound to Anaheim. The only caveats being: dont go with Ed and dont torture vending machines at the bus station until they give up their quarters.

We did that. I cant say I understood Eds technique. All I know is he kicked and rocked a machine until it jack-potted quarters. Two park passes barely dented the weight in our pockets.

As I remember it, a low metal picket fence boarded the grounds just past the ticket gate, giving the effect of an old railway station, letting us onto Main Street.

We werent in a rush. Our ticket books were letter and color coded. We had just two a piece of the best tickets – e tickets -, and an unshared understanding that our time would be spent wandering and watching.

As we walked down the ersatz Main Street I caught a glimpse of the torso of a mechanical animation of Abraham Lincoln. I had vague memories of having been to Disneyland with my family and of standing in front of the sign marking the height restriction for the gas-powered cars, just missing the requirement, and feeling amazed that my father couldn’t see my need and make me grow on the spot.

Lincoln had lived in my head as a confusing apparition. When I saw him again a wonder fell in place: I had in fact been to Disneyland and it was, in fact, as wonderful as I could imagine it.

I met the height requirement for the gas cars. The pop-pop of the two-stroke engine drove my senses. The un-burned gas smelled of adventure, but the true source of excitement was getting in the car free of someone looking over me.

We ate through a few quarters worth of popcorn, cotton candy and candy apples. Then, we had hot dogs. While full, hot and sticky – it was the summer between my seventh and eighth grades – we grasped the thick steel disk of a mad teacup and spun until our insides burbled.

I was above myself, an outsider. But an outsider within my own expectations, at Disneyland, where everything I wanted was wonderfully just out of reach.

We wandered across the day, through the park, uninterrupted, until the evening. At the end of Main Street (as Im imagining now) there was a bandstand. The whitest lights came on. A rock band materialized – good musicians but synthetic in the way that Disney Magic can be. In front of the stage teenagers – high schoolers- enjoyed a sock hop; twirling and throwing each other around, the boys showing their letters, the girls in saddle shoes below white socks.

Ed and I watched from a distance. Nothing tugged. I stayed comfortable within a closing circle, seeing a future meeting the expectations I had of the larger world, whose very existence was given to me by television – by the Wonderful World of Disney. And just as seeing that mechanical Lincoln reassured me of my past, that dance, under those lights, was a harbinger of a warm and obtainable future.

Looking back, I see a pattern to my time with Ed. Not too long after Disneyland, we spent a night on the backlot of Universal Studios. Ed talked me into stealing the wardrobe car during the middle of a nighttime shoot for McMillan and Wife, a 1970’s TV show. I came to my senses behind the wheel on Ventura boulevard, stopped the car, opened the driver’s door and ran. The next boy recruited by Ed robbed a bank.

Thirty-five years would pass before I would return to Disney.  By then I was a senior executive at a large company and part of a cadre sent on an investor relations junket. The place I returned to was Disney World, still under construction when I had last been near Disney.

I had a free morning and I found myself in a very different future. The rack rate for the hotel room shocked me. So did day passes and the cost of lunch.  After a little mental math, I concluded that bringing my family along for a week, plus airfare and camping at the Venetian, would absorb the better part of ten grand.

Back at home, I took my surprise out on my then young children by telling them theyd been to Disney and didnt like it. Somehow, I convinced their mother to go along. (For the record, thats not the reason were no longer married.)

We kept up the ruse for a handful of years until we found ourselves in LA, visiting my mother, not long after having listened to my then seven-years old daughter explain to friends why she didn’t like Disneyland. Overcome by guilt, my wife and I spontaneously decided to drive to Anaheim.

My kids were shocked. We waited in line for tickets, waited in line to enter, then waited in line to wait in line. The crowds were beyond our imaginations. After watching Cindy Crawford and Harvey Weinstein walk passed us (yes, we did), accompanied by Disney brass, both of our children complained: Why did you bring us here when you know we don’t like it?

We left the park and drove to Santa Monica, to what I knew to be POP (Pacific Ocean Park) when I used to hitchhike there as a boy. It had been reduced to a boardwalk that runs along the pier, perpendicular to the beach. Filled with seedy games of chance run by wrinkled barkers, up against a then rickety park of carnival rides.

I entered the inside of a large cylinder, joining my son on a spinning journey that would cause us to defy gravity. For the whole ride, I thought I was having a heart attack.  When it finally ended, my son gleefully told me how much fun he had had but that someone was moaning the whole way through.

They loved POP.  We made sure to go there whenever we were near LA.

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The Disney magic has endured to the present day where it now finds itself in a bit of trouble. After a series of iconic, men-of-their-time type of leaders its fortunes are now guided by a seemingly tin-eared character who failed to virtue signal to his highly diverse employees and the back lash reluctantly pushed him toward a feud with Florida’s progressively Neanderthal governor – at least to some.

And if that weren’t enough trouble, there’s this from Fox News Digital:

Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, has been a go-to destination for generations of American families, but the skyrocketing costs of admission, accommodations, and even spending inside the park are leaving many visitors wondering if a Disney vacation is now only reserved for the rich.

A family of four from New Jersey reached out to FOX News Digital after taking a recent trip to Disney World, saying they had sticker shock over what they spent on their visit …

Park hopper tickets cost $2,550 for the five days they attended. Their four nights of lodging inside the resort cost $3,780 for the parents and two kids.


Once inside the park, they spent $300 on Genie plus passes … to skip lines in order to avoid spending all their time waiting for rides … they paid $950 on sit-down meals and another $700 or so for snacks and souvenirs. All told, the cost of the visit rounded out to $8,480, and airfare pushed the price of their vacation upwards of $10,000.

…, can the average working American family really afford this?” the mother said in remarks to FOX Business.

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As Ed and I watched the dance, in the cooling night air, like two animals, we began thinking about finding a den. I followed Ed to the Disneyland hotel an watched him try for a room.

Though he was then already 6’2”, Disney was not interested in our quarters. We wandered and discovered a marina, nestling the back of the hotel. We broke into a small houseboat and bedded down for the night.

In the wee hours of the morning, just as I heard voices and felt the boat rock, a sharp flashlight hit my eyes. Security guards rustled us off out of the boat, away from the docks, away from the hotel.

We coughed up that we had taken a bus from LA and were driven back to the bus station.  After watching the guards leave, we returned to the park. Not long after we were surrounded by oversized Disney characters with huge heads, talking to us through the mouth wholes of their costumes.

They expertly closed the circle until a handful of security arrived. We were taken into a well-lit passageway, to a room where again we answered questions as simply as possible. Again we were driven to the bus station but this time the warning not to reenter the park was more convincing.

Back in downtown LA, we were met by the police who took us to a holding tank in the bus station. While we waited for our guardians to show, we were handcuffed to a bench.