As Disney Obsession Week continues, we travel across the USA to Disneyland in California.
TJ Horn is a drummer for the band Walter Sickert And The Army Of Broken Toys. When I put the word out that I wanted Disney-obsessed people to write pieces for Magic & Misadventures, he offered to talk about his love of Disneyland. I’ve never been to Disneyland, so I was excited to hear about the Disney obsession in relation to another park!
When I think about vacation or travel planning, no matter what, I try to include a Disney park.
I grew up in the Mojave Desert, about an hour and a half drive from Disneyland, in a town that didn’t have much to offer besides lizard hunting and meth labs. My obsession started at a young age and I haven’t been able to shake it. I often feel uncultured or like a weirdo for being so obsessed with these parks and now, living 3,000 miles away from Disneyland, it’s only gotten worse.
When traveling to Disneyland from anywhere in California, you’re stuck on busy freeway after freeway, surrounded by stucco strip malls, gated housing developments, factories, car dealerships and then more strip malls. Just dense population as far as the eye can see. Exiting the freeway for Disneyland in Anaheim, there’s not much of a change in scenery, until from out behind an outdated shady motel you see the mighty white peaked Matterhorn Mountain. Already the theming of the park hits you and starts to take your excitement and adrenaline to new levels. Just that little peek and tease of the park is already enough to make you forget about that guy that cut you off 10 miles back, or the gnarly rest stop bathroom you had to hold your breath in on the way over. As you pull your car in and enter the property, the all too familiar Supercuts and Subway sandwich shopping plazas fade in your rear view mirror and your new scenery is a windy road filled with lush green nicely trimmed bushes and topiaries. You park, you stretch, you smile and begin your journey to the park. That experience alone beats the feeling of waking up hung over in Vegas or hunting for a greasy spoon diner in downtown Philly.
Something that a lot of people seem to let slip by are the smells. Going from dense city to lush greenery, the smog and melting pavement smell is masked. Approaching the security checkpoints from the parking lot, a gentle breeze starts to blow the smells of the park into a frenzy at the main entrance. Passing the security tent steals away a bit of the magic for me, but I totally understand that it is needed. At other theme parks, you’re usually greeted with a metal detector, TSA style pat down, and ugly show buildings/un-themed roller coaster sticking up in the background. Disney seems to welcome you with gentle security and your surroundings only assault your senses in a positive way. Make your way through a short line and passed a turn style, and say goodbye to reality.
Disneyland is smaller than its siblings around the globe (Walt didn’t buy up too much property); Hotel chains and bootleg souvenir stores are only separated from the park by a two-lane road and tall barbed wire fence. The magic of this park is that you can’t see any of that from the park. The Monorail is really your only peek into the outside world from Disneyland itself. It’s so easy to forget about your check engine light or the cigarette butts piling up in the storm drains on the roads beyond.
If you don’t live in older towns, Main Street USA is a peek into early America: a small replica of history with brilliant movie effect architecture. Here in New England, we have enough town centers that look a little bit like Main Street (minus the horses and old timey cars) so at that point I feel like I’m at home but in a fun alternate reality.
In Disney parks, you get a little bit of everything from various cultures. Imagineers go in deep and spend lots of money when decorating and researching rides. New Orleans square looks a lot like New Orleans, minus the drunk “bros” and sexual assaults. Critter Country and its surroundings remind me of random little swamp towns that my band drove through on tour without the giant man eating insects and Deliverance characters. The rivers of America reminds me a bit of Walden Pond and Lake Tahoe all thrown into one. Frontierland takes that bland desert landscape I grew up in and gives it some character and story. Fantasyland brings a bit of old Europe and puts in in a blender with the films I loved as a wee lad. Adventureland brings you into the jungle without oppressive humidity, insects, or drug lords. It even places you in an old ruined temple that you could only otherwise stumble upon in Thailand. And finally, Tomorrowland, where imagination and education fill your mind.
Disney parks have a way of combining everything that I really love about traveling, and condense it into a tiny speck on the globe. They take away most of the annoyances (like trying to find a public restroom in Manhattan or Paris, or getting some kind of brutal stomach bug from that undercooked BBQ you ate in TX), and they manage to top it off with more fun and magic. So now when I travel the globe or come into money, it’s all about finding a Disney park. To see how it’s done elsewhere, or to have that familiar feeling of excitement and imagination.
Call me uncultured, but I’ll take laughter, creativity and imagination over the hustle and bustle of New York, Paris, or Hollywood any day.